Friday, February 16, 2024

The BIG Picture

    Many of us are wrapped-up & lost in the details of our personal life - 'the story of me.' Naturally, we all want happiness, but our experience tells us that happiness is fleeting. Keeping our attention on our own relatively minor personal concerns at least distracts us from the great global human-caused problems we now face.
    Many remain dubious about, even disinterested in the BIG PICTURE - why we're here, what we're doing, or where we're going. We're disoriented, lost without a map - almost as if we've been plucked out from the fabric of real life & as some movie fans propose, locked into "the Matrix."

    When we are narrowly focused on surviving as if we were alone, in a harsh, meaningless world, we actually bring about suffering, and can only perceive a harsh, meaningless world. Our present oddly cynical, fearful, narrowly-self-centered culture makes it challenging even to consider the BIG PICTURE. No wonder more & more nations are democratically electing "strong-men" (dictators) to rule, and then allow them to become "president for life." Rest in peace Alexei Navalny.

    "Every nation gets the government it deserves." Joseph de Maistre

     IF we have the wisdom, courage & spaciousness to be connected to the BIG PICTURE, feeling intimately connected to other people & Nature in a loving, nurturing way, we CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

    Fortunately respected scholars, researchers & increasingly others are becoming deeply interested in & open to the BIG PICTURE, integrating the direct experience of ancient wisdom traditions with research data of modern science :

    "The author Frank White conducted interviews with a range of astronauts. Based on his findings, he coined the term ‘overview effect’ to describe the paradigm shift in consciousness that many of them reported when they viewed the Earth from space. The most dramatic was that of Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. In 1971, two days into his homeward flight, he was lying in the console of Apollo 14, monitoring the spacecraft’s systems & peacefully contemplating the scene through the small capsule window. Because there is no atmosphere in space, almost ten times more stars are visible to the naked eye than on Earth. As the craft rotated, multitudes of stars and planets, including Earth, tumbled in and out of his view. He had a wondrous sense of ‘being swaddled in the cosmos.’ He felt tranquil & relaxed, safe after his foray on the unforgiving surface of the moon. Then, without warning, something happened that would change the course of his life.
    ‘Somehow I felt tuned into something much larger than myself,’ he writes, ‘something much larger than the planet in the window. Something incomprehensibly big. Even today, the perceptions still baffle me … looking beyond the Earth itself to the magnificence of the larger scene, there was a startling recognition that the nature of the universe was not as I had been taught. My understanding of the separate distinctiveness and the relative independence of movement of those cosmic bodies was shattered. There was an upwelling of fresh insight coupled with a feeling of ubiquitous harmony – a sense of interconnectedness with the celestial bodies surrounding our spacecraft. … I was part of a larger process than I’d previously understood, one that was all around me in this command module as it sped towards Earth through 240,000 miles of empty black space.’"

    Maria Coffey. “Explorers of the Infinite. The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes – and What They Reveal About Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communications, and Touching the Beyond.” Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2008. EXCEPTIONAL BOOK!

    Rupert Sheldrake PhD    “One of the most obvious findings of research on the effects of psychedelics on the brain is that psychedelics shut down the default mode network – those regions of the brain that are linked together that are concerned with mental chatter, discursive thoughts & the internal dialogue. And as soon as that’s shut down, you become much more present. They also lead to connections between different brain regions that wouldn’t normally be connected. It’s not very surprising really if one’s had these experiences where very unusual things can happen.
    More recently, there have been a lot of studies on the therapeutic use of psychoactive substances, for example psilocybin & its effects on chronic long-term depression & on addiction. What’s interesting about these studies is that it’s not the drug itself working at the purely chemical level that’s helping people. And they’re much more effective at relieving long-term depression than any of the standard anti-depressants or talk-therapies. It’s not the drug itself, it’s the experience it induces – it’s really that sense of being connected to a greater consciousness – a kind of mystical insight that changes people. Some chemical companies say they’re going to try and make versions of these drugs that don’t have these ‘undesirable effects’ of visionary states, mystical union, etc, ‘just stick to chemicals.’ But I think if they do that, they’re almost doomed to failure, because it’s the experience which is what changes people. And sometimes people who’ve been depressed for 25 years, resistant to all known forms of therapy, after a couple of experiences with psilocybin, together with a therapist helping them integrate this, have proved much more effective than any other treatment at changing their state.
the usual interpretation of mystical experiences is not that our brain produces these experiences, it’s that they’re always there, available to us, but we normally block them out [[[by the Default Mode Network]]] because we’re so busy worrying about all the things we worry about, obsessed with our preferences and so on, so we block them out. But if we shut down the bits of the brain that block them out [[[Default Mode Network]]], then they can come through. So I personally prefer the idea that there are experiences coming through, and the effect on the brain is really to permit these experiences to come through, rather than blocking them out through our 'normal' mental activities [[[repetitive self-centered chatter]]].
    Of course with peoples’ world views, you can’t in the end persuade them just through logic, I mean it’s really experience that will have to tell us which is true in the end.
    What I find perverse about the materialist point of view is that it claims to be based on science, reason & empirical evidence. Empirical evidence means literally the evidence of experience. The Greek word empirical means experience
    So if you’re going to have empirical evidence about consciousness, it has to be based on conscious experience. And to dismiss conscious experience in favor of an ideology – that says it’s all about molecules, & consciousness doesn’t do anything, it's just an epiphenomenon of the brain, or an illusion produced by brain activity – seems to me utterly perverse & deeply anti-empirical.”

    Rupert Sheldrake "Psychedelics and Consciousness, University of Sussex"

    Iain McGilchrist MD, PhD    “I’ve become more & more convinced, that none of the things that we desperately need to do to solve, the various problems that we face and that we talk about a great deal, none of this in the end will matter unless we are able to get back to the spiritual ground of our being. In other words, by some sort of a miracle we could reverse the pollution of the seas, we could perhaps do something to at least slow climate change, we could make it harder for people to carry on felling ancient forests. All this I believe in powerfully, but I also think that none of it will add up to a hill of beans unless we re-engage with the spiritual basis of human life.
    I don’t think we any longer know what it is to be a human being. I think people haven’t got the foggiest idea what they’re doing here, what the cosmos in which they come into being is like, and what their relationship with the Earth that is their home is like
the new book I wrote, “The Matter with Things,” I suggest first of all, that many of the ways in which we look at the constitution of the cosmos are upside down or back-to-front. So, in other words we tend to think for example that, first of all there are things, and then there are relations between them, some of which we make in our minds, and that’s the way it is. Whereas I argue throughout a very long book that, in fact relations are absolutely primary. There is nothing that truly exists that is not a relation, and is not in fact in process, as Whitehead pointed out.
in other words, relations & processes are primary, not places & things. And I also believe that for example, it’s not that there’s literal truth, and that’s the really important thing, and metaphorical truths are just some kind of semi-imaginary extension of literal truth. In fact I believe that all fundamental truths are metaphorical in nature, and that literal truth is just a very special kind that we’ve invented to describe a small subset of things that occur at a very everyday level.
for the purposes of what we’re talking about now, I want to suggest that it’s not that somehow there is inanimacy and then there is life, and then there is consciousness, and then there is a sense of the great values: goodness, beauty, truth and the sacred. I think it’s the other way around, that what actually exists fundamentally, is a field of consciousness which is divine, which has the qualities of attending to & drawing us towards goodness, beauty & truth, and the sense of the holy & sacred, and that it’s for this that we’ve developed our complexity as human beings, since we are not better than animals, but we are in this sense, above them that we can hope to respond to, to receive, to resonate with, and to give a full & fulfilling response to those leading values that draw us forward."

    Rupert Sheldrake PhD     I think of it in a very similar way, and so do most people in the world for that matter. We in Western Europe live in a particularly Godless part of the world. But it’s not quite the same if you go to Africa, India, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, or many other parts of the world. Most people in the world are religious. And this kind of secular, humanist, atheist-tinted culture that we have is a historical anomaly. Most people were religious in Europe. As Charles Taylor in his wonderful book, ‘A Secular Age’ points out, in the year 1500 in Europe, everyone believed in God. Everyone believed in the kind of vision you’ve just put forward. It was almost impossible not to, not because people were coerced into believing that, but because there was just no credible alternative.
    And what’s happened is through the growth of first through the Protestant Reformation, and the disenchantment of the world that happened in part through the Protestant Reformation, a lack of emphasis on Nature, a focus entirely on human consciousness, and then through the Scientific Revolution – the mechanistic materialistic worldview that’s grown out of it, we now have this very secular world where people think that evolution & life starts from the bottom up – from molecules, genes & cells and everything builds up until you’ve got big enough brains where the light of consciousness mysteriously comes on, and then we start thinking about bigger things like God, but they’re just inventions inside our own minds, and hence inside our own brains, and you’d be able to tell us exactly where.
    This is what you & I are discussing, and what in fact the whole scientific medical network has been concerned with right from the start is trying to find a way back to a world view that is still consonant with science, because science isn’t going to go away, and we’ve learned a great many things about nature through the scientific process, but to recover a sense of this connection which is actually there in all traditions. Shamanic traditions all just assume that there are realms beyond, that what we see is not all there is. And as my main teacher, Father Bede Griffiths used to point out that the center of all religious & spiritual culture is a direct experience of our minds, our consciousness, being a part of something vastly greater than ourselves. And as he pointed out, all religions start from that experience. It’s not a dogma, it’s an experiencea central experience of unity, and then it’s interpreted in different cultures, in different traditions, different languages, different interpretations of this primary unitive experience. This sense of ultimate unity which are interpreted in all these different cultural ways. But that is the central foundation of all these religious traditions.
    And as far as we know, this intuition that we’re part of something greater than ourselves is very ancient. All these cave paintings from 20, 30, 40 thousand years ago, the practice of burying the dead, dealing with the dead in a ritual way, and so on, all these things suggest that this has been part of human consciousness for a very, very long time. No doubt the forms have changed, and the development of the great religions has put a more unifying aspect on these insights, but it seems to me that it’s been foundational to human life throughout almost all human history, with the brief anomaly of Western Europe & parts of North America, in the last 150 years.”
    Dr Iain McGilchrist & Dr Rupert Sheldrake - Intersection of Consciousness and Matter


Rumi quote - artist: Molly Hahn

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