Existence, what we call life or the universe, is multi-dimensional. It is enormous in scope and is perceived in many different ways. Two chief dimensions, or levels, are relevant to human experience. First, the surface level, what we know as the day-to-day world, has a basically fixed logical structure. That is, there are rules or laws that govern or guide the flow of experience. The scientific endeavour strives to model such laws with logic and thereby utilise these forces. Second, at a very deep level, the universe is open-ended and has very little structure that can be understood in terms of logic. It is full of possibility and can be considered as infinite. The deep level does have structure though. The best model for it, at present, is associative rather than logical. Human experience navigates the whole range of levels from surface to very deep. The dimension that threads these varying levels together is measured in terms of coherence.
Several examples may help to illumine what coherence means. First as a metaphor, consider all of reality as a television set. Now sometimes the picture is good and sometimes not so good. Most of us pass our days on earth watching a picture that has a lot of snow, or noise, on it. That is, the picture is not clear, there may be wavy sections or lots of unwanted dots flickering on the screen along with the desired program. Such noise corresponds to the pain, grief, and unfulfilled needs that we all must contend with throughout our lives. As the level of reality deepens so that coherence improves, the picture on the tube gets better and better. There is less and less distortion and confusion. Eventually, the picture becomes ok and is as it should be. This corresponds to the conventional religious notion of a heaven. A second example is a car. A car that is badly in need of a tune-up, one that sputters and smokes and makes a racket and stalls now and then, would be like existence as we know it here on earth. A smooth sailing noise-free, pollution-free car would correspond to a much deeper level of existence.
How does this apply to humans? Fixing the television or the car, corresponds to fine-tuning the mind. That is, as consciousness becomes more refined, it has access to these other levels of being. The most important way presently known to do this is through meditation.
This multi-dimensional characteristic of nature does not contradict the physical laws as expressed through science. Instead, it extends them in a manner very similar to the way the notion of relativity extended scientific models to account for effects as motion approaches the speed of light. In this case, the laws of science will be extended to account of increasing levels of coherence. At the surface levels, the laws will follow logical principles, and at deeper levels, the laws will follow associative principles.
The ages-old concept of correspondence can help to clarify these ideas somewhat more. A fundamental expression from the mystery school traditions states that, "As above, so below." This means that circumstances are not that much different at the various levels of experience. According to this ancient understanding, life in the heavenly realms follows rules and principles that are much the same as those we meet with in daily life. To comprehend the interworkings of life here on earth is comparable to a good, basic understanding of the laws at other levels of being. Nowadays, science has developed chaos theory which includes this idea as part of its model. However, the model's present scope is restricted to phenomena that are easily accessible, so that the spiritual dimension of life has not yet been fully considered.
Personal ego, mind-body, soul
( the personal soul is part of the "Self" )
A highly integrated level of consciousness that underpins the universe; It supports both individual and group consciousness
Needs fulfilment, self-actualisation and eventually, self-transcendence
Life forms developing to higher levels of coherence and harmony; The contents of reality individually develop towards coherence
Growth of society, ecological awareness
The deeper levels of being are essentially coherent and connected; They provide the context for the play of life at more chaotic surface levels; Interconnectedness is the tendency for self-organising life forms at surface levels to surrender identity and integrate back into more harmonious levels of being
Logic, ego, decision making, temporal processing
Scientific model for reality
Association, emotion, soul, intuition, holistic processing
Spiritual model for reality
|Improved Meditational Ability
More alert and calm mental states
|Deepening Levels of Reality|
Access to other dimensions via increasing coherence
Achieved by tuning the left-brain's temporal processing; identification of awareness with the ego continues until very advanced stages
Awareness grounded in left-brain
|Personal Awareness at any Realm of Existence|
Spiritual experiences of joy, fulfilment, and compassion
Achieved by differentiating ( refining ) awareness from the perception of sensory input and left-brain thought
Awareness grounded in right-brain
|Holistic Awareness at any Realm of Existence|
Spiritual experiences of devotion, surrender, and oneness with a larger totality
First of all, what is the self? Human beings have three basic parts: a body, a mind, and a soul. According to most spiritual traditions, the soul is basically dormant in the average person. However, it can be enlivened through various means. The traditional notion of self encompasses the body and the mind. It does not include the soul. When the word "Self" is used, it indicates people who have fully contacted their soul and managed to integrate it with their mind and body. They experience life somewhat differently than most of us. It is as if they are wearing the mind and body. No longer do they feel that they are only the little self of mind and body. They are more. They are grounded in the soul and know that it is their real home. Yet they still also experience the little self in much the same way as we do. It is just that they have added another dimension to their experience of living.
Second, what is this life all about? The two main life forces that we as humans experience, are, a need for self-actualisation and a need to belong to something greater than ourselves. These are forces that are transpersonal. They go beyond our individual desires for fulfilment. We as humans feel them, but so too do these forces drive the whole of universal experience. The universe started as a Big Bang into a multitude of celestial bits and pieces. Ever since, a self-organising principle has seen creation begin to build itself back up into higher and more complex life-forms. For, example, on earth, we have evolved from a simple chemical soup through to dinosaurs and onwards to our modern day form and pace of life.
We express this desire to grow along many levels. For instance, safety, food, companionship, community, meaning, actualisation and fulfilment. The culmination of these levels is the need to transcend the self. That is, the highest motivation we can have is to become more than we are. There are two very distinct ways that we can achieve this. Both of them are very appropriate. Both are in harmony with the flow of nature. They derive from the universal impulses of differentiation and integration.
The following metaphor provides a setting for understanding them. Imagine that the entire sphere of existence has taken the form of a music box. The box is the context for the music, and the music is the content of the box. The box represents the deepest level of being that is knowable in our universe, and the music represents the endless parade of experience that we and all beings share in. The marchers in this celestial parade are the musical notes. So for instance, each one of us is a note in some song within this box.
Differentiation refers to the natural movement of the notes to assemble themselves into more and more complex forms--notes become phrases, phrases become songs, songs become symphonies, and so on. On a human level this equates to our growth as individuals. We strive and wish to become healthier, happier, and wiser. This is entirely in accord with nature at all levels of being. Metaphysically, this leads to higher levels of consciousness which still possess a clear sense of identity as being different than, yet contained within, the box ( the Divine ). The end of this journey of gradual harmonisation occurs when an individual song is so beautifully crafted that it naturally transforms itself back into the box.
Integration refers to the intimate link between the box and its notes. Because the box created the notes, it has established a resonance ( harmony ) between itself and the notes. So even before a note transforms itself back into the box, the note has an innate connection with it. Because the box itself speaks in a language that includes, but is more than, music, it can only be partially understood by the notes. So a note's subjective experience of its immediate connection with the box is one of melting into the supporting but somewhat mysterious and unknowable box. Metaphysically this integration leads to the transcendence of identity. A note, for example, would experience a sense of personal emptiness but transpersonal fullness. The level of integration back towards the deepest level of being ( the box ) depends on the purity of surrender ( self-transcendence ). For instance, a note would most likely first "dissolve" back into directly adjacent levels of being ( such as a phrase or song ) rather than immediately integrating back into the box ( the Divine song ). The end of this journey, just as for differentiation, is dissolution into, and identity with, the box.
The only difference between the subjective experience of differentiation and integration is the locus of awareness for the note. The structure of the box and its various musical levels is consistent and independent of the music's subjective experience. As an example, if a note progressed along the lines of differentiation, it would have a strong sense of its own identity when it reached the next level as, say, a phrase. On the other hand, if the note primarily advanced through integration, it would reach the level of a phrase, just as it did for differentiation, but its subjective experience would instead be that it, as a note, was empty, and that what remained beyond such an emptiness was something not altogether communicable. In both cases the note reached the level of the phrase. In one case it could articulate the event but no longer existed--so to speak--at the level of a note, and in the other case it could but intuit having reached the level of a phrase but still existed at the level of a note. For humans, these two cosmic streams are entered by developing mental coherence for the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The various forms of meditation and prayer that are used throughout all the world's mystical traditions address either one or both of these developmental areas.
The first way that the self can be transcended is to transform the self into a Self. The mental part of the self consists of two parts: a thinking part that includes memory, and what psychology calls the ego. To grow beyond the little self, we have to deal with the ego. Fortunately, it is a mental construct ( idea ) itself! It is a by-product of the machinery of the brain. The soul is the important part. The mind with its ego came into being along with the body and it will go away again when the body ceases to function. Subjectively though, the ego is very real indeed. We all know what a very strong feeling we have of being alive!
So the ego is neither a fiction nor something eternal. It is simply the bundle of feelings and thoughts that arises when you think about yourself. Through practice, it is possible to differentiate awareness from this sense of self. When developed appropriately, such an awareness gradually transforms into the soul. Many of the main spiritual practices are aimed at this. In particular, the development of morality along with a deepening ability to concentrate through either prayer or meditation, forms the essence of most spiritual systems.
The second way to move beyond the self to something more wholesome is through surrender to the universal aspects of life. In this way we can really come to know and belong to that which is larger than ourselves. One way to begin such a journey is just to remember the obvious: that life is utterly miraculous and despite all our accumulated knowledge, very mysterious. Many meditation practices are geared toward this result. In particular, mindfulness meditation, which forms the core of all Buddhist traditions and many other western esoteric ones as well, is directly aimed at this way of transcending the self.
The chief point to understand about the spiritual dimension of life is that it is real. More real, in fact, than what we call life here on this earth. Spirit ( another name would be subtle energy ) is the unifying principle that knits together all experience. We, as humans, can access this dimension of life. It is our right and destiny. Doing so accords with the natural flow of universal forces. Not every human can be expected to immediately achieve such wonderful insight and wisdom as spiritual masters have done. But the very existence of such accomplished souls points to a great human potential. To even begin that journey is a mature and good step, and is helpful for the whole of humanity as well.
So our responsibility as basically rational and decent beings is to pull together as a group to understand, explore, and develop the rich harvest of well-being for all that spirituality brings. At a personal level, this means taking up some spiritual practice to improve our own condition--any tradition that appeals will do. Having such a practice need in no way contradict any religious beliefs that we may have. All religions have mystically oriented sides to them, so one can remain in one's chosen faith if desired. At a social level, this means honouring and respecting others, regardless of their beliefs, and trying to help out others, even if it is in very small ways. Indeed, having the desire to help others and then serving them in small ways is one of the very best means to develop spiritually--and the opportunities are endless, we don't need to go to the forest to find chances to practise! Finally, at a spiritual level, this means accepting life the way it is, regardless of how much it might hurt. And yet it is still our spiritual responsibility to believe in something better and more than just the confusion and sorrow of this life. The precious gift of devotion to something larger than oneself is the royal road to this attitude.
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