Discover more from Layman Pascal
An Inquiry into Postmetaphysical Spiritual Synesthesia
Let us, like good aromatherapists, interest ourselves in the making of benevolent ethereal blends. Why? Because in this article, I wish to illustrate some of my unusual ideas about the ways in which spiritualization might be produced from the affective harmonization of various subjective human subsystems.
That is both suggestive and obscure. It may not be immediately apparent what I actually mean by such rash combinations of abstract words. Perhaps we can work with a single example? Instead of trying to discuss the many different ways that our psychology could be subdivided and recombined — akin to the famous solve et coagula formula of the alchemists — let us probe a simple version. I am sure it will be quite complex enough! Here it is:
Heart. Mind. Body.
These are three familiar, classical “subsystems” found generally within in all human beings. You may find them called “intelligences” or “centers” or “functions”. What makes them very interesting is that they are each subjectively sensitive. We can detect them from the inside. In some respects they are like three separate sentient beings.
On a good day, you could experience ideas, feelings or sensations just by wishing to do so. They are only an attention away. Each of these thematic, meaning-making zones seems to have its own qualia, impulses, energies, patterns, etc. And each of them is associated with (but not limited to) particular sets of neural networks that allow them to act like ‘brains’ — i.e. memory, communication, responsiveness, insights.
So this is our example. We are looking at the instance of dividing our subjectivity into three subsystems and then exploring what different kinds of “spiritual” blends would then be possible.
There are obviously four distinct blends available from simply combining three elements: Mind+Body. Heart+Body. Heart+Mind. Heart+Mind+Body.
Metaphorically, we could think of these as three fragrances (or perhaps “subtle energies” if we are feeling reckless) whose various blendings are associated with authentic spiritual practices and experiences.
Briefly, we might speculate as follows:
Mind & Body are combined very prominently in the “spiritual aspect” of martial arts, tai chi, sacred dances & body-oriented therapies. We are not trying to simplistically define any of these procedures but only to point out a recurrent feature of many approaches — the cultivation of an additional degree of “presence” and “energy flow” through practices involving both (a) open mental attention to somatic experience, and (b) precisely leading physical movement with clarified mental intention. Here also we could speculate on widespread forms of meditation practice centered around the simple instruction to “follow the breath while witnessing the arising of thoughts.”
Body & Heart could be said to combine more intensively in the mysticism of erotic activity, peak experiences of passionate dancers like Nijinsky, the sacred status of ancient berserk warriors and even the unusual charisma of certain actors. The commonality is that a subjective and intersubjective “force” or “magnetism” or “divinity” is encouraged through a deeper connection between emotional intelligence and neuromuscular/sensory intelligence. This is not at all surprising if we reflect on the minor spiritual shift that occurs whenever we feel more profoundly into an appreciative breath of fresh air. An extra quality seems to accompany the balanced simultaneity of feeling & acting.
Heart & Mind are frequently associate, when balanced together, with health and benevolence. It is noteworthy how many spiritual cultures from diverse parts of the world have produced practices such as (a) keep your mind focused deeply in the heart, love, empathy (b) intentionally cultivate positive emotional states in accordance with the decision and supervision of the mind. Idealized versions of saints give us the impression of their attentive mental participation in benevolent, coherent emotional frequencies?
We may also consider the kinds of esoteric schools — the great diaspora downstream of Gurdjieff & Ouspensky is one prominent example — in which a generalized human wholeness or beingness is said to be intensified and better embodied through working alternatively or simultaneously with heart, mind & body.
My hypothesis is that combinations of these subsystems, whether in simultaneous activity or contemplative intra-psychic observation, can be guided toward an amplified phenomenological balance that blends into a subjectively-verified harmony accompanied by typical feelings of expansiveness, uplift, wholeness, authenticity, existential satisfaction, extra energy. Because the new blend is not localized into one of our subsystem it has a quality of mystery to it — an elusiveness relative to common concepts and verbal descriptions.
We are not going to get into the idea that this “more than the sum of the parts” experience can be interpreted and perceived through different lenses. We will leave aside a study of how these balanced combinations can occur naturally or in combination with flow-state activities in life. The medical and psycho-therapeutic applications must wait for the moment. We wish to just get a few of the ideas across through the example of one set.
There are many other possible sets. Consider all the other ways that people have collectively subdivided our “subjective anatomy”. There are 7 chakras, 2 hemispheres of the brain, our sense of inner/outer, self-awareness & other-awareness, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, masculinity & femininity, etc. Any viable set of subjective subsystems would potentially yield its own particular “blends” or “hybrids” associated with the types of practices and experiences that human beings have classified as their collective spiritual lives and possibilities.
A viable theory of spirituality has to be:
flexible enough to accommodate the full diversity of traditional, multi-traditional, secular, eclectic and idiosyncratic forms of spiritual practice or experience. It must describe multiple valid spiritual trajectories.
consistent enough to elucidate the functional processes involved and even non-judgmentally adjudicate what is or is not likely to be spiritual. It cannot be reductively based merely in whatever anyone claims to believe.
postmetaphysical in the sense of operating without bondage to any particular set of mythic or cosmological claims BUT still able to recognize and validate patterns from any meaningful personal or social schema.
The suggestive example (heart/mind/body) from this article is an introduction to a broader set of ideas that tries to take seriously the requirements listed above.