Tuesday, October 6, 2015


"Only a madman is absolutely sure"  Robert Anton Wilson 

Recently I took the time to read through all my previous posts. I have a running theme of balance and am trying my best to have a, albeit broad, thesis. I thought it important to go back and see how many loose ends I didn't tie up.  To my pleasant surprise and dismay I've done a pretty good job, save one huge point. In my opening post I said the three types of balance I was going to discuss were physical, mental, and spiritual. I spent a few posts on aspects of physical and mental balance and even digressed into other pontifications on balance all while skillfully avoiding the topic of spiritual balance. Part of the reason is there are several discreet definitions to the word spiritual.  The other reason is it is a very personal subject and has different meaning for each person.  I did quite a bit of research on the topic and seem to have distilled it, in least in my own mind, to two distinct types.  More than that I distilled down to two verbs, being and doing.  

The first definition of spiritual that I encountered was defining it as "from spirit".  The Divine, ghosts, the Great Juju.  I'm intentionally staying away from references to any specific religions because I don't want to make this about a specific set of dogma. The important thing is these spirits are a personified outside being and require some kind of communing with be it through prayer, worship, tithe, services, rituals, etc.  These are all acts of doing.  I think that the "being" part of spirituality can also be experienced in a religious context but it is something that is achieved.  I also think we need to be careful of thinking of spiritual and religious as synonymous thus limiting the definition of spiritual.

The second definition I came upon was spiritual as a state unto itself.  An act of being.  The problem I kept finding with this concept is that an act of "being spiritual" requires the opposite, being "not spiritual."  It makes spiritual some kind of mushy other worldly thing and again implies a location.  That idea almost seems to contradict itself.  Trying to just be.  I started to think of the idea of reality as a multiverse of intersecting subjective experiences and thought that maybe an idea of spirituality is just being in touch with our own experience and how it intersects with what Robert Anton Wilson calls other "reality tunnels."              

So how does the idea of balance fit with this?  It seems to me that whatever definition of spiritual you choose to use the balance occurs between our outer self and our inner experiences.  We have an outward experience and integrate it into our inward understanding of reality.  I think an imbalance comes when we rely too much on our internal understanding such that we become inflexible.  Leon Festinger calls this cognitive dissonance in his landmark work When Prophecy Fails.  We try to find some way to get experiences to fit with our understanding even if that means dismissing or discrediting them.  I think an imbalance can happen the opposite way too resulting in a lack of conviction and drive.  Apathy.  Our understanding of the world is ever changing and influenced by previous experience whether we like it or not.  The key I think is being aware of that fact and being flexible to evolve.   

Over the years I have come across the name Trigant Burrow a bunch of times.  He was a psychologist in the early part of the 20th century and is important in the field of group therapy and the a early thinker in the field of neurodynamics I think.  I decided it was time to read some of his stuff.  I quickly found out that his work was way above my pay grade.  I'm just a musician.  I'm probably way over simplifying or even misinterpreting his work.  If so I apologize in advance.  That said there was one big take away even in my limited understanding; his concept of cotention.  Another one of the concepts he talks about are what he calls preconscious.  He wrote a book called Preconscious Foundations in Human Experience.  Again above my pay grade but interestingly many activities like music, art, poetry, as well as "mystical experiences" are manifestations of preconscious processes.  In the book he argues that basically preconscious processes are those that we are born with.  In his theory, over the course of human evolution, we have developed a higher order consciousness in order to adapt to our environment.  This has actually served to suppress the preconscious mind.  

Two concepts that Burrow introduced then are "cotension" and "ditension".  Basically "ditension" emphasizes the division of the observer and the observed (self and other) and is brought on by higher order thought. "Cotension" refers to the way the preconscious mind experiences. Unity, connectedness, completeness, continuity with everything. 

So how does this fit with my idea of spiritual balance or even a definition of spiritual.  In my mind part of what we are attempting with any spiritual experience be it prayer, meditation, even a hike in the woods is to get back to that preconscious mind.  I also see that preconscious mind as flexible.  Babies are born mentally flexible.  Maybe then spiritual balance has to do with a balance of the cotentive and ditentive mind?  Perhaps.  Or maybe it is just acknowledging that a connectedness exists.

Last week there was a total eclipse of the super moon.  The event was outstandingly beautiful and beyond words.  The thing that really struck me though was pictures and posts about it dominated social media.  Many of my neighbors were out watching it.  It was the #1 topic of conversation the next morning.  It felt like, even for a fleeting moment, we were acknowledging a connection with each other and with the whole of experience.  Preconscious.  Cotentive.  To me that is spiritual.