Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolles

I listened to an interesting interview with Eckhart Tolle on the "The John Murray" show yesterday. Though I was indeed already aware of Eckhart Tolle as one covering similar ground to Chopra - and who is now arguably more successful and influential - I had never actually heard him speak.

On the merit side he came across as genuine and sincere probably helped by his Germanic accent lending an appropropriate touch of gravity to his words.

He spoke about his "conversion" experience at 29 which undoubtedly deeply shaped the rest of his life.
I agree fully with the central basis of his teaching which is the spiritual realisation that only the present moment truly exists. So the secret of deep happiness and fulfilment is to simply learn to live in the continual now of the present moment. I would also agree that the ego in practice is the big obstacle to such realisation with both thought and sense predisposing us to make absolutes of phenomena (which in truth are of a merely relative and ultimately illusionary nature).

However having said this I would have definite reservations with his position. For I believe Tolle (though it may not be his intention) is in fact selling another illusion i.e. that awareness of the true nature of reality can somehow be easily attained.

Perhaps it is just my own hobby horse but I have always found that a major weakness in the position of those advocating spiritual emptiness is that it is rarely properly integrated with phenomenal understanding of form.

In human experience form and emptiness are always necessarily related to each other. Indeed the appropriate experience of form is vitally necessary in fully embracing deeper levels of emptiness!

Therefore the true task is not the surrendering of the ego (with its investment in varied rigid forms); rather it is the difficult developmental task of progressively engaging with a more refined appreciation of form so that it can thereby become compatible with an ever deepening realisation of emptiness.

So I would see that in our age of instant gratification, the very appeal of Tolle's message for many readers is the unjustified belief that spiritual awareness too can be simply achieved.

The spiritual journey is unique for each person where personality characteristics and former experiences play a key role. So some people do indeed appear to find the task of finding true awareness much easier than others.

However accepting the key reality of how the limited ego blocks true freedom of spirit, reform is likely to prove somewhat problematic.

My own experience is that it resembles the peeling of an onion (where the core can never be finally reached). One peels back one layer of the ego enabling a new appreciation of the eternal light only to find new unrecognised layers now impeding reception. So one never can - or even should attempt to - fully surrender the ego. Rather one may through appropriate development, continually attain a more refined appreciation of its nature that can thereby become properly integrated with permanent awareness of the ever present reality of spirit.

A particular barrier to this attainment of spiritual awareness in society is posed by the very nature of our scientific understanding of reality (which in many ways fosters a mental outlook that is incompatible with the spiritual vision).

And as mathematical closely underlines scientific understanding I have always seen my own particular calling in terms of a deep need to develop a more comprehensive approach to both mathematics and science. Thereby both can be made properly compatible with the unfolding of spirit throughout the various stages of contemplative (and radial) development.

Central to this approach is that understanding itself has an infinite number of dimensions (that become ever more refined through spiritualisation).

Thus there is not just one valid overall interpretation of science and mathematics (as represented by the conventional rational outlook). Rather a potentially infinite set exists combining both reason and intuition in increasingly refined configurations.

And for someone pursuing a genuine contemplative path these alternative interpretations become especially appropriate.

Thus belief in the dawning of a new spiritual age (when we at last unmask the folly of the ego) is naive and utopian.

As we face into major environmental and social crises this century (that I fear are inevitable) we will see - at least among some - major shifts in consciousness. However the clash with old ego based beliefs is only likely to intensify rather than recede. This is not to suggest that there is no reason for hope and optimism. Rather it is pointing to the fact that authentic spiritual development is a slow process that can only be properly secured through overcoming many difficulties.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Chopra Delusion

I was watching Gay Byrne's series on the "Meaning of Life" last Sunday with his guest Deepak Chopra. Chopra certainly made for an engaging half hour. He is clearly a very gifted individual with well honed communication skills. Also hearing his account of his privileged early background in India was very interesting providing a fascinating intersection as between both Eastern and Western perspectives.

Chopra of course has been very successful in bringing the spiritual mystical worldview to bear both on popular medicine and modern living. Indeed I remember when reading his "Quantum Healing" some 20 years ago readily resonating with his accounts of how mind and body form an indivisible unity with illnesses of all kinds potentially ameliorated through an appropriate spiritual outlook.

However I still have certain reservations regarding Chopra whose greatest talent seems to be his ability to market himself with amazing commercial success. He has that capacity - in common with many well-known personalities - of unerringly sensing the public mood and then adapting so as to meet its requirements.

Now on the positive side one can perhaps laud Chopra's ability to thereby reach a wide audience offering it his notion of enlightenment.

However on the negative side in the desire to increase this vast band of followers he is quite happy to dilute the message somewhat so as to readily fit in with conventional materialistic expectations.

So the unconscious vibe that so many take from Chopra's books is this!

"Look at me, your spiritual guru! Can't you see that I am extremely successful leading a rich and varied life while enjoying its many comforts.
And you too can achieve likewise by following my way."

I found it quite revealing that without any prompting from Byrne, Chopra adverted to a previous televised exchange where Richard Dawkins cast him as a charlatan by debunking his books on healing.

In particular Dawkins sought to denigrate his notion of quantum healing as somewhat vague and unconvincing and clearly designed - as he characterised it - to create a bogus physical basis for his theories.
And while accepting that Dawkins extracted just small sections of an interview to suit his purposes, he clearly succeeded in unsettling Chopra.

And then later in the interview with Byrne, he once again returned unprompted to that same exchange with Dawkins to protest the unfairness of how he felt he had been treated.

So to put it mildly Dawkins struck a raw nerve, and to a certain extent in protesting Chopra was missing the point. Whatever about the precise accuracy of Dawkins' charge in the brief extract that was televised, he did successfully convey the fact - which many would privately suspect - that there certainly is an element of new age quackery about what Chopra writes.

Though fully accepting the general point that the mind can play - especially when spiritually motivated - a powerful role in healing, I never found the use of the term "quantum healing" very convincing.

Certainly in the narrow sense that Dawkins implied where quantum theory in physics has proven remarkably accurate in prediction, the same could not be applied to quantum healing.

Indeed even as a metaphor or analogy the very use of the word quantum in the context of healing is inappropriate.
One might well accept the idea that healing in certain circumstances is associated with discrete shifts in consciousness. But such shifts are of a qualitative - rather than quantitative - nature and in terms of scale do not in any case correspond well with equivalent shifts in energy states at the sub-atomic level.

Though there is I believe a valid case - in what I would term integral science - to elaborate more fully the qualitative equivalent of quantum mechanical notions, it is important to establish that this operates at a very different level of understanding from standard methodology in physics.

Though I would accept that Chopra's actual position on science and indeed quantum physics would be considerably more nuanced and enlightened than Dawkins simplistic characterisations, he is however guilty of the old marketing trick of attempting to deliberately create suggestive linkages so as to enhance the sales of his product. And whatever else one can say, Chopra has proven himself a master salesman!

So in this sense by creating a direct association as between quantum physics and healing he has unconsciously created the unwarranted impression that there is a precise scientific basis to such healing (which does not in fact exist).

People who are in so much demand as Chopra become part of a celebrity circus and he includes among his devotees a strange mix including some fellow intellectuals, show business personalites and prominent politicians. He is used to appearing before adoring audiences who hang on his every word. And he has all the easy charm and communication skills to keep it that way.

For example he threw out a couple of remarks during the interview with Byrne that I suspect he has used a thousand times before. At one stage he came up with the line "God writes my books. I just collect the royalties." Though indeed witty, however this is also somewhat glib. For if he genuinely believes that he is just the instrument of God's message, it begs the question as to why he should be collecting royalties in the first place!

He also came up with another good line;

"I used to be an atheist, then later discovered that I was God". Though witty it is again glib as it creates the impression that full spiritual realisation can be easily achieved.

And this is the root of the problem I have with Chopra. Whatever his actual intentions, which may indeed be sincere, he creates the impression that spiritual development is a relatively painless task and - worse still - that it can greatly enhance the materialistic lifestyle.

And if this is the true basis of his great appeal then indeed he is a charlatan.

So once again though Dawkins may well have been unfair with respect to his specific allegations,at a deeper level he did indeed succeed in unmasking this shadow side of Chopra.

Rather than attempting to reassure his audience that Dawkins's specific claims with respect to quantum healing are baseless, perhaps he should accept that there is truth in the general characterisation of his overall impact.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No More Stages

It is strange!

Only recently I have been contemplating the prospect of retirement from my lecturing job (perhaps leaving a couple of years early). Then paradoxically having adjusted to that prospect I have begun to actually enjoy - perhaps for the first time - what I have been trying to do all these years.

No doubt some of this is due to the characteristic release of tension following the resolution of any major issue in life.

However in my case it probably relates more to the unfolding of a new period in - what I have long referred to as - the spiritual life.

I am now beginning to see how strongly immersed I have been - indeed for all my adult life - in the depths of the unconscious. This has certainly enabled a certain kind of development entailing direct experience of many specialised intuitive states; however it has also proven remarkably restrictive and at various times incredibly stressful. Though valuable in enabling the development of new holistic mathematical understanding (as my true vocation) I have felt through nearly all that time as if trapped in a dark dungeon scarcely able to move or breathe and with little prospect of a dawning light. This has endured - with some very short intermissions - for the past 45 years (commencing in earnest at about 17).

This morning when I was listening to the radio I had that strange experience as if awakening from a long sleep.

An item on the "Morning Ireland" related to a poetry book "Soundings" a Leaving Cert Anthology of poetry that had been introduced in 1969 (lasting till 2000).

This came as news to me as I had never heard of Soundings (with my own Leaving Cert predating its introduction).

It was as then as if I was magically transported back to my first year in College (prior to the subsequent darkness) to experience it anew in a very faint though expansive light.

Recently I have found that I have been steadily losing interest in any further codification of stages of development.

And perhaps this is the real lesson that is slowly emerging is that in the end even the most carefully refined rational classifications we can make are but a hindrance which need to be surrendered. Only then can one truly emerge in true peace and relaxation into that eternal light that was always present but somehow remained hidden while attempting to still cling to more flimsy phenomenal expressions of its existence.