Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mature Contemplation

Every man takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.

Schopenhauer, Psychological Observations

The very best student of consciousness is one who has learned to study their own brainworld. In these posts I take the results of this phenomenological standpoint seriously – so seriously in fact that I consider them fundamental to all other sources of information and observation about consciousness. First the phenomenology, second the neuroscience or quest for the NCC mediating what we have found phenomenologically, and lastly the cultural aspect – how do different peoples view the matter. The study of consciousness WITHOUT input of phenomenology is a fool’s game, patently absurd considering that each of us has a consciousness and ample "wired-in" resources for studying it directly. So let us look at mature contemplation: What is it? How is it developed as a skill? When is it appropriately applied? And why do it at all?


Phenomenology, as I have said previously, is a broad term – there being many kinds of phenomenology represented in the philosophical literature (see Kockelmans’ classic history of phenomenology). But what I mean by it is what Edmund Husserl himself meant by it – the dedicated, systematic, trained application of introspection, and the clear description of the results of introspection. What I do NOT mean by it is what might be called the "as I gaze out my study window at the oak in the back yard" brand of naive introspection. This is not Husserlian phenomenology, but rather unconsciously conditioned rationality in search of instantiation in experience. If someone is conditioned to believe that swatches of color are solid, then they are not likely to discern the actual pixelation in their visual field. Beliefs and conditioned knowledge make up what Husserl called the "natural attitude" toward phenomena. Training as a phenomenologist requires whatever instruction and training is necessary to parse out these beliefs and bits of knowledge so that they may be set aside ("bracketed" in Husserl’s jargon) and the focus of awareness be directed at phenomena as they actually are presented in consciousness.

What is required then is what we have called mature contemplation. We have written a lot about mature contemplation. Chapter 11 of Brain, Symbol and Experience is on about the topic, and is perhaps the most technical definition of the skill, relating it to research that has been done in transpersonal psychology on meditation, as well as practical Buddhist psychology. There is also a little book that I published privately in a limited edition that is the transcript of a series of seminars I gave in 1986. It is entitled An Ibis in the Tree and you can now find it online at the link at the right of this blog. There are a couple of chapters in that source that apply – again, if you want more technical details.

Mature contemplation simply means that a phenomenologist (one who is studying their own consciousness) has developed skill in meditation and contemplation sufficient that they have at least put the illusion of a permanent ego (what Husserl called the "empirical ego") behind them. In terms of Buddhist psychology, this means that the mature contemplative is someone who has realized at least stage 4 of the 12 stages of the development of insight. How one accomplishes that we shall get to in a moment. But what is required for mature contemplation to take root is practice in focusing on aspects of consciousness or phenomena with unwavering and enduring concentration to the exclusion of all other demands on attention. Most people cannot do that right off, because they are conditioned to move the spotlight of their awareness from object to object – the natural prime directive again: seek food without becoming food. My friend Jon Shearer and I used to team teach classes and one trick we would pull is walk into the classroom, tape a Canadian dollar bill to the blackboard and later on challenge the class to meditate on their breath without distraction while they counted from one to ten, and if they were distracted at all, they had to start at one again. It was amazing how long it would take for the first student to raise their hand and win the buck.

There are at least three important realizations along the path of developing a mature contemplative skill set. The first, as I say, is the reduction of the empirical ego, the second is the experience of totality and the third is learning the stage in meditation sometimes known as "access concentration." We have mentioned the reduction of the empirical ego already. That is, the bracketing of the idea that there is a permanent "me" in here somewhere. The maturing contemplative inevitably learns that the empirical ego is an illusion. By this time the mind-set of self exploration and discovery are well developed in the being. That is, one knows by this time that one may choose any element of experience or consciousness to single out for scrutiny, and one has the requisite stillness to carry it out effectively.

The experience of totality, or what is sometimes called the coincidentia oppositorum (or union oppositorum = "union of opposites") realization, is an absorption experience in which the conceptual barriers between self and world vanish, and one realizes that all things are interconnected – that the universe is a true cosmos, a vast, perhaps infinite monad or system in which nothing whatsoever is isolated from the whole. Thus falls the illusion that "I" am distinct from the world, or that the world has no influence upon "my" being. It is this realization that is fundamental to all religious systems of whatever brand. Indeed, the word "religion" basically means the binding together of disparate parts – the same root as our English "ligament," the tissue that ties muscle to bone. Interestingly enough, it is the same root meaning as that informing "yoga," and our English word "yoke," again meaning to bind together. With the realization of totality, the contemplative no longer can credence any world view or philosophy that separates this from that. Mind you, this realization is both an absorption state with perhaps accompanying bliss, and an intuitive realization. It does not necessarily mean that the contemplative has reached systems consciousness – a very crucial factor in producing The Crisis, as we shall see in a later post.

The third, and pragmatically speaking, the most important realization is that of "access concentration" (upachara samadhi) – also referred to in esoteric Kabbala as the "beauty" sepherot. This is a distinct dead-calm mindstate in which focus of attention is effortless and no distractions can drag attention away. All discursive thought, imagery and chatter have dropped away. I say it is pragmatically the most important because it is in this mindstate that the contemplative can get the best and most efficient work done. Access to intuitive knowledge is virtually perfect, and questions will be answered about as fact as the questions are generated. For this reason, the mindstate has also been called the "self-illuminating" void – that is, in more modern Jungian terms, access to the unconscious source of wisdom is seamless and direct. The greater psyche will cooperate with the conscious mind in answering questions and presenting intuitive insights. What matters most for the maturation of the contemplative is the development of more and more subtle questions, and in this mindstate this development proceeds unobstructed by distraction and noise.

Mature contemplation, then, is a skill one develops in the practice of self-exploration. Just as one must learn to handle the requisite equipment in a laboratory on the way to becoming a chemist, or the Dewey Decimal Classification System and computers on the way to becoming a librarian, so too must the contemplative learn to use the "wired-in" functions of the mind directed back at itself. More on this next.


Anthropologists have shown that there is an inherent drive in the psyche of hairless apes to alter their state of consciousness. People in differing cultures will fast, run for hours, carry out painful and exhausting ordeals, drop all sorts of psychotropes, participate in demanding rituals, all in an effort to change their experience of themselves and their reality in exotic ways. Folks in our society imbibe booze, toke weed, drop ecstacy and LSD, run marathons, jump off towers with rubber bands on their legs, stand in line for hours to get on roller coasters, each wanting to alter their mind set, see something new, feel something intensely, get high. Why do they do this? The simple answer is that the brainworld of hairless apes inherently knows that any experience of the world or self is partial, never complete, and various means have been discovered through the ages that can expand consciousness. It is VERY significant that in traditional societies – that is, societies that have not lost touch with their root cosmologies – these efforts are NEVER allowed outside of religious activities (save for boozing), while in our society they occur as "recreation." What is missing in today’s Euro-american-aussie society is an interpretive framework that links the alternative state of consciousness (ASC) with a single overarching world view or cosmology.
What distinguishes a mature contemplative from other paths that seek to alter one’s ASC is the intention to explore and describe the essential elements of experience.

When I first learned to meditate forty years ago, I learned a zen technique of sitting in half-lotus position and focusing on my navel region – yes, quite literally navel gazing. And after a while I got quite good at it. I would end up in a bliss state, calm and stress-free – which was damned useful seeing as how I was in grad school with all the attendant work load that entailed. But as time went on, I got bored with bliss. Yup, bored -- cause the meditation never went anywhere, just quiet and blissful relaxation. Only much later did I learn that Buddhist psychology sometimes calls this "frozen ice samadhi." Frozen, cause it was devoid of any burning questions that would use that bliss-energy to carry insight further.

Which is perhaps a long way around to get to the point, which is how does one become a mature contemplative. The answer is that one may reach that goal by various means, different paths, and using all sorts of techniques, many of which are ancient and used in different religious and spiritual contexts. One major difference here is that we are not interested in preternatural goals – we are not interested in seeking experiences that confirm the existence of fairies, gods and goddesses, Nirvana, or the One True God. We are not seeking our totem, our life’s calling, guidance as a healer, lost objects or the path of the next caribou migration. As a contemplative we are interested in only one set of questions, and that is questions that lead us to understand how our brainworld works, how the fine structures of consciousness produce our world of experience. If there are unintended spiritual consequences of this work – and I assure you there will be – they are beside the point unless they forward our understanding of consciousness.

That said, the first and most important skill the contemplative must master is centering and calming. Indeed, the word "meditate" literally means centering – the same root as informs our words mediate, median, medicine (back when medicine was on about balancing the four humours), mediocre, and so forth. It means to "middle," or more precisely bring all the body-mind energies into synch and center them in the body. During the process these energies also chill-out, the body begins to relax and calm itself way more than one has ever been used to in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. And during this process one quickly comes to two important realizations: (1) that the calmer and sharper the mind gets, the clearer one can observe the processes of the body, and (2) that paradoxically the body comes more and more into a restful state while the mind gets more and more active, focused and alert. Because we are conditioned to fall asleep when our body relaxes completely, it is important that beginners meditate in an upright posture. Later one learns that one may meditate in any posture, including laying down. But at first, sit in a comfortable straight back chair with feet flat on the floor and the hands in the lap or on the arms of the chair, and don’t let the head droop. And do not worry about learning exotic postures. People in the East have sat in lotus and half-lotus positions all their lives. In fact there are yoga exercises that mothers will put their infants through in order to limber their joints so that the lotus posture is easy later on. Don’t worry about this. It just does not matter, and attempts to force the body into these postures may actually do injury.

This is the point at which one gets an inkling of the potential for this kind of exploration – that one may be able to learn things doing this that one could not learn in one’s normal state of mind. The key is to focus on a single object to the exclusion of all other distractions. Theoretically one could focus on any object before the mind: a flickering candle flame, a campfire (have you ever wondered why it is so relaxing to stare at a campfire?), a star (Navajo shamans and Tibetan running meditators use stars as foci for meditation), a crystal, a pool of water, a patch of sunlight under the trees, the sound of the wind, a patch of color. The potential objects are endless, and each has its lessons to teach. However, in practice there are objects that are more effective than others in quieting the mental faculties and stopping the flitting from object to object, and all that chatter that clutters the mind. The most direct and effective object of meditation for training the contemplative mind is the breath. It is an object that is (1) directly connected to the system in the body that controls the distribution of energy, and (2) is intermittent, constantly changing and always there, and no matter how proficient one becomes as a contemplative, it will carry you to wherever you need to go to improve.

Meditation on the Breath

The simplest meditation on the breath is to focus one’s attention on whichever nostril is most open and pay attention to the sensation of the air coming in and out of the nose. That’s it, that’s all. Simple, huh? HA! Just try it. Just sit right there in your desk chair, stop reading this and sit up straight and with eyes neither closed nor open – just let them find their own level – focus on the sensation of the air coming in and out of your nostril for the next five minutes. Every time something distracts you from this focus, bring your attention back to your nostril. If you are distracted a hundred times, bring your mind back to the breath a hundred times. That’s all there is to it.

So, what did you find out? That your mind likes to leap around a lot? That there was a lot of thinking going on? Distractions like birds chirping out the window, thoughts about what you need to get done today, itchy patches on your skin? What? Note them all, and if you are serious about becoming a proficient meditator, then begin right now keeping a log of your experiences.

How does this work exactly? How can one tranquilize the body and clear and sharpen the mind in this way? As I said, the breath, along with the heart beat (which some meditators use, but it is harder for many to perceive), galvanic skin response (which you can only perceive using a machine), blood flow (which also requires a machine), is directly connected to the neurological and glandular systems that control energy distribution in the body. This neural system is called the autonomic nervous system and consists of two reciprocally operating sub-systems, one which is called the sympathetic nervous system energizes our fight-flight behaviors, and the other one which is called the parasympathetic nervous system energizes relaxation, digestion, healing and so forth. I say reciprocally operating because the activation of one sub-system tends to dampen the activity of the other sub-system. And meditating on the breath to the exclusion of all other distractions drives the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn turns off the sympathetic nervous system – thus eventually relaxing the whole body.

How long it takes to reach maximum relaxation and mental alertness depends on so may factors: (1) how much time and effort one puts into the practice; (2) how neurotic one is – that is, how much anxiety arises to thwart driving the parasympathetic nervous system – anxiety is energized by the reciprocal system, the sympathetic nervous system; (3) how much is one in touch with one’s body before beginning this practice – some are into their bodies quite naturally while others are more detached from their bodies; (4) how stressful is the rest of one’s life – a stressful job or home life can hinder relaxation in meditation; and (5) how patient one is towards themselves – does inability to focus get translated into self-castigation, which is just more sympathetic nervous system activity hindering relaxation. Basically, it takes as long as it takes. How much does one want to learn the skills required to become a mature contemplative? The most important factor after intensity of desire to become a contemplative is persistence. Doing the practice day after day after day for months and years if necessary.

Charlie’s Favorite Meditation Technique

When I meditate to chill-out and prepare myself for serious contemplative work, I meditate on the breath, but also use a visualization practice with the focus on the breath that I learned in Thailand. I imagine a pea-size or smaller blue bubble in my nostril as the air passes in and out. Imagine that your nostrils are a couple of transparent tubes that meet to form one tube between your eyes, and that tube curves up to the top of your head and then downwards through the center of your body all the way to your bum. You can put that blue bubble anywhere you want in that tube. Start out with it at your nostril, then when you are sufficiently calm and focused enough to maintain focus without much distraction, move the bubble up to between your eyes on an in-breath and hover it there, still watching the breath coming in and out at that point – the bubble is always associated with the breath at whatever point you place it. Then, as the calm gets deeper, move the bubble and focus of breath watching to the top of your head, still seeing the bubble, transparent tube and breath moving through the tube. If at any point you lose concentration and become distracted, move the bubble back to your nostril and start again. And NO DOWN-RAPPING YOURSELF FOR FAILING! There is no failure in this practice.

When calm gets even deeper, on an in-breath, let the bubble fall down the tube in the middle of your body and come to rest just above your bum, and feel the breath go all the way to your bum. Let the bubble hang there for a while and pay attention to the breath coming in and going out of your belly (yeah, yeah -- forget about the breath only going as far as your lungs -- feel it go all the way down to your bum). When you are very, very calm, then on an out-breath let the bubble rise to the level of your heart, and let your mind rest on the bubble and the breath passing through your heart center.

This is the most profoundly calming meditation I have yet discovered. Not everyone can do it because many people are not very visual. I can more or less see things in my mind’s eye, so I can kind of develop that bubble and tube. But anyone can do the breath meditation without imagining bubbles and tubes. The visualization just speeds up the process of calming. If you want to learn to generate the image of a blue bubble, then get a transparently blue marble, or draw a blue sphere on paper using colored pencils, and practice internalizing the image. The image you see "out there" is called a kasina or "outer object" in Buddhist psychology, while the eidetic image we see with our eyes closed is called a nimitta or "inner object." The important thing is that once you can hold that inner image, don’t use the outer object anymore. It is the internalized eidetic image that counts.

Sidebar: Visualization practices like this one can be used in different ways to
direct energies to different places in the body. A similar practice using
imagined bubbles have been effectively used to increase the concentration of
white blood cells to lesion sites in the body.
Enough said about mediation. This is one of the many things in life that one has to do in order to understand. If you don’t take up the practice, that’s ok. But no amount of talking about meditation is going to effect a super-calm body and mind, and this ability to super-calm the brainworld is requisite to it seeing itself as clearly as it can, to reducing the empirical ego, to reaching the realization of totality, and most importantly for mature contemplation, to learning to reach access concentration.


All the esoteric spiritual traditions of which I am aware make a general distinction between meditation and contemplation. In Buddhist psychology the distinction is between samatha (focus on a single object in meditation) and vipassana (seeking insight into the nature of the object, or a state of intense question about the object). In the West we make, as I have said, the distinction between meditation (calming, focusing) and contemplation (seeking insight into the nature of things). Contemplation comes from the same root meaning as "temple." What the word contemplation connoted in earlier times is "entering a holy place." Now, remember, "holy," "hale" and "whole," all come from the same root. A holy place is a whole place and a healthy place. So the connotation of the word "contemplation" is to enter a place of health and interconnectedness where one may commune with the All.

The meditator learns that at a certain point in the calming process, the work shifts subtly to exploration of some aspect to consciousness, be it the texture of sensation, the relationship between color and form, between form and identification, what if anything is permanent about "me," or whatever. At this point meditation becomes contemplation. The meditator may choose to wait until the mindstate we have called access concentration arises, and then the shift occurs to contemplating whatever question the contemplative is pursuing. This is the most efficient use of the practice because with access concentration, no distractions are cluttering the mind, or even possible. But this is not necessary, for one learns that as the body-mind calms out, the clearer one’s mind gets and the slower the processes of mind become. The field of exploration as it were spreads out, time slows down, consciousness becomes more spacious, and one can discern more and more. And in time, as the skills of contemplation mature, the acts of meditation and contemplation begin to merge and blend. Really proficient contemplatives can enter a state of sufficient calm to do contemplative work within seconds or minutes. And once essential elements of consciousness and experience are realized, they are simply there for the mind to see. I assure you that I can discern the pixelated field making up the blue sky as easily as you can see the pixels making up the picture on the computer monitor before you (if you look close enough).

So, what might I suggest you contemplate once you have chilled-out using your blue bubble and breath work? Several suggestions. One might be to shift your focus gently from the breath to your visual experience. Don’t open your eyes if they are closed or at half-mast. Doesn’t matter if your eyes are open or closed. There is still a visual field. See if you can discern the pixelated texture of everything that arises and passes in your visual system. Now, if you start to get distracted by thoughts or images that might pop up, all you have to do is return to the breath work and stick with that until you are calm and centered again and then back to the contemplation. Remember that at this stage in the process you are mainly teaching your mind to settle down and focus inwardly, and in doing so you are reversing the conditioning you have had all your life to adapt to stress and pay attention to everything BUT your inner self. So be patient. The mature contemplative knows his or her mind well enough that subtle shifts back and forth between calming/focusing and contemplating become automatic.

Another good contemplation -- and one very important to Husserlian phenomenology -- is the empirical ego. How is this done? Turn your focus to anything you identify as "me." It doesn't matter what it is, a feeling, a thought, a sensation, a pain, a self image, a belief -- if you can bring it before your mind, then reflect upon it. Two things you will notice, (1) it is impermanent, transitory, it isn't there all the time, and (2) if it is an object that you are paying attention to, who then is watching that part of "yourself?" Keep this up with every attribute of "me" and you may discover that each and every one of them is impermanent and not the "I" that is watching. Once you have bracketed every atribute you associate with "me," what you have left is the watcher which cannot be reduced. The watcher is what Husserl called the transcendental ego. There reaches an "aha!" point at which you realize there is no permanent "me" -- that "I" am no more nor less than a point of view on things.

Cool, eh?

If you have questions, give me a shout and I will post the questions and answers here for the benefit of others trying to get under way.
Question 1: Is concentrating on a photo of an image as powerful a tool as the image itself -- i.e., photo of a marble verses the marble -- in the attempt to create the eidetic image -- just wondering if the 3-dimensionality of the object is of significance here.

Answer: One may use a photo if that’s all one has. The mind will make the eidetic image 3-D, and as you may find, the mind will also perfect the image. But the real object is better because you can vary the light conditions in a way you can’t in a picture. It is certainly the case that other kinds of visualization practices, such as Tibetan Tantric meditations, use paintings and photos as the outer image. The mind will eventually bring the picture alive on the inner plane.

Question 2: What do you make of the human personality in the context of all this -- while I can see it as an adaptive mechanism, it seems in a meditative context to definitely work against us, serving to reinforce the notion of the "singular me" and making it harder to transcend that notion. Is the personality in evidence at all in that deep contemplative state?

Answer: Features of one’s personality get mangled with the illusion of the empirical ego. "I" identify with certain features of "my" personality, and I eschew other features "I" don’t care to identify with. The fall of the illusion of the empirical ego lays the foundation for greater self-acceptance – one can for instance understand how my being can include contradictory personality features, contradictory feelings, contradictory views, so forth. We can see that we were conditioned into the view that we have only one appropriate set of features that are "me."
Thanks for the questions, Mary!


Those new to meditation generally, and to the path to mature contemplation specifically, are best served by a daily practice – one might want to begin with one session in the morning and one in the evening, avoiding periods just after a heavy meal when one naturally feels drowsy. Try to avoid times when you are exhausted. It is less important how long one meditates per session than that the discipline of sitting is kept up. Start with, say, 20 minute sessions and work up to as much as 50 minutes per session. Get a non-ticking egg timer to time the session, and never stop the practice before the dinger goes off. The mind becomes conditioned to a regular period of time and one will find that important stuff happens during that window of calm. The unconscious mind becomes used to that window in which to communicate insights. Keep a notebook and pen close to hand and after the dinger rings, record whatever happened in each session with as much detail as possible. No one need ever see this log, so you can be candid.

Serious meditators commonly spend periods in retreat, usually a week to ten days at a time, often once a year. A retreat is a period during which one has no obligations save for meditating five or more times per day for 20 - 50 minutes per session. One plans a schedule before the retreat and keeps to the timing punctually. Ideally one’s meals just magically appear at set times. If one is on one’s own, then plan the meals ahead of time so that little preparation is necessary. The point is to meditate, take quiet walks, talk to no one (ideally see no one), then meditate again, eat simple meals, walk, meditate, so forth. You will come to know what you need to do. During a retreat you can work on a problem – say discerning pixels in various sensory fields, or comprehending an esoteric text. I have taken a book into retreat, like the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (also called the Sutra of Hui Neng), and between sessions, read it over and over again. This constant reiteration of the text operates as a guide and goad to insight during meditation sessions. One might do this with Harding’s little book, On Having No Head.

Do you need any materials to do this work? Nope. Mind you, as my friend Pat Kolarik used to say, if you want Americans to get into anything, they have to have supplies. You have to be able to go shopping for stuff. So, you could spend a lot of bread on proper meditation clothes, meditation shawl, just the right zen meditation cushion (or zafu), hand-crafted text stand, Persian meditation rug, Tibetan singing bowl, bamboo shoji screen to enclose your special meditation space, bubbling water fountain, incense tray, Zen sand garden, lotus candle holders, and of course a statue of the Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Blue Corn Boy, so forth sitting on a low Korean teak alter table. Or, you could save the bread and find a comfy chair and sit down four-square, armed with your trusty egg timer and meditation log, and just... well... meditate.
It is often said that the greater the question, or the more intense the question, the greater the awakening. This is very true, and the path to mature contemplation is no different, paved as it is with endless questions. No question, no realization. Intense question plus skill in meditation = (often profound) answers.


The path of mature contemplation, however, is paved with a particular kind of question – namely questions pertaining to the exploration of consciousness and realizations in service to science. What I am saying here is that there are many paths of spiritual awakening. Mature contemplation as I am using the term is not one of them. We use the methods for calming and centering the mind that were discovered and used by shamans at least three millennia ago, but the intent of the contemplation is to explore the essential structures of consciousness. Other traditions have done this, most notably certain Buddhist schools of meditation. But even with Buddhism, one runs into the potential trap of ideology. Mature contemplation is the search for truth, not meaning, and certainly not for experiences that confirm religious ideology. Buddhist schools for instance all hold the view, unsupported by any empirical evidence science would credence, that consciousness is recycled after death; that one may accrue merit in a future life by the proper application of meditation and good works in this life.

Likewise any of the other spiritual or religious traditions. Many of them have their paths of meditation: Benedictine monks meditate, Sufis meditate (their whirling meditation is the quickest route I know of to the experience of flow), Hindus have their yogas, Jains meditate, and all sorts of cults from Transcendental Meditation to Scientology have their meditation practices. And all of them come with prepackaged ideology, and often with teachers who claim to have a lock on truth. More importantly perhaps, meditative techniques are used (when they are used) primarily to evoke experiences that become interpreted in such a way as to confirm the ideology of the group, path or institution.

But in mature contemplation, there are no questions of interest that are not available to direct scrutiny by way of introspection, and there are no goals or "proper" lessons, no prepackaged interpretations and no teachers with the lock on the truth. There is only the quest for truth for its own sake, and for describable results that may be used as data in the service of consciousness science. A future post will be devoted to the relationship between truth and meaning, for it is a topic that, again, relates directly to The Crisis. Suffice to say here that taking up the path of mature contemplation will not lead to liberation, salvation, brownie points in heaven (in any event you no doubt reserved your spot in heaven during the previous post), spiritual enlightenment, merit in the next life, or any special spiritual status. There is no monkhood or priesthood, or for that matter any hierarchy at all save recognition of skill, in applying mature contemplation to scientific questions. No one will call you "reverend" or "venerable" or "grand poobah." Mature contemplation is a tool, a valuable skill-set that may be applied to certain types of questions.

Does this mean that the path of mature contemplation may not have spiritual or personal developmental consequences? Of course not. One cannot meditate and remain unchanged. For instance, it is very common for people to begin meditating and fairly quickly smarten up about their jobs and other stress factors in their lives that collectively operate to thwart the calming and centering process. I have known lots of people who either changed jobs, or wrote off all kinds of jobs they might have previously considered because they were too stressful for a meditator to bear. Moreover, one cannot experience the fall of the illusion of the empirical ego without it changing your life. At the very least it will probably alter your understanding of soul, if you believe you have one. Gone will be the naive notion of a singular "me" in there somewhere that will pass on somewhere after death. And, the closer one gets to the realization of totality, the greater the compassion grows for other beings. This can change your life as well. And, the very methods of calming and centering you would use to prepare yourself for mature contemplation of the essential features of consciousness are the same techniques you might also apply to spiritual questions – having to do with communion with the depths of the unconscious, worship of radiant beings, communication with dead loved ones, chatting with fairies, whatever. These are just not issues of interest to science.

Can you then be a Christian or Moslem mature contemplative? Sure, just as you can be a Christian or Moslem particle physicist or comparative psychologist. As long as the ideology that is the center of your faith does not get in the way of good science -- does not determine either the questions asked or the interpretations of results -- there is no contradiction. Can you believe in past lifetimes and be a mature contemplative? Yes, ditto. You can believe anything you want to believe, with or without empirical evidence (though it puzzles me personally why anyone would want to do so), as long as the intent of the contemplation into the fine structures of experience and consciousness are not distorted by those beliefs. Remember, this is what Husserl called bracketing the natural attitude.

Next post I think I will go into the relationship between truth and meaning (belief, ideology, etc.), for it follows naturally what we have explored here, and gets us back to the issues that involve The Crisis.


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Wallace, B. Alan, 2006. Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge. New York: Columbia University Press.

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