Effing the Ineffable

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As regular readers will know, my work is now informed by an approach I call “He’Art of Thriving”, which is based on the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought.


I’ve recently blogged quite a lot on the Principle of Thought: the idea that we are constantly experiencing our thinking, rather than experiencing the world directly.


This week, I feel moved to speak a bit about Mind, whilst simultaneously feeling completely under-qualified to talk about this at all. I’m going to anyway – as a result of some experiences I’ve been having recently.

The Principle of “Mind” has nothing to do with the brain, or our own personal thinking. The word ‘mind’, in this context, is about the life force, the infinite intelligence behind life, the Big Mind – as distinct from our own Little mind. Some people call it God if they’re that way inclined.
I recently watched a wonderful talk given by Professor Guy Claxton on Science and Spirituality at the RSA.


He talks about the felt-experience that most people have in some moments. They go by a variety of names: kensho, satori, the Grace of God, sometimes mystical or peak experiences. I love the word he uses for these experiences: Glimpses (with a capital G).

These experiences are typically short-lived, surprising and uncontrollable – but they seem, to the person having them, to be highly significant and attractive. There is a physical burst of vitality, of aliveness, a brightness, an energy, a warmth. In Yogic traditions, this pent-up vitality is referred to as kundalini, and is often sought through deliberately targeted exercises. In the language of cognitive science we would describe it as an abrupt intensification of perception. “Normal” experience seems muted by comparison.

The other big thing these Glimpses seem to have in common is a felt shift from separation to connectedness; from being an individual, somewhat isolated observer, looking for connectedness, to being essentially and intimately connected. The Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast describes this as a spontaneous shift from “Longing to Belonging”. The English mystic Douglas Harding used to describe human beings as ‘built open’, but often suffering from an illusory sense of closedness and self-containment. “Normal” life seems rather lonely by comparison.
Then there is a feeling of ease, as a complex weight of considerations and concerns seems to drop away, and life feels radically simplified.

To me, it feels like Home.

Glimpses are frustratingly hard to capture in words. As the English philosopher Alan Watts put it, it’s trying to speak the unspeakable, scrute the inscrutable – and eff the ineffable!

Or as others have said, the Tao that can be named is not the real Tao.

Here are just a few examples of people trying to describe their Glimpses:
Vacillation by WB Yeats
My fiftieth year had come and gone
I sat, a solitary man
In a crowded London shop
An open book, an empty cup
On the marble table-top

Whilst on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed
And, twenty minutes, more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness
That I was blessed, and could bless.

From a colleague on Supercoach Academy – (thanks Melanee):

“Last week, I was driving over the bridge near my home and saw the whole of my life flash before me. I saw the people with whom I’d known both mighty marrow crushing anguish as well as those with whom I’d known inexpressible joy. In a single moment, something happened I did not expect. I began to feel this radiant forgiveness and love for everyone I’d ever known pour like warm spring water through every layer of my soul and life. Every shadowed corner of pain I thought I’d forgotten, every quibble of grief and offense I thought I’d already let go of, were awash with unprecedented clarity through my understanding of the nature of thought.

I remember thinking that the beginning awareness of these principles is like swallowing a little piece of sunshine in hopes that it will cure one’s headache, and finding that it strengthens, renews, and, invigorates every cell and system of the body.

Which reminds me that the Eagles were right. Everything can change in a New York minute.”

A commuter train in London

“Vauxhall station on a murky November Tuesday evening is not the setting one would choose for a spiritual revelation… the carriage was full. I cannot remember any particular thought process which may have led to the moment. For a few seconds (I suppose) the whole carriage was filled with light… I felt caught up in a tremendous sense of being within a loving, shining purpose…. In a few moments, the glory had faded – all but one curious lingering feeling. I loved everyone in the seats around me. It sounds silly now, and indeed I blush to write it, but at that moment I think I would have died for any one of these people. I seemed to sense the golden worth in them all”

Most spiritual practice, it seems to me, is the attempt to recapture or stabilize such Glimpses – to make them home-ground rather than holiday accommodation. Religions are often organized around an individual who seems to have cracked this quest for stabilization – a Jesus, a Muhammed, a Siddartha Gautama. Such people offer Promise: if I did it, so can you – and a Path: follow in my footsteps.

The Principle of Mind holds that these ‘Glimpses’ are always available to us, that they are more natural and normal than we think, and that we are always plugged in to the infinite wisdom and intelligence behind life.
I’ve been experiencing these Glimpses more and more regularly since looking in this direction, (ask me about Samuel the taxi driver, and about Brandon the homeless guy, and about Terry the street busker!) And I have a strong sense that, as my understanding deepens, I’ll be spending more and more time living at Home.

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