The Fascinating World of Subliminal Mind
In December, Serena Roney-Dougal PhD who is an author and lecturer in Parapsychology, started us off by placing the concept of subliminal mind in context within Western Culture. We looked first at conscious perceptions and then to that which is above the recognition threshold – the pre-conscious – and that which is below this threshold – the subconscious perceptions. The subliminal is the level of awareness below the recognition threshold and Serena gave some interesting examples of the way in which our body responds to subliminal stimulation, of which the conscious mind is completely unaware. This threshold varies from person to person, and also from time to time within the same person. We were told of the ‘defence mechanism test’ which classifies people into ‘vigilant’ and ‘defensive’ and which is used in candidate selection for certain jobs which depend on people’s awareness and fast reactions. We heard about other interesting research showing subliminal messages eliciting physiological reactions which totally bypass conscious awareness. Psychic awareness also operates at the level of subliminal mind and the methods by which we can access such kind of information are hypnosis, meditation, relaxation, visualisation, or the hypnagogic or hypnopompic states of mind. Serena then went on to compare our understanding to that of Eastern traditions, of which she has much experiences as she teaches between 4 to 6 months per year at a University within an Ashram in India (Bihar Yoga Bharati). Whereas in the Western model the conscious mind is considered the top of the pyramid, with all the other states of mind ‘below’, in the East it is the opposite, the conscious mind is at the bottom and all the others are ‘above’ and the aim of meditators is to become conscious at all these other levels. We saw that in Tantric philosophy there are 4 levels of consciousness, each divided into 4, giving us a total of 16 and Enlightenment is achieved by becoming aware in each of these 16 levels. Information on Serena’s books and workshops is available on her website.
Geoffrey Cornelius examined the very interesting topic of Divination in his talk entitled What Mode of Knowing is Divination. He made the point that divination is never replacement for logical thinking, but it is a mode of enquiry to be entertained after logical thinking has been exhausted. It engages inner reality with outer reality, allowing the unconscious to interact with the experience of the present moment. Geoffrey talked a little about the history of divination, mentioning Plato and Socrates’ exploration of this way of knowing and pointed out that Augustine used divination to seal his conversion to Christianity. He then turned our attention to the Enlightenment and Kantian thought, which inspired the scientific methodology and the methods which many believe answer all major questions of epistemology. For those of us who believe this, divination is nothing but superstitious games. For those of us however, who recognize that there are other modes of knowing, divination is ‘ as the word implies ‘ interacting with the gods, and Jung, more than any other modern philosopher, has understood this and through the principle of synchronicity, gave a modern interpretation of the process. Geoffrey gave us an insight into the principles of divination, the singularity of its relevance, meaning that it only ever applies to the one individual at that one moment, making the law of large number the wrong tool for understanding the phenomenon, the error in category so many skeptics indulge in. He also talked about superstition, which is divination conducted outside the correct structures and which could be said to leave the person open to the evil demons of unconscious forces. We had plenty of questions as well as challenges and participants left with much food for thought.
The Paradigm that Shapes our World
In our October meeting the speaker was Timothy Glazier and he looked at the science of Economics which he says is stuck well and truly in the mechanistic age of the 19th century worshiping the phenomenon of growth and the emphasis on consumption which are responsible for the conditions of crisis in the world today. People are not the priority in the productive process and are treated as disposable, creating much misery all around. Timothy pinpoints the fact that private property has become enshrined in law and yet the question of communal property, that from which the resources of the community arise, has been lost sight of. By developing the idea of the flow of energy Timothy illustrated how wealth circulates in a community and eventually, by making changes to the tax system, moving the burden of taxation from personal earnings to what the classic economists call the economic rent of land and natural resources, a new and more equitable paradigm would emerge. Quoting from Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty (1953) Tim suggests that a new way of thinking needs to emerge, in which mechanistic thinking will be replaced by organic thinking.
Eternal Return: the Convergence of Buddhism and Transpersonal Psychology
Roger Woolger PhD is the author of Other Lives, Other Selves and has developed a particular type of psychotherapy working with regression and past life material. He started his talk by making the point that past life reports or memories are like dreams which need interpretation and the terminology of past lives is one way of interpretation. Roger referred extensively to the Tibetan traditional view of death and the process of dying and specifically to the Bardo Thodol or Tibetan Book of Death in which the Bardo (liminal space) transitions are described. He noted similarities between the descriptions of these texts and what he has himself encountered in 20 years of research. Through examples from his own practice he talked about the importance of the state of mind at the moment of death and explored how negative karma might be acquired and how it replays within people’s lived experience. He expanded the field and by quoting from the literature he referred to the experience of mystics such as Mohammed, St. Paul, St. John of the Cross, etc on the one hand and again, from examples from his own practice on the other, to make the point that the states of consciousness reported by them, find parallels within his own research. With the help of diagrams he presented a model representing the move of consciousness before and after death and made an interesting comparison between the Eastern belief of an after death movement of the soul going upwards and the ancient Mystery beliefs ‘ which shaped our own Western culture – of a movement downwards passing through the Earth before rising upwards – and its cultural and psychological implications. Roger’s new book is called Healing your Past Lives.
Participatory Spirituality and the Conflict of Cosmologies
In August we had the good fortune to be able to welcome Prof Jorge Ferrer who came to London as a speaker at the Eurotas conference. Jorge is the author of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory where he introduces the concept of ‘participatory spirituality’, the principle of co-creation which every individual experiences. Rather than something esoteric, it involves normal every day living and includes all areas of life and living, practical, emotional, sexual, etc with an emphasis on the heart charka dimension. It is living in awareness of this potential of co-creativity at a personal as well as interpersonal level. Once we live in awareness, fully embodied and to our full potential we experience spirituality which is by its very nature, always participatory, with peers, society, nature, the Earth, the universe. Jorge went on to talk about cosmologies and pointed out that although different traditions tend to see their particular perspective as unique, what is more important is the freedom they offer us as individuals to live our lives to its full potential. Jorge is critical of the pervasive view which perceive certain traditions – for example non dualism – as ‘superior’ to others. Every one, he says, has something to teach and it is not the accuracy of the representations of ultimate reality which matter, as this cannot be subject to verification, but how much the spiritual methods are grounded in the real and include the whole of human nature, body, mind as well as spirit. Emphasising ultimate pluralism, Jorge suggests that if every individual could at some point co-create his/her unique perspective there would be a resonance and coherence among all the unique perspectives and humanity would make a spiritual leap forward.
Taoism: Ancient Spiritual Path and Modern Way for the West
In July we welcomed Prof. John Clarke who started by giving us a brief overview of Taoism history and how this tradition came to the West. John then went on to try and explain Taoism. This was not an easy task as Taoism ‘slips out of our grasp’. It is the least understood religion in the world. Is it in fact a religion? Is it a philosophy? There can hardly be a philosophy more difficult to understand as it mocks rationality and has a propensity to paradox. Strictly speaking it is a compilation of common wisdom and it has a unique ability to show how things can turn into opposites. Water is soft and stone is hard but water can wash stone away! The question for Taoism is not ‘what is the truth?’ but ‘where is the way?’ The concept of the Tao is shadowy and indistinct and words ‘crack and break’. We are invited to go with the Tao and understand it as it feels, close to the idea of order emerging from chaos. There is no absolute Being outside reality. The Tao is inside us. Unlike neo-platonism, there is not one Truth. From every block of granite an infinite number of forms can be carved. With nobody owning the truth, tolerance is built into the system and we note that China has not experienced the religious wars and persecutions the West has endured. Taoism is not concerned with the afterlife, only with this one, and has much to say about Nature and the mind/body at all levels, including diet, exercise and sex. In the Universe, order emerges spontaneously. For Taoists, all is driven by energy, the Ch’i or ‘breath of life’ which is always moving. Being ‘in the flow’, an expression now embedded in Western culture, is being congruent with the Tao. Everything is interrelated and has built into itself some part of its opposite, a concept which much influenced Jung. Voltaire said that the West owes everything to the East and John gave us in a couple of interesting hours, a glimpse of what he meant.
Alchemy`s Royal Art and the Creative Imagination
Alchemy is a vast area of study and Jack Herbert gave us a very interesting insight into the origins, meaning and process of Alchemy. To illustrate the importance of the use of imagination in general, Jack quoted Einstein who said ‘knowledge is limited and imagination encircles the world’. By means of imagination, Alchemy bridges the inner and the outer worlds. In the alchemical process of nigredo, albedo, citrinitus and rubedo, which in the outer world involves the use of metals, in the inner world is reflected the journey of the soul. This involves going through the blackness of disintegration and dissolution through the whiteness depicting a glimpse of consciousness through the yellowing anticipating the dawn (sometimes omitted) to final integration, the crowing stage of the philosopher’s stone, or full consciousness. We were shown slides heavy with fascinating symbolism which ranged from the use of colour to that of animals and other representations. Imagination is represented by the figure of Hermes (or Mercury) who stands for the shifting of shape in the world of the imaginal (an aspect deeply mistrusted by parts of medieval Church ruled by rationality). The message was disseminated not only to the erudite few who had access to texts and books, but to the masses too in the stained glass windows of churches and elsewhere. The basic text of Alchemy is the Emerald Table the author of which is generally assumed to be Hermes Trismegistus. Ficcino who first translated the text in 1460 believed Hermes to have lived prior to Moses. This belief was discarded in the 17th century when it was thought that the work was post Christian. Current scholarship however have found evidence of alchemical processes existing in Memphis Egypt, during its cultural height at around 1500 BCE. Alchemy differs from neoplatonism which see matter as essentially illusionary whereas for the Alchemists spirit and matter are but two aspects of the same. The object of Alchemy is to make the body spirit and to make of spirit, body (or matter). Gold is consciousness transmuted into matter (or body) ‘ a lower form of manifestation of spirit. From another perspective, having become differentiated through the Fall, Adam and Eve aim to become one again. The marriage of Sun and Moon represents the reunification of the masculine with the feminine and is symbolised by the creation of the Child, or the Gold of the Philosopher’s Stone.
June 2004 (special meeting)
Ukhuthuasa, The illness of calling: an understanding of spiritual emergence among traditional southern African cultures and its possible relevance in Western society
This was a joint meeting with the Gaia Foundation with whom Colin and Niall Campbellwork on various projects. With British ancestors, the brothers are 3rd generation Botswanan and in a unique way Colin in particular, combines knowledge of Western psychology and spiritual traditions with indigenous wisdom. They spoke about ‘The Illness of Calling’ or Ukhuthuasa, identified by physical symptoms which in the West would be translated on a spectrum from malaise to schizophrenia (reminiscent of what Grof Spiritual Emergence). Not all illness is an ‘illness of calling’ but if confirmed by three healers, such illness will demand of the subject that he be initiated to confirm that he is possessed by the spirit of an ancestor. It is believed that this is a pre incarnation contract which indicates that the person should become a Sangoma. Both brothers are Sangomas and although they don’t call themselves Shamans or Healers, the term does resonate broadly with what they do. A Sangoma works with the spirit he is possessed by who has access to a bigger picture than humans have and who facilitates healing. The brothers run a training and healing centre in Botswana, theNgwenyama School for Traditional Healers and we were shown slides and had explained the symbology of the location, the rituals as well as of tools and other details. Sangomas are people of the drum, and of dance. Life is made up of rhythms and everything can be understood by way of its rhythm or sounds. When we are in synch, there is connection which is reflected in inner stability and integration. For health to exist, there must be connection with the environment, with others, with self. In African terms, when there is disconnection we have illness which can be identified at either psychic or physical level. In present Western culture we can see obvious signs of disconnection. Although there is abundance, there is a generalised sense of dissatisfaction, of meaninglessness. What is called for says Colin, is a re-evaluations of our Dream. In pre industrial societies this is well understood but the modern West has lost such understanding. What is needed is to go back to the beginning. Who are we? What is it about. We need to reconnect. Niall and Colin showed that traditional cultures have a methodology for dealing with this although as Colin stressed, it is not a question of transplanting the process into Western culture. The symptoms however that arise from a state of disconnectedness are not culturally specific and we need to develop our own holistic and effective ways of addressing it. For further reading on the subject, see Sangoma: My Oddyssey into the Spirit World of Africa by James Hall.
Scientific Validation of the Johrei Healing Method.
This month we welcomed Prof John Gruzelier to talk about his research into the Japanese healing method called Johrei ‘ which in Japanese means ‘purification’. John gave us the history of this method, developed by Mokichi Okada (1882-1955) both as a home based method of mutual healing as well as a methodology for living in all its aspects, from moral to agricultural practices involving the ‘art of wellbeing’, the ‘art of beauty’ and the ‘art of farming’. Despite coming from a poor family, Okada had a colourful life in which he won and lost fortunes. In his forties he decided to dedicate himself to a spiritual life and developed the method focusing on what was important to him – art, health and agriculture. The healing technique, which was the subject of the research, is essentially non-touch (although touch can be involved) and involves sending healing energy to another via a cupped hand directed to certain centres in the forehead, crown, heart, upper and lower back in a particular order. It is reciprocal as both people involved in the process, the healer and the healee, reverse roles. Okada developed his teachings within the framework of contemporary knowledge and the principle (and its strength) is that the method is available to anyone, and everyone is able to do it. There are now three generations of practitioners and outside Japan Johrei is best known in Brazil (where there are 3m practitioners) and Thailand. John became involved when he was asked if he would validate the practice by means of researching into the physiological aspects. The three years of rigorous scientific research are now coming to a close and the results are impressive. John showed the results projected onto different kinds of graphs and tables and in every case the results showed Johrei as achieving the highest degree of efficacy as compared with other techniques such as self-hypnosis, and of course, with control groups. Amongst others, he spoke of the research done on the effect of Johrei on stress management, including performance in exams – and on body immunology. Never in all his years of science and research has he come across such results! How Johrei works, as with other kinds of non-physical healing, is a mystery. There is no way at present, that helps us understand why for instance, the EEG of both people involved in the process become similar. Now that the funding is coming to an end John hopes that someone will come on the scene and take this research forward.
Self and Other: Gazing into the Enchanted Mirror
This talk was given by Vic Mansfield from Colgate University USA. As well as being a Professor of Physics, Vic also teaches and talks about Jung and Jungian thinking and this presentation focused on the phenomenon of Projection. He started us off by suggesting that we think about a person which elicits strong negative feelings in us. We were then led to examine these feelings and how they may constitute a projection of our own Shadow, the Jungian term for the unconsciously rejected aspects of ourselves. The strong emotions we may feel for or against people based on our own Projections, distort the picture and cloud our discernment. We become unable to be objective and our judgements become suspect. We were shown this in operation in the case of scapegoating, in real life politics and other situations. With the help of dreams and myths, as well as with examples from his own experience Vic painted the scene to show how, in Jungian terminology, the Shadow, based on an Archetypal, or universal dimension, operates in the phenomenology of Projection. Understanding and taking responsibility for our Projections is arduous psychological work and is at the root of the Individuation process. With clarity about Projection, or by keeping one eye looking outward whilst the other looks inward, we can become free and in the process, more compassionate. Referring to the myth of the Troll, the being who fixes (positive or negatively) things for us in the night, Vic pointed out that only by exposing the Troll to light can we kill him, i.e., take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. When we ourselves change, the world changes with us. His website:
The Extended Mind
Our March speaker was Rupert Sheldrake PhD who made a riveting presentation of his latest research published recently in his book The Sense of Being Stared At. Rupert is currently alone in researching routine life phenomena outside a laboratory. His hope is that his efforts will make areas classified as psychic or paranormal into areas of scientific investigation not by abandoning scientific reason, but by expanding theories in harmony with lived experience. The ‘sense of being stared at’ is something most of us have experienced for which understanding requires the consideration of mind as extending beyond the brain, as a magnetic field extends beyond the magnet. Just like our visual field is projected outside of ourselves, so too is mind, with the added extra that in some phenomena such as telepathy, distance is not an impediment. Elegant in its simplicity, the research into the ‘sense of being stared at’ (the predator/prey model) has brought Rupert into contact with various organisations for whom this is an important consideration in their work, such as anti-terrorist units, police detectives, drug enforcement agencies and others, who themselves incorporate this knowledge into their own strategies. We heard about telepathy and were invited to consider the behaviour of social animals and the synchronised movement of flocks of birds and school of fish which call for a morphic field explanation. Rupert ended by showing some very interesting footage of his research into dogs who know when their owners are coming home, and also of a parrot with an incredible vocabulary of 900 words and who can speak in sentences. This very special (and psychic) parrot, called N’kisi was shown on a split screen, together with his owner – who is filmed in a different room in a different part of the building under controlled conditions – commenting accurately on the pictures his owner pulls out of a sealed envelope. This and more can be seen on his website which is well worth a visit and where visitors are invited to participate in his research.
Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology: Identifying Alternative Soteriological Perspectives
In February we heard Leon Schlamm PhD who started by telling us a little about himself and his training in phenomenology of religion. He spoke about his personal journey and also about his work as an academic as joint convener of the MA course on ‘Mysticism and Religious Experience’ in Kent University, UK. He first discovered Wilber in the mid 80’s and acknowledged that his work did an enormous service to spiritual exploration. He is however critical of Wilber’s attempts to present a theory of everything, including spirituality. Drawing on Andrew Rawlinson’s taxonomic study of mystical traditions which identifies four routes to spiritual emancipation, Leon went on to show that because his model has the source of spiritual liberation as lying within oneself, Wilber’s model cannot really handle those traditions which seek the path of salvation emphasising the numinous as other than oneself. Leon consequently challenges Wilber’s claim that his ‘spectrum’ model is supported by the materials of all the world’s major mystical traditions because some traditions are not properly represented as there is a failure to discuss bhakti (devotional) traditions. Wilber seems to be proposing the dogma that the Perennial Philosophy is the ‘right way of doing holy business’ with which Leon fundamentally disagrees. There is a fundamental lack of understanding of India who has for 2,000 years understood that there may be multiple meta-analysis, whereas Wilber seems to believe there is only one. Leon’s views sparked off many interesting questions and the discussion went well into the night.
To download his paper, click below.
Sir Isaac Newton ‘ Primarily an Occultist and Mystic
We started the year with a fascinating presentation about Isaac Newton given by Edi Bilimoria PhD. We heard about Newton the man, his motivation as well as achievements. Newton applied his mind to many fields other than physics and his effort in every way were always geared towards the understanding of how God moves, rather than the desire to manipulate Nature. Newton worked on physics, mathematics, astronomy, geometry, optics, music, theology, prophecy, chronology, alchemy, philosophy, economics, finance and he was also a politician. It is well known that he made most of his discoveries in physics between the ages of 22 and 24. Also that he had a breakdown and then moved to London where he became Master of the Mint, an MP and the President of the Royal Society. What is less well known is that both his parents were virtually illiterate, and that the signs of greatness were already there from when he was very young and Edi gave the example of a little windmill he built which had its sails powered by a mouse. Newton took God and the biblical commands very seriously indeed. His library included no less than 30 bibles, and showed that he read Latin, Greek, Hebrew as well as English. As with all great scientists, Newton was moved by intuition. He intuited a problem, used mathematics to unravel and understand it and then conducted experiments to confirm his original intuition. What helped him greatly was the gift of being able to hold a problem in his mind for hours, days and weeks. When working on gravity, or light, or music for example, he would become all of these, to understand the problem from the inside. In his alchemical work, which spanned 30 years, he would ingest potions and materials which might have killed any ordinary man, as was shown by tests made on his hair. With these and other details Edi allowed us to get a glimpse of this great man, and we can only hope that one day Edi will find a quiet (long) moment to put all his knowledge into a book which we will delight in reading.