Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Significant Other is the Kosmos - Darker Than Any Mystery Part 3: Emptiness/Unbound Fullness

                                              'Ecstasy of St. Theresa' by Bernini  1652
Prelude

I've never practiced Buddhism, and my knowledge of it comes mostly from various readings on the subject of Buddhist practice and doctrine.  I realize the Further Shore spoken of is by its very nature ineffable, therefore not easily approached through words (though it is astonishing how much verbiage exists within that doctrine!).  So when I hear terms like Emptiness, Void, and No-Self I make an effort not to take them too literally.  I mentioned earlier that one problem hindering understanding is the tendency to project qualities onto the terms, and the very nature of those terms seems to invite negative qualities, even threatening ones.  Yet it's stated that Emptiness is without quality, which makes me wonder - can we experience anything without qualities?

Over here on this shore, even as we're sniffing for that Further Shore, it appears that we do indeed infer qualities onto our experiences.  That smell, is it pleasant or unpleasant?  That taste, is it bitter or sweet or salty?  That smile from a stranger, is it authentic or phony?  Some of this quality-questioning is conditioned, some instinctual, some conscious, some unconscious.  Some is apparently inherent in what we perceive, some is obviously projected into it.

It appears our human world is saturated with qualities; we seem to need them.  One might even say that we can't navigate in the world without them.  And indeed, the big three fundamental qualities - Truth, Beauty, Goodness - are perhaps our greatest beacons of light on the often dark path of personal and cultural evolution.  That sniffing for the Further Shore may turn out to be a simple searching for the scent of the Good, the True, the Beautiful in ever higher and higher manifestations.

Which, for me at least, inescapably begs three questions:

          Is Emptiness True?

          Is The Void Beautiful?

          Is No-Self Good?

Fugue

Theresa of Avila was a 16th century Spanish Nun, and a true Christian mystic.  Her experiences were remarkable even in the vast pantheon of Christian mysticism.  Lucky for us, she was a prolific writer (not an easy task for a woman living during the height of the Spanish Inquisition).  In this last year or so I've been immersing myself a bit in readings about and by her, and I've been struck by how straight forward and just-everyday-human much of her writing is, even while describing the most other-worldly events imaginable.  For instance, in one essay she speaks of going into such a rapture during Mass that she actually levitated; yet her keenest concern was not to describe the experience, but to lament that she had embarrassed herself, drawn too much attention to herself.  After that event she insisted her fellow nuns hold her down should it occur again!

I want to take a quote from her account of one of her most famous visions:

"I saw an angel in bodily form standing close to me on my left side.  The angel was not large; he was quite small and very beautiful.  His face was so lit up by flame that I thought he must belong to the highest order of angels, who are made entirely of fire.  He didn't tell me his name.

I saw that he held a great golden spear.  The end of the iron tip seemed to be on fire.  Then the angel plunged the flaming spear through my heart again and again until it penetrated my innermost core.

When he withdrew it, I felt he was carrying the deepest part of me away with him.  He left me utterly consumed with the love of God.  The pain was so intense that it made me moan.  The sweetness this anguish carries with it is so bountiful that I could never wish for it to cease.  The soul will not be content with anything less than God.  The pain is spiritual, not physical.  Still, the body does not fail to share some of it, maybe even a lot of it.  The love exchanged between the soul and her God is so sweet that I beg him in his goodness to give a taste of it to anyone who thinks I might be lying."

Now that is an experience loaded with qualities!  No Emptiness there, no Void, not a hint of No-Self.  In fact, I would describe it as Unbound Fullness.

A few months ago I found myself thinking of this new term - Unbound Fullness - somehow in relationship with the term Emptiness; almost like a dialectic, thesis and antithesis.  What would the synthesis of such a relationship look like?  In response to that self-questioning I created this artwork:



I may be the only one seeing it, but I find this artwork practically crackling with the tension these terms create together.  This is decidedly not two sides of the same coin, not even the same currency, yet somehow each enlivens the other, the two together more than the sum of their parts.  On the one hand, just words; on the other, powerful symbols in a dream infused dance.  Just recently I took this idea out of the realm of text and created a series of artworks entitled 'Emptiness/Unbound Fullness'.  Here is one from the series:



And of course, I'm curious how this all relates to Kundalini, to the energies of prana (chi) that course through the body; whether there are clues here to be teased out, unfamiliar paths to be explored.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 9, 2020

My Significant Other is the Kosmos - Darker Than Any Mystery Part 2: Emptiness Emptying?

Prelude

Just in case there is a misunderstanding out there, I want to make a quick disclaimer.  I am not a teacher, not even an expert here to share my wisdom (much less to suggest you fork over a few hundred bucks to gain access to said wisdom).  My intention in this blog is not to lay out a theory of everything, much less a theory of anything.  I'm far too cognizant of the vast depths of my ignorance to attempt any such thing.  My intent here is to explore and inquire, and to share some of those explorations and inquiries in the hope of initiating a dialogue, or what I like to call a web of interlocution.

 I have a picture in my mind that we are all, every one of us, students. Imagine us sitting around the cafeteria if you will, exchanging ideas, letting our minds intermingle, sometimes clashing, sometimes melding, sometimes drifting down blind alleys; but always with a spark of excitement that comes from facing the unknown together.  This is not quite like high school, or even university - let's just borrow a phrase and call it 'The Earth School'.

There's a curious phrase that arises within the department of learning known as Buddhism that has always intrigued me - the Other Shore, or sometimes the Further Shore.  I take this to be a description of the goal of Buddhist study and practice, to arrive at the Further Shore.  Quite an ambiguous phrase for sure, yet I think we, as students of Earth School, are always oriented toward that Further Shore, whether we are aware of it or not.  I would even suggest that just might be the orientation of Evolution itself ever since the Big Bang; and we are, if nothing else, part and parcel of that process - Evolution exploring.  So let's lace up our hiking boots and take a stroll.

Speaking of Buddhism...

Fugue

There are three terms that seem to persist in Buddhist doctrine in descriptions of that Further Shore - Emptiness, Void, and No-self.  I'm assuming that a Buddhist Master, when using such terms, is absolutely authentic and as articulate as possible concerning his or her experience.  Yet, as I hear or read those terms a quite visceral reaction wells up in me, and it's not a pleasant one.  I find myself asking, why would anyone want emptiness, void, no-self???  On examining that reaction it appears to be quite instinctual, given that all three of those terms can be construed as a kind of oblivion, even death, and as such can appear as a threat.  On the other hand, if I am to take the Master as authentic, this surely cannot be what is intended, much less what is waiting for us at that Further Shore.  It could, of course, be a metaphor, as in the closing lines of the Prayer of Saint Francis -

By dying to self
We are born to eternal life

Yet it appears Emptiness in Buddhism is not followed by anything resembling a rebirth; it's just....emptiness.  Void is just...void.  No-self is just...no-self, not new self.  So what gives?

OK, taking a deep breath here.  I am, after all, not on that Further Shore, but on this shore, gazing out across a vast ocean (of ignorance?).  I can't see the Further Shore, but I can sense it, I can orient myself to it, I can maybe even sniff it.  Besides, I look around and see pretty much everyone I know sitting around on this shore, some of them with noses lifted, sniffing as their heads turn slowly side to side (and some muttering under their breathes " where's the juice, where's the juice?).  I take some comfort in this.  From the perspective of someone on this shore I see that as humans we can at least step back a bit from our instinctual reactions, step back and take another look at those seemingly ominous terms (sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me?).  Dare I say, shake hands with them, give em a little hug?

So if Emptiness, Void, No-self are going to be embraced, then a different way of understanding those terms has to be found, something deeper than what can look like existential nihilism or post-modern radical deconstruction, two philosophies I find distastefully shallow.  If evolution tells us anything it's that we are decidedly not at the end of history, so we have a little time to mull this over.

Perhaps the error I'm making is that I'm projecting a quality onto those terms, one that repels me.  Emptiness just sounds so...bleak.  Void sounds so...empty.  And how the hell can that Buddhist Master tell me I don't have a self when he is clearly speaking with the voice of a self??  With an accent, no less.  But there is another curious phrase I've heard, the claim that Emptiness has no qualities, it is unqualified (disqualified?).  Now that gives me pause.

To be continued...








Thursday, January 2, 2020

My Significant Other is the Kosmos: Darker Than Any Mystery Part 1 - Where's the Juice?

Prelude

It's been six years since I published "My Significant Other is the Kosmos" and I've done very little with this blog since.  It's been almost 2 years since I posted anything here, and quite frankly the flow of my writing simply disappeared.  Perhaps it was the consequence of my focus honing in on the visual art work I do, which has indeed been on a warp drive adventure in this recent period.  But there was another factor that I see in retrospect - the intuition that after writing "Significant Other", I had reached the end of the truths I could convey in my musings on evolution and creativity, as well as in the narration and interpretation of the subtle energies I had awakened to in my mid-fifties.

Eleven years have passed since the inception of that mysterious process sometimes labeled Kundalini awakening.  As dramatic as that initial opening was (as I described in the book), it pales in comparison to what is occurring now.  I spoke in the book of orgasmic-like sensations ten times the intensity of any I had experienced previously, rolling up and down my body for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.  Back then, especially in the first year or two, the energies were elusive and inconsistent, though always in potential.  I found over time that by lying down and putting my attention to the base of my spine I could, with increasing success, conjure them up, even if not always with predictable intensity.  That's where things stood at the writing of "Significant Others".  As of this writing, six years later, the energies are always available with little or no prompting; in fact I would describe it as more of a 'falling in' to them.  When I think of those early body/orgasm experiences I can now with confidence say that what I get now is ten time that!  I have frequent sensations of electrical flashes zigzagging over my scalp and forehead, and there is an almost constant pleasurable throbbing at the base of my spine.

You might imagine this all leaves me with an ongoing shit-eating grin on my face.  But in fact, I am profoundly mystified by it all.  I've read many accounts of this kind of opening, and found enough commonality in other's experiences mirroring my own to give me confidence that this is indeed a body-based energetic process that has engaged me.  One of the puzzling things is that, even with the commonalities, there is so much disparity within the details as recounted by so many.  Even more puzzling is the number of those claiming that the Kundalini process has ruined their lives, sent them into a kind of hell - if you google Kundalini you'll find that more than half of the results point to this problem, ominously labeled 'Kundalini Syndrome'.  Thankfully for me it has been nothing but a blessing.  I feel my creativity has expanded, my cognitive abilities have sharpened, my health has improved, my intuitions have deepened.  These benefits can't be easily quantified, of course, but they are qualities I'm experiencing.

There is more that will be fleshed out in future blog posts here, though I want to offer one caveat - I have not been transported mentally, or psychically if you will.  No experience of cosmic consciousness, nondual oneness, out-of-body travel, God's infinite love, or anything related under the umbrella of  'The Spiritual'.  This is all still body based, almost mundane... OK, perhaps to use a phrase, super-mundane?  Nevertheless, I feel I'm in a process that is a train ride with an unknown destination, and this is perplexing at times.  And now, especially in the last year or so, a new intuition has arisen that a new stage of this process is in a state of emergence.  If this is indeed the case I want to capture it in writing contemporaneously, while it is fresh.  I know the art work I am pursuing can do exactly this in a subtler, perhaps truer way, but I think clarity of thought and articulate communication is also essential if I am to capture the experience in a way that can engage a dialogue with others - namely, all of you reading this blog.  Some of you may remember from "Significant Other" that I am fond of webs of interlocution.  This is a new web I'm initiating, one which I hope we can weave together, and maybe in the process we can all evolve just a bit further.

Fugue

One of the odd conundrums that confronts me with Kundalini energies - at least to the extent of my direct experience of them - is exactly how to categorize the phenomenon.  Generally, most tend to put this under the rubric of 'The Spiritual'.  Yet as I mentioned earlier, as intense and awe provoking they are, the energies are decidedly body bound for me.  I've read accounts of some being transported to mystical dimensions or other-worldly landscapes, others discovering a oneness with the universe or a feeling of infinite love.  Not me.  OK, I'll concede that sometimes I feel I'm being ravished by unseen forces, and from the inception I've been struck by the realization that, until that first eruption, I had no idea of what was possible!  And that realization can be quite liberating.  Nonetheless, even if I've gotten my socks knocked off, my feet have remained firmly on the ground throughout.  No visions, no heavenly hosts, no angelic visitations, no world bathed in light.  Nada.  Which for me begs three questions - What is it?  Why is it here?  What is it doing here?

It's possible that all of these questions will be answered if and when a new stage emerges in my process.  Gopi Krishna, a 20th century savant who experienced an extreme Kundalini awakening and wrote extensively about it, was of the opinion that the Kundalini energies were actually an agent of evolution, and that these energies worked on the physiological level and caused actual physical evolution of the brain.  The energies themselves, though usually described as working on the subtle plane, indeed have correlatives on the physiological plane, and on that plane they are not subtle at all!  I've often felt that my nervous system is being worked over, though I haven't submitted myself to medical instruments that might detect such things.

Recently I came upon a distinction that was worked out in the Hindu Tantric traditions.  Their map indicates that Kundalini appears in three distinct stages - Prana-Kundaline, Chit-Kundalini, and Para-Kundalini.  Prana-Kundalini is the initial release of the energies, energies known in the Hindu traditions as prana, the Chinese traditions as chi, and described and named in many traditions around the world throughout history.  This helped me to make sense of my predicament, it being obvious in that light that I'm still soundly in the Prana-Kundalini stage.  Chit in Sanskrit means consciousness, the inference here is that Chit-Kundalini goes beyond the body and starts to directly effect consciousness.  Perhaps that's the emerging stage I'm intuiting...but who knows?  I could be fooling myself. after all.


But let's assume I have at least a toehold on the truth here.  As Ken Wilber is fond of saying, no one is completely, 100% wrong.  Conceding that, a related conundrum appears to me, and that is the seeming disconnection of my experiences to the types of deep spiritual experiences that many traditions describe, be they satori, enlightenment, nondual oneness, Christ consciousness, or simply bliss.  And that will be the topic of my next exploration here.

To be continued...