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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

5 Ecstasy II

5 Ecstasy II

Many years ago I knew a composer who made use of the so-called "serial" compositional technique to generate his music. One day somebody asked him why he had to make his music so mathematically complicated, and he replied, "It gives my mind something to do while I'm composing." It was a good answer: obviously the creative process is not all about numbers and relationships; but neither can there be any doubt that observing the progress of numbers, as they parade across the page, may eventually focus the Mind to a point where the Heart suddenly opens its gates and becomes cognizant of the secrets being whispered into its ear by the gentle lips of Higher Mind. Indeed, just so do all Spiritual Truths manifest in the material plane through some kind of language, be it mathematical, musical, emotional, or spoken. The subject of today's comments is the relationship between ecstasy and mundane consciousness, and furthermore, the relationship between Spiritual Truth and Religion.

Last week we explored the relationships between Epiphany, Intuition, Ecstasy and Death. Today I would like to comment on material dealing specifically with the subject of ecstasy. I present this material by way of laying out a framework of mainstream, conventional wisdom, from which I will occasionally, (and eventually), depart.

Before we begin, however, we need to make a semantic adjustment: in my previous sermon, I  used the term “ecstasy” in a fairly general way, to represent a more intense level of “epiphany”; I was more or less equating ecstasy with any super-normal experience, specifically movement of the ego up or down on a continuum of lower to higher resolutions. For the next four weeks, we will be looking at material that treats the term ecstasy in a more specific sense--the sense of “religious ecstasy” or, “religious rapture”. Today we will examine two articles: How to Wire Your Brain for Religious Ecstasy by John Horgan, and an article from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.

We have previously mentioned that the ecstatic and out-of-body experiences, associated with near-death, may be triggered by many different things such as prayer, religious rituals, meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise, sex, music, dancing, sweating, fasting, thirsting, and psychotropic drugs. The agnostic will tend to use the idea that there are many paths to ecstasy, including electrode stimulation of specific areas of the brain, to invalidate the spiritual component of the experience, indicating that, because an ecstatic experience may be triggered by physical things, the experience must be essentially physical--that the brain is the seat and source of consciousness, and when the brain dies, all these transcendental effects die with it.

However, we have maintained that, the physical component does not invalidate the spiritual component; we have asserted that the physicality of spiritual experience is simply one more way in which spirit glorifies the body and transforms it into a spiritual entity. We have insisted that there is a super-physical dimension to man, and that this super-physical dimension of being is interwoven into its mundane counterpart. Indeed, the various doorways the literal consciousness uses, to gain entrance to the supernatural dimensions of itself, are of interest: not because they tend to originate in the physical, but, rather, because of the various ways they lead us to higher dimensions, whose existence transcends and glorifies their physical manifestations.

The following article is a review of several attempts by scientists to inspire an ecstatic experience in test subjects in a laboratory. Consistently, it is apparent that science does not aggressively seek a spiritual explanation for the spiritual events it witnesses.

Spirit Tech
How to wire your brain for religious ecstasy
By John Horgan

"Eight years ago, I flew to Laurentian University in Midwestern Canada to test a gadget that some journalists called the "God machine." The device consisted of computer-controlled solenoids that fit over the skull and stimulate the brain with electromagnetic pulses. Its inventor, neuroscientist Michael Persinger, claimed that it could induce mystical experiences, including, as Wired magazine put it, visions of "Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, the Sky Spirit."

I sat in a ratty armchair in a soundproof chamber and pulled the God machine onto my head as, outside the chamber, a graduate student tapped a computer keyboard. As he bombarded my brain with electromagnetic bursts patterned after brain waves of epileptics in the throes of religious visions, I waited for God or even a minor deity or demon to appear—in vain. Persinger told me later that the device doesn't work on skeptics, implying that it "works" merely by exploiting subjects' suggestibility.

Persinger is one of the more colorful characters in the fast-growing, flakey field of neurotheology, which studies what is arguably the most complex manifestation—spirituality—of the most complex phenomenon—the human brain—known to science. Given that brain researchers have no idea how I conceived and typed this sentence, I doubt they will ever account for religious experiences in all their vast diversity and subtlety. Nor will they solve the riddle of whether God actually exists or is a figment of our evolved imaginations, like unicorns or superstrings. Neurotheology may nonetheless have a profound social impact, by yielding more potent, reliable methods of inducing spiritual experiences.

Surveys suggest that only about one in three people has ever had a mystical experience, defined by one poll as the sensation of "a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself." Humans have long sought such experiences through meditation, yoga, prayer, guru-worship, fasting, and flagellation, but these methods are unreliable, notes James Austin, author of Zen and the Brain, one of the best books on neurotheology. Austin hopes that neurotheology will eventually yield much more potent, precise methods of inducing transcendent experiences, from fleeting feelings of connectedness all the way up to "the full moon of enlightenment." Persinger's God machine may not have done much for me, but here's a brief status report on four mystical technologies with potential:

Mystical Brain Chips
In the 1950s, Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, while preparing epileptic patients for surgery, stimulated their exposed brains with electrodes. Some patients heard voices or music and saw apparitions when their temporal lobes were stimulated. Upon learning about Penfield's experiments, Aldous Huxley wrote:

"Is there, one wonders, some area in the brain from which the probing electrode could elicit Blake's Cherubim?"

One still wonders. A Swiss team recently induced out-of-body experiences in an epileptic patient about to undergo surgery by stimulating her right angular gyrus, which underpins spatial awareness. Other groups have shown that implanted electrodes can trigger euphoria, and in fact they are now being tested as treatments for severe depression (as well as paralysis, tremors, and epilepsy). In principle, implants would provide the most precise, powerful means of inducing religious ecstasy. Indeed, self-described "Wireheads" look forward to the day when these devices will vanquish mental suffering and deliver ecstasy on demand. But for now, this technology—which requires inserting wires into the brain through holes drilled in the skull—remains too risky for all but the most desperate patients.

Magic Wands
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is noninvasive and hence safer and easier to test than implants. Researchers have reported success in treating depression and other disorders with this method, which often employs electromagnetic "wands" as well as headsets. Persinger insists that TMS, properly used, can also induce intense mystical experiences.

A group at Uppsala University has tried and failed to replicate Persinger's results in a controlled, double-blind experiment. Todd Murphy, a neuroscientist who has worked with Persinger, is nonetheless marketing a version of the God machine called the "Shakti" (a Hindu term for divinity), which according to Murphy's Web site "uses magnetic fields to create altered states."

Tweaking the God Gene
The work of Dean Hamer, a geneticist at the National Cancer Institute, raises the prospect of genetically engineered mystics. Hamer claims to have found a gene associated with "self-transcendence" or "spirituality" in a group of 1,000 subjects who filled out surveys that probed their beliefs in God, ESP, and so on. Hamer calls this gene "the spiritual allele" or, even more dramatically, the "God gene"—which is also the title of the popular book in which he describes his research. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, has called Hamer's claim "wildly overstated."

The God Experiments
Three years ago, the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins became a guinea pig in an experiment. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger claimed he had induced religious experiences in subjects by stimulating specific regions of their brains with electromagnetic pulses. Dawkins, renowned for his biological theories as well as for his criticism of religion, volunteered to test Persinger's electromagnetic device—the "God machine," as some journalists dubbed it. "I've always been curious to know what it would be like to have a mystical experience," Dawkins said shortly before the experiment. Afterward, he admitted on BBC that he was "very disappointed" that he did not experience "communion with the universe" or some other spiritual sensation.

Many researchers, like Persinger, view the brain as the key to understanding religion. Others focus on psychological, genetic, and biochemical origins. The science of religion has historical precedents, with Sigmund Freud and William James addressing the topic early in the last century. Now modern researchers are applying brain scans, genetic probes, and other potent instruments as they attempt to locate the physiological causes of religious experience, characterize its effects, perhaps replicate it, and perhaps even begin to explain its abiding influence.

The endeavor is controversial, stretching science to its limits. Religion is arguably the most complex manifestation of the most complex phenomenon known to science, the human mind. Religion's dimensions range from the intensely personal to the cultural and political. Additionally, researchers come to study religious experiences with very different motives and assumptions. Some of them hope that their studies will inform and enrich faith. Others see religion as an embarrassing relic of our past, and they want to explain it away.

"Even when the neural basis of religion has been identified, it remains a plausible interpretation of any conceivable neuropsychological facts that there is a genuine experience of God,"

notes Fraser Watts, a psychologist and theologian at the University of Cambridge and an Anglican vicar.

The theories described below illustrate the diversity of scientific approaches to understanding religion. All these theories are tentative at best, and some will almost certainly turn out to be wrong. The field suffers from vague terminology, disagreement about what exactly "religion" is, and which of its aspects are most important. Does religion consist primarily of behaviors, such as attending church or following certain moral precepts? Or does it consist of beliefs—in God or in an afterlife? Is religion best studied as a set of experiences, such as the inchoate feelings of connection to the rest of nature that can occur during prayer or meditation? Comparing studies is often an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. Nonetheless, the science merits close attention.

Inventing God
Stewart Guthrie, an anthropologist at Fordham University in New York, is in the explain-it-away camp of researchers. Noting the plethora of gods that populate the world's religions, many with minds and emotions similar to our own, Guthrie argues that the belief in supernatural beings is a result of an illusion that arises from our tendency to project human qualities onto the world. Religion "may be best understood as systematic anthropomorphism," he writes in his book, Faces in the Clouds.

Anthropomorphism is an adaptive trait that enhanced our ancestors' chances of survival, he adds. If a Neanderthal mistook a tree creaking outside his cave for a human assailant, he suffered no adverse consequences beyond a moment's panic. If the Neanderthal made the opposite error—mistaking an assailant for a tree—the consequences might have been dire. In other words, better safe than sorry."

[Sidebar: I have read this "better safe than sorry" argument many times, and it sounds stupider to me every time I read it. What sense does it make for man to evolve with a useless ingrained defense mechanism, if what he is defending himself from is something that doesn't exist? I mean, if the cycle of life and death were so simple to understand, why would man take the time to invent a vastly complicated structure of mythical events with a plethora of ethical implications?

Back to Horgan:]

"Over millennia, as natural selection bolstered our unconscious anthropomorphic tendencies, they reached beyond specific objects and events to encompass all of nature, goes Guthrie's theory, until we persuaded ourselves that "the entire world of our experience is merely a show staged by some master dramatist."

Humans are not alone in this trait. In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin noted that many "higher mammals" share the human propensity "to imagine that natural objects and agencies are animated by spiritual or living essences." As an example, he recalled watching his dog growl at a parasol lifted off the ground by a gust of wind."

[Sidebar: I would like to comment on this pejorative sense of the word "anthropomorphic". The scientific sense of "anthropomorphic" is:

"God, made up out of the Human imagination to enhance the chances of survival."

Scientists think that God is a fictional character residing in the collective unconscious, invented by Man to explain things he could not otherwise explain; the Bible says God made Man in His image, while science maintains that Man made God in his image. Science does not admit the possibility of a global spiritual truth-umbrella, that applies to all humanity, on the grounds that all religious icons, symbols, and mythologies are geographically specific, and reflect the culture of the people among whom it is observed. There seems not to be ONE heaven, because all the diverse peoples of the world see a different heaven.

I say, "So what? How could it be otherwise?" I believe it is not too bold to make this assertion: the task of religion is to reveal spiritual realities to the mind in language. The only way any truth can make it to the mind is through some kind of language; and, just as any culture's spoken language will tend to be geographically specific, so must its language of religion, also, be culturally specific. The language doesn't alter the physics of the ecstatic experience. The fact that spiritual visions are clothed in the garb of the subject's culture does not invalidate the character of the spiritual experience at its essence, at its soul level. The problem with all the religions is that their practitioners too often confuse the language of the religion for the spiritual reality itself; consequently, they make all kinds of mistaken assumptions that lead to misunderstanding, divisiveness, and war.

The great thing about Christianity is that we have direct access to Jesus--we call Him by name. The Church of Jesus Christ is a vast spiritual Kingdom, structured by higher mental intelligence, that we can enjoy in relatively effortless communion. Granted, the angelic outreach of Jesus is a great comfort, AND a great convenience for us--but I do not think that other human beings who are poor in spirit are denied access to Jesus, in essence, just because they do not know His name. I believe prayers sent to God are mediated by Jesus in any language.

Hence, God is an anthropomorphic invention only to the extent to which the language of His inventors is a lie. We know that the literal mind cannot apprehend God--that only by yielding to the enveloping wave of the Cloud of Unknowing, over the mind's restless photon-like activities, can we perceive the love of God in our hearts. Nevertheless, we persist in attempting to create philosophical, psychological, and artistic models of Heavenly Truth, metaphors of Heavenly Truth. Do these expressions fail because they must be compromised by limited mundane consciousness, or do they succeed because, through them, inarticulate, spiritual truth is made manifest? Is the union of mind and spirit, in the ecstatic experience, a physical event or a super-natural event? I think we must conclude that it is both.

Let me make one more comment on the notion of anthroposophy: as you know, Rudolf Steiner is a great hero of mine, and rightly so in that he more than any other philosopher of modern times has done more to indicate links between the spiritual and the physical. This definition of Anthroposophy appears in Wikipedia:

"Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through cultivating a form of thinking independent of sensory experience, and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification. In its investigations of the spiritual world, anthroposophy aims to attain the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in their investigations of the physical world."

So, you can see from this basic definition, that Steiner and I are both after the same thing: techniques for manifesting spirit in the flesh. Steiner is hundred times smarter and more psychically talented than I am, so my modest accomplishments in spirit consciousness seem paltry compared to his; yet, this does not discourage me from making claims, by my own rights, on my own truth. Nevertheless, I am certainly indebted to him in ways too numerous to count.

Back to Horgan:]

"Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, has focused on the tendency of people from different religious traditions to report similar mystical experiences, which typically involve sensations of self-transcendence and "oneness." These commonalities indicate that the visions stem from the same neural processes, Newberg hypothesizes.”
[Sidebar: Well, duh.

What amazes me is that these scientists can stand before miracle after miracle, taking place right before their eyes, and they just can't see it! The ecstatic saint is not juggling chemicals in her brain, she is touching a dimension that is undefined by space, time, or language

The second article we will consider is an excerpt taken from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia; it offers some useful points of departure, but you will notice that I am in disagreement with the basic tone and direction of many of the author’s arguments:

"Supernatural ecstasy may be defined as a state which, while it lasts, includes two elements:
•        the one, interior and invisible, when the mind rivets its attention on a religious subject;
•        the other, corporeal and visible, when the activity of the senses is suspended, so that not only are external sensations incapable of influencing the soul, but considerable difficulty is experienced in awakening such sensation, and this whether the ecstatic himself desires to do so, or others attempt to quicken the organs into action."

[Sidebar: So, we can see at the outset that this author is making the same Cartesian dichotomy between mind and body--there is an "interior and invisible" aspect of the experience, and a "corporeal and visible" aspect of the experience. Later, below, we will get thicker into this dichotomy and into the levels of consciousness which define it.

Back to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:]

"That quite a large number of the saints have been granted ecstasies is attested by hagiology; and nowadays even free-thinkers are slow to deny historical facts that rest on so solid a basis. They no longer endeavour, as did their predecessors of the eighteenth century, to explain them away as grounded on fraud; several, indeed, abandoning the pathological theory, current in the nineteenth century, have advocated the psychological explanation, though they exaggerate its force.

False views on the question of ecstasy
The first three errors here mentioned are psychological in nature; they fail to estimate at its proper value the content of ecstasy; the other false theories spoken of identify this state with certain morbid physical or psychological conditions.

(1)          Certain infidel philosophers maintain that during an ecstasy there is a lessening of intellectual power, that at a certain stage there is an utter loss of the ego, an annihilation of the faculties. This is the theory of Murisier and of Leuba. The arguments for this view are based upon an exaggerated interpretation of certain phrases used by the mystics. Their accounts, however (those, for instance, of Blessed Angela of Foligno), give the lie to such an explanation. The mystics state clearly that they experience, not only the fullness, but the superabundance of intelligence, an increase of activity of the highest faculties. Now, in a science that is based on observation, as is mysticism, we are not justified in brushing aside the numerous and consistent testimonies of those who have tested the facts, and putting in their place the creations of the imagination."

[Sidebar: The assumption of this objection that ecstasy does NOT result in loss of ego is founded on a shallow interpretation of the word “ego”. This author thinks that the concepts of “loss of ego resolution” and “the fullness, and superabundance of intelligence” are diametrically opposed and incompatible. The theories, that we have recently been upholding, indicate the opposite—that fullness of spiritual knowledge is only achieved through the loss of the confining literal-minded restrictions of ego definition. We have suggested that entry into the Cloud of Unknowing requires the release of the mind from the shackles of literal definition into a realm where the mind and soul are free to commingle in inarticulate atmospheres of infinite significance. As C.S. Lewis has reminded us many times, when we give up ourselves, we become more ourselves.

Therefore, this writer in the Catholic Encyclopedia is guilty of the same lapse of logic of which so many Fundamentalist Protestants are guilty, i.e., grinding an axe over something an “INFIDEL” said, rather than seeking the commonality that makes us all one.

Back to the Catholic Encyclopedia:]

"(2) The theory of unconsciousness distorts the facts so unscrupulously that some writers have preferred a theory less crude, i.e., the emotional explanation. The ecstatic, it is admitted, is not buried in a heavy sleep; rather, he experiences violent emotions, in consequence of which he loses the use of the senses; and as there is nothing new to occupy his attention, it follows that his mind is taken up by some trifling thought, so trifling, indeed, that these writers deem it unworthy of their notice. This theory clashes less with historical data than does the first, since it does not wholly eliminate the activity of the ecstatic; but it denies half the facts emphatically urged by the mystical writers.

(3) It has been said that ecstasy is perhaps a phenomenon wholly natural, such as might well be occasioned by a strong concentration of the mind on a religious subject. But if we are not to rest satisfied with arbitrary conjectures, we must show that similar facts have been observed in spheres of thought other than purely religious. The ancients attributed natural ecstasies to three or four sages, such as Archimedes and Socrates, but as the present writer has proved elsewhere, these stories are founded either on inconclusive arguments or upon false interpretation of the facts."

[Sidebar: We can see that this guy has a double-edged axe to grind: the statement “similar facts have been observed in spheres of thought other than purely religious” again places a self-limiting definition on the word “religion”! We at Basin Bible Church have been in universal agreement about this one idea—the idea that if God is be found in all things, “religion” is also to be found in all things. I recall a conversation I had with A.F. some time ago when he asked me something about religious music, and I said, “To me, all music is religious.”

This Catholic author seems determined to “exclude” people, outside his religious persuasion, withholding from them them any kind of credit for having a legitimate religious experience; he also invalidates the inspirations of people like Archimedes and Socrates--presumably because their ecstasies were unsanctioned by the Pope. It just goes to show that it is not only low-brow fundamentalists who can be stupid about serious matters.

In the next section, the author disparages the ecstatic experiences of lesser known subjects in deference to the acknowledged Catholic saints. He distinguishes their experiences from those of the saints in the following paragraphs:]

“From a threefold point of view, then, there is a contrast between their [basically anybody else] case and that of the saints who have been granted ecstasies.
•        The latter possess strong intellects, conceiving projects lofty and difficult in the execution; in proof of this assertion we might appeal to the history of the founders of religious orders.
•        Their will-power is second to none in energy; so strong, indeed, as to enable them to break through all opposition, especially that which arises from their own nature.
•        Lastly, the saints keep before them a moral ideal of a lofty character, the need of self-forgetfulness if they would give themselves to the glory of God and the temporal and spiritual welfare of their fellow-men.”

[Sidebar: It is hard not to nit-pick about the fact that just a few paragraphs earlier he states:

“The mystics state clearly that they experience, not only the fullness, but the superabundance of intelligence, an increase of activity of the highest faculties.”

And yet he speaks here of “the need of self-forgetfulness”. Which is it? Not only does his language here affirm the kind of reduction in ego-resolution that we have been espousing, but he points to the MORAL SUPERIORITY of such reductions. I know I’m quarreling over straws here, but the way in which this author seems to be claiming moral and spiritual superiority and exclusivity to a clan of Catholic saints over every other saint in history is a piss-off. It reminds me of the time, way back in high school, when I did a book report on Brave New World; in my oral presentation I criticized the author on some minor stylistic points, and the teacher said in the most elevated and superiority whine of voice, “Whooo are yoooou to criticize Alllldousssss Huxley?????” “I’m me!” I replied. She was unimpressed. Who ever heard of a writer that wasn't famous? As we have mentioned many times before, people are often convinced by the reputation of the person imparting the truth, rather than the truth itself. It is hard to deny undue authority to people you admire, or think you are supposed to admire. We all remember that passage from the Paul Simon song, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, tenement halls." I wonder if I could convince this Catholic writer that I understand ecstasy.?

Going on:]

"The hysterical subject of hypnotism, on the contrary combines in himself none of these noble qualities."

[Sidebar: Once again, the underlying attitude here is that an ecstatic experience initiated by some externally replicable trigger is somehow invalid—that a religious ecstasy has to originate in the spiritual realm, preferably in the Catholic Heaven. Let me reiterate a key point in my argument:
We have maintained that, rather being an invalidation of the spiritual component, the physicality of spiritual experience is simply one more way in which spirit glorifies the body and transforms it (or is it translates it?) into a spiritual entity.

Back to the encyclopedia:]

“(6) An attempt has been made to rank ecstasy with somnambulism, with which have also been classed, but with greater reason, the trances of spirit mediums. The case which most approaches, on the surface, the ecstasy of the saints is that of Helen Smith, of Geneva, whom Professor Flournoy studied carefully during the closing years of the nineteenth century. During the crises of spontaneous somnambulism she described her visions in word or in writing. At one time she saw the inhabitants of the planet Mars, at another she dwelt among the Arabs or the Hindus of the fourteenth century. In 1904 she had crises lasting a quarter of an hour, during which she painted in oil pictures of Christ and the Madonna, though she was quite unconscious of what she was doing. The ecstasies of the saints were, it was thought, of exactly the same nature. There are, however, some striking differences:
•        From the moral viewpoint the visions of the saints produce a remarkable change in their manner of life, and lead them to the exercise of the most difficult virtues. Helen experiences nothing of the kind. She is a good woman, that is all.
•        Unlike the saints, she remembers nothing of what she has seen.
•        While the vision lasts, the faculties at play are not the same. In the case of the saints, the activity of the imagination is arrested during the culminating periods, and the intellect undergoes a marvelous expansion. In the case of Helen, the imagination alone was at work, and its objects were of the most commonplace character. Not a single elevated thought; simply descriptions of houses, animals, or plants--nothing but a mere copy of what we see on earth. Such descriptions serve only as stories to amuse children."

[Sidebar: I think I have to agree with the author here, at least in principle: I find it hard to recognize the ecstatic character of an experience that is not conscious; on the other hand, trance mediums operate from a plane of awareness, so different from most of us, that this whole argument seems just a bit like mixing apples and oranges. It must be admitted that mediums like Edgar Cayce and Jane Roberts are operating from a spiritual perspective that is so far removed from any kind of PERSONAL mind state that the argument of ecstasy pro or con seems moot. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that mediums are better than most of us at shifting consciousness levels. Our Catholic friend might also be reminded that the visions of Helen Smith sound not unlike the visions of Hildegard de Bingen, one of the great Catholic saints.]

Thus endeth the commentary on the two articles Spirit Tech:
How to wire your brain for religious ecstasy
, by John Horgan, and the article on Ecstasy from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.
If there was any reason to quote such a lengthy articles with which I have so many disagreements, it was to illustrate the point that the LANGUAGE in which ecstatic experiences are reported may easily become RELIGION-DRIVEN, rather than SPIRIT-DRIVEN. In the latter article, the author has presupposed the exclusive validity of his material because it comes from the Catholic Authority, and the former make the authority of science into a religion of its own--something to believe in because it is sanctioned by the university.

As mentioned in the introduction to today's presentation:

"Obviously the creative process is not all about numbers and relationships; but neither can there be any doubt that observing the progress of numbers, as they parade across the page, may eventually focus the Mind to a point where the Heart suddenly opens its gates and becomes cognizant of the secrets being whispered into its ear by the gentle lips of Higher Mind. Indeed, just so do all Spiritual Truths manifest in the material plane through some kind of language, be it mathematical, musical, emotional, or spoken."

These two articles give us much needed and interesting background on the subject, but the language they use is too much religion-driven and not enough truth-driven. Once again, the language of our RELIGION is only as good as its ability to translate us to the spiritual realm. Without language, and without Jesus to transform our inadequate expressions into meanings worthy of the ear of the Father, we would have a much more difficult time enjoying our multi-dimensional beings, in this earthly realm.

Let's face it! Religion is made up! We made it up! But we made it from cultural artifacts and tokens scattered all over the diverse and distant plains of Earth. And yet as we raise these graven images to the sky, they mingle with the infinite, they are energized by the outstretched finger of God, and are blessed by grace, as they touch the divinity of Heaven's gates.

Let us pray:
Jesus guide our tongues to sing new songs to You. And let them be sung to variations on the same old tune that gave birth to the world. Give us the humility to witness, and the courage to sing along. Amen.

4 Ecstasy I

4 Ecstasy I

In the past, I have spoken of "Epiphany": epiphany as a mode of experience, a moment of recognition that projects the mundane literal consciousness upward into super-personal atmospheres. I have also spoken of  the “intuitive response”, the psychic "re-centering" of conceptual elements, rearranging themselves in a magical way to make problem-solving possible. We have previously suggested that the process of "psychic 're-centering'" is very similar to, if not identical to, epiphany. We have noted that all epiphanic and intuitive, re-centering realizations come "in a flash". We have also noted that the Intuitive re-centering of concepts, directed toward an end condition, brings into play pre-conscious mind states, again, similar to (or identical to) the pre-conscious mind states associated with the collective unconscious, including the ancient racial memories of elves and fairies (including Santa Claus).

Today's presentation on "Ecstasy" will attempt to create a link between the epiphanic experience, and the ecstatic experience; I will try to show how ecstasy is an extension of the epiphanic experience, with some extra bells and whistles added in. Furthermore, it will suggest that these ideas lead to the following conclusion: that the intuitive epiphany may be the path to ecstasy.

So how can we tell what ecstasy is? If it is, indeed, a state of transcendent, super-literal, spirit consciousness, it is pointless to try to "define" it in words; however, there are attendant characteristics of the experience which are the same every time, and which may, therefore, be used to describe the "effects" of ecstasy in approximate, or generalized, language.

Now, to begin with, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that the epiphanic mode of experience proclaims the positive validity and importance of -- SURPRISE! The ability to accept surprising developments (and cherish them as gifts from God) is a powerful way to keep positive in a world in which most people dwell many hours a day on the negative. I had a friend in L.A. who used to say, of unpleasant surprises, "A flat tire on the freeway is  an invitation to experience life." All this guy's clouds were silver-lined, and all the beatings he received from the rod of the shepherd were accepted with thanksgiving.

Another friend of mine affirmed the element of surprise in the Aesthetic response: which he likened to walking in the woods and suddenly seeing a deer, just inches from your hand; you may never see that deer again, but the memory of that surprise will leave an indelible impression on your mind and leave you open to being pleasantly surprised again. It just goes to show how the unexpected may contain the unopened flower of eternity. It also goes to show how the unknown entity, that we so terribly fear, may turn out to be our best friend. The underlying conclusion here is that Epiphany, Re-centering, Intuition, and the Aesthetic Response are all experiences of upward consciousness shifts, and are, thereby, intimately linked to ecstatic mind states.

Once again, being prepared for the experience can only soften the blow SOMEWHAT--an epiphany, ready or not, will always come as a surprise, because shifting consciousness levels always results in an awakening—a homecoming to a home you’ve never seen before. Epiphanies put us in contact with higher vibrational rungs on Jacob's ladder. Hence, it is very reasonable to associate an epiphany with a traumatic opening of the spiritual eyes, an enriching of the holistic experience of life, the most extreme instance of which is "Ecstasy".

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Ecstasy may refer to:
•        Ecstasy (emotion), a trance or trance-like state in which a person transcends normal consciousness
•        Religious ecstasy, a state of consciousness characterized by expanded spiritual awareness, visions or absolute euphoria"

From the World English Dictionary:
1350–1400; Middle English extasie < Middle French < Medieval Latin extasis < Greek ékstasis displacement, trance, equivalent to ek- ec- + stásis stasis
[C14: from Old French extasie, via Medieval Latin from Greek ekstasis displacement, trance, from existanai to displace, from ex- out + histanai to cause to stand]"

[Sidebar: It is interesting how the original word communicates a sense of "displacement". As you will remember, we have repeatedly suggested the idea that spiritual experience involves moving from one consciousness level to another; therefore, this movement, through different states of awareness, is very appropriately described by the term "displacement". In ecstasy, we feel a sense of movement from one density of ego-resolution to another, from one perspective to another, and even from one time frame to another.

The term "trance", a transcendence of “normal” consciousness, also finds its way into many definitions of ecstasy. Several people have noted that I appear to go into trance when I conduct. It is certainly true that, during performances, I enter a super-personal state that allows me to see into the orchestra's collective mind, and it is certainly true that all my cognitive senses are working at an accelerated rate--the type acceleration characteristic of "re-centering". Thus, “trance” may be defined as a “displacement” of psychic attention from one level of consciousness to another, presumably a higher, or more inclusive state of awareness. Indeed, it turns out that the idea of a more “inclusive” state of awareness is the same thing as an “expanded” state of consciousness--a state of consciousness in which we can simply TAKE IN MORE STUFF. By removing (or displacing) our inner vision to a vantage point higher up the ladder, we can see farther and farther into distant cosmic terrains.]

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Religious ecstasy:
Religious ecstasy is only one type of an altered state of consciousness characterized by greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness, frequently accompanied by visions and emotional (and sometimes physical) euphoria. Although the experience is usually brief in time, there are records of such experiences lasting several days or even more, and of recurring experiences of ecstasy during one's lifetime. Subjective perception of time, space and/or self may strongly change or disappear during ecstasy, sometimes called enlightenment.

The adjective "religious" means that the experience occurs in connection with religious activities or is interpreted in context of a religion. Marghanita Laski writes in her study "Ecstasy in Religious and Secular Experiences," first published in 1961:
"Epithets are very often applied to mystical experiences including ecstasies without, apparently, any clear idea about the distinctions that are being made. Thus we find experiences given such names as nature, religious, aesthetic, neo-platonic, sexual etc. experiences, where in some cases the name seems to derive from trigger, sometimes from the overbelief, sometimes from the known standing and beliefs of the mystic, and sometimes, though rarely, from the nature of the experience.

Ecstasies enjoyed by accepted religious mystics are usually called religious experiences no matter what the nature of the ecstasy or the trigger inducing it."

Exclusive and inclusive views
Religious people may hold the view that true religious ecstasy occurs only in their religious context (e.g. as a gift from the supernatural being whom they follow) and it cannot be induced by natural means (human activities). Trance-like states which are often interpreted as religious ecstasy can be deliberately induced with techniques or ecstatic practices; including, prayer, religious rituals, meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise, sex, music, dancing, sweating, fasting, thirsting, and psychotropic drugs. An ecstatic experience may take place in occasion of contact with something or somebody perceived as extremely beautiful or holy. It may also happen without any known reason. The particular technique that an individual uses to induce ecstasy is usually one that is associated with that individual's particular religious and cultural traditions. As a result, an ecstatic experience is usually interpreted within the particular individual religious context and cultural traditions. These interpretations often include statements about contact with supernatural or spiritual beings, about receiving new information as a revelation, also religion-related explanations of subsequent change of values, attitudes and behavior (e.g. in case of religious conversion). . . .

Yoga provides techniques to attain an ecstasy state called samādhi. According to practitioners, there are various stages of ecstasy, the highest being Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Bhakti Yoga especially, places emphasis on ecstasy as being one of the fruits of its practice.

Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam) has theoretical and metaphorical texts regarding ecstasy as a state of connection with Allah. Sufis practice rituals (dhikr, sema) using body movement and music to achieve the state. Zila Khan also practices this through Music Therapy and her performances.

[Sidebar: The presence of all these nuanced differences in mind state, and all the different triggers that can shift the devotee's mind state from one level to another, makes me wonder how much time we actually spend OUT of ecstasy: if we, like the photon, constantly wink into and out of existence, then we must be in a constant state of ecstasy, we just don't know it!

Back to Wikipedia:]

"In the monotheistic tradition, ecstasy is usually associated with communion and oneness with God. However, such experiences can also be personal mystical experiences with no significance to anyone but the person experiencing them. . . .

In hagiography (writings about Christian saints) many instances are recorded in which saints are granted ecstasies. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia religious ecstasy (called "supernatural ecstasy") includes two elements: one, interior and invisible, in which the mind rivets its attention on a religious subject, and another, corporeal and visible, in which the activity of the senses is suspended, reducing the effect of external sensations upon the subject and rendering him or her resistant to awakening. The witnesses of a Marian apparition often describe experiencing these elements of ecstasy."

Now, those of you who have been following my sermons for the past few weeks will have doubtless already guessed that I am raising "Ecstasy" to the very peak of discernible consciousness levels, and am equating it, the ultimate ecstatic moment, with death.

Might it be that all these depressed, suicidal eccentrics, longing for death, are NOT WRONG--that we ALL should be pining after death, as a man dying in the desert might thirst for water, as a scarecrow might yearn for LIFE?! If the moment of death is a moment of birth into a new life, how may we resist pining after it? On a more modest level we may speak of the ineffable longing of sehnsucht, the joy of not having, which is only justified by the future translation of the devotee's consciousness into a higher realm. The joy of sehnsucht borders on the ecstatic, but keeps us grounded with at least one foot in the material plane, whereas death paints the big picture, and in death, by projecting ourselves into our own deaths, we touch the essence of who we are.

My personal life is fraught with pains and frustrations of the past pursuing me around every corner of my current progress, and it is difficult to hold on to a positive attitude; indeed, many people would attribute my current obsession with death as a negative activity. This has turned out not to be so, since thoughts of my death have propelled me into a future in which I exist beyond my physical limitations, and above my petty mundane trials. I thank God for the rod of the Shepherd that punishes each wrong turn with unequivocal directives, and comfortable healing moments of stasis.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank You for our lives and the crosses each of us must bear through this chaotic earthly landscape or paradox and disappointment; the commissions we accepted before the world began are dear to our hearts because we know we have been enlisted by you to perform a certain thing to the Glory of the Father. Still, we stand outside the gates of Heaven and wait patiently, pining after the face that will eventually open the door and let us in. Amen.