A Kick in the Head, Glimpse the One

a painting by William Blake

I was knocked unconscious in a car crash when I was in high school. It happened in 1971, a few days after the announcement of the death of Jim Morrison in Paris. I was barreling down a dirt road in the hills of Missouri. A pig darted in front of the speeding truck, I slammed on the breaks, and the spinning truck rolled down the hill. 

I regained consciousness in Elysium, or was it Eden? For a precious few moments I was nothing but an Eye, hovering in a world that was glowing green. The green Earth was Peace. Conscious, but not yet aware of who or where I was. Was it a glimpse of the One?

Bernardo Kastrup got me started on all this last month with his new book on Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s Will is reality, all that is. It is the one consciousness, the primordial Mind. The problem is that Schopenhauer characterized it as a seething Id, endlessly churning with desires. His solution: 19th century European Buddhism. End suffering by losing oneself in art. 

Surely the One Mind is more than a blind mass of desire that we need to suppress or escape from. But how can we find out? Why bother?

This unhappy world needs healing. Somehow.

John Dewey once wrote that emotions and imagination are more potent in shaping public sentiment than information and reason. These are mobilized by having values that we all share and prize. He spoke of this mobilization as the common faith of mankind. 

Finding a common faith seems impossible these days. Our increasingly virtual lives vaporize our commonalities, splitting us into isolated atoms. 

As I write this, people are fleeing New York City. The subways are still empty, as are the office buildings. People, if they can afford it, are fleeing to the hills, that is, the suburbs. Thus we mask our snug and lonely fragmentation by Zoom. Fire consumes California, the golden state.

Dr. Larry Dossey, in his book One Mind, relates a speech given by Vaclav Havel in 1994 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, entitled “The Need for Transcendence”:

In today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion…it must be rooted in transcendence…Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we are ourselves are not, what we do not understand…but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because…all this constitutes a single world. Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.

Back to Bernardo. In his paper published in Scientific American, he writes about the correlation “mechanisms of brain function impairment and self-transcendence.” He defines self transcendence as a “broadening of one’s sense of self through a step function enrichment of one’s subjective inner life.” The article discusses the effects of cerebral hypoxia, near death experiences, trance, chemical impairment (drugs), and so on. Kastrup cites the experience of neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor after a stroke damaged her left hemisphere:

I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle. The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria

The scientific suggestion proposed by Kastrup is that the neocortex acts as a kind of reducing valve, locking us into our ordinary spatiotemporal world. Knocking this out, even temporarily, allows us to connect with the One Mind.

Very dangerous indeed. Transcendence has never been cheap. Just ask St. Paul on the way to Damascus. Just ask any of the spiritual athletes seriously practicing pranayama. Think the introduction of LSD into the US during the Sixties as a way of inducing mass experiences of transcendence. I’ll leave it up to the reader to frame their own opinion.

So how do we introduce transcendence, a living connection to the One, the Source of all, as a common faith for mankind? I don’t know. 

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