"Since the 1960s, we have had an overinfluence of feelings [in spirituality]. Anti-intellectualism was rampant, and it continues to be rampant in a lot of meditative and alternative spiritualities. There's a tendency to explain the trans-rational states in terms that are really preverbal."
One of the hallmarks of our present era is a tendency toward anti-intellectualism. During my growing-up years in Christian fundamentalism (until about age 19) I was continually scolded for using my mind to try to understand religion and spiritual experience. "You need to be more like a little child, and reject your PROUD intellect!" I was continually told. Today we see this kind of attitude repeated in fundamentalist circles, at least here in America, which spurn science and the scientific method.
This kind of thinking - or rather, non-thinking - has enjoyed a renaissance, although appearing in a different form, within our current era. Now, with the advent and extreme popularity of body-based spirituality, practitioners are continually told to "get out of your head and into your body." Many spiritual practitioners in my acquaintance consistently and repeatedly scorn a theological approach to life. In fact, I've been told to "stop practicing mental masturbation" or "mental gymnastics" on numerous occasions. Now, even meditative, contemplative, mystical circles often spurn the intellect as "getting in the way" of nondual states of awareness. Rather than distinguishing between unhelpful thoughts and helpful thoughts, ALL thoughts are now thrown out as useless, at least as far as the spiritual journey is concerned. All the while, however, unexamined intellectual presuppositions remain subconsciously in the minds of these meditators, influencing what they mistakenly view as "pure, unmediated mystical experience."
Contrary to this trend, I admit that I LOVE using my intellect, as long as it remains in service to spirit. Both silence and thoughts are, after all, a rich part of our humanity. What I've discovered is that the intellect helps make mystical states of awareness richer and fuller. However, this is an intellect that operates ultimately not by the usual logic, but by a kind of mytho-poetic form of thinking. Chogyam Trungpa calls this amazing and wonderful form of logic "crazy wisdom."
Even the usual form of logic - sometimes called "Aristotelian logic" - is, I believe, a necessary part of experiencing the full richness of unitive states of consciousness. For example, Aristotelian logic would say that "form (including thought that is based on form) is NOT emptiness (or spaciousness), and emptiness is NOT form." Then meditative awareness comes along and reveals - surprise! - the amazing process by which forms and thoughts appear DIRECTLY FROM AND AS embodiments of that emptiness. Here, crazy wisdom tells us that "Because emptiness is not form and form is not emptiness; THEREFORE, emptiness appears AS form, and form appears AS emptiness!" Here, Aristotelian logic is definitely useful in setting up the preconditions which then enable us to experience a sense of awe and wonder when opposites suddenly shapeshift into one another!
The type of intellect I most value is one that employs paradoxical images to talk about silence and meditative states of awareness. This kind of crazy wisdom is able to speak playfully of echoes with no Original Voice, mirror-images with no Original Image, phenomenal reality lighting up with no Light ever present, etc. This is precisely the "supereminent way" about which I've written in other recent posts.
The upshot of all of this is that I will continue to value the intellect as a means of enriching spiritual awareness, as long as it uses paradoxical images that uphold the mystery of the primordial Silence and elicit a sense of awe and wonder in the midst both of Silence and of everyday life. Indeed, when contemplatives spurn intellect as the opposite of silence, they are unwittingly falling into yet another form of dualism! By contrast, what could be more nondual than the ability to appreciate BOTH silence and nonverbal awareness on the one hand, AND words and ideas on the other?
Photos: Various scenes from Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, October 5 and 16, 2015
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.