Saturday, December 25, 2010

Intuition Grounded in Reality

Following up on my latest responses to Elias, he re-posts his own questions about my view on conditional and unconditional experience and views, which as it happens was part of what I had in mind to talk about but left out the other night.

The "notion" of limitation vs. un-limitation again rears its head! What is this "beyond all limits" that is somehow so unable to exist simultaneously with "conditionality" that it must add more "disciplined limits" to the game of life?

The singular problem with this type of oppositional rhetoric is that it lacks awareness and comprehension of the attribute of intuition. It is entirely spoken from the sensory or "vital" side of life, and it deals with the fairly common tendency in the West to view Eastern spirituality in terms of body yoga and the "problems" presented by the exoteric psyche.
Along these lines, I also want to respond to Elias' confusion about the difference between discipline and suppression, which he seems to think are the same thing.

To address the general issue first, I am not suggesting that conditionality and the unconditional don't or can't exist simultaneously. Nor am I suggesting that we need to add some "extra" discipline to life. The point is simply that all conditional experience is limited, and thus it naturally requires that limits be placed on it. One has to recognize that one can't eat cake and ice cream all day. One can't have sex as often as one desires with whomever one desires. One has to understand that every conditional experience, every conditional object, every conditional desire (or aversion) is naturally limited and one can't expect to get anything more than a limited result from it. So there's a natural discipline and limit that one places on such things, or one literally ends up unhealthy and degraded, even in the limited sense.

Likewise, one can't expect that discipline will do anything for you other than find a healthy medium within the limits of this world. Discipline won't enlighten anyone, and it won't destroy anyone either, unless pursued as an end in itself that is supposed to produce unlimited results. And it's true that some people do approach discipline in the same way that some pursue desire itself. They think that finding the perfect disciplined balance of energies and body and mind is going to result in unlimited happiness or realization. Many in various spiritual traditions pursue discipline for this purpose, and in this manner, and wind up frustrated or delusional in the process. And many may use discipline in a suppressive manner in the process, suppressing desires in an effort to reach a state of unconditional desirelessness, suppressing sex or appetite or greed or whatever desires tend to capture their attention in order find that state that is beyond desire. But this never works either. Disciplining conditional experience as a method for achieving the unconditional works no better than unregulated desire for conditional experience does.

This doesn't mean one rejects discipline altogether. Discipline is necessary and natural to life, and it's necessary and natural to spiritual life as well. It's just that one has to understand that discipline will not produce anything more than an intelligently self-regulated life of basic human maturity. It won't produce unconditional realization. It's an expression of a basic intelligence about conditional matters, that one shouldn't expect anything other than conditional results from them. One doesn't invest one's heart in such things, one doesn't pursue them with the expectation that they will lead to anything but more limitation, one simply accepts them as they are, grateful for whatever results comes one's way, but not expecting anything more than a limited result in the first place.

This is very important because it allows us to give our hearts unconditionally to That which is unlimited and unconditional rather than to become confused by the pursuit of conditional experiences. It's simply a question of "looking for unconditional love in the right place", which means locating the true Heart, the true Self, and not confusing That with any conditional object, experience, or search. And that's the real value to discipline in the spiritual process. The human benefits of right discipline ought to be obvious enough, but the spiritual benefits are indirect, in that it simply leaves our attention free to find the genuinely unlimited, unconditional nature of our real Self, rather than to become endlessly distracted by conditional seeking. Once limited things are understood to be limited, one only engages them for limited purposes. Whereas the unlimited purpose of spiritual practice is to realize the unconditional reality and nature that is at the very heart of our being. That is the only area in which our desiring should be unlimited, because the heart, the Self, truly is unlimited. Which is why genuine desire for the unconditional is actually encouraged in traditional spiritual esotericism, unlike any conditional desire. Our real and true desire is not actually for conditional things, that is just what we seem to be given. Our real desire is for unconditional reality, without limits, and this is an infinite desire that is satisfied only by That which is infinite.

Infinite desire only becomes problematic when the object of that desiring is limited and conditional. That creates unavoidable frustration and suffering. That creates an endless cycle of desiring, attainment, disillusionment, and the search for new desires. That cycle is endless because our root desire is infinite. The basic solution to this problem is to recognize the limited nature of conditional seeking, and to recognize the unlimited nature of the unconditional Self, and to see that this is the only proper pursuit of our unlimited desiring. We can let the body's natural desiring find its natural limits and its natural discipline within the realm of nature, as is appropriate to it. And we can let the heart's unconditional desiring find its natural fulfillment in the infinite realm of the Spirit, which is its natural condition and environment. The mixing of the two leads to confusion and frustration and much ill-health and suffering, whereas the ability to discriminate between the two leads to right spiritual practice. 

So this is why all conditional life and seeking must be disciplined, and why that discipline shouldn't be pursued for some higher purpose, other than to free ourselves from the attention-traps that seeking creates. This doesn't mean that one ignores one's conditional or bodily needs or basic desires. One just doesn't invest one's heart in such things, expecting results that are impossible to obtain. One is "realistic" about such matters. And likewise, one does invest one's heart in That which is truly unconditional and infinite. That is being "Realistic" in the higher sense.

Genuine esoteric practice requires this understanding to be in place. It doesn't require ascetical discipline or suppression of desire, it merely requires a genuinely realistic (and Realistic) understanding of the nature of things. As long as attention is bound up in conditional views and conditional seeking, one is going to have a very hard time locating the true Heart, the Self, and investing oneself in it without limitation. Not only will one tend to pursue limited things with the ardor of the unlimited, one will confuse and mistake the limited for a "sign" of the unlimited. One will project one's desiring for the infinite upon limited and finite things and symbols and experiences, both gross and subtle. One will mistake psychic reality for unlimited and infinite truth. But the truth about the psyche is that it is all limited.

Elias likes to describe the psyche as some infinite field of infinite experience, but like the gross world, the psyche is itself limited, and can only produce limited results, no matter how dedicated our search for the unlimited in it is. Elias likes to bring up Jung's psychological theories of the psyche, and his use of the term "Self" to indicate that Jung was pursuing the same wisdom as can be found in Advaitic literature, for example. But Jung's "Self" is merely the self that is found in the psyche. It's a limited, psychological self, not the unlimited and unconditional heart. It's still a worthy goal of conditional existence, to develop a full,, integrated, and healthy psyche, don't get me wrong. I think Jung has a lot to offer in that limited sense. But it is, indeed, a limited offering, and should be understood as such and not confused with the unlimited nature of the true Heart, the true Self. Jung was himself hostile to such notions, and part of that was a healthy hostility to the conflating of the infinite with the conditional, which can produce some pathologically unsound psychological results. And this is just what I'm talking about as the mistaken path of conflating conditional and unconditional matters.

If one pursues a Jungian path of psychological integration, this is fine and good, but one shouldn't confuse this with the unconditional Self spoken of in Advaita. The conditional self of Jung's psychology has real limits, and requires real disciplines, as well as real opening and real understanding. But the understanding of the psychological Self also requires the acceptance of the basic conditional limits of the psyche, and the fact that it is not infinite or unconditional. So it's not the field by which we should unleash our unconditional desiring for the infinite. If we do that, we start to deify various psychological archetypes and processes in the psyche, not recognizing their limits, and thus becoming trapped in what should really just be an ordinary exercise of psychological health.

Elias likes to make a big deal of his own intuitive faculties, and accuse me of "lacking imagination" and being suppressed in my intuitive abilities. Which I have to say is really just more projection and inflation at work. My own experience of writing on this blog is of relying almost entirely on personal intuition. I hardly think of what I'm going to say except in the vaguest sense, I just let my intuition guide me every step of the way, in every word that comes out of my hands. So it's kind of hilarious for me to hear Elias accuse me of lacking an intuitive capacity. I live most of my life on an intuitive level, and consider everything else just secondary fuel for my own intuitive feelings about things. The fact that I can write discursively has nothing to do with a lack of intuition or imagination. This world is nothing but imagination, in my view, and so there's literally no choice  but to rely on imagination to get through even the most ordinary of tasks.

Which brings me to another point I was wanting to make about the imagination. Earlier I was writing about the problems that can arise when one's self-image departs from reality, or is taken to be the real Self. Even on the psychological level, this can produce serious narcissistic problems, because we begin to live in the imaginative world of the self-image rather than in the "real" world of the body. I made mention of the problems that occur when we create not just an alternative self-image and live from that perspective rather than from the body's perspective, and also of the problems that occur when the imagination projects this image onto the world itself, and starts to live based on the imaginative images of the world we have in our minds rather than on the sensory-based experience of the body. I think it's important that I describe that in more detail.

We have the word "narcissist" to refer to someone who lives in their own self-image, but we don't have a ready word for those who live in a world of internal imagery and symbolism itself. The same imaginative faculty that allows us to create internal self-images and work with them creatively in our minds also allows us to create an internal image of the world itself, and creatively work with that as well. This imaginative faculty allows us to create vast codings of imagery and information at an internal level which we can work with and create from. However, problems arise here as well when these images start to take on a life of their own and we prefer them to the world of the body and sensory experience. This has in fact become a huge problem throughout the world, particularly in advanced societies that rely to a greater and greater degree on technological and symbolic manipulation of information.

Language itself is an internalized symbolic image system that refers to the sensory world, but can become a world all its own to us, even a substitute for the real world. Words are of course not "real", they are merely symbols that point to something real. The value of the word "tree" comes from the actual experience of a tree. And yet, of course, there's also the internal experience of "tree" that we each hold in our minds, through not merely memory, but through the creative manipulation of memories and sensations and emotional feelings. Poetry relies on this creative manipulation of internal images associated with words to produce feelings in us that are not necessarily present when we simply look at a tree. But we value it nonetheless because we value those internal feelings as much as we do external perceptions. And yet problems arise when we become fixated on these internal symbols to the exclusion of sensory experience, or substitute the one for the other.

One thing Elias seems to ignore is the fact that even discursive, rational language is also "imaginative". Anything that relies on language and symbols and concepts is imaginative. It's not just artists who are imaginative. Virtually every intelligent pursuit in modern life occurs on a symbolic basis of language. Science, for example, has an huge imaginative edge to it. But it grounds that imaginative sense in observation and data. And that's why science is in some respects the most "realistic" modern paradigm. It uses vast resources of creative imagination and symbolic language, from mathematics to computer languages, to create all kinds of amazing things, but it always grounds that imagination in the sensory world of experience and data. That kind of feedback is important.

Elias' personal story of his intuitive journey is interesting and even sympathetic, but I have to mention one small matter that he seems not to notice. He mentions how "I would always know the hidden truth of a matter, and in the case of my parents that often as not led to a scolding." It's sad that Elias faced that kind of traumatic suppression from his parents, but it's also worth noting the claim here of virtual infallibility. I think we all know that no one is infallible, and no one's intuition "always knows the hidden truth of a matter". Those of us who have long experience with Elias know that he often has a good intuitive grasp on things. But we also know that he often is wildly wrong and distorted in his intuitions. Perhaps at one point he really was infallible and his parents scolded him into fallibility, but I think it's more likely that what we are seeing here is a simple retreat by a child into a world of his own intuitive feelings, in which he is "always right". This is one of the benefits of the imagination. It allows children who are being suppressed to find an escape, a place where they can be "right" rather than always wrong, and it would appear that Elias, like many of us, made use of this form of self-protection.

But as adults, it's important to shed our childhood methods of self-protection and recognize that we are quite fallible people, and that even our intuitive abilities are filled will flaws and mistakes. This doesn't mean that we should abandon them. To the contrary, we should only abandon the expectation, as well as the presumption, that our intuition is always right. We can never actually grow in our intuitive abilities without real world feedback that tells us when we have gone astray, as well as when we are confirmed in being correct. If we simply affirm every intuitive feeling we have and presume it is correct, we never allow ourselves to evolve based on real world feedback. Elias, for example, has often been wrong about a great many people and things over the years, and yet when criticized he is invariably defensive and unable to acknowledge any errors and ususally attacks his critics. I don't want to compare him to Da in this respect, in that the scale and circumstances are quite different, but there's at least the basic similarity in attitude, which derives from this need to preserve a childhood fantasy of being omniscient and infallible.

It's a common problem many of us have, myself included. Fortunately, there's a real corrective for it, in the recognition that even intuition is a limited function of a limited psyche, prone to error like everything else, and that it needs to be disciplined through intelligent feedback mechanisms in order to grow properly and not take over the mind and life. The way to do that is to let the intuition fly, and yet respond to feedback as well in the world outside our own mind. That's basically what I try to do with my own writings on this blog and on previous forums. Not always successfully, but I certainly try. Perhaps I just have a more scientific bent than Elias, and a desire to ground my intuitions in real experience and data.

Speaking of science, I've been wanting to write about a lot of very interesting modern scientific theories going around these days in the physics world. Maybe I'll get to that at some point. But in relation to this whole business of "living in symbolic language", it's interesting to note that virtually all computer languages are built upon the essential machine language of modern microchips, which is actually a simplified form of ancient Sanskrit grammar. Hard as it might be to believe, when the early creators of computers were looking for a symbolic language system to encode information intelligently, they examined many different possible systems, and the best grammar they could come up with was Panini's Sanskri. So every time you use a computer, or virtually any electronic device that uses electronic chip instructions, you are "speaking Sanskrit". This should set more than a few minds on fire with the implications.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Excelent post, I'm glad to see you're not engaging this in a "pissing-contest" manner.