Saturday Ramble: Losing your mind in peak experience
With the recent death of prolific author, Colin Wilson, I thought it appropriate to reprise one of his favourite themes: the peak experience.
Neurologist David Eagleman describes how our conscious mind knows nothing of what is happening in the brain where our lives are plotted out in detail well in advance of our knowing about it and acting on it. We are nothing but puppets on a string, according to science.
That basic template might be true as far as it goes, except that the process takes place outside the physical brain, which may be just a translation device, an interface, into the body.
Moreover, simple mystical techniques can return control of even the most shadowy of activities.
In my forthcoming book, provisionally titled A different way of looking at the world, the theme is developed beyond the stage of “seeing into the nature of reality”, the centrepiece of the first volume*. It covers the ground of the genuine mystic as a scientist of immateriality, by which I mean the physically unknowable: the cloud of unknowing.
It centres on a relentless pursuit of firsthand knowledge, a single-minded drive for the perfection of experiential knowing that can’t be mistaken for the truth because it is the truth.
A motor racing driver is a good analogy. He risks life and bones to arrive at a state where every bodily response to unpredictable circumstances is controlled by apparently automatic impulses. Indeed, to “think” about anything at all would spell disaster. Daydreaming or calculation would mean death at this level of performance. It could almost be described as an advanced form of meditation.
The reward is a sustained sense of elation, as consciousness seems to split from normal mind patterns and the inhibitions of daily existence. Total immersion in this state releases an experience close to spiritual exaltation, as slow, clunky thought processes give way before the unity of body and soul.
Many of us have experienced moments of peak experience when playing sports. Suddenly everything seems to go right: balls hit the right side of the line in tennis time and again, or the back of the net in football; there’s a surge of ecstatic energy in running or rugby; we’re suddenly stroking the ball to the boundary in cricket. For a while we can do nothing wrong. Our opponents watch in dismay. It doesn’t last, but we sure as hell remember it.
A mystic would observe that the “normal” mind is nowhere to be found during peak periods. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow has written extensively on these experiences; for a broad coverage of the field, see Colin Wilson’s New Pathways in Psychology.
These are just the foothills of dedicated mystical experience, but it illustrates the splitting off, and falling away, of normality required for full-blown experience of the ineffable. Paradoxically, this turns out to be more real than life itself.
Both my books explores the fundamental workings of what lies beneath the material world through experience, not through an electron microscope.
Physics always struggles to separate the scientist from the object under observation, straining for objectivity. Contrarily, the mystic plunges into the object area, observing it from within. Both quantum mechanics and mysticism demonstrate that objectivity is a deception by the egoic mind.
You won’t learn how to swim without jumping into water. Textbooks and all the mathematical demonstrations in the world won’t crack it. Experience of the actuality is essential.
Mysticism is not incompatible with science, as Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and, in recent times, others such as Fritjof Capra have shown. It represents the essence of who we are, from which we arise, and whence we return.
We need both sides to give us anything like a complete picture of the world, as all the spiritual texts ever written firmly attest.
* The Eternal Quest for Immortality
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.