This is my first post on this forum. I have tried to access relevant threads already on my question. I understand the usual stages of contemplative development consist of Purgative stage, unitive stage, and then transformative stage. And according to Bernadette Roberts, the transformative includes two subdivisions of Extraordinary (visions and ecstasy), and ordinary (silent still waters).
Then apparently comes the dropping away of a sense of self, or according to Phil, the dropping of affective memory, which he regards as the same thing as loss of the illusion of self. This schema seems overly analytical to my simple-minded approach to things. I've read the B.R. threads I could discover, and find the whole concept of a personal self dissolving totally impossible to understand. And is dropping of Ego identification, the same as loss of affective memory?
Sorry if this is in the wrong forum.
Phil can probably direct you to other threads, but you might want to read through...
Jesus didn't say to lose thyself, he said...
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (Mathew 16:24)
Through contemplation/meditation one "Awakens to Self" (the first stage), which Phil has termed "Non-Reflecting Self. This is in contrast to "Reflective Self"...mind.
It sounds like you're getting confused by all the different stage theories out there. I would point you toward something Bernadette Roberts said in her interview with Stephan Bodian in the November/December 1986 issue of Yoga Journal:
"I don't think we should get locked into any stage theory: it is always someone else’s retrospective view of his or her own journey, which may not include our own experiences or insights."
As for understanding how the dissolving of the personal self is possible, I would humbly submit my own attempt to clarify this. It is chapter 14 of my book, which you can get as a free download from http://christianmeditationbook.com/downloads/This message has been edited. Last edited by: Derek,
Welcome, John, and thanks for replying, Les and Derek.
I think the quote from BR by Derek is a good one, even though she herself does go on and on about stages in her books, and claims to have moved beyond the unitive state to no-self and so forth.
I suppose some of the issues are semantical: what do we mean by "personal self," "Ego," and so forth. That's why I wrote God and I: Exploring the Connnections Between God, Self and Ego.
A large part of the book is an attempt to bring clarity to these terms, using the tools of psychology, spirituality and theology. BR's use of these terms is highly idiosyncratic -- and that makes it difficult to relate her schema to other disciplines.
Truly, I haven't the foggiest idea what people mean when they speak of losing a "personal self," except perhaps some disengagement with affective memory, as you have noted, or in transcendent experiences like Derek describes in his little masterpiece. But as long as there is an observer or witness of one's experiences that can access the memory of it and report on it, I think we have to call that self, at least in its non-reflecting mode. What else could it be? And who else does it belong to if not you (and God, too, of course). No one else is privy to another's experiences, so even these numinous touches are "personal" in that sense, are they not?
In my own case, there came a time (and it seemed to happen abruptly) when my consciousness stopped referencing self-image, or so it seemed. I was simply present to the moment without any spontaneous reflectivity invoking self-image, as had been my common experience prior. The mind was quiet, but affectivity was greatly diminished, and it took some time to get used to this new state (which I came to love!). That state is still my normal default, though I obviously can shift into reflective mode, write, converse, live life, etc. But when the need to engage is done, everything seems to re-set to zero in short order, with almost no inner movement or affect or movement to think or do anything. It's really an acquired taste -- nothing to disturb oneself about, that's for sure.
Does any of this connect with your past/present experiences, John, Les, Derek -- anyone else?
About connecting with past/present experiences -- yes, your description of when "consciousness stopped referencing self-image" fits exactly. In fact, this state itself is now so normal that it's not really something I think about any more. As you say, the self-image reappears when necessary, especially during social interaction.
However, I wouldn't say that for me the self-image is 100% gone at other times. What I have noticed is that its arising is generally accompanied by some kind of imaginary striving, as though trying to accomplish something in little scenarios that occur in the mind. This striving is uncomfortable, which provides the motivation to continue discarding the remnants of the imagined self.
The little book (masterpiece!) gives my understanding as it stood six years ago. Since then, my understanding has become more sophisticated. In particular, I now recognize that there are multiple layers to the created self: self as doer, self as enjoyer or sufferer from experience, and self as knower. I think BR also recognizes multiple layers to the self in What Is Self? though I don't have that book with me to check her view. So, whereas six years ago I saw the dissolving of the personal self as a one-time event, all in one go, I now recognize that some parts of the dissolution may be sudden, while other may stretch out over many years.
What's also changed is that in chapter 15 of the masterpiece, I identified verses where I thought Jesus was talking about this process. What I've seen since then are hints that St. Paul was also talking about the death of the ego and the resurrection of what we might call the Christed self, e.g. "nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20) and "buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him" (Colossians 2:12). And, of course, the bit about "putting off the old self" (Ephesians 4:22).
Thanks for sharing, Derek. I understand what you mean about all these layers of self. They come and they go, and it would be a mistake to attach to any as definitive. I also like your connection with the theotic dynamic described by Paul -- self dying and rising in Christ.
In my experience, the deepest layer of self is as "subject-of-attention," or just plain awareness, if you will. This can be experienced directly in meditation: awareness prior to thought. And once one "sees" or realizes this is who one really is, then we can see that it's always present in all these other layers of engagement and experience. It's not a thought, but the "stage" upon which thought plays out. It's also intimately bound up with intellect and will to constitute the human spirit as a whole that incorporates into itself the levels of psychological and physiological life. Usually, we experience awareness in the context of intellectual, volitional, psychological and physical activity, and that's a good way to speak of "reflecting consciousness." But we can learn to be "non-reflecting' as well -- to simply allow ourselves to "just-be." It's usually difficult to sustain this state for long, though I believe contemplative prayer provides a means for experiencing this in the context of a greater Love and Awareness that holds us in stillness for awhile.
I know that one of the most enabling aspects of my own illumination experience was when I 'remembered' my Self... it went from non-reflective awareness to reflective awareness. The "I", the Ego, remained, albeit in a rather pure state.
The semantics around Non-reflective consciousness across the spectrum seem to be considerable... Samadhi, No-Mind, etc... but I would agree with Phil. Once one experiences it, the previous mind-chatter diminishes until it only really emerges when something needs to be evaluated/considered. It's like the mind (Reflective Consciousness) gets put on idle...ready to engage when needed, but otherwise minimal.
Having given this more thought of late, it seems that there is a fine line or degree between this and Samadhi, but only in that the difference is when mind slides one degree further and is literally asleep, but non-reflective consciousness is acutely aware and consciousness. Regardless, this is what I and others refer to as "Awakening to Self", wherein "Self" is non-reflective awareness.
Well stated...especially for a subject who's experience is so complex because the experience is so simple.
Derek... I've been reading "The Gospel of the Holy Twelve" of late, and these types of passages seem to jump out more readily for some reason. Probably because of the nature of its prose, but it is an interesting contrast. I'll have to read through your masterpiece.
LOL...I like to read the fringe at times. It's a form of contemplation that challenges us to question our understanding. In this case, the commandment "Thou shall not kill." It's interesting that this work is criticized on this subject, but not on the alternate version of Jesus' conception...or at least not that I've come across as yet in other references.
Les, what "alternative version of Jesus' conception" are you talking about? The only "version" I'm aware of is in the New Testament.
Thanks for all your comments!
I took another look at Phil's book "God and I, Exploring the Connections Between God, Self, and Ego"
I found those definitions helpful, and based on modern psychology.
According to Phil's book, Self is the "I", the non-reflecting subject-of-attention.
Ego is the sum total of the various roles we define ourselves to be.
That all makes sense, but this still doesn't explain Bernadette Robert's claim of "death of the self" where she wanders around and can't function. Maybe she had a stroke(?) Or maybe B.R. was exaggerating(?) The mind can play funny tricks on our perceptions and affect our conclusions about reality, veering into fantasy(?)
I mentioned above that I hadn't read BR's books for years. I took the opportunity to re-read the first section of What Is Self? yesterday and posted a précis on my blog.
To understand what BR means by the end of the self, you have to buy into her view of how the self is constituted in the first place. Basically the self (in her view) depends on what she calls the "reflexive mechanism," or the ability of the mind to "bend in on itself." When this reflexive mechanism has run its course, it comes to an end. Thereafter one lives in a world of pure sensory experience, entirely devoid of a self-concept.
That's my short version. Of course, if you enjoy twisting your head around ideas, you can read the whole thing for yourself in BR's books and get it from the horse's mouth, as it were.
John, I don't think I put it like that anywhere. The book describes Ego as the experience of "I" reflectingly/intentionally engaged in the world of duality. So it's not a different "I" or a false self (chapter 4 of the book), but a different mode of experience of "I." Self-image (which includes roles) is how our memory structures some form of identity.
Derek, what BR means by reflexivity is essentially the same thing as what I mean by reflectivity. In such states, we are present to ourselves as we are present to others, images, thoughts, etc. We come to know ourselves in the act of knowing other things as well. In non-reflecting consciousness, we are simply "present-to," and so there is a deeper experience of the senses in this state. It's perception prior to reflectivity, you might say, and, interestingly, it's always "there," to some degree, even in reflective states. One need only let go, lean back, and simply be present and there it is.
Fwiw, BR has never moved permanently beyond reflecting consciousness. She writes books, relates her experiences to systems of ideas, argues with those who attempt to engage her in dialogue, etc.. I do believe her awakening is always accessible to her, for that is how it goes with these kinds of experiences. The experience of rc is different in that it's a more pure exercise of the mind, without intrusion of self-image, but this does not mean that it is the universe or God speaking. It is the communication of an individual human being, whose teaching is not exempt from the standards of evaluation we accord to any other teacher.
LOL .. . after being away from SP for a year or two, we're back to discussing our favorite subject.
As well as reading the first section of What Is Self? the other day, I also downloaded the three free preview chapters of God and I: Exploring the Connections Between God, Self and Ego. At the beginning of chapter two, you say that the capacity for self-awareness constitutes the "I" or self. I don't know whether you see this "I" as a thing or as a process, or whether you consider it temporary or permanent. For BR, the self is very definitely a temporary experience, as opposed to a persistent entity. (In case you haven't read it for a while, my blog post gives a summary of her views on how the self gets created and how it comes to an end.)
By "reflexivity" she means the ability of the mind to "bend back" to take its own experience as an object of attention, generally at an unconscious level, which I think is not quite what you mean by "reflectivity." Certainly, I would agree that BR is heavily involved in concept-formation, which I think is what you mean by "reflectivity." This is odd for someone who claims to live in a world made up only of pure sensory experience, but then there are a lot of odd things about BR.
Ha ha, yes, but John started it!
I don't really want to debate BR.
I will clarify your question about self from my book, and I think p. 31 puts it clearly:
I consider this sense of subjectivity to be an attribute of the human spirit.
It makes the posit that Joseph was indeed the biological father of Jesus, that their union was divinely inspired but makes no mention of it being an immaculate conception.
It also relates that Jesus was a strict vegetarian, and treated the commandment "Thou shall not kill." as an absolute.
What's interesting, is that if it wasn't authentic, it was brilliantly altered. Usually, in such cases, there is a type of disconnect that stands out in the prose. I'll follow-up with any other differences after I finish reading.
I got through your meditation work...very well written and your prose is excellent.
Using Evelyn Underhill's stages, it appears that you've moved through the "Awakening to Self" phase (non-reflective consciousness) and are in the Recollection/Purgation stage. The next stage is "Illumination/Enlightenment" which will answer your posit on page 58 of your work (John 10:30 - "I and the Father are one." The experience is immediate, vivid, and absolute. I don't know how long the Purgation phase lasts in general, though for me it was 18 years between Awakening to Self (1975) and Illumination/Enlightenment (or, Awakening to God and God-Self).
Hi, Les, Thanks for reading it through. Funny, I was just contemplating that purgative / illuminative / unitive schema this morning, prompted by John's post at the top of the thread. I believe that the pseudo-Dionysius was the one who originated it.
I agree with you that the purgative stage is what I have been experiencing these last six years, since the events described in the book. It's all about discarding junk from the mind. And, like you, I have no idea how long this stage will last.
To my knowledge, no one in the history of Christianity besides Evelyn Underhill has spoken of an "Awakening to Self" as a first stage on the Christian spiritual journey. The three stages approach (unitive, illuminitive, unitive) that's been widely used and amplified by Teresa of Avila's 7 stages all begin with something of an Ego-God relationship, wherein a person experiences the Spirit of God calling them to change, practice virtue, pray, and begin to grow. Then does the purgative stage begin. "Awakening to Self" is never mentioned by anyone; indeed, the word "self" is almost never used in a positive sense, but refers more how our consciousness is self-focused in a selfish and narcissistic sense. I have no idea how or why Underhill emphasizes this, and wonder if she had been involved in Eastern approaches.
Les, you're confusing "immaculate conception" with "virgin birth." That writing has no status in Christianity and sheds no light on the dietary practice of Jesus, who cooked fish for his apostles after the resurrection (Lk 12:41-43). A number of passages in Acts also make it clear that eating meat -- even non-kosher forms -- was acceptable.
It's not authentic in that you won't find it or any of its content in any collection of early Christian writings. It seems to be a creative work written by a 19th century vegetarian to try to enlist Jesus to his cause.
I missed that point, so I Googled it. It's actually not "Awakening to Self" but "Awakening of the Self to consciousness of Divine Reality" that she says marks the beginning of the mystical life. That's step (1) here:
And, much to my surprise, I saw further down that page that EU recognizes a stage beyond the unitive stage, at least in "Oriental Mysticism":
It is right, however, to state here that Oriental Mysticism insists upon a further stage beyond that of union, which stage it regards as the real goal of the spiritual life.
I'm guessing that BR hadn't read EU when she set out to document a hitherto undocumented stage in the mystical life, which she often states as her motivation for writing.
It's been awhile since I've read Underhill's Mysticism -- probably at least 30 years, so I found a digital version online. I did a search of the document for "awakening of the self" and she uses the term numerous times. Chapter 2 in Part II is entitled "The Awakening of the Self." She also calls this the "awakening of transcendental consciousness." She describes it as:
I read some more, and her description can be understood as "conversion" in a traditional religious sense, but her style of writing allows for a wide range of interpretation, including "expanded consciousness." Minimally, it signifies a permanent shift from conventional Egoic consciousness.
It seems the book is a kind of psychology of religious experience, much like William James' The Varieties of Religious Experiences, which preceded her work by years. In other words, it attempts to set forth a straightforward and somewhat psychological accounting for mystical experiences, using a wide range of sources, mostly from Christianity.
The only reference I could find to Eastern mysticism was in her chapter on "Mysticism and Vitalisms," wherein she mentions Eastern mystics as "nihilistic" and out of touch with the created dynamism of Spirit found in the West. Western mystics . . .
I like that very much!
One can find accounts of Christians who've found Eastern experiences to be deeper, and vice versa. My preference at this time in life is to affirm a variety of mystical experiences, and to avoid evaluations that implicitly define one type as deeper or more profound than another. They all produce somewhat different effects in a person, however, and so can be evaluated in that sense. There are a rare few who have gone deeply into multiple traditions and can say something about the similarities and differences -- people like Fr. Henri Le Saux (Swami Abishiktananda). I've read his works and respect his approach, which was to allow the Hindu and Christian experiences to interact and unfold in his life. He was able to affirm the good in both, but struggled to integrate this in his life.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Phil,
Exactly. It's that moment when you become aware of non-reflective consciousness/awareness... "Self".
As all who have traversed the path through to Illumination/Enlightenment will attest, and which she went to great lengths to try to address, reducing the experience to the human language is not trivial.
Having finally reached the Unitive stage, of all I've read in the attempt to find a framework for my experiences, her's is the only one that adequately categorizes each stage of the path. I'm attempting to reduce it to more concise terms in my own account, but it's turning out to be quite the challenge.
Definitely psychological. In the preface to the first edition, she says:
The second part of the book, for which the first seven chapters are intended to provide a preparation, is avowedly psychological.
Her methodology seems to have been to read every first-hand account she could find and try to harmonize them into what she hoped would be a universal stage theory:
It is an attempt to set out and justify a definite theory of the nature of man’s mystical consciousness: the necessary stages of organic growth through which the typical mystic passes, the state of equilibrium towards which he tends. Each of these stages—and also the characteristically mystical and still largely mysterious experiences of visions and voices, contemplation and ecstasy—though viewed from the standpoint of psychology, is illustrated from the lives of the mystics; and where possible in their own words.
You probably know her story: upper-middle class, no children, "Anglo-Catholic" (i.e. Church of England with Catholic sympathies), a serious lay contemplative, who eventually became a retreat leader. Perhaps EU can displace BR as our new favorite topic!
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