Thursday 29 March 2018

Being Alone

The serious spiritual seeker of today will often find himself or herself alone in the world. Not necessarily literally so as in the case of a recluse or hermit, but in terms of companionship or finding something in common with associates and even family then, yes, alone.

This is for various reasons. To begin with, there just aren't that many people who really are serious about spiritual things so the pool to draw upon is not large. Note that I am not talking about people who are merely religious in an external sense or even those who might be interested in spiritual things but still lead a normal life which actually reflects more of what they are. In this context, I am referring to people who understand that this world is not the true home of man, and who seek to deepen that awareness. This is the most important thing, if not the only important thing, in their lives. These people know themselves to be something more than the earthbound personality here below and that knowledge rules their life. This very fact separates them from others for whom, even if religious or spiritually inclined, the personality, the familiar self of name and form, is who they identify themselves with. Its aims, fears, likes and dislikes are what motivates them. For the true disciple, these are secondary to the burning desire to know God.

Those whose inner awareness is awakening to the higher worlds tend to isolate themselves on that very account. Or rather it is the fact of their awareness that isolates them from others who are not so awakened. Obviously, their awareness separates them from materialists and atheists with whom it is difficult to find common ground but, as we have just seen, so it does from religious and spiritual people who still see their being in terms of how it is conceived to be by the conventions of this world. If someone identifies himself with his natural self, that is, with the self as it appears to be in this world, it is difficult for someone else who is beginning to realise that he is the spiritual soul, and not merely the threefold lower self, to form a relationship with that person. This is not a question of pride or superiority. It is simply an inevitable result of awakening to higher consciousness. It can turn to pride, of course, because we may be awakening to the higher state but are still immersed in the material self but, if it does, that is because we are reacting to the higher state from within the mentality of the lower one.

So, we separate ourselves from the mass of humanity by virtue of the fact that we perceive reality differently. Our goals and aspirations are different in that they are not focused on this world. But very often we are also separated from our fellow men and women by God as he seeks to bring us nearer to himself. For it is a fact that we can only really begin to know God when our hearts are fixed on nothing in this world. Sometimes we detach ourselves, at others we are detached. We might be isolated for the purposes of our own spiritual development because it can be hard to grow spiritually when surrounded by the distractions of this world. Being alone can also constitute a test of one's seriousness and spiritual integrity and, by forcing oneself back on one's own resources, it helps one to become spiritually self-reliant which is the aim for all disciples, especially in this modern age.

Loneliness can be a hard burden to bear but it is often the precursor to initiation of some kind. Not in the sense of dramatic expansions of consciousness but in that of moving on to a deeper understanding of life and a more mature spiritual outlook. If it comes to you, think of it as a gift. It means you are starting to rise above this world and being prepared for entry to the higher ones. It is a betwixt and between condition representing the passage from one state of being and knowing to another and thus, as uncomfortable as it may be while it lasts, it should be seen as something temporary that is the preparation for fuller knowledge of spiritual life.


John Fitzgerald said...

Thank you very much William. That's a very wise and comforting piece. Do you think the Masters are particularly aware when an individual is feeling isolated in this sense? Might they see it as an ideal opportunity to connect with that person and offer comfort and sustenance?

Chris said...

It's interesting - it is precisely through the rejection of this world (because of its "unreality" in comparison to the Real) that we can truly embrace it.

William Wildblood said...

I'm afraid I don't know, John. I do know that their ways are not our ways and that their idea of comfort might not coincide with ours in that they would always want what is good for the person in the long term and that might very well not mean short term comfort and sustenance.

On the other hand I am sure that when there is real inner need they are there though again this may not be outwardly apparent. After all, if even God doesn't intervene in our trials and tribulations how could they, his servants?

I am certain they are aware when a person is reaching out to truth and would always support that person to go further. But this may not manifest itself in away that would necessarily bring us emotional solace. They can't remove the lesson and we wouldn't want them to. I remember them telling me once that however hard the training seemed it was what I wanted.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I suppose you're right Chris. By rejecting the unreality of the world or the world in itself we can know it in its real aspect which is as a manifestation of God's love.

Unknown said...

Thank you William and the process of being drawn to god is the same across the human landscape. The inner movement of the grace that makes human craves to be alone with that radiant grace. This reminds me of the alone with the alone by Henri Corbin that covers Ibn Arabi mystical imaginative creative experience that pursues the prophets path of contacting the divine realm in order to activate the inspirational process through entering the meditative abode alone,to be alone with the alone. Ibn Arabi which The Oxford university has established a society ever since the seventies to study the heritage of the man in the field of proving the school of the revelatory knowledge, for the sake of shedding some light on our modern spiritual deformity that has left the true spiritual light behind, no wonder all these daunting crises that surround our globe from all corners. The purpose of enhancing human consciousness is to bear witness to the only truth of the one, the true original energy out of its light all things have manifested and continued to be manifested and sustained through out the divine creative process, whether in the realm of the matter or the spiritual domain which is the base of the material domain. No wonder true scientists are starting to understand the unified field of consciousness as the foundation of everything. Realizing That life is not created in vain but has a serious purpose that of respectful knowledge, away from the ill fantasy of the sick mind. They say the only GPS god provided the humans is the moral GPS, once it is well observed all other aspects of life will fall in their proper place. Yes the call of our time is different, not only god has stopped to send prophets but humans have become mature enough to seek god and to play the role of the old prophets benefiting from their experiences and the experiences of their disciples, knowing that each human soul has its unique path to Him.

Peter S. said...

The work of Henry Corbin on Ibn 'Arabi cited above was originally titled "Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi". When reprinted by Princeton/Bollingen, the publishers adopted the alternate title, "Alone with the Alone". However, this expression, while remarkable, is not from Ibn 'Arabi, but rather a modification of the famous last line of the Enneads of Plotinus: "Such is the life of gods and of godlike and blessed men ; a. liberation from all earthly bonds, a life that takes no pleasure in earthly things, a flight of the alone to the Alone." [Ennead VI, 9, ix]

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I remember reading that in a book of mystical quotations once which unfortunately is the extent of my acquaintance with Plotinus! Of course, the origin of the word alone is All One which is suggestive i think.

Peter S. said...

Plotinus is worth getting to know. A fine and very accessible point of entry is "Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision" by the great French scholar of ancient philosophy Pierre Hadot. All of Hadot's writings are worthy of attention, but some are heavier going than others. The one mentioned is a delightful short read. A more substantial but very accessible treatment of Plotinus's thought - in a way that much of the literature on him is not - is the book "Return To The One: Plotinus's Guide To God-Realization" by Brian Hines.

Ibn 'Arabi is also worth getting to know. Two of the better points of entry to his life and thought are the thin but authoritative volumes, Claude Addas, "Ibn 'Arabi: The Voyage of No Return" and William Chittick, "Ibn 'Arabi: Heir to the Prophets". Addas has written the best biography of the Andalucian sage, "Quest for the Red Sulphur," while Chittick is arguably the best Western scholar of his thought.

Peter S. said...

More on Plotinus, from Stephen R.L. Clark, "Plotinus, Myth, Metaphor and Philosophical Practice":

Our country from which we came is There, our Father is There. How shall we travel to it, where is our way of escape? We cannot get there on foot; for our feet only carry us everywhere in this world, from one country to another. You must not get ready a carriage, either, or a boat. Let all these things go, and do not look. Shut your eyes, and change to and wake another way of seeing, which everyone has but few use. (Ennead I.6 [1].8, 22–9)

[See also IV.3 [27].24. “A tradition, at least as old as Proclus . . . made of Homer’s blindness a metaphor for transcendent vision” (Lamberton, Homer the Theologian, 8, after Proclus, In Republicam 1.193– 4). The passage is echoed in Augustine, Confessions 8.8.19: Augustine denies the need of ships, chariots, or even feet to enter into God’s will and covenant (“not to go only, but to enter there, was naught else but to will to go”).]

Shut your eyes, and notice where you are! Notice the reality that sustains you even in your least agreeable moments. The realization that I am Here is the beginning of understanding, a revelation that — in other traditions — is induced by silly questions (as it might be, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”). Becoming present to oneself is also becoming aware that there is a real world, as it were, “behind” or “within” phenomena. What is it that is “behind the scenes”? We are. (p.49)

Plotinus’s last spoken words were “try to bring back the god in you to the divine in the All!” That is not only a psychotherapeutic maxim but a considered judgment about the metaphysical. This world here-now when properly conceived is also the World Eternal — but this world here-now, as we perceive and live it, is still something to be abandoned. The one real world, Plotinus taught, is There. If we are also real (though not as we perceive ourselves here-now), we shall join, we have “already” joined, the Dance. (pp.297-8)

Peter S. said...

Winning a Share in the Best of Visions

Both Proclus and Plotinus are describing how the soul is trapped into Becoming, as a cosmological question, but the story has some significance also for our ordinary lives, whatever the cosmos itself turns out to be. … In the Plotinian context it seems rather that he is warning against a concentration on how things seem to us to be and against an assumption that it is sensations — the mere effects of whatever is really real — that are solid. The moral is much like that of Plato’s Cave, where the prisoners are seduced, not by their own shadows, but by the shadows of real things (or, rather, in that more complex story, of the images of real things manipulated by the puppeteers) and dazzled when they are made to look away. Whatever of beauty or profit we see in the phenomena is only a dream, whether or not there is an eventual final, literal awakening. Almost all of us give notional assent— not always real assent— to the thought that there is a real world apart from our own perceptions which is the principal cause of those perceptions, and that enlightenment depends on our recovery of that insight. What I love or even acknowledge in others is not, after all, my own possession, nor even my own reflection, but rather those real Others, existing beyond my own immediate vision. And what are those Others? Merely other earthly organisms like myself, or are these too mere shadows, images, of eternal beings? That is a larger question, to which Plotinus has a firm reply:

All our toil and trouble is for this, not to be left without a share in the best of visions. … A man has not failed if he fails to win beauty of colours or bodies, or power or office or kingship even, but if he fails to win this and only this.
(Ennead I.6 [1].7, 34– 5)

We need to win our way back to the truth, to turn from how things “seem” to how they are.

Stephen R.L. Clark, Plotinus, Myth, Metaphor and Philosophical Practice, pp.89-90

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for all that. I did read some of the Enneads years ago but found them quite tough fare. Perhaps I should revisit them or maybe try the first book you mention. Delightful and short appeal to me at the moment!

Edwin said...

With Easter upon us, I have been reflecting a great deal on the nature of Resurrection. There are those who claim that the influence of Greek philosophy (Plato and Plotinus) transmuted the original Christian vision of the Resurrection of the body into the notion of a disembodied soul in a purely spiritual realm of some sort, such as Plato's world of forms. It seems to me that the evidence of Scripture and the early Church make it plain that Christ's first followers were not aiming at Heaven, as we tend to conceive of it, but at a resurrected body (not an exact re-composition of the corruptible body). The idea that the body is something of an encumbrance to the soul, from which we will be blessedly freed immediately after death, seems not an essentially Christian notion, but a Greek one. Bodily resurrection, not Heaven, is what St. Paul talks about, especially to the Corinthians. Paul goes so far as to say that if Christ is not risen, then Christians are the most foolish and pitiable of all men, for they put their whole faith in the hope of their own resurrected body. The Greek philosophical emphasis on our beatitude resting on a separation from all that is bodily and earthly appears to have eventually superseded the primitive Christian idea of salvation, according to which we are not by nature immortal, but are given a chance for immortality through the risen Christ. I admit, the Greek notions are more appealing to modern people, for we have a difficult time conceiving of a risen body. But our difficulty is no justification for sidestepping what was clearly the Faith of the early Christians and what Scripture strongly proclaims as the truth. We have little detailed knowledge of the nature of the resurrected body, nor in what state we might subsist while awaiting it at the Second Coming. But a lack of comprehension, a paucity of detail, does not obviate the truth spoken by Paul and the early Church. This, of course, leaves the ontological status of disembodied "masters" somewhat mysterious. And what are we to make of communications from saints through apparitions, etc. Just thought I'd mention this in light of the enthusiasm for Plotinus as being somehow aligned with Christian belief.

William Wildblood said...

Don't forget that Christ's resurrected body ascended into heaven so I don't think there is a contradiction between the body and heaven or, more particularly, between spirit and matter which is what those amount to. But the transformed or ascended body perhaps has turned into a body of light so is not the fleshly thing we associate with the word body.

When you say disembodied masters you are assuming they don't have bodies but maybe they do have these bodies of light which is what we use in heaven. I feel that even a disembodied soul must have a form of some kind because, apart from the fact of the requirement of beauty (can there be heaven without beauty?) that is what delineates one individual from another. A non-dual realization might not require a body but any form of mysticism that is dualistic in the sense that it recognises the enduring reality of the self surely does require one of some kind.

If, as I think it does, the spiritual task requires the integration of spirit and matter, and not the rejection of the latter in favour of the former, then we can say that the body will be involved though probably in such a way as we cannot begin to imagine now and with the proviso that it is spirit that is the senior partner in the relationship. So the body is the form and vessel of spirit brought to completion for its perfect expression.

Peter S. said...

The issue of discarnate bodies is very well established in both the cross-cultural mystical and posthumous literature. The go-to authoritative source on the topic is J.J. Poortman's four volume magnum opus, "Vehicles of Consciousness: The Concept of Hylic Pluralism (Ochēma)" Also of interest in this regard is Robert Crookall's "The Supreme Adventure," a masterful book of comparative investigation that deserves to be far better known than it is. As Henry Corbin has already been invoked, in reference to the question of the 'body of light', his two works "The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism" and "Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth" are both of considerable relevance.

Unknown said...

I like to join William in thanking Peter S, on all that. Of course I have not read any of the books he has referred to, but I know from experience that the spiritual path is a tasting path, a graceful path and inner personal knowledge is the tool that enhances that tasting path. It is not a cultural contest but how honestly we feel his nearness in the epistemological realm that is unity of consciousness. Thank you all, it is very educative and hope certainly it contributes to my inner spiritual growth. It is faith that lightens the path of knowledge. Like Whitehead I do not like to read a lot, but I like to ponder a lot on the why, he has given all these perceptions tools but to understand my relation to him first and foremost, in order to be able to conduct my relations with others.