Note: For a proper understanding of this blog, you should watch Episode 37 of Awakening from the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke (on YouTube) and ideally the previous 36 episodes as well.
The convergence of my work with Vervaeke’s is so striking that I can’t let it go unacknowledged. Watching his series has been enormously gratifying and encouraging for me. In Episode 37, entitled “Reverse Engineering Enlightenment: Part 2”, he begins to build a practical response to the “perennial problems” besetting human beings. These problems are the result of the self-deceptive and self-destructive patterns of behaviour that arise as a consequence of the adaptive machinery of relevance realization gone awry. And his solutions are incredibly similar to mine.
The first of these is the perennial problem of “parasitic processing”, a term which captures the way in which ordinary healthy psychological functioning is vulnerable to distortion by a superimposed dynamic self-organising system. This dysfunctional system is characterised by positive feedback loops of negative rumination, creating a whole host of cognitive distortions and negative biases.
Vervaeke points out that an intervention anywhere in the system is as good as useless, since the system, being self-organising, will simply reconfigure itself around the change and continue as before. What he advocates for instead, is an alternative system to counteract the parasitic one. He uses the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path as an example of an integrated system whose cultivation can counteract and eventually prevail over parasitic processing. The eight practices are specifically designed to overturn the wrong thinking of the “deluded” mind.
On the Pachananda Home Page you will find a depiction of two contrasting systems, the “Wheel of Babylon” based on the Tibetan Wheel of Life (the Bhavachakra) and the “Cross of Enlightenment”, which is its antithesis and antidote. In my book and blogs, I make exactly the same case as Vervaeke. The whole system must be abandoned and a new one created in its place. This is expressed in the Christian tradition as dying to the “old man” and being born again as a “new man”. It is a radical change of orientation, not simply an exercise in damage limitation and disaster management.
The idea is to withdraw energy and attention from the six worlds of the Wheel of Babylon and enter into a completely different agent-arena relationship. The Wheel of Babylon represents six dysfunctional personality types, but also six different ego states we all slip in and out of all the time, although we will tend to gravitate to one over the others. Yesterday, just for fun, I imagined what the UK population distribution might be for these six types: Divas are naturally 1%. Demons are also about 1%. Victims and Addicts are probably about 10% each. Muggles are around 50%, which means that 27.9% are Muppets.
What about the other 0.1%? This is reserved for those who have stepped off the Wheel altogether and are established on an alternative non-parasitic counter-system, such as the Cross of Enlightenment. The first position on the Cross is the Mystic, so the implication is that 0.1% of the population are at least mystics, if not quite shamans, etc. When I’m feeling pessimistic, I think it’s probably far less than that!
Anyway, to continue with Vervaeke’s “perennial problems”. The next problem in the functional group is the problem of “modal confusion”, which is to do with the confusion between the having mode and the being mode (see Erich Fromm’s To Have or To Be). The logical solution is to develop ways to remember the being mode. In the Buddhist tradition, this existential self-remembering is called Sati. (Self-Remembering is also central to the Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way). I have written at length about remembering and forgetting and pointed to various remembering techniques, for example the Parashiva – Shiva -Shakti mantra.
Parashiva is the inexhaustible transcendence beyond all horizons of sense and cognition, including the near horizon, which is “nearer to us than our jugular vein”, the ever-receding “I-I”. Shiva is the light of consciousness and Shakti is the illuminated objects of consciousness.
Third in the functional group, the reflective gap is dealt with by cultivating flow between immersion and detachment. This flexible flow state is represented in the Cross of Enlightenment by the Warrior and Monk archetypes.
The structural group of problems are absurdity, anxiety and alienation. Vervaeke’s answer to absurdity (which he defines as a “perspective clash”) is to practice scaling down and scaling up through a kind of perspectival accordion, moving through wider and wider perspectives and reconciling them together, ultimately achieving a simultaneous nondual view from above and below. He quotes Meister Eckhart’s famous saying that “the eye with which you see God is the same as that with which He sees you” (see chapter 3 of my book, The Gateless Gate).
This hierarchy of perspectival knowing and being is what I call “The Ray of Creation”. It is akin the traditional “Great Chain of Being” but consistent with our current scientific understanding of complex emergence. (If you’re interested in the science, see Andrew P. Smith’s The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness). The seven levels of the Ray of Creation are: Emptiness (Amun), Energy (Ra), Matter (Atum), Life (Ka), Mind (Ba), Global and Universal Consciousness (Gaia and Jah). The mantra is rooted in the body, with each mantra corresponding to one of the seven chakras (see chapter 9 of my book, Seven Gods, and chapter 13, The Chakras).
I also deal with the anxiety resulting from the inner conflict of warring subpersonalities in the same way. Vervaeke mentions the Jungian technique of Active Imagination and the internalisation of “the Sage”. My training in Psychosynthesis introduced me to Guided Visualisation and dialoguing between our “inner actors” and making contact with “the Wise Being”. The whole business of integrating the conflicted and dissociated parts of the psyche was Assagioli’s specialty. And the internalisation of religious archetypes such as Jesus and Buddha gives an added power to these techniques.
The alienation problem can only really be addressed by participating in communitas, that is, being part of a genuine community, and specifically a spiritual community or sangha, dedicated to the spiritual development of its members. This is also something I am working towards.
The developmental group of perennial problems have to do with existential entrapment, arising from existential inertia and existential ignorance. Vervaeke’s proposed solution is gnosis, or deep insight. I completely agree. This is where the psychedelics come in. Although nothing is guaranteed, these powerful psychotechnologies do have an extraordinary capacity to break people out of their existential prisons.
In short, my proposal is Shamanic Christian Zen. It offers cogent and effective responses to the perennial problems and a powerful solution to the meaning crisis.