Tag Archives: mysticism

The Book – Alan Watts

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Reading Alan Watts always leaves me feeling like a tangled snarl of string. He begins with a compelling premise, elucidates his considerable thinking on the matter, amplifying his views with quotes from poets like William Blake and from various scriptures and sacred writings. And, by the end of the argument, I have followed him down into a place where the light is either too faint or too glaring for me to see properly. I can’t get to the end of the lesson. Mostly there doesn’t seem to be an end—which is probably what he meant anyway.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is typically brilliant, ahead of its time and infinitely frustrating. Watts examines the social conditioning that teaches us we are separate beings in a physical world of distinct objects and boundaries. He counters this assumption with a mash-up of Vedanta and contemporary physics to assert that our personal selves don’t actually exist. Well, they don’t actually exist as independent beings, disconnected from everything else. We are, in fact, entirely interconnected—as much to the city bus as to the irritating dolt in the next cubicle. And to Mother Theresa and Oprah and all of our friends and to every river, cucumber, butterfly and star.

If your life is a bowl of cherry pits, the collective unconscious, including your own unconscious, created that for your awareness. Or possibly you perceived those pits from the specific level of your own awareness. Sigh.

Some of the most fascinating ideas in Watts’ book (first published in 1966) are his evaluations of the limits of technology and the damage we are doing to the planet with extraordinary depletion of its resources—all because we don’t realize that we are both divine energy and the ground of the universe. We are the creators and to wander around deluded about that is to be unhappy and dissatisfied and to make a complete muck of life.

Nearly half a century ago, Watts was warning about the loss of privacy, technology creep, the eventual restriction of travel, artificially-created foods, the destruction of the environment and the standardization that transforms Waikiki Beach into any island beach anywhere—or maybe an especially theatrical resort pool area far from a real ocean. Wonder what he would have had to say about reality TV?

The monetization of work exhausts you and turns you and your product/service/labor/innovation into cheap commodities. This holds for burger jockeys as well as architects, scientists, housemaids and oil paint slingers (otherwise known as artists). The twin skills of attention and awareness can reveal glimpses of your true nature. We need to acknowledge the existence of magic in the world because, at its heart, all of this is a mystery and there are no words that can adequately capture it, no philosophy that can serve it up to us in neat digestible bits.

I wish I could get a solid handle on the brain of Alan Watts. I think he is right and intellectually dazzling but what the words represent is elusive. I agree we are deluded—I am deluded. But my simple soul would do cartwheels at some graspable notion of how to wake up. Clearly, I will have to read The Book again.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are   Alan Watts | Vintage Books  1989

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The Divine Matrix – Gregg Braden

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Gregg Braden’s The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles and Belief is several parts encouraging and several degrees of confusing. Braden takes physics as a starting point for an exploration of how reality is constructed from imagination. Quantum theory includes an energy field, referred to by some scientists as a matrix, and Braden borrows from scientific theory, mystic poetry, philosophy, anecdote and spiritual teachings to make his case.

His premise encompasses instantaneous healing, “seeing” across time and space, the nonverbal, non-contiguous communication between hearts, the demonstrable effect of the viewer upon the object or procedure viewed, the holographic nature of the universe, and how to rewrite the “code” of reality through imagination, emotion and intention. It’s pretty heady stuff and meant to be very empowering.

The “DNA phantom effect” is a phenomenon in which strands of DNA are shown to have an ongoing effect on the arrangement of photons, even when the DNA is removed from proximity. In other words, matter can affect matter through relationship, even at a distance. And a DNA sample, removed from a volunteer who was then isolated in another room and exposed to emotional stimuli, responded with electrical charges at the same instant that the emotions registered in the subject. Scientists were able to measure this response at several hundred feet but it still happened at several hundred miles. The experiment points to an energy field that exists to host an immediate and continual connection in living tissues. Or it might prove, as Braden surmises, that everything already exists in everything else—no separation.       

What this means for you is that your thoughts and emotions are not in the least ephemeral. They bring things and events into being. If that is correct, then you design and generate your own life. Your emotions have an effect on all around you and influence objects farther away than you realize. By controlling your mind and feelings, theoretically, you could create or change your world. That is an absolutely riveting possibility. It mirrors the “Law of Attraction” concepts popularized in numerous books and in films like The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know? And it may well be that mystics like Rumi and nuclear physicists running the Hadron Collider have more in common than we perceive.   

The science, as promised, is presented in clear, easy-to-grasp language. Unfortunately, although there are annotations throughout the text for quoted scriptures and published studies, you have to be well-acquainted with the science or take it on faith that Braden’s interpretation of scientific discovery to back up his own theories is sound. While I’m not much in the mood for scientific papers and PhD dissertations these days, I am never quite comfortable taking science on faith. And I am only an armchair physicist and neophyte theologist, if that.

So I read with interest, agreed with many of the assumptions in the book, and closed it still considering the material to be assumptions, as far as I am capable of determining. Maybe some empirical experimentation is in order to test cause and effect before embracing the ideas about manifestation and matrices. I do think there’s something to The Divine Matrix—it makes intuitive sense–but I’ll have to read more physics and reflect on the spiritual teachings Braden cites to create my own synthesis.

The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief   Gregg Braden | Hay House   2007

The Ruins of the Heart – trans. Edmund Helminski

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Mevlána Jeláluddin Rúmi, the great Islamic mystic, was born in 1207 in Persia, present-day Afghanistan. His peregrinations eventually landed him in Konya, Turkey, where he stayed and developed the ecstatic contemplation of the Beloved that found expression in countless luminous poems and utterances. His poetry has been translated into Victorian verse and contemporary quatrains but, no matter the language, Rúmi’s message, delivered from the heart, touches the heart.

Edmund Helminski translates a few of Rúmi’s verses into contemporary idiom in the slim volume The Ruins of the Heart.

          In this house of mud and water

          my heart has fallen into ruins.

          Enter this house, my Love, or let me leave.

Rúmi was a highly educated philosopher dedicated to the sublime experience of pure love. His work was informed by Plato, the Koran, Aesop’s fables, the works of Jesus, Buddha and the whole rich tapestry of world spiritual utterances embodied in the Persian culture of his time. Perhaps that is the secret to his widespread appeal. His ideas have influenced Chaucer, Goethe and Emerson, according to Helminsky, and I have half a shelf of various translations of Rúmi by different contemporary scholars and poets.

But the other undeniable attraction is his utter abandonment to ecstasy. Rúmi intended to become love, to lose himself and his identity in bliss. For a time, the object of his rapture was the nomad Shams of  Tabriz. Shams became for him the incarnation of perfect love and, even after Shams was murdered, or disappeared, Rúmi’s poetry concretized his stunning experience of dissolution into bliss. Those words were never meant to track a love affair, they are a universal expression of love, longing and transcendence.

          This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,

          to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.

          First, to let go of life.

          Finally, to take a step without feet.

          To regard this world as invisible,

          and to disregard what appears to the self.

          Heart, I said, what a gift it has been

          to enter this circle of lovers,

          to see beyond seeing itself…

The Inquisition had Europe in its blazing grip as Rúmi spun poetry and danced with deliberate abandon in Konya. Genghis Khan was pillaging and annexing all of the East. The codification of heresies, the auto-da-fé and torture were spelled out in the halls of the Vatican. Cathar towns and populations were exterminated. Mystics and metaphysicians were at work in Bhagdad, in Egypt, in Delhi. There was a great foment of ideas, benign and malign. And in its midst, a bard of uncommon and enduring talent.

We might actually study Rúmi now to learn what can exist in a realm without drones and Kalishnikovs and thinking so dull and muddy it breeds only misery and destruction. Rúmi’s world was real and fractured but his vision was lucid and enlightened.

          What shall I do, O Muslims?

          I do not recognize myself…

          I am neither Christian nor Jew,

          nor Magian, nor Muslim.

          I am not of the East, nor the West,

          not of the land, nor the sea.

          I am not from nature’s mine,

          nor from the circling stars…

          Oh Shams of Tabriz, I am so drunk in the world

          that except for revelry and intoxication

         I have no tale to tell.


The Ruins of the Heart   Jelaluddin Rumi (translator: Edmund Helminski) | Threshold Books   1981