Midweek Mysticism: The mystic side of project management and sacred text as instruction manual
Mysticism is not practical, say its critics, just wishful believing. Little do they know.
This column will attempt to demonstrate the power of mystical ideas in the “real world”, or what those of us who pursue spiritual truths prefer to call, the shadow world.
Take musical notation. It’s not generally known that music began as a mystic rite. It goes all the way back to ancient Greece and Pythagoras’s “Music of the Spheres”.
The musical octave — eight notes with seven intervals — is based on the phenomenon of two notes sounding the same, despite having a higher or lower pitch. Everyone knows the “tune” of Doh, Ray, Me, Fah, So, La, Ti, Doh, especially if they have seen The Sound of Music. The first and final notes are both designated as Doh despite having different pitches.
This is a natural occurrence that is often called “the basic miracle of music”. It’s also common to most musical systems.
The octave contains a wealth of resonances, according to the mystic/magus Georges Gurdjieff, even related to project management.
It is called the Law of Seven, or the Law of Octaves. The eight-note scale has five whole intervals and two half-intervals, giving rise to Major and Minor keys. Great composers use them to magical effect in their compositions.
Neuroscience will have a reason for it, but there’s no physical explanation for its duplication throughout nature as a portal for a wide range of activities.
The octave is a template for every project, whether engineering or literary. For example, if you are writing a novel and have completed an outline of the plot, plus three chapters, you may send these to a publisher for consideration. If you get a nod of encouragement and settle down to continue, you might find it harder than you think.
You have hit the first half-interval in the scale. That fourth chapter is a devil to get right. The mind seems reluctant to tackle it with the initial enthusiasm. Your spirits droop, energy is in short supply, inspiration dries up.
The best way, I find, is to keep writing solidly, however bad it is, then come back to it later. After that blip, the creative juices return and zip the novelist on past the median line and beyond.
Then, wham! you hit the wall again, which is a bit like Beechers Brook in the Grand National. Another crisis occurs. You begin to doubt the project itself. It simply will not do. It’s not fit for proper publication. You contemplate Lulu.com.
At this point a true mystic will be more helpful than a brain scientist. Ah, they say, you’ve crashed into Gurdjieff’s ditch. Just get on and come back to it later.
Now, that scenario is similar to every major project ever begun. Wise heads know the stumbling points and push on to the end. It’s easy when you know the score.
Even the Music of the Spheres has its slow movements.
Great texts of all religions were written down many centuries ago, often in scattered tribal settlements or isolated monastries.
The Bronze Age authors had no expectations of a mass publishing industry. Manuscripts would not roll off the printing presses as Penguin books any time soon. That limitation coloured what and how they wrote.
All books are written for other people, a small group of like-minds, perhaps. For that reason, I doubt they were ever regarded as devotional texts to be worshipped as sacred in themselves. That came much later when direct knowledge of the authors had faded and “God” was seen as the ultimate inspiration, if not the scribe.
If you think about it, the great books that have come down to us from antiquity could only have a single purpose: to inform and instruct those with lesser knowledge. They were what we would call textbooks.
I’ve spent much of my life tracking down and reading ancient, and more modern, texts, now thankfully published as annotated Penguin books, or other imprints. It is obvious that the bulk of them are instruction manuals in mysticism, not devotional screeds; directions to follow rather than prayers for help.
The prayers came later with the spread of the Roman Catholic Church, and were written to glorify it and its mission to constrict whole populations into a single orthodoxy.
But what were the original instruction manuals teaching? In an age when life was wholly uncertain from birth to death, there was a keen desire for explanations of existence and the means of making the best of what they had.
Watch the birds in the trees and small animals on the ground. Observe their wariness and lightning reactions when disturbed. Humans were like that once.
The yearning to understand the “beyond” of this world was strong. It still is, but we are deflected from it by people who claim to have perfect knowledge and to have solved all the riddles. We can only go forward alone. Congregations are like comprehensive schools, holding back the best at the pace of the slowest.
Then as now, there were plenty of sceptics who wanted to find out for themselves. They were the explorers of mind and matter and the relationships between. Mystic and scientist were one back then. It was only a growing market for technology that separated them into two distinct fields of endeavour, the one practical and earthly, the other spiritual.
The Judeo-Christian Bible, a vast collection of texts by many hands, collated over a long timescale, contains numerous examples of instruction manuals on how to live in desert conditions in troubled times, and secure your place in the afterlife.
The Indian Bhagavad Gita, composed around 500 BC, teaches the method of using the daily round as a springboard to mystical advancement. Buddhist texts teach mindfulness, and non-grasping for things as a clear path to the Pure Land.
Often the didactic core of a text is misunderstood by scholars not schooled in such arcane matters. Translations often miss the point completely.
The Gospels have been used in churches as devotional material for so long that any attempt at making them more transparent creates uproar, even fury, despite the fact that they are translations of translations that have taken on a life, and meaning, of their own. Hijacked is not a word I use lightly, but think on, Reader.
If there’s one God, one Mystery, and a unity of Being, the ground for all must be the same.
Coming full circle, it is not difficult to identify the spiritual instructions in sacred texts. It just takes eyes to see and ears to hear, qualities that are often lacking in modern commentators who have a politically-correct fear of anything that hints at mysticism and the unknown.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.