Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss
August 13, 2014 § 14 Comments
“Nepenthe, Goddess of Bliss” by: Emily Balivet
“I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sight and sound around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once, like an atmosphere, sustaining me […] Every little pine-needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.’
As Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell returned from the moon, he beheld Earth from the spacecraft window. In that moment he had a life-changing experience for which his scientific background had not prepared him.
“I realized that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It wasn’t just intellectual knowledge—it was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy—a transformational experience.”
The experience was so powerful that when he got back to Earth, Mitchell started digging into various literatures to try to understand his experience.
“I found nothing in science literature but eventually discovered it in the Sanskrit of ancient India. The descriptions of samadhi, Savikalpa samadhi, were exactly what I felt: it is described as seeing things in their separateness, but experiencing them viscerally as a unity, as oneness, accompanied by ecstasy.” (“Samadhi In Space.”)
Mitchell went on to found “The Institute for Noetic Sciences” to study consciousness-related experiences, such as his, through a scientific lens.
While terms like “bliss” & “ecstasy” sound vague & faraway to most of us, these states are actually quite natural, glimpses of which need not follow years of dedicated medication.
In a study, 3000 people who claimed to have had spontaneous mystical experiences were asked what had triggered them. The four major triggers were:
1. Depression/despair 2. Prayer/meditation, 3. Natural beauty 4. Participation in religious worship. (I would imagine psychedelics are also high on the list! Though perhaps not in the demographic sampled.)
Metaphysical author Eckhart Tolle famously described an experience of intense despair proceeding a monumental shift in consciousness, which would become, for him, an awakening.
During a sleepless night of “almost unbearable” depression, a thought came to Tolle: “I can not live with myself.” The answering thought became like a kōan: “Who is the “I” who can not live with the “self?”
In Zen, the koan—a seemingly answerless riddle with profound implications, designed to break down ordinary ways of thinking & stun the analytic mind into awakening—is a traditional technique to induce satori.
Savikalpa samadhi is a Hindu term for the temporary, exalted state of consciousness wherein the subject retains his or her sense of self, but at the same time, awareness expands into an experience of divine cosmic consciousness, or universal oneness. The Hindu tradition calls this Brahman: “the ineffable unchanging reality amidst & beyond the world,” translating directly as “being-consciousness-bliss.”
East Indian poet & mystic Sri Chinmoy observes: “Nature’s dance stops. There is no movement. Everything is tranquil. The Knower and the Known have become totally One. The lover and the Beloved have become One. The Yogi enjoys a supremely divine, all-pervading, self-amorous ecstasy.”
In Zen Buddhism, this euphoric state of peace is known as satori, which literally means “to understand.” It is the goal of meditation practice. A brief but clear glimpse into the awakened state of satori is known as kenshō, which translates as “seeing into one’s true nature or essence.”
20th century Zen master Keido Fukushima describes his first kensho experience, a glimpse into satori:
“At Nanzenji there is a small hill. I used to walk near there, look at it, and often smile at the high school students who walked by there as well. One day as I walked by, I looked at the hill and it was truly amazing. I was totally lost as if there was no ‘me’. I stood gazing at the hill. Some students walked by and one of them said something like ‘look at that crazy monk’. Finally I came out of it. Life was never the same for me. I was free.”
British novelist Forrest Reid describes a beautiful experience of classic Kensho:
“It was as if I had never realized before how lovely the world was. I lay down on my back in the warm, dry moss and listened to the skylark singing as it mounted up from the fields near the sea into the dark clear sky. No other music ever gave me the same pleasure as that passionately joyous singing. It was a kind of leaping, exultant ecstasy, a bright, flame-like sound, rejoicing in itself. And then a curious experience befell me.
“It was as if everything that had seemed to be external and around me were suddenly within me. The whole world seemed to be within me. It was within me that the trees waved their green branches, it was within me that the skylark was singing, it was within me that the hot sun shone, and that the shade was cool.
“A cloud rose in the sky, and passed in a light shower that pattered on the leaves, and I felt its freshness dropping into my soul, and I felt in all my being the delicious fragrance of the earth and the grass and the plants and the rich brown soil. I could have sobbed with joy.”
In the West, a typical kensho experience is more likely to be called a “mystical experience.” Pioneering American psychologist William James identified four key characteristics common to the mystical experience:
1) Ineffability (elusive to capture in language; hard or impossible to describe the subtle nuances to another in all their import & grandeur.)
2) Noetic quality (a sense of timelessness & unity with all things, illumination or knowing beyond the grasp of intellect.)
3) Transiency (It is rare to sustain a transcendent mystical experience for more than half an hour; though time appears to stand still, in linear time the mystical experience usually lasts for only a few minutes…a few hours at best. Though longer periods have been reported.)
4) Passivity (the individual feels swept up & buoyed by a force greater than themselves.)
I came across the word “kensho” in my internet search to find a term that described my own experiences of euphoric, peaceful interconnectivity. Mine came about as a result of intentional vision questing, with the help of some earthly substances. Psychedelic mushrooms are probably the fastest rout to experiencing kensho…and once you’ve experienced it, it becomes easier to access during regular meditative moments. These experiences are deeply meaningful touchstones of my path. I will do my best to share what it felt like to inhabit this beautiful state:
For one, there was a sense of timelessness. And completion. Nothing needed doing. There was nothing I wanted, nowhere to go, nothing more to be or say…I was just perfectly content & blissfully peaceful. Yet the experience was not static or dull; it was intensely alive.
I was in nature, as one always should be for these things….
“One With Nature” by Allison Bickle
The moment was all; my awareness expanded outward to include every tree branch, bird & hill. Everything felt deliciously divine & I wondered how it was that I did not always feel this way. A sense of tremendous kinship towards everything surged through me & in return the environment itself replied in silent, sentient, visceral, ecstatic kinship.
The very air around me felt loving, a supportive, nourishing substance. Reality itself felt feathery, forgiving. All of nature felt conspiring, intimate, friendly. I recall looking at some lovely pine trees, their tops dancing in a light breeze, and feeling that their branches were as intimate-feeling to me as a strand of my own hair.
What folly to think ourselves so separate & divided from our environment! We were of course like living threads in a living tapestry, which made up a whole picture, each crossing over the other, each contributing to a whole picture of the world; absolutely intertwined.
I describe my experiences now from memory, because I remember the metaphors that came to mind at the time, yet during these kensho moments, my intrinsic connectivity with all living things & my surrounding environment was entirely visceral, entirely known beyond intellectual questioning.
I felt entirely safe; buoyed by a tangible presence within myself & everything; it flowed within me & those dancing pine tree tops, as well as between us, connecting us; it was in the wind & the grass & my own hands, breath, hair….
A blissful sense of remembrance & reunion flooded through me…I had forgotten this state, the true state—the way we are naturally, minus mental over-activity, compartmentalization & contractive doubt. The feeling was hyper-real; a revelation of truth. As if illusion had fallen away to reveal our natural state; one that some part of me remembered. My whole being rejoiced.
One of my most profound experiences of kensho was with three other women, good friends of mine. First, I saw their beauty, radiant, as if before I had seen them only through a fog—so distracted by my own thoughts. I perceived them unmediated by the analytic mind, beautifully pure, and for the first time I understood why the new agey phrase “goddess” has come into circulation as a superlative. It was simply accurate: they were divine beings & it was as clear as the sky is blue.
From this perception, I moved on to a deep & beautiful sense of empathy. I could feel my own spirit, somehow, my own awareness, within them. It wasn’t that I was not me & they were not them—but I viscerally knew that the same spirit lived in them that lived in me. As if a telepathic link had been activated, which allowed me to be sensitive to their spirit, presence & feelings, in a way to which I was usually closed off, drowned in the workings of my own mind.
It was as if we had been fingers on the same hand all along, thinking ourselves isolated digits floating through space…we were still our own unique fingers (one a thumb, another a pinky) but there was a broader connection at the root level that made us at once unique, yet unified.
As the classic Beatles line goes: “I am she and she is me as you are me & we are all together.”
“Of all the boundaries we construct,” notes American philosopher & author Ken Wilber, “the one between self and not-self is the most fundamental. It is the boundary we are most reluctant to surrender. It was after all the first boundary we ever drew. It is our most cherished boundary.
“In unity consciousness, in no-boundary consciousness, the sense of self expands to totally include everything once thought to be not-self…And obviously this cannot occur as long as the primary boundary, which seperates the self from the universe, is mistaken as real. But once the primary boundary is understood to be illusory, one’s sense of self envelops the All.” (“No Boundary.”)
I am so grateful I had the kensho experience I did with my three friends, because otherwise this talk of non-boundary consciousness would seem dangerous to me, as I’m sure it does to many; and perhaps, misunderstood, it is.
After all, boundaries in the traditional sense of the word, are important. The question naturally arises: couldn’t someone use this philosophy as an excuse for self-indulgent force, projecting one’s own desires onto another? In it’s most extreme form, one could imagine a rapist excusing his crime to himself with the rationale: “Well, there is no difference between us, so what does it matter?”
This could not be further from the meaning of unity consciousness. For one, unity does not mean we don’t possess individual consciousness; it simply means we are connected at a deep level, the way mushrooms are individual yet share the same root system.
Also, once you have experienced the kind of non-divisive awareness Wilber is describing, which I experienced, the concept of harming another, whether physically or emotionally, becomes inconceivable. Because what ever you did to another, however you made them feel, you would instantly feel yourself.
For this reason, it is no stretch to say that world peace & the hope of humanity lies in the ability for more people to tap into the “being-consciousness-bliss” of Kensho.
We are already connected in this way, we simply need to unwind the intense mental constructs of division in which we have, as a society, become ensnared. You can start simply enough, by just connecting with nature & the energies around you…extending your awareness to include the surrounding life forms & environment. We are born with this inherent sense of connectivity, conditioned into a divisive worldview that inflicts separateness & isolation onto what in fact is a continuum.
After all, as the great British Zen writer & philosopher Alan Watts beautifully said: “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.'”
“Sunshine On My Mind by Amamak Photography“
In his fascinating book, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” theoretical physicist David Bohm asserts:
“The process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments.
“Being guided by a fragmentary self-world view, man then acts in such a way as to try to break himself and the world up, so that all seems to correspond to his way of thinking. Man thus obtains an apparent proof of the correctness of his fragmentary self-world view, though, of course, he overlooks the fact that it is he himself, acting according to his mode of thought, who has brought about the fragmentation that now seems to have an autonomous existence, independent of his will and of his desire.”
I would love to hear about your mystical/kensho/samadhi experiences in the comments section (located above, under the post title). Though of course, any and all feedback & sharing is welcome & encouraged. Please join the conversation….!
*For more on KENSHO check out this awesome page!
*Edgar Mitchell’s exploration of his samadhi experience in space lead to the development of a new theory called “The Over-View Effect;” many astronauts had experienced similar reactions upon beholding the Earth. The subject was made into a fantastic short film of the same name, which you can view by clicking here.
In the interval of my transformation from atheism to theism I started to feel there had been an unseen identity around me trying to explain much of what I didn’t understand. But I, as saturated with the belief in the rational thinking, I managed to look through the window to assure for myself that nothing changed around me.
After a few months I went through the experience of seeing circular light going out from me toward the screen of the eyes. After days I started to see tiny stars in the open and closed eyes. This phenomenon was new to me. As I was busy in the search of how man was created the idea that I contain all the world around me jumped in my mind. Every living being is a book recording the cosmos in the time of his creation. It was an effect from believing in the theory of evolution.
Mind has his ways to interpret his experiences. Sometimes it offers the correct interpretation and sometimes not. But the feeling is something else. It creates a state of oversensitivity. Early in my life, one day I was walking alone in a place full of trees and the fine breeze blew on me a state of bliss and I felt some lightness in the weight of my body. And I felt that the trees around me were speaking to me. They expressed their happiness of everything in their world. I was happy too. But I felt I want to sleep immediately. Soon I lied under a tree and went into a short drowsy.
Thank you for sharing this absolutely beautiful account. I know exactly what you mean about the trees….
I feel that myself to this day. I felt it as a child & now again, as an adult living in a wooded area, I’ve re-experienced that wonderful communicative kinship. Certain Native American tribes called trees “the standing people,” acknowledging their sentience. 🙂
When my mother was young, she used to walk through old growth forest & hear or feel the humming of the trees. It was a touchstone of her spirituality, because she could feel their presence, an emanating sentience. Modern man vastly under-estimates the awareness of trees in my opinion. As he does with most everything. It is changing.
I love your description of “every living being as a book recording the cosmos in the time of his creation.” That idea feels very right. And I love your share about the insight that you contain all the world…definitely a kensho revelation! And a feeling I’ve received as well. It’s amazing how there is so much knowledge available to us through intuition alone!
I, too, see the stars. A lot of meditators do. I meditate but only in short bursts…I aspire to have a deeper practice. A lot of anecdotal evidence points to them being a product of third eye (or spiritual eye) activation.
It’s so interesting that you first began to see them right as you were immersed in questions of spirituality & transitioning your worldview to a more expansive one…it seems like a message confirming you were on the right path! Giving you a sign. 🙂
I tried living as an atheist for a while…it was not my natural way, but I felt I needed to try on every perspective before deciding what felt most right. I didn’t want to make a dogma out of what I had always believed…So I tried on atheism & was absolutely miserable. It felt so wrong. After a while I could no longer deny the energy I experienced beneath the materialist surface of things…the sense of a presence within my heart, which was great, expansive & sacred. But I’m glad I came around to my spirituality naturally, having given many other worldviews a chance…trying on their lens to take a look at the world through their filter.
Again, thank you so much for sharing your account. It was beautiful & inspiring!
I’ll sign off with a beautiful, relevant poem by Baudelaire:
Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let escape sometimes confused words;
Man traverses it through forests of symbols
That observe him with familiar glances.
Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.
There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
—And others corrupted, rich and triumphant
That have the expanse of infinite things,
Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses.
And here, too, are some interesting videos about people’s studies on the sentience of plants.
There is also a great book (a classic!) which includes some fascinating studies:
P.S. I love that you say the trees’ communications were essentially to broadcast happiness…that has been my experience as well. That they broadcast pure joy & being-ness…ecstatic peaceful harmony. 🙂
Tai, this is another astoundingly thoughtful and thought-provoking post; for me, it resonates the idea of living in pain and in joy simultaneously, without always fighting or having to fight so hard to separate the two. I have been looking for more uplifting ways to understand chronic pain and severe illnesses and how those who are sick or struggling find or salvage beauty in the mist of it, and this entry is full of insight on the subject; I often take several journeys through each of your posts in order to glean new information or re-gather what I may have missed in order to let myself be comforted and just give myself permission to be me, and this post is no exception. Also, I, too, love the mystical magic of trees; the other day, I was thinking about something particularly disconcerting; it was hard to pull myself away, and then the trees outside my window started to whip in the rain; they made this startling beautiful wind chime, tropical storm noise (and we do not live in such an area) and I thought, “isn’t that just beautiful?” Warm and sweet, and angry for all the injustices in the world, all at the same time. I wish Robin Williams could have seen this post of yours Tai; I think it would have thought it to be a fine achievement. But, the universe was calling him home, regardless of the means; hopefully he sees it now, from his celestial star.
You are doing great work, Tai! xoxoxo, Angy
” All of nature felt conspiring, intimate, friendly. I recall looking at some lovely pine trees, their tops dancing in a light breeze, and feeling that their branches were as intimate-feeling to me as a strand of my own hair”
I have to disagree. The way we see and perceive Nature, is a construction of our senses and does not reflect the reality of Nature outside the existence of humans. I fee that all what is written in this post does apply only to humans and humans in nature but absolutely not to the world and the natural world.
The beauty in and of nature doesn’t existe outside the human brain.
Philippe, I don’t know if Tai’s readers usually respond to her other readers here at Parallax, but, the beauty intrinsic to and driven by nature does exist outside the human brain. For certain, it lives within animals and has its roots in the spiritual cosmos. We are the extension of nature as nature is the extension of us. We have nature’s archetypes and universal themes within us, tools for extension and embrace, one of which is the capability to access and/or accentuate that which is pleasing, but we cannot separate the two (the experience of humankind right now is an exercise in failed efforts to do so and why we cannot and must not. In kind respect of debate, take care, Angy
So you think that what’s shown here is beautiful? Ok, good to know.
I hope Tai can remove these two videos of Warren. There is something going wrong with YouTube, this is not the code of the video I wanted to post. Sorry about that! I’ve never seen this problem before. Very weird. Sorry again. I hope Tai can fix it.
I’ve removed the videos. Perhaps, Phillippe, you can explain to us what you intended to illustrate with the video you meant to post.
Thank you both for being part of the conversation. I love readers to discuss a thread amongst themselves; I do ask, Phillipppe, that in the future you refrain from handling your argument with sarcasm ~ it detracts from the sort of space I’m trying to create here; a safe place for respectful communication & civilized conversation.
You bring up a fair point, Phillippe; the view I’m describing in this post is but one perspective & there are certainly others. The question of whether reality is objective ~ existing without us, as an absolute, as has been the prevailing worldview ~ or subjective ~ influenced by our perspective & observation, as quantum physics suggests…how much what’s “in here” affects what’s “out there”… is one causing much debate among the greatest minds of our time. So our divergence in perspective represents a fundamental divide, and one I might have mentioned in the post if I truly wanted to portray a balanced view of the subject. Which I do, so I may very well go back & add a few lines summing up the counter-arguement.
But if you’ll note, I did use the word “seem” (I said that “all of nature *seemed* to conspire with me…”) Really, neither of us can say if it did or didn’t. It is simply speculation on both our ends. I can not prove that nature is relating with me & you can not prove that it isn’t. So this is a purely philosophical discussion. Though the trending worldview of modernity poses as being “the rational” perspective…it is really based almost as much in speculation, dogma & assumption as the views it attempts to refute.
Let us recall that the fundamental nature of reality is, at root, a mystery to all.
This post is about the idea of kensho, which is a personal, subjective experience. As such, it can not be wrong or right. It simply is.
Though I think the argument you’re grasping at is a sensible one. Perhaps people *are* anthropomorphizing nature. It is possible. Perhaps we are projecting our own wisdom out there onto the world. Again, possible. But the intention of the post is not to say what is real for everyone, it is to assert what has been real for many, and discuss the implications of these experiences.
Also: Angy, thank you for sharing your thoughts! Good points, all.
I would also like to point out that there is really no question that we all come out of the same environment….we are all born of nature, from this planet & the earth; though we come from our mothers, humanity itself comes from the earth.
So to say we are completely different & separate doesn’t seem to be the end of the story…We are definitely related.
The extent to which the relationship goes both ways of course is a mystery. And Kensho explores the human aspect of the experience…we can only know our own perspective, after all.
Assuming the video you attempted to post portrayed some brutal aspect of nature…a wolf killing a fawn, for instance, I can see your point: nature isn’t always kind. Why would trees send me love if a wolf has no remorse killing a fawn? It’s perfectly possible for both to exist. For one, the wolf is surviving. The tree is equipped with the sohpisticated system of photosynthesis…and so might theoretically have more space for gentler interactions.
Two, I, and I think most people with a wholeness-driven worldview, are looking at this from a bird’s eye view….From above there may be the food chain & such but overall there is still a terrible fierce beauty & harmony at work & it all balances out….Nature continues. Rebalancing imbalances with cycles…
Beauty doesn’t have to be tame, devoid of teeth…beauty can be the wild aspects of nature as well…the point is that there is harmony, not so much among all natural creatures on the mirco-level, but in the ecosystem of nature at large (though man has been mucking up this natural harmony…)
After the increase of the human consciousness man started to live in a state of schizophrenia with the nature. This was expressed in Genesis when God prevented man from eating from the tree of distinguishing the good and bad. Never any natural being distinguishes good from bad; all live in union with nature as it is. We can suggest that this union with nature is the ultimate state of bliss. The faithful says, in that time man was able to see and hear God. A monk from Jainism, from India who lived this state in the 18th century, used to appear without clothes unaware of the shame; the police arrested him and isolated him in a cell and closed it; after a while they saw him on the roof of the prison. It was weird that the known rules were not applied to him.
I don’t know if you will see this, given that time has elapsed, but as Tai has said she does not mind dialogue between readers, I must tell you what a mesmerizing way with words you have; it is truly comforting and soothing, yet it calls upon the reader to think critically and to keep searching. You have the kind of writing style that allows for simultaneous consideration of seemingly opposing viewpoints, in the same moment, all at the same time. There is an altar style called blessed unification, where seemingly unrelated symbols are placed in honor of a lost loved one-revealing an atmosphere that, at first, appears disconnected, but actually, contains strong connective underlying themes; I went to a blessed unification ceremony once, but felt I lacked the gift, the training or the talent to use this tool; that is, until I read your replies. I was startled by how much the beauty of your posts recalled the presence of this tool within me, almost as if your sentiments were/are a mirror. It is so nice to read non-deductive, expansive, hopeful readings that make room for all kinds of theory, thoughts, and treasure making as you do. Blessed Unification has many contexts aside from the loss of a loved one and many implications for transcendent bliss. Clearly, I had/have the desire and ability to access and further draw out this tool, and I want to thank you very much for being the impetus that allowed me to do so. Take Care, Angy PS: If you don’t already write elsewhere or keep a journal or some sort of treasure recording, you might want to think about it-perhaps you could also publish a short book of inspiration-again, if you have not already done so:)!
Reblogged this on Gathering of Wisdom.
Wonderful essay! Thank you!
Namaste’ _/|\_ 😊