Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From First From Within
A column dedicated to exploring the role of dreams, voices, and visions in the integral yoga.

By Douglas McElheny

Those of you who read the last issue of The Chipmunk Press know that Donny contributed an article about anger. While he was in the process of writing that article I received this line from the inner voice:

I unpolish anger.

This I felt was a call for me to work more on my own problems with anger. So I tried to be more conscious on that morning and was surprised to find that, under the surface, I felt that I had a right to be angry and to express anger as a way of asserting myself or getting what I want. I could see that these feelings were ‘polishing’ my anger, that is, they were shining it up with the lustre of legitimacy. To counter this I took the line’s advice and reminded myself that there is no justification for anger. As a result, I was able to keep myself from being carried away by the impulse to get angry (on that day at least).

So this is what the line meant for me and my process, but I also suspected that I had picked up on Donny’s process and what he was trying to convey in his article. He had told me himself that one of his primary goals was to point out how we wrongly legitimize anger and its expression. In light of that, it struck me that the line could be a nifty title for his article, so I thought I might offer it to him for that purpose.1 I thought it best however to wait until I had read the completed article before saying anything. If afterwards it didn’t seem like a fitting title then I would say nothing.

After reading the article though I had to admit that I thought it would be a very good title and better perhaps than the one Donny had chosen, which was The Anger I Found in a Poem. At first glance I couldn’t see much logic in the title that Donny had chosen. Sure, there was poetry in the article that addressed anger, but that was just a circumstance. The real aim of the article was “to question anger.”2 I realized however that Donny had gotten his title from the inner voice as well, so I knew better than to take it at face value. There was almost certainly another meaning behind it, but despite my efforts I was unable to figure out what that might be.3

As a result I was unsure whether it was appropriate or not to offer him the line. I was also hesitant because I could see that my motivations in the matter were mixed. On one side there was the more sincere desire to offer it to him because I knew he might like it and be grateful to use it. On the other side however I was vitally attached and identified with the line and wanted the vain gratification I would get if he were to (ahem) grace his article with something that came ‘from me’. Given that, I knew that there was a very real risk of the vital getting offended should he reject the title regardless of how politely he might do so. I also felt that Donny himself might have some type of vital reaction because he was attached to ‘his’ title. So in addition to one of us getting irked I also could also see the possibility of things degenerating into an argument.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just ask Donny about his interpretation of his title. Well to be honest, from what I remember that didn’t seem like a good idea to me, but I can’t now recall exactly why I felt that way. Most likely it was because I believed he might pick up on the fact that I had an unspoken reason for asking the question and would then press me about it. All I can say for sure though is that for whatever reason or reasons I felt my only two options were to offer it or not offer it. Looking at the situation objectively I felt that in the grand scheme of things it didn’t much matter if Donny’s article had the best or most appropriate title. It didn’t seem important enough to me to risk one of us or perhaps both of us having to deal with a vital reaction or worse, having the ugliness of an argument. So I decided I would just forget about it unless I got some kind of clear sign that I should bring it up.

It was difficult however to keep the issue completely out of my mind, and I found myself falling into the same repetitive trains of thought regarding it. I wasn’t anguishing about it by any means, and even to say I was mulling over it would be an exaggeration., but it was a nuisance so I was quite glad when this line came:

I don’t need to dress that page.

That was all I needed to hear. After that I was able to drop the issue completely and was no longer bothered by repetitive thoughts on the matter. But even though I was bailed out this time, the very real problem remains of the vital getting attached to things which come from my inner process. Like anything else I guess that will go in time if I keep working on it.
***
Recently it occurred to me that I haven’t spoken much about visions in From First, From Within. When I thought about why that was, I realized that in truth I don’t have as much of a handle on visions as I do on dreams and the inner voice. I honestly can’t make much out of most of the visions that I have. Even if the visions are quite clear they often slip away from me when I come up out of the light trance in which they occur. But even when I can remember the visions clearly I find that, like dreams, they often involve quite ordinary activities that don’t seem to have much of a symbolic meaning. They also often portray people in my life and seem to be giving insight into them or their lives but it’s usually in a way that’s quite hard to interpret or even if I can interpret it I can’t figure out how to use or apply the information. I do have a very good example though of a vision that gave some very thought provoking knowledge, and shows how visions can widen our consciousness and our outlook on the universe, even if only temporarily. Let me tell you the story.

About a week before this particular vision I watched a science fiction movie called Serenity. Both Donny and I found the movie to be quite enjoyable and Donny said that one of the things he liked about it was the fact that the characters were so well developed. He said that he suspected the movie was meant to be a lead-in to a television series. As it turned out he was inversely correct. Curious to find out more I did a google search and discovered that the movie Serenity had been preceded by a television show called Firefly that featured the same characters. The show had been canceled after just one season, but it had developed enough of a cult following that a movie had been produced to satisfy the fans and to wrap up some of the loose ends of the television show.

So here is the vision:

As the witness I can see this sort of ball made up of images of characters and scenes from the television show Firefly. There is light coming forth from the ball, but it is also partially covered by blotches and sinews of a black material that is trying to completely engulf it. I know (the way you just know things in dreams and visions) that this ball represents the life of the television show and that Death (represented by the black material) is trying to kill it. I realize it’s the love of the show’s fans that is keeping it alive even though the show has been canceled.

There were a lot of things I found interesting about this vision such as the fact that something like a television show really has a life of sorts and also the fact that the love of the show’s fans was keeping it alive. What really intrigued me though is what it shows about Death.

Before having this vision I hadn’t really related Death to anything except the death of living physical organisms. But now a light switched on in my head and I walked around for about a week marveling at the fact that Death really is responsible for the destruction of all forms and things, even a television show or an idea or (as Donny pointed out) even a state of consciousness. There were other results too. Looking at the world through the lens of this idea I found my mind more naturally and spontaneously regarding things in terms of universal processes and forces. In addition, the vital was excited by this idea, and as a result life and the world temporarily lost some of their normally mundane hue and seemed more vibrant and alive. Now I think its important to point out that this wasn’t my experience twenty-four hours a day. These things would come and go. I think its safe to say however that there was a general widening of the consciousness. The question is though: why did the vision have this effect?

Prior to the vision, if you had asked me if Death is responsible for the destruction of all forms and things my logical brain would have said, “Of course it is,” but it wouldn’t have had much impact on me. With the vision however I really saw this truth in a way that penetrated more deeply than a mere superficial intellectual understanding. I recently came across a quote from Sri Aurobindo where he discusses why visions have this effect. He says that:

The inner vision is an open door on higher planes of consciousness beyond the physical mind which gives room for a wider truth and experience to enter and act upon the mind.4

If this is indeed what happened with me, I think it would be correct to say that the result was what you might call a ‘realization’, but only on the level of ideas. It was not a realization in the spiritual sense of the word which would entail an actual and permanent change in consciousness. Now because the realization was only on the level of ideas the novelty of it wore off after a short time as it became just an ordinary part of my mental framework. I find its like that. Even the most extraordinary idea soon becomes old news and ceases to offer much excitement once it has been integrated. I suspect however that such realizations and their results have a cumulative effect of which we are largely unconscious. It seems to me that every time we have a widening of the consciousness for whatever reason or for whatever duration it takes a little chip out of the foundation of our separative identity. It just happens so gradually we can’t observe it, or even if we can observe it the process seems to be so agonizingly slow that we find ourselves wondering how many years/decades/lifetimes things are going to take.5 With that in mind I’d like to end with a quote from Sri Aurobindo to help us in those times when hope is scarce and success seems unreachable.

When thou art able to see how necessary is suffering to final delight, failure to utter effectiveness and retardation to the last rapidity, then thou mayst begin to understand something, however faintly and dimly of God’s workings.6


Notes and References
1. I know from experience that you can receive things via the inner voice that can be used creatively by others. For example, Donny once received some lines that helped me to rewrite the end of a short story.
2. Duke, Donny. “The Anger I Found in a Poem”, The Chipmunk Press
http://www.thechipmunkpress.blogspot.com/ December , 2008
3. A couple of weeks after that issue of The Chipmunk Press went out, I asked Donny about his take on the title. He told me that in his poetry a person is often referred to as a work of art such as a poem, a painting, etc. So The Anger I Found in a Poem means ‘The anger I found in myself.”
4. Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga–Parts 2 and 3, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library Volume 23, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, p. 933.
5. Though I haven’t personally experienced this, I do feel that it is possible to have a rather sudden or unexpected shift to a higher state of consciousness that is temporary and from which one returns to ego consciousness. Such an experience would obviously produce immediate and fundamental change in one’s identity structure even within the confines of the ego. I imagine though that even people like this, in most cases, would still have their share of slow and difficult change.
6. Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library Volume 17, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry,p. 94.

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