The Messenger

Readers of this blog will know that I occasionally post poems by Steve Taylor, from his regular newsletter. Steve has a knack of getting to the heart of things, such as in the following poem, essentially about learning to trust our intuition, which is very consonant with James Hillman’s ‘acorn theory’ of the daimon (see this post).

The Messenger

It’s not for you to decide
the direction of your life.

It’s not for you to determine
whether your life has meaning.

It’s not for you to deliberate
over whether you’re following the right path.

It’s not for you to doubt
whether your efforts are worthwhile
then grow despondent and give up.

It’s when you deliberate and doubt
that you overrule your intuition
and confuse your inner compass
and lose touch with your purpose.

You have to step aside
and trust the wisdom that is guiding you
even if you can’t comprehend it.

You have to step aside
and let your purpose flow through you
even if you can’t see where it’s heading.

You have to step aside
and leave your channel empty and open
so that your message is clear and unbroken.

Then you have to remain open
through indifference and admiration
through failure and success
until the whole of your message is delivered.

Then your message will make sense
and your meaning will be manifest.  
 

The Matter With Things

I have spent many happy hours reading Iain McGilchrist’s magnum opus The Matter With Things. This is probably the largest and most expensive book (in two volumes) that I have ever read or bought, at 1578 pages, including appendices and an extensive bibliography, and a cost in the region £75-£90 (hardback), although there is apparently a cheaper Kindle edition. Why did I do this? Because I was inspired by his previous book The Master and His Emissary, which seemed to capture something very important about the predicament we find ourselves in today. See my review of that book here.

Also, I was inspired by hearing the man himself speaking in some of the videos produced by the Scientific & Medical Network. You can see some of these yourself on the website Channel McGilchrist. This man inspires by the depth of his erudition and the lengths to which he has gone to make his case. The Matter With Things took ten years of his life and provides a comprehensive justification and amplification of the theory in that earlier book. It speaks with equal erudition on neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, physics…

This is not really a book for the general reader; it does require interested effort and perseverance to complete, but I found the effort well repaid. When Iain presented his first draft to his publisher, the reaction was that it needed major editing and perhaps removal of references. He refused and chose to publish it himself. All the research and references were of importance.

I have no intention of trying any sort of summary. Perhaps the important point remains that first presented in The Master and his Emissary. We have these two modes of knowing about things: essentially rational and intuitive, which correspond strongly with left brain and right brain respectively. The proper mode of working of the human being involves both modes: initiation with intuition, working it through with rationality, and validating again with intuition.

Today’s problem is that the rational left brain has in many people significantly lost touch with the intuitive right, which is what grounds us in reality. The left tries to go its own way and ignore the right (the Emissary usurps the Master). We see the results all around in massive narcissism, and lost participation in the natural world, to the degree that we are apparently rather rapidly degrading it. The abstraction of the map has become more important than the reality of the territory.

In marshalling the evidence the book ranges widely over many fields. The first part considers the means to truth – attention, perception, judgement, intelligence (emotional social and cognitive) and creativity. The second part considers the paths to truth related to the brain hemispheres – science, reason and intuition. The third and final part considers the nature of reality, including the significance of opposites, the one and the many – parts and wholes, time, space, matter and consciousness, value, purpose of life and the nature of the cosmos, and the sense of the sacred. Wow.

Having seen various videos of the man in conversation, I found the experience of reading these volumes to be like having an ongoing conversation with an erudite and wise man – an enjoyable and educational experience.

McGilchrist sees this culmination of his life’s work to be the presentation and ‘proving’ of his theories, in an academic sense – there are just so many references, all beautifully laid out near the relevant text. Who can say that this is not a vital endeavour for humanity? These ideas are important!

Modes of knowing

In his magnum opus, The Matter with Things, Iain McGilchrist identifies Henri Bergson as a major contibutor to the understanding of the way we human beings know about the world.

Essentially, there are two modes of knowing, which I will characterise in a word as intuition and rationality. Intuition is to do with direct perception of the world and understanding what is needed; rationality is to do with language and analysis, rationalising about the world. Intuition ‘presences’ in the world; rationality ‘re-presents’ the world in its own terms.

These two modes were well understood by many thinkers of the past. In the early 1900s these included Bergson, William James, Einstein (see featured quote) and other quantum pioneers. In earlier times, for example, the Romantic movement of such as Wordsworth and Coleridge strove to emphasise the continued importance of direct perception in an encroaching world of rationality. The two modes are also well understood in the world of astrology, where the planet Jupiter represents the faculty of direct perception/ intuition, whereas Mercury represents rational/ analytical intelligence.

What neurologist/psychologist/philosopher Iain McGilchrist adds to this picture is the correlation of the intuitive intelligence with the right brain, and of rationality with the left brain – emerging from modern studies in neurology.

Humans evolved with these two different capabilities because they were necessary for survival. For instance, a hunt might have involved analytical planning to get in the right place to hunt, but intuitive perceptions of the dangers posed by other wild animals in the area. We rely on the combination of these two intelligences.

However, contrary to what you might think, there is no symmetry between the two in terms of their function. Intuition grounds us in the real world; rationality theorises about it. Our intelligence is powerful because the two co-operate – intuition suggests an approach; rationality evaluates and proposes the way to go; then intuition confirms – intuition is the Master.

The disturbing thing about left brain rationality, spotted by Bergson and others, is that it does not necessarily see the need for grounded intuition at all. In this extreme case it usurps the role of the right hemisphere, the intuition and the connection with the real world. The map becomes the territory. A world of abstraction is confused for reality itself. This was the theme of McGilchrist’s previous book The Master and His Emissary – the left brain messenger taking over and ignoring the right brain connection with reality.

Looking at today’s world, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is essentially what has happened to humanity in the large. Our connection with reality, with planet earth, is being slowly destroyed by the left-brain machinations of politics, capitalism, business, technology, consumerism. It will all end in tears for many people and many species of life; indeed it already has.

Yet we still each have those intuitive right brains and there will always be those who know the way to go, who love nature, the earth, their fellow beings, who fight the good fight against left brain extremism. This is the dance of life, and the peculiar destiny of human beings…

Everything Comes from your Depths

From time to time I include on this blog a poem by Steve Taylor from his latest newsletter. This one reminds us about the source of what is really important, rather than what is on the surface – listening to the intuition, as opposed to the instant reaction of emotions or monkey mind…

Everything Comes from your Depths

Nothing real or valuable 
comes from the surface of your mind –
only the most trivial thoughts,
the most mundane impressions
and the most selfish desires.   

Everything real and valuable 
comes from the depths of your being –
the intuitions that guide your life 
as surely as a compass
the creative flow that carries you 
to places you never knew existed 
the inspiration that lifts you 
to peaks you never knew you could reach
the insights that are shared with you
like whispered secrets from a stranger.  

So let your the mind be soft and clear 
free of assumptions and beliefs 
and of dense swirling mists of thought 
so that there is no barrier
between you and your mysterious soul
and so that the endless riches of your depths
keep rising to your surface.

In Tune with the Infinite

“There is a golden thread that runs through every religion in the world. There is a golden thread that runs through the lives of the prophets, seers, sages and saviours in the world’s history, through the lives of all men and women of truly great and lasting power.”

Ralph Waldo Trine

in tune withI sometimes like to reread and reflect on books that have resided on my bookshelves for many years. Ralph Waldo Trine‘s book In Tune with the Infinite was inspirational when I read it in 1987. Here was a philosophical and spiritual exposition in readable form that I could relate to and that seemed to make sense. The pages of my copy are now yellowed at the edges, but the text still makes absolute sense. Since its publication in 1899 sales of this book number in the millions, so clearly many agree with this assessment. Notably it was said to have been very influential on one Henry Ford, who created the Ford motor company.

Academically, Trine is now classified as part of the New Thought Movement, which Wikipedia characterises as holding that

  • Infinite Intelligence, or God, is everywhere
  • divinity dwells within each person, people are spiritual beings
  • the highest spiritual principle is loving one another unconditionally
  • thoughts are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.
  • sickness originates in the mind, and “right thinking” has a healing effect.

The magic of Trine’s short (208 pages) book is to bring this down to simple language that is easily comprehended, a true popularization of psychology, philosophy and spirituality. Along the way he explains important concepts such as

  • the importance of optimism,
  • the effect of mental attitude and faith in focusing thought into fruition,
  • the effect of fear as the enemy of life forces,
  • the effect of thought on healing,
  • the importance of love,
  • the finding of one’s own inner spiritual centre,
  • ignorance and selfishness being at the root of all error,
  • the corrosive effect of negative thoughts,
  • living by example,
  • the importance of the inner guide – conscience, intuition, wisdom,
  • it is the truth that makes us free,
  • the refreshing power of sleep,
  • living according to inner soul direction – not to suit others,
  • as we sow, so shall we reap,
  • being a friend to the highest within us.

The basic philosophy and psychological/spiritual guidance in this book are, I think, just as valid today as the day they were written.

Trine’s book continues to give and give to each new generation of readers.

In the 80s I also read Prentice Mulford’s book Thought Forces, which was on similar lines, shorter but less readable.

 

Instinct and Intuition

Neither instinct nor intuition involve thought. Both involve responding directly to a situation. So what is the difference?

Instinct is an innate faculty we share with other living beings. We respond automatically to situations, eg catch a ball that is about to hit us, avoid contact with an unfriendly being. It typically involves a fixed pattern of behaviour, “reacting”. Instinct came along first and maybe represents the sum of experience of earlier generations, plus learned responses.

Intuition is direct knowledge of a situation. We just know what is right, what is true, what is about to happen, etc. Something is “seen” or “understood” beyond what is presented. Spiritual writings suggest that this involves a link to our ‘higher self’. Others suggest it’s something to do with pattern recognition. Intuition develops over the individual’s experience during a lifetime.

A quick web search showed me a huge variety of definitions of instinct and intuition. The most inspirational I found was that by Christen Rodgers:

True intuition arises from within the depths of your soul. It speaks in the language of the spirit – the language of love, flow, hope, and forward movement. Instinct, on the other hand, isn’t a spiritual sense but a physiological one. It comes from and serves the flesh and speaks the language of survival – fight or flight, judgement, avoidance, aggression, and fear.

This key difference is how you can tell them apart. Whereas instinct speaks in terms of resistance, intuition speaks in terms of flow. Intuition will urge you to go this way, do this thing, or approach that person. If something isn’t right for you, intuition won’t push against it. Instead, it will simply redirect you towards something else. Instinct, on the other hand, pushes back. It resists, fears, or judges what you perceive as wrong rather than beckoning you towards what’s right.

For Christen, the difference is between a response coming from a place of love, and one coming from a place of fear. I think this is going too far – animals clearly have both fearing and loving instincts. So maybe she’s right in terms of how we should assess our automatic responses, but not in strict definitional terms.

Other insights will be welcome as comments. (‘Insight’ – there’s another similar word that some writers take as a step beyond intuition.)

Intellect and Intuition

Our education system is mostly geared to education of the intellect, the understanding of the outer of things, the material, the objective, that which is of the left brain. So we live dominated by materialistic concerns. At its culmination the intellect takes us to realms of abstract thought, science and technology and all their wonders.

But in this process we are losing touch with the inner of things,  and the interconnectedness of all things, empathy for fellow humans, animals, nature, that which is of the right brain. The media increasingly press upon us the results of this dysfunction,  an outer merely reflecting that depopulated inner.

What that inner connection can give is direct perception of the essence of things unmediated by language – people,  situations,  even past and future. This is the realm of intuition, creativity. The more we are receptive to intuition the more we become what is our true essence, rather than following taught conditioning. The more we forget the concerns of ego and act in empathy with all.

Of course this does not mean rejecting the glory of the intellect, but restoring the intuition to its rightful place.

This is the raising of consciousness that humanity needs.Read More »