A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Monday, February 17, 2014

3 Longing for Death

3 Longing for Death

The subject of today's presentation is: the role of death-consciousness in the life of the devotee committed to the spiritual path. Notice that I have coined a term which I  believe to be somewhat original: "death-consciousness". This may not be a new idea, (indeed, it is the title of a recent rock album); but, as was suggested last week, we need to remember to think of death-consciousness as a designation for one specific consciousness state on a graduated continuum of consciousness states: to think of dreams, sleep, and death all as discrete points on a consciousness continuum.

Today, what I hope to do is indicate a link between death-consciousness and the spiritual/psychological state of sehnsucht, the  feeling of unrequiteable longing that will never be satisfied. I have suggested that this intense feeling of longing, this feeling  of desiring something unattainable, is experienced by the subject as a byproduct of the process of  projecting his consciousness up into the level of consciousness we are currently calling "death-consciousness", the level of consciousness just touching the afterlife. Indeed, the one constantly comfortable thought I get from sehnsucht is this: true joy must be prophetic--the longing, the missing, the imperfection, is pleasurable because it sees the future discarnate spiritual state of man, and transports that future state of mind back to the present; the having and the not-having become integrated in a cross-temporal event. Thus, sweet longing is represented by the night awaiting the moment when it will break into eternal day. And the reason this unfulfilled longing is so sweet, is that it actually IS fulfillable--it is fulfilled in death. We can, as it were telegraph our conscious focus forward into a future state of enlightenment, and bring vestiges of that state back with us to mundane consciousness.

Another question is: if this place of death can feel so warm, so right, so familiar, does this mean that have we been there before? on the other side of death? I might be talking about reincarnation here, but I might just as easily be talking about Man's descent from the Godhead into flesh. We have spoken many times of becoming one with God--God Who is and always was, the Great I AM. Have we not, coming from the Mind of God, already experienced Heaven in its essence, and therefore recognize the traits of the Heaven in which we were born, and from which we were expelled to Earth and its tempering trials? Is this not the true delight of Earthly experience?: that we can be here, caught in the webwork of time, and yet be free to fly with the angels, merely by shifting our attention?

On the subject of Sehsucht, Wikipedia was contributed the following:
"It is sometimes felt as a longing for a far-off country, but not a particular earthly land which we can identify. Furthermore there is something in the experience which suggests this far-off country is very familiar and indicative of what we might otherwise call "home". In this sense it is a type of nostalgia, in the original sense of that word. At other times it may seem as a longing for a someone or even a something. But the majority of people who experience it are not conscious of what or who the longed for object may be, and the longing is of such profundity and intensity that the subject may immediately be only aware of the emotion itself and not cognizant that there is a something longed for. The experience is one of such significance that ordinary reality may pale in comparison, as in Walt Whitman's closing lines to "Song of the Universal":

"Is it a dream?
Nay but the lack of it the dream,
And failing it life's lore and wealth a dream
And all the world a dream."

[Sidebar: At the end of Lewis' The Last Battle, we see an exodus of souls marching up the hill toward the real England--the England that existed before the material England. This return the "the real England" is just such a return to the nostalgic source of all real homes. The cry is "further up and further in" because the inner is bigger than the outer. One wonders which is the more powerful feeling, the going home or the arriving at home. Do we ever get all the way home, or does the joy of arriving mount and mount into an infinite ecstasy? I also wonder, again, how we could be missing home, being nostalgic for home, if we have never been there before?

C.S. Lewis describes sehnsucht as:
"That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves."
In The Weight of Glory Lewis says...
"In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat.

If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.

These things -- the beauty, the memory of our own past -- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

Again, Lewis, writing in The Problem of Pain:

"All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it -- tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest -- if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself -- you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say 'Here at last is the thing I was made for.' We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want . . . which we shall still desire on our deathbeds . . . Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand."

Now, this particular association of sehnsucht with death is to be found in a line of (particularly German) writers, beginning with Novalis, through Goethe, to Thomas Mann, to C.S. Lewis. In Novalis we read:
"With bold spirit and lofty enthusiasm
The man beautified the horrible mask,
A gentle youth extinguishes the light and rests—
The end will be gentle like a sigh of the harp.
Memory melts in the cool flood of shadows,
So sang the song to doleful abjection.
But eternal night remained undeciphered,
The grave symbol of a remote power.

Notice the reference to music--we will come back to that.

More on Novalis from Wikipedia:]
"In the book Heinrich von Ofterdingen the blue flower symbolises the joining of human with nature and the spirit so the understanding of nature and coincident of the self is growing. In the Romantic the meaning of human was a continuation from Humanism and the Age of Enlightenment, but the focus was on subjective emotions not on abstract theory. Understanding and thinking rise in the comprehension of Romantic from own individual love.

"Feeling is based on the self,
thinking is based on the self,
and the development of the self creates the individual person.
Also very important is contemplation: 
the thinking,
the contemplation,
and the personal inward cognition
make feeling possible--they raise the bar such that sensitivity to higher intelligence, higher consciousness and higher reality become possible, and more and more possible, in the subjective reality of the devotee. The process of cognition merges again with personal, individual love. The self and nature are always linked in this theory."

I found a Schubert song entitled Sehnsucht by the German poet Johann Mayrhofer:

"The songs of the lark, up near the clouds,
Ring out as winter flees.
The earth covers its limbs in velvet
And blossoms form red fruit.

Only you, storm-tossed soul,
Only you do not blossom. You are turned in on yourself,
And in the golden brightness of spring
You are sucked dry by deep longing.

What you crave will never spring from
This soil, a stranger to ideals,
Which, despite your most beautiful dreams,
Sets its raw strength up against you.

You exhaust yourself battling against its toughness,
Fired up with the burning desire
To set off with the cranes
And to migrate to a kinder country."

You will notice that so many of these descriptions of the emotional sehnsucht journey terminate in an arrival to "a kinder country", a long-lost home.

I also found a poem by Goethe, The Holy Longing:

"Tell it to no one, except the wise men,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.

In the love night which created
where you create, a yearning
you see, intoxicated,

far away a silent candle burning.

Darkness now no longer snares you,

shadows lose their ancient force,
as a new desire tears you
up to higher intercourse.
Now no distance checks your flight,

charmed you come and you draw night

till, with longing for the light,

you are burnt,
O butterfly.

And until you have possessed
dying and rebirth,

You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth."

The mention of the "butterly" in this poem once again references the transformation of caterpillar into butterly, the transition from one consciousness state to another one. Death is depicted as one more level of transformation, with the added condition that, in death, the mundane life be completely burned and purged away to make room for the new improved spiritual and verbally silent butterfly. The freedom of death is the sweetness we crave, the ultimate satisfaction.

Now, let us change course for a bit and review the idea that "death anxiety" directly correlates to language: it is understood that language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioral changes." Remember the sermons that discussed the opinions of Julian Jaynes, and his idea that consciousness is a consequence of language.

One implication of this idea is that, if the language component of consciousness were taken away, there would be nothing left; that is to say the no-thing left would make room for the delicately resonant perceptions of soul, the inarticulate, eternal soul, which does not deal with "things". When the monkey voice is silenced, the background consciousness, which we can, normally, but dimly perceive with our puny powers of spirit discernment, comes forward and we know who we really are. In death self-knowledge must be at its peak because, in death, the monkey's voice is hushed at last.

Another implication of the language component of death-consciousness is specifically about music; the question is: if consciousness is a function of language, must not music, a language decidedly more complex that verbal communication, therefore raise consciousness to a higher level, merely by virtue of its much higher abstract content? Is not music just like sleep? a place where the mobile mind consciousness elevates itself to the level of the "preconscious", or the "archetypal", or the "collective" stage? And do we not know that, beyond all these levels, of super-mundane awareness, is a state of consciousness which is even larger in scope than the collective--a level of consciousness which is more inclusive, and more primary.

Now, so what--to all of this? Well, for one thing,  in a system of graduated consciousness levels, the PERMANENCY of dream consciousness,  may not be be doubted, since the dream world is outside time; nor may the MATERIALITY of the aesthetic response be doubted as it manifests in angel-writing on our astral bodies, evoking physical responses which are even measurable in the laboratory.

I have identified the feeling of sehnsucht in our aesthetic responses to music and other art. That "Aha" moment in a poem of a piece of music, this place of rarefied personal density, is the seat of the ineffable longing of sehnsucht. As mentioned above, the higher-level linguistic complexities of art may be said to project consciousness into a higher level, thereby bringing the devotee more immediately into the presence of death--death and the joy that awaits him when the mundane barriers imposed between his lower and higher selves have been eliminated. The feeling of barriers being broken down, in infinite repetition, is the joy of sehnsucht--the twinge of longing followed by a wave of peace, as the subject projects himself into his own future state of death-consciousness. The longing returns when self-consciousness returns, but the self may lose itself once again in the cloud of unknowing, again and again, in ecstatic repetition.

I have often spoken of music as a transmitter of higher-level spiritual reality into a lower-level material reality; I am thereby familiar with the experience of shifts in consciousness levels, and the subtle imprint these shifts makes on the literal consciousness. Once again, especially through music, the IDENTITY of higher consciousness levels has long been intimately known to me, but, until now, the connection between music and death has not been obvious. The sehnsucht aspect of music is the most fragile and tender of aesthetic responses,(it is my favorite experience), but, so far, I have never been willing to go the distance, and hear the call of death in every strain of Bach. Now I do.

We know that the music of Bach is replete with text upon text (many written by himself) pining after death; typical titles are Come Sweet Death, Before Thy Throne I Now Appear, etc. Here is a typical text, an aria from Cantata #180:

"Jesus, true bread of life,

help me so that not in vain

or perhaps to my loss

I may be invited to your table.

Grant that I may, through this food for my soul,

measure out rightly your love,

so that I also, as here on earth,

become a guest in heaven."

Notice the word "guest" appears at the end of this poem, as it does at the ending of the Goethe poem:

"You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth."

To be sure, the poems use the term "guest" in different ways, one referring to being a guest on earth, and the other to being a guest in Heaven; but the associations with the word "guest" always include a feeling of either visiting, or being treated as an honored presence. Both of these implications may be linked to the sehnsucht/death-experience.

Bach seems always to have had his eye on the prize; and his music is so suffused with the ineffable longing of sehnsucht that it is tempting to imagine him as a morbid, dissatisfied individual, always pining for the stars, always rejecting Earthly pleasures as invalid and empty. Not so. This is the lesson I am learning from these meditations on death: that the more we imagine death, the more real becomes the heavenly landscape of "after death", and the more joyful becomes our time on Earth. The Earth is constantly bathed in heavenly light, we only must learn to see it.

I confess that  for most of my life I have had a negative attitude: true, I have been dedicated to my life's work, and have submitted to the Will of the Father when it has come to where, when, and what I am supposed to do with this gift of life; however, as to the LENGTH of my life, I have very often indulged in suicidal behaviors (smoking, the chief among these) purposely designed to SHORTEN my life. I have been willing to do my work, but have been unwilling to imagine myself as an old man sucking out the final dregs of a life that has often been personally unsatisfying. A few years ago, I began to get subtle intimations about how dumb this was, and I quit smoking for the specific purpose of taking an element of suicidal activity out of my life habits. I have recently become committed to losing weight for the same reason (we'll see how firm that resolve turns out to be).

The hypocrisy is that, on the one hand I have disparaged life on earth as unrewarding, and yet I have always clung to addictive behaviors which connote a fierce attachment to mundane existence. The irony is not only that I have finally realized this, but that it has taken me SO LONG to realize this.

The main point here is that we ought to be able to identify different levels of consciousness, and learn to exercise our mobile consciousness centers so that they learn to reach into terrains of subtler and subtler material. The idea of the materiality of verbal thought is a minor component in this very interesting article I stumbled upon; it is one more of those many, many articles disproving the existence of death through proofs in quantum physics:

Most scientists would probably say that the concept of an afterlife is either nonsense, or at the very least unprovable.
Yet one expert claims he has evidence to confirm an existence beyond the grave - and it lies in quantum physics.
Professor Robert Lanza claims the theory of biocentrism teaches that death as we know it is an illusion created by our consciousness.
'We think life is just the activity of carbon and an admixture of molecules – we live a while and then rot into the ground,' said the scientist on his website.'
Lanza, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, continued that as humans we believe in death because 'we've been taught we die', or more specifically, our consciousness associates life with bodies and we know that bodies die.

His theory of biocentrism, however, explains that death may not be as terminal as we think it is.
Biocentrism is classed as the theory of everything and comes from the Greek for 'life centre'.
It is the belief that life and biology are central to reality and that life creates the universe, not the other way round.
This suggests a person's consciousness determines the shape and size of objects in the universe.
Lanza uses the example of the way we perceive the world around us. A person sees a blue sky, and is told that the colour they are seeing is blue, but the cells in a person's brain could be changed to make the sky look green or red.
Our consciousness makes sense of the world, and can be altered to change this interpretation.
By looking at the universe from a biocentric's point of view, this also means space and time don't behave in the hard and fast ways our consciousness tell us it does.
In summary, space and time are 'simply tools of our mind.'"

[Sidebar: I must interject here that the term "mind" MUST, in this case, refer to the verbal, literal, or thinking mind. As Claudius says in Hamlet:
"My words fly up, my thought remain here below.
Words without thought never to heaven go."
The mind uses verbal structures to negotiate the worldly twists  and turns of mundane existence, but the price we pay is that the extra weight of verbal materiality grounds us to lower levels of conscious identification.

Back to Lanza:]
"Once this theory about space and time being mental constructs is accepted, it means death and the idea of immortality exist in a world without spatial or linear boundaries.
Theoretical physicists believe that there is infinite number of universes with different variations of people, and situations taking place, simultaneously.
Lanza added that everything which can possibly happen is occurring at some point across these multiverses and this means death can't exist in 'any real sense' either. 

Lanza, instead, said that when we die our life becomes a 'perennial flower that returns to bloom in the multiverse.'
'Bottom line: What you see could not be present without your consciousness,' explained Lanza. 'Our consciousness makes sense of the world.'"

[Sidebar: Once again we must remind ourselves that consciousness making "sense of the world" has got to mean "rational sense", and yet we know that higher mind is super-rational.

Back to Lanza:
"He continued: 'Life is an adventure that transcends our ordinary linear way of thinking. When we die, we do so not in the random billiard-ball-matrix but in the inescapable-life-matrix.'
Lanza cited the famous double-slit experiment to backup his claims. 
In the experiment, when scientists watch a particle pass through two slits in a barrier, the particle behaves like a bullet and goes through one slit or the other.

Yet if a person doesn't watch the particle, it acts like a wave, This means it can go through both slits at the same time.
This demonstrates that matter and energy can display characteristics of both waves and particles, and that behaviour of the particle changes based on a person's perception and consciousness."

This article does not contribute anything particularly original to the implications of the new physics, which have long been known to new age philosophers; however, it does emphasize a crucial point: consciousness is a slippery slope, and doesn't like to be pinned down. And yet, with death anxiety, we stupidly empower a primal fear to dominate our spiritual focus and draw us away from the experience of the diffused ego-resolution, and its joys, which typically characterize the death-consciousness state.

As you know, I have worked to develop a sense experience of the higher vibratory self, with which I may identify; and I have seen, in death, the most beautiful things; I have dwelt in that same celestial home up to which any pilgrim spirit ascends every time it witnesses the spiritual truth, the living, moving, intelligence-bearing truth of music. Recall again the idea of the birth of consciousness in language, and of the fact that human beings are more aware of their own mortality, than are animals, because we can talk about it and think about it, and animals can't. Thus, death-consciousness is simply the awareness, shared by most human beings, that physical life is limited to a span, and must end. And the heart-fluttering longing of sehnsucht tempts us with hopes of Heaven.

Remember the scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:2:
    "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our    
    heavenly dwelling,"

and Proverbs 13:12:

    "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."

Thus, this scripture reprises the main point of this presentation: if we can take the experience of longing for a future heavenly dwelling, and, through impulse of desire, project ourselves into that future, we will have found the surest pathway to joy. The tree of life extends its roots through all space and time, and it branches flower in eternity.

Let us pray: Jesus, we long for your face to lead us further in and further up. We treasure the glimpses of Heaven we may steal for a moment here and there. We thank you for the hope these glimpses give, and for the sacrifice You made on the cross in order to ease our way Home. Amen.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2 Sleep Perchance to Dream

2 Sleep Perchance to Dream

For the last two months or so, I have been considering death and the afterlife. I have been having a spiritual crisis (as I have every few years) over an irrational fear of death, and have been struggling with my faith to find comfort. Recently I began to consider the relationship of sleep and dreams to the consciousness state of death; this sermon is the outcome of those considerations

One wonders why I should fear a death of non-existence, when I am surrounded by so much evidence to that contradicts the very idea. In truth, I participate daily in spiritual prayer activities which clearly, unequivocally affirm the existence of non-physical presences --I KNOW there is non-physical intelligence in the universe; and yet, I just don't have enough personal confirmations of this reality that specifically include ME, (or who I THINK I am) to give me absolute confidence in the proposition of an ETERNAL ME. Let's put it another way, my mind is made up but my body is still egocentrically opposed to non-existence.

So, my mind is completely made up, and all the arguments in favor of life after death are firmly in place; and yet I still have doubts, moments of panic when I face the unimaginable prospect of non-existence. In the face of oblivion, doubt rages within me and I pace the floor in a frenzy.

It is some comfort to know that even C.S. Lewis occasionally had periods of doubt; and furthermore, to Kierkegaard, doubt was actually part and parcel of the faith package.

"The leap of faith is his conception of how an individual would believe in God or how a person would act in love. Faith is not a decision based on evidence that, say, certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to completely justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway.

A leap of faith according to Kierkegaard involves circularity insofar as a leap is made by faith. In his book The Concept of Anxiety, he describes the core part of the leap of faith, the leap. He does this using the famous story of Adam and Eve, particularly Adam's qualitative leap into sin. Adam's leap signifies a change from one quality to another, mainly the quality of possessing no sin to the quality of possessing sin. Kierkegaard maintains that the transition from one quality to another can take place only by a "leap". When the transition happens, one moves directly from one state to the other, never possessing both qualities."

From this preceding sentence I believe for the term "leap" we may substitute: "shift along a continuum of graduated levels". This is, indeed, the subject line for  this sermon: dreams, sleep, and death are all points on a continuum of consciousness states. Now, I'm giving you the punchline here, before the setup, but I sort of want to tell the story, in a roundabout way, of how I came to this conclusion; the conclusion is this:

I have extolled from this pulpit, for years, the importance of fluidity between levels of consciousness, but, in my stupidity, it never occurred to me to think of death as just one more level of consciousness within an infinite array of possible levels of consciousness. I have now accepted this premise.

Furthermore, I have often spoken of music as a transmitter of higher-level spiritual reality into a lower-level material reality; I am thereby familiar with the experience of shifts in consciousness levels, and the subtle imprint these shifts makes on the literal consciousness. Once again, especially through music, the IDENTITY of higher consciousness levels has long been intimately known to me, but, until now, the connection between music and death has not been obvious. The sehnsucht aspect of music is the most fragile and tender of aesthetic responses,(it is my favorite experience), but, so far, I have never been willing to go the distance, and hear the call of death in every strain of Bach. Now I do.

I have worked to develop a sense experience of the higher vibratory self, with which I may identify, but, until now, I have never had the confidence in it (or the faith) necessary to fully give up my identification with the chattering monkey mind in favor of this higher vibratory identity. Now I am.

Accepting this deeper understanding of the scope of the mobile consciousness, has deeply affected my priorities. It now seems to me that: a person's ability, to move through different levels of consciousness, might very well prove to be a reliable index of his spiritual advancement. Certainly an adept at this control of vibratory rate would have little fear of death.

But let's start over: allow me to backtrack a bit, and detail the question that initiated, and eventually led me through, this particular spiritual crisis:
I was thinking about sleep, when I began having these death-anxiety attacks. I was thinking about how every night I cease to exist, and then come back to life in the morning. If my consciousness ceases to exist in sleep, in a faint, in a coma, why should I fear death? I'm very familiar with non-existence in that context. However, the thought of never waking up is very upsetting. On the other hand, what about this UNCONSCIOUS everybody is talking about? How can it BE, if it is unconscious? Is this another one of those psychic realities that depends on anecdotal evidence to confirm its existence? I mean OTHER people can experience YOUR unconscious, but can YOU?

The whole question of sleep led me to consider different levels of consciousness as elements in a macrocosmic view of death. I asked, among others, this question: "Where does sleep fit into a comprehensive spiritual discipline?"

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Sleeping is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and limited perception of environmental stimuli.
In animals, sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and it is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma.

In mammals and birds, sleep is divided into two broad types: rapid eye movement (REM sleep) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM sleep). Each type has a distinct set of associated physiological and neurological features. REM sleep is associated with the capability of dreaming. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) divides NREM into three stages: N1, N2, and N3, the last of which is also called delta sleep or slow-wave sleep.

    •    NREM stage 1: This is a stage between sleep and wakefulness. The muscles are active, and the eyes roll slowly, opening and closing moderately.
    •    NREM stage 2: theta activity In this stage, it gradually becomes harder to awaken the sleeper; the alpha waves of the previous stage are interrupted by abrupt activity called sleep spindles and K-complexes.
    •    NREM stage 3: Formerly divided into stages 3 and 4, this stage is called slow-wave sleep (SWS). SWS is initiated in the preoptic area and consists of delta activity, high amplitude waves at less than 3.5 Hz. The sleeper is less responsive to the environment; many environmental stimuli no longer produce any reactions.
    •    Slow-wave sleep (SWS), often referred to as deep sleep, consists of stage 3 and 4 of non-rapid eye movement sleep, now combined as stage 3.
    •    Slow-wave sleep is considered important to consolidate new memories.
    •    Sleep deprivation studies with humans suggest that the primary function of slow-wave sleep may be to allow the brain to recover from its daily activities. As it turns out, glucose metabolism in the brain increases as a result of tasks that demand mental activity. Other functions slow-wave sleep can affect include the secretion of growth hormone. It is always greatest during this stage. It is also thought to be responsible for a decrease in sympathetic and increase in parasympathetic neural activity."

[Sidebar: One of the primary articles of my spiritual catechism is that the brain is merely a muscle, it is not the SEAT of consciousness. My experience of my higher, inarticulate, self has affirmed this principle. And yet all the research on consciousness focusses on brain function more than anything else: what if the brain really IS the SEAT of CONSCIOUSNESS? To put it another way: what if a person's spiritual vibration is incapable of manifestation WITHOUT the brain as a SEAT, a CONDUIT, a TRANSMITTER? What if, without manifestation, there is no existence? You see why I'm worried?

Back to Wikipedia:]

"•    REM: The sleeper now enters rapid eye movement (REM) where most muscles are paralyzed. REM sleep is turned on by acetylcholine secretion and is inhibited by neurons that secrete serotonin. This level is also referred to as paradoxical sleep because the sleeper, although exhibiting EEG waves similar to a waking state, is harder to arouse than at any other sleep stage. Vital signs indicate arousal and oxygen consumption by the brain is higher than when the sleeper is awake. An adult reaches REM approximately every 90 minutes, with the latter half of sleep being more dominated by this stage. REM sleep occurs as a person returns to stage 1 from a deep sleep. The function of REM sleep is uncertain but a lack of it will impair the ability to learn complex tasks."

[Sidebar: I find this fact about dreaming very provocative:

"Vital signs indicate arousal and oxygen consumption by the brain is higher than when the sleeper is awake."

Could this POSSIBLY be some kind of indicator of spirit consciousness? Do we mean by "raised consciousness" "increased oxygen consumption by the brain"? Below we will encounter another definition of "raised consciousness" that will thicken the plot even further.

Back to Wikipedia:]

"Below is a hypnogram showing sleep cycles from midnight to 6.30 am, with deep sleep early on. There is more REM (marked red) before waking.

An adult reaches REM approximately every 90 minutes, with the latter half of sleep being more dominated by this stage. REM sleep occurs as a person returns to stage 1 from a deep sleep.The function of REM sleep is uncertain but a lack of it will impair the ability to learn complex tasks.

One approach to understanding the role of sleep is to study the deprivation of it. During this period, the EEG pattern returns to high frequency waves which look similar to the waves produced while the person is awake

30 seconds of deep (stage N3) sleep.

A screenshot of a PSG of a person in REM sleep. Eye movements highlighted by red box."

So we can see that psychic experiences such as dreaming and psychic experiences such as REM sleep are linked, if not indistinguishable from each other. Our flights, into the technicolor world of dreams, result in experiential reports remarkably like the reports of soul travel in the astral plane, and encounters with living, archetypal symbols in art. Thus, wonder of wonders, the charts above indicate that the reception of material from the collective unconscious (the archetypal dream image) is actually MEASURABLE by the equipment in a neurology lab! Does this make it physical--or is spiritual energy susceptible to objective measure? Or is the incarnation of spiritual energy, into the physical, as much a physical event as it is a spiritual event? Is it both equally at once, or is it both, in different proportions?

Speaking of brain unconsciousness, what about near-death experiences? In brain death, those laboratory instruments would measure NOTHING, and yet NDE subjects still see visions, hear sounds, and witness, from above, their own doctors trying to coax their consciousness back into their bodies.

Back to Wikipedia:

"Near-death experiences have been described in medical journals as hallucinatory, and such prescient information supposedly gained from NDEs as merely coincidental and dubious. Ketamine, a dissociative hallucinogen, has been shown to replicate compounds of near-death experiences. Lucid dreaming too induces experiences quite similar to those of NDEs. The imagery in NDEs varies within cultures. Rick Strassman advanced the hypothesis that a massive release of the psychedelic dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from the pineal gland prior to death or near-death was the cause of the near-death experience phenomenon."

The above is a doubt-raising/faith-damaging paragraph; it could mean that all para-normal experiences are mere hallucinations projected into consciousness by the pineal gland. This is not an outrageous suggestion, based on the similarities between reports of OBE experiences, and reports of other types of drug-induced experiences. As mentioned above, the "raising of consciousness" might turn out to be nothing more than elevated oxygen consumption in the brain; after all, all the big psychedelic drug users claim that drugs "raises consciousness", and we know that the main activity of psychedelic drugs, more than anything else, is playing with the sugar supply to the brain. If this turns out to be true, then all the great yogis and soul-travelers of history will be reduced to insane DMT trippers.

Even the validity of the NDE subjects witnessing their our team of doctors is called into question by this DMT idea, because one of the typical features of the  psychedelic experience is an experience of consciousness leaving the body for parts unknown. Perhaps a chemical is capable of STRETCHING the cord of consciousness out of the body's immediate confines, but when the body truly dies, and all the SUBTLE traces of energy have drained out, dead is just dead, and oblivion is our eternal home, not Heaven.

However, here enter the idea of consciousness levels: one of the main reasons that people take drugs is that drugs allow the subject to effortlessly change consciousness levels. The danger with drugs, of course, is that they are unpredictable; they can sometimes drive the consciousness upward into higher vibrational states (an uncontrolled state, but a higher state to be sure), but they are just as liable to drag the subject down into lower vibrational states, which is not exactly the same thing as being in touch with the oversoul. Nevertheless, the idea that the pineal gland can trigger a reaction similar to LSD is not a comfortable one.

Still, one of the big questions the scientists still can't answer is how brain-dead subjects can see their doctors and their surroundings when there are no vital signs registering at all? It raises the question of whether out-of-body drug experiences are just hallucinations or are they more? I mean, are they just random false pictures, projected onto the screen of verbal consciousness, or are actually trans-dimensional experiences? And note the similarity of the drugged state to the child-like Saturday-morning cartoons mind state, in which colors are exaggerated, and basic human principles are argued in basic terms: white hat, black hat. Surely it is not too much to imagine that ALL children, up to a certain age, dwell in a primitive heaven. Their descent into the world of paradoxical verbal images is their Fall from the Garden. They spend the rest of their lives trying to get back.

My particular lapse of faith has a brand name: it is DEATH ANXIETY.

Back to Wikipedia:

"Death anxiety is the morbid, abnormal or persistent fear of one's own death or the process of his/her dying. One definition of death anxiety is a "feeling of dread, apprehension or solicitude (anxiety) when one thinks of the process of dying, or ceasing to ‘be’".
Robert Langs distinguishes three types of death anxiety. the third one is:
Existential death anxiety
Existential death anxiety is the basic knowledge and awareness that natural life must end. It is said that existential death anxiety directly correlates to language; that is, language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioral changes."

[Sidebar: remember the sermons that discussed the opinions of Julian Jaynes, and his idea that consciousness is a consequence of language.

Does this mean that: when we make music, speaking in a language more decidedly complex that verbal communication, we enter a higher level of consciousness? Indeed, music is just like sleep; it is a place where the mobile mind consciousness elevates itself to the level of the "preconscious", or the "archetypal", or "collective" stage; and we know that beyond all these is a state of consciousness which is even larger in scope than the collective--a level of consciousness which is more inclusive, and more primary. How, then, can the reality or the PERMANENCY of dream consciousness be doubted?

To thicken the plot, listen to this quote of Wittgenstein, the leading linguistic psychologist of the 20th century:

"Wittgenstein, in a notably non-theological interpretation of eternal life, writes in the Tractatus that, "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present."

The point is that even a master linguistic psychologist like Wittgenstein must eventually resort to faith as a substitute for verbal consciousness.]

Having suggested several scenarios for activity along the consciousness continuum, let us now examine the concept of the trinity for clues as to how we may deepen our identification with the Father.

This simple sentence from Wikipedia inspired a personally significant insight:

"Hinduism propounds that every living being, be it a human or animal, has a body and a soul (consciousness) and the bridge between the two is the mind (a mixture of both)."

We have spoken many times of Jesus as the mediator between God and man, but I don't think I ever before equated the MIND with the MEDIATOR. This does a lot to allay my death anxiety, because:

    I know my mind is just a chattering monkey, that hardly ever has anything to say; and
    I know there is a consciousness BEHIND the mind that is the true self.

I have affirmed, many times, that an increased sensitivity to spiritual activity will reveal the consciousness BEHIND the literal consciousness--and yet I don't think I ever quite went the distance so far as to discredit my conscious mind's claim on my true identity; I may have SAID it, but I don't think I really FELT it. This is what I'm saying: all these things are clear to my mind, but my heart is still unruly and untrained. Even with all this talk of the Cloud of Unknowing, I don't think I fully realized the extent of the conscious mind's power to restrict my highest sensitivities by enslaving them in verbal terms. Let's put it another way: I have not been HYPOCRITICAL in my message of the power of faith to dispel doubt, but I have NOT been STEADFAST; to be sure, in the absence of steadfast faith, Satan has been able to infect me with death anxiety. What a jerk! Him to do it, and me to fall for it!

So, a summary of the main source of my death anxiety amounts to this:
    if it is possible to LOSE CONSCIOUSNESS during sleep,
    why should it not be possible to lose consciousness        

Very frightening. But what if that subtle consciousness, BEHIND verbal consciousness, is the true consciousness? What if it depends on my mind merely to give it voice, but is just as content with silence? At this point in my life, the idea of "just shutting up for awhile and silently BEING" is an idea that is not at all upsetting to me; in fact it sounds kind of good.

And here is my point: having full knowledge of the existence of my higher self, I have, anyhow, forgotten to place the proper emphasis on THAT dimension of myself; in so doing, I have identified too much with my verbally conscious self, and have hence, bought into an image of myself that is both false and incomplete, or perhaps I should say, "false in its incompleteness". This imbalance in attention has inspired a troublesome bout of death-anxiety, but, true to the predictions of Kierkegaard, this doubt has also inspired a deeper faith, and forged this higher-level conclusion into existence. I am relieved. I am absolutely convinced in my mind and my body that my death will not be the end of me, and this knowledge encourages me to focus even more on the dimension of myself that WILL NOT DIE.

Below is an account of an Indian cheater of death:

"Ramalinga Adigal's disappearance on January 30, 1874
An Indian saint known as Vallalar claimed to have achieved immortality before disappearing forever from a locked room in 1874.

Perhaps one of the most notable factors of this sage is the claim that he supposedly attained a divinization of the physical body. He attained a total of 3 transformations. His first transformation was the transformation of his normal human body into the Perfect Body, between the supposed attributes of this body are total invulnerability to everything thus rendering him effectively immortal and impervious to any kind of damage as well as having the attributes of being omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient this body is apparently made of Divine Light.

Beyond this state there was a subsequent transformation by which the Perfect Body transformed further into the Grace Body possessing the following attributes: This body have automatically a young appearance like that of a kid, can be seen but can't be touched, and has complete and absolute dominion over all the Siddhis.

Even beyond the State of the Grace Body supposedly there was a third and final transformation in which the Grace Body was transformed into the Bliss Body. This body is the body of the Supreme Godhead and is automatically omnipresent but can't be perceived by anyone."

[Sidebar: I've read lots of New Age material laden with terms like Astral body, Etheric body, Fine body, all different flavors of body; this quotation here talks about the division of consciousness into those various levels expressed in interestingly different language. I'll read it again:

"Even beyond the State of the Grace Body supposedly there was a third and final transformation in which the Grace Body was transformed into the Bliss Body. This body is the body of the Supreme Godhead and is automatically omnipresent but can't be perceived by anyone."

Going on:

"By achieving this Ramalinga demonstrated that the ultimate states of spirituality can in fact be attained in this world with the physical body and death is not a necessity to experience the ultimate spiritual experience.

Ramalinga raised the flag of Brotherhood on his one room residence Siddhi Valakam in Mettukuppam on October 22. He gave his last and most famous lecture, entreating his audience to undertake a spiritual quest and look into the "nature of the powers that lie beyond us and move us," and asking them to meditate on the lighted lamp from his room, which he placed outside.

Adigal on January 30, 1874, entered the room and locked himself and told his followers not to open it. He said that even if they did open it they would find nothing (United with Nature & ruling the actions of 'all of the alls' - as told in his poem called 'Gnana Sariyai'). His seclusion spurred many rumors, and the Government finally forced the doors open in May. The room was empty, with no clues."

On the the subject of death and the resurrection of the body, John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way:

"'God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.' That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death (the Intermediate state) is a period when we are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ's kingdom." This kingdom will consist of Heaven and Earth "joined together in a new creation", he said."

This is from the Seventh Day Adventists:

"Seventh-day Adventists believe that only God has immortality, and when a person dies, death is a state of unconscious sleep until the resurrection. They base this belief on biblical texts such as Ecclesiastes 9:5 which states

"the dead know nothing",

and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 which contains a description of the dead being raised from the grave at the second coming.
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (cf. Gen 2:7)

Above I have asked, "Where does sleep fit into a comprehensive spiritual discipline?" Another New Age Site says this:

"During normal sleep, every human being wanders in the internal worlds with their consciousness asleep. During normal sleep, the Soul, enveloped by its Astral Body, abandons the physical body. This is how the Ethereal Body is able to repair the dense physical body.

We awaken from our natural sleep when the Soul enters into the physical body. In the internal worlds, the Souls are occupied repeating their same daily chores; there, they buy and sell as in the physical world.

During normal sleep, the Souls of the living and the Souls of the dead coexist together. In the internal worlds, we see everything as in the physical world, i.e. the same sun, the same clouds, the same houses of the city: everything looks the same.
Now, our Gnostic disciples will understand why the souls of the dead do not accept that they are physically dead. Likewise, our disciples will comprehend why the Souls of the living buy and sell, work, etc., during their normal sleep.

By consciously projecting ourselves in the Astral Body, we can know about the mysteries of life and death, since every human being is unconsciously projected in the Astral Body during normal sleep. Therefore, if we awaken the consciousness during normal sleep, then we can know about the great mysteries of life and death."

We have all read things like this, and some of us have been repelled by the "mumbo-jumbo" factor in it; and yet, it cannot be denied that the above paragraph is yet another testament to the idea of LEVELS of consciousness, and yet another suggestion that human consciousness may cross many boundaries. Furthermore, another detail in the paragraph above mentions WORK; the idea is that work of some spiritual nature is continually being done in sleep, in dreams, and even in death. A significant point is that the work of the soul is continuous, it is already in process when we enter the body, and the efforts of the soul to improve itself continue after death. This is one of the things that makes the thought of non-existence so frightening (that you would not be able to finish your work), but also one of the things that makes the thought of eternal existence so inviting-- the work goes on because, this way, we will always be assured of having something to do.

Only one thing remains to be said, concerning the role of spiritual mediation and its progress from articulate verbalization, to the grammarless Cloud of Unknowing: the primal source of this language of mediation is the Incarnation of the Christ. Jesus is the living example, the living paradigm of the mind. Through Jesus, the consciousness of the Father and the consciousness of the body are linked in sacred and eternal union. Through Jesus we realize the limitations of the literal mind, so miniscule in scope, and through Jesus we can learn to turn it off, and still have a sense of self.  To me, a sense of self is all I need to rest assured that I will remain conscious after death.

And remember, Jesus is the personification of this Consciousness thing. When we become one with Jesus, we become one with the dimension of ourselves which is, not of the highest vibratory level, but of a quality which is necessary to make us human. Jesus and the body are aligned in the spiritual hierarchy; they clearly go together as the primary definition of our humanity, and, by implication, of a much higher state of consciousness; a level that is inaccessible to our normal state of verbal consciousness.

I have become convinced that I already have direct knowledge of the soul that will live on after my physical death, and I have been able to put it into language that my literal mind can understand. So it may readily be seen that doubt can be turned into faith by using the linguistic abilities of the mind to link itself with the voiceless eternal mind. The language is difficult, but it is sweet on the tongue.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the power to overcome mental obstacles with divinely inspired truths conveyed to us in sleep, in dreams, and in death. Amen