Religious experience: newness, metanoia, and miracle:
present presence: mystical experience
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
"[Life]...doesn't need understanding. It needs newness."
The living moment is always now, always new, and always ending and beginning. We simply fail to recognize this because we are too lazy to pay attention, too lazy to forget, too lazy to "care for the watching", as Jiddu Krishnamurti continually admonished. Yet when our living consciousness is freed from the Form, it cannot help but despise stagnation and repetition. Just as a spectator would prefer to watch a new episode of an ongoing television show, rather than a repeat performance, so it is with the innocent, 'detached' witness, who seeks not the security of 'what has been', but instead seeks newness always, if for no reason other than the joy of novelty.
And so, if we are to come to the self-effacement necessary to truly embrace the ever-unfolding newness of being- to lose ourselves at every moment, and live as if for the very first time (a fact which is easy to rationally understand, but extremely difficult- or devilishly easy- to assimilate into our conditioned perceptions)- we must learn to see the beauty and magic eternally occurring new at every moment ...which never was before. We must be new at every moment.
Now, with the term 'self-effacement', as used in the above paragraph, I have encroached dangerously into the problematic topic of 'psychological surrender' (as opposed to 'epistemological surrender'). However, it appears that both of these capitulations are so inextricably interconnected, that if we attempt to tackle one, we must necessarily end in dealing with both.
The moment you do not know who or what you are, the ego dissipates, and all vanity and neurosis melt away along with it. Incomprehension is the least painful way to die, to lose everything you thought you had, to become as nothing, and to be born again always new from the ashes. Thus the phoenix, so often used in alchemical symbolism, represents the new person rising out of the death of the old.
"I simply don't know. In fact, I sometimes think I am not me.
I seem to belong to a remote planet,
I am such a stranger unto myself."
Yet this is perhaps the most problematic item to erase in the act of forgetting- oneself. How to be oneself, and yet forget oneself? How to turn one's vision inward, and then with a dexterous maneuver, choose to go blind? It is a sublime and effortless event, for now it is not simply the known which must be forgotten, now it is also the knower.
Regarding this topic, Osho relates: "When you don't know, you are not. When you know, you are. Knowledge begins to function as the ego. No-knowledge, and the ego cannot exist; it has no props, no support. It falls, collapses, and disappears. And in that state of no-mind, no-ego- no-you- something happens which is more like love. You flow into existence and existence starts flowing into you. You are no longer separate from the existence. The drop has fallen into the ocean, and the ocean into the drop. ...New centers will be awakened, a new individuality will emerge, new experiences will happen- everything will be new. If you are prepared for the new then you must gather courage to part with the old. ...We have to destroy the old man and its ugliness, its rotten ideologies, its stupid discriminations and idiotic superstitions, and create a new man with fresh eyes, with new values- a discontinuity with the past."
To forget ourselves is simply a matter of forgetting our knowledge or understanding of ourselves. It is to allow that we are perhaps something very different than we have ever imagined; that perhaps we should not be confining ourselves within the limitations of the mind, and that therefore the essential thing is to divorce ourselves from any image, description, or characteristic. The essential thing is to set ourselves free.
Richard Moss offers the same message, albeit in different terms, writing: "Before we define our experiences, before we accept the labels of our conditioned thoughts and feelings, we must learn to create a space of unknowing- a space of openness to new interpretations."
And that space we create must never be filled, it must always be purged, like a conduit, with life flowing, and never stopping, through it; we must make the mind new, not once, but at every moment. We must forget ourselves not once, but always, if the ever new is to occur continually both inwardly and out.
"Out of this emptiness the new is."
The path is one of continual negation, not one of insatiable accumulation; reason must vanish altogether, taking with it both memory and conditioning- if we are to look out at a world we have been living in all the while, and look into a self we have been calling 'I' for the same amount of time, and in the living instant suddenly unknow everything completely and see life as if we have never ever seen it before.
J. Krishnamurti suggests: "...the moment you have a conclusion or start examining from knowledge you are finished, for then you are translating every living thing in terms of the old. Whereas if you have no foothold, if there is no certainty, no achievement, there is freedom to look, to achieve. And when you look with freedom it is always new. A confident man is a dead human being."
To reach the spontaneity of living nowness is incredibly subtle. Joseph Chilton Pearce describes this adaptation to existence as a "...casual, haphazard, amoral process that leaps the logical gaps and brings about newness."
This statement is a spectacular, parsimonious synopsis of the way of unknowing: to be 'casual' is to be without 'living by the letter'; to be 'haphazard' implies a conditionless event; and 'amorality' is the absence of the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; all of these traits- casual, haphazard, and amoral- then conspire to bring the individual to the realization of newness (of witnessing creation continually creating).
In our pursuit of wholeness, it is not a debt to old wisdom which we owe, but a new ignorance which we must inherit. It is not the meaning, but the mystery of being which we must re-dis-cover. Our new truths should not demystify the world, they should remystify it.
"Since I scoured my mind and my body,
I too, Lalla, am new, each moment new."
This is the way to be 'born again', as we have seen- to be new again, and again, and again. Hence Augustine's injunction to "Be reformed in the newness of your mind."
It is this 'new mind' which Christ referred to in the gospels, and which was translated from Aramaic into the Greek word, 'metanoia', which means, in English: a 'change of knowing' (meta: change; -noia: knowledge), or 'to know differently than you now know'. This word, metanoia, which is absolutely epistemological in its root and essence, has been disastrously mistranslated in the English Bible as the morally burdened word 'repent'. Yet even re-pent (as in penser: to think (Fr.)) has the historical quality of a reversal of the mind. Thus we see that Christ was not an ardent moralist, bent on exacting merciless penance from recalcitrant sinners, but was instead attempting to bring about a new mind by radically shifting the individual's consciousness away from the erroneous outlook of the day.
And why must we 'change' (i.e. re-pent) the way we see things? Because we shall not see the 'new' until we stop seeing the 'old'. We shall not begin to see clearly, until we cease to see unclearly, until we have a 'metanoia'.
The lessons of the occident are clear: we must not create graven images, but instead become as children by repenting of our old ways of thinking, therefore entering with virgin minds into mysterious newness.
But what that newness is we certainly cannot suppose, for that supposition would be based on the old mind, and therefore the only option is to relinquish 'what was' and create a space for what 'will be'. This statement is explained by Stepan Stulginsky, who states: "It is dreadful when people approach new conditions with their old habits. ...Only the blind can think that tomorrow will be like yesterday! The world in confusion demands the search for new ways. The aspiration of humanity toward the unusual will give it the understanding of the New. ...[But] before the rise of the New...the old foundations crumble. Thus, upon the ruins of [our] old world there rises a new evolution."
As above, so below. As without, so within.
"Old things are past away, all's become new.
Strange! He's another man, upon my word…"
This idea of renewal is expressed in more contemporary terms in Thomas Kuhn's landmark work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where, supplying numerous examples from the history of science, he emphatically argues that scientific revolutions do not come about from the discovery of new data, but from the ability to see the old data in a new way. The new 'paradigm' is simply a different way of visioning the old observations. Thus, scientific revolutions come about most often from younger, newer arrivals into the scientific fields- from individuals who have not yet had the openness and creativity of their minds thwarted by being compelled to look at things continually in one way, and one way only (i.e. the current paradigm). Therefore the revolutions come about because the new-breed can see things differently than the conditioned, old-school sight of their predecessors.
Paradigms must crumble regularly, as the ever-new takes the place of the ever-old.
Hence Herbert Guenther suggests: "This 'sense' may be said to be the feeling of wonderment, not so much as a passive state, but as an active, and, in the strict sense of the word, a creative manner of looking at our familiar world, as if it were for the first time."
Here we have a way of seeing the ever novel, dynamic manifestation of life- by obliterating our vision from its conditioned stasis, and viewing it through different eyes. To see and be new, we ourselves must become emptied of the old, that is all. An internal renaissance must occur. Startlement is the starting point, from which one becomes 'dumb-founded'.
Again, to see with new eyes we must unthink with new minds, now and at every moment, or we shall see nothing more than what we wrongfully saw the moment just before.
Which is to say, newness is wonder.
Now it is possible to understand that the term 'original mind', as propounded largely by the oriental mystics, does not refer specifically to the finding of a particular frame of mind and then dwelling forever within that way of seeing, but instead it is the continual, moment to moment, return to the origin, to the ever unconditioned, dynamic, eternally creative newness that lies eternally within all of us. This is our surest way back to awe.
"When you see there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything never happened before. The world is incredible!"
In fact, all we need to do is recognize that we do not understand at least one thing which we thought we understood, and subsequently every other thing related to it then becomes suspect, and we may suddenly look upon a world which we have never truly seen before. The most commonplace occurrence can be the catalyst to seeing fresh novelty everywhere.
Martin Heidegger stated: "In wonder what is most usual of all and in all, in whatever manner this might be, becomes the most unusual."
How could it be otherwise? Until we recognize that we do not understand what we thought we understood- which is everything- we shall not stand in dutiful reverence to the nonunderstandable, and we shall not look at ourselves nor the world in any way other than the way we have been shown.
Wisdom is the living Sophia, so long forgotten in the playless rules of philo-sophia.
The Dadaist, Georges de Chirico claims: "Above all, what we have to do is to rid art of everything it has known until the present, every subject, every idea, every thought, every symbol has to be tossed aside. ...Only when our thinking has been cleared of all that we call logic and sense, when it has removed all its human shackles, will things appear to us in a new light as though illuminated by a constellation that has appeared for the first time."
This observation carries over into all of life. Creation creates. Everything that is taking place now and always is eternally new. Life is art. There is nothing but newness always happening.
Now, taking a giant leap forward, if we recognize that all of life is Creation- if all of life is art- then we ourselves are art; we are what is eternally new at every moment. We must not only see the world again from a novel standpoint, we must also learn to see ourselves, our 'I', as if we had never known ourselves before. And this we must do not just once, but always. The 'I' that is in all of us must never become old, but instead must be re-newed over and over again with the passion of forgetful wonderment.
"You fear so much to become ridiculous... And you are shocked at the call: Be new! be new! Not as on a stage, but in your own life."
Hopefully this never-ending process will eventually cause all of us to imperfectly exclaim, along with Robert Graves, "I in a new understanding of my confusion", and with Russell Hoban's unlettered, vernacular character, Riddley Walker, "Right then I dint know where I wer with any thing becaws all on a suddn I wernt seeing any thing from where I seen it befor."
For if we do not wipe the knowledge of ourselves- the belief that we do, or can, understand ourselves- from the very fabric of our lives, we will not reach our exalted selves, but instead we will continue to believe that we are not the mystery which we are, and so continue to live how we shouldn't.
When the true, new ecstatic opening occurs in the mind- when the ground breaks out from beneath us and leads to absolute aghastness, and to basking in the fabulous glow of never-ending novel wonder- this is simply the most enjoyable of all possible vertiginous apocalypses.
Yeats suggests, "In the Purification...new...takes place of the old; made from the old, yet, as it were, pure. All memory has vanished, the Spirit no longer knows what its name has been, it is at last free in relation to Spirits free like itself."
Truly this is to be intimate and yet alien with all that is. And so, contrary to the assertions of academicians, logicians, and pedants, it is the event which nonplusses us which is more essential than the one which expounds; true 'realization' is not the dissolution of enigma, but the exposure.
"The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands
but in seeing with new eyes."
Once again, in order to start back at square one, without a hint or clue about what we are, why we are, or where we are going, we must not seek to find something, we must seek only to lose everything. And what remains, after all the dross of the mind is cleared away, is the fresh witnessing of the living, unfathomable spirit, which we will never see until we have stopped seeing the world and ourselves the way we have been shown to see these all along, which is to say- falsely. We must exorcise the old, before we shall give birth to the forever new.
"To re-create yourself anew always...
this is the purpose of life."
(from Conversations with God)
(excerpted from THE WAY OF WONDER: a return to the mystery of ourselves, by Jack Haas)