Saturday, December 15, 2007

Some notes about the "Mysterious Realm"

I mentioned a while back that my type of Daoism tends to focus on the prosaic, "here and now" of life. At least one person commented that while they understood what I was getting at, they wanted to emphasize that there are other, more "cosmic", elements. I agree, and I have experienced this sort of thing first hand. So I thought I'd take the time (now that I have some) to discuss this issue.

The Force of Kundalini

When I was first getting into spiritual matters in a serious way, I had a few, very odd experiences. The first time I sat down to seriously meditate, I felt a tremendously powerful force in the base of my spine that felt like a physical thing pushing up it and out of my head. At that point I had an "out-of-body experience" which involved floating in the air and looking down on my body. When it ended, I had the very odd experience of being half in, and, half out of my body; and found it difficult to reconnect. During this time I also had a very odd, and hard to describe, experience of having my consciousness split into two different beings---which was like being in two totally different places at the same time.

This sounds like a classic experience of what the Indian tradition calls "Kundalini". It took place after I met with my first meditation teacher, who literally sat down next to me in a bar, introduced himself, and, taught me a great deal about spirituality over the next year or so.

Numinous Dreams

Another type of experience I have had over the years involve what are called "numinous dreams". These are dreams that have an extreme "live" feeling, and a tremendous emotional importance to the person who dreams them. I have had quite a few, so I'll just share two.

The first was where I was a peasant in a rude farm house in 19th century Spain. I was at a table when the door burst open and two French soldiers came in. I stood up and turned around to face them, whereupon they threw me backwards over the table and one of them drove the bayonet on his musket right through my chest, pinning me to the table. I could feel the bayonet go right into my chest and scrape between two ribs. The pain was so intense that it woke me up and I was very, very freaked-out.

The second involved a visit to the Chinese afterlife and a meeting with the "Ghost King". I was in some sort of place where I was surrounded by a group of very tough members of a Chinese kungfu club I once visited. I should have been afraid of them, but instead I felt such a tremendous feeling of compassion coming from them, that I wasn't afraid at all. At that point, a dried out, leathery corpse on a motorized wheelchair came over to visit me. Again, he looked absolutely grotesque, but I could sense nothing but boundless compassion from him, which removed any sense of revulsion. After-wards I woke up and felt that any fear that I might have had of dying had been removed.


I have had a few other weird experiences that are hard to categorize. For example, when I was a student doing my Master's degree, I had my own office. One day I was in it reading away when I found myself spontaneously putting my hat and coat on, and setting out to leave the building. I stopped and mentally asked myself what I was doing, and my lips spoke and said "We're going to meet Wayne" (a friend of mine.) I walked out the door and down a path to the student union building, when I put my hand on the door my lips spoke again and said "No, Wayne is not there." At this point I turned to the left and walked towards a campus sidestreet. When I got to the curb, Wayne drove up, stopped, and I opened the door and got in.

Visions While Meditating

In the beginning of my meditation "career" I had a couple very intense experiences where I was "somewhere else". One time I sat down in my lotus posture and instantly found myself skiing down an intensely white hill at high speed (something I've never done in real life.) As I zipped down the hill, I could hear the voice of the fellow who got me meditating beside me yelling "you can do it!" At this point my alarm clock went off and a half hour had passed by in what seemed an instant.

Zen Buddhists call this sort of thing "Makyo", which is sometimes translated as "devil illusions". I once heard a Zen master ask an introductory class whether or not anyone had experienced this sort of thing. She mentioned in passing that there were two types: simple hallucinations and true paranormal experiences. Most teachers consider them simply as an obstacle in the way to enlightenment, but the American Zen Master Robert Aitken has a more nuanced understanding than that and believes that while many Makyos are simply distractions caused by the mind, others should be understood as evidence of the "mysterious realm" and used as indications that the student is making some sort of break-through in their practice. Either way, they are something of a stage that people simply go through and leave behind when they are involved in what Daoists call "sitting and forgetting" and Buddhists call "Chan" or "Zen". (This was certainly the case with me as these experiences have pretty much disappeared from my life.)

The Collective Unconscious

I had the priviledge of taking a few very small classes with a professor by the name of Jacob Amstutz who had been in his youth a protege of the famous psychiatrist Karl Jung. He projected the image of being a Swiss-German academic "hard-ass", yet had a delightful twinkle in his eye and a wonderful sense of what a particular student needed at one particular point in time. (He would issue assignments by pointing at someone and say "You will read such-and-such a book and the title of your review will be such-and-such. You will not read any journal articles on the subject because I want you to read books---not books about books!")

He used to play around during his talks by using imagery from esoteric European spirituality (alchemy, Theosophy, etc) in talks by way of tiny little asides and then make quick glances around to see who picked up the reference. (Sort of like in Journey to the West when the Daoist Master makes the secret hand signal that only Monkey notices and understands.) I mention this because a key part of Karl Jung's understanding of the human psyche is his notion of the "collective unconscious". This is based on the observation that all people routinely employ a limited set of symbols to express a specific set of ideas. So Professor Amstutze was showing his students examples of various symbols in order to see if they understood their relevance to the ideas he was expressing in his lectures.

I raise these points because I think that they are tremendously important to understanding the sorts of spiritual experiences that I have been relating from my own personal experience. It may or may not be the case that they show that humanity should doubt the sort of naive 19th-century materialism that many people assume is the only sort of legitimately "non-superstitious" worldview (except with the example of precognition.) But even if we are nothing more than atomic billiard balls bouncing around in a vacuum, these experiences would still suggest that the epiphenomenon of consciousness is "pre-built" in a way that supports the illusion of a kundalini force and the delusion of a Ghost King.

I had this point driven home to me the other day while at work. I got into an elevator car and noticed that someone had drawn a picture of an erect penis with scrotum on the wall. (This was nothing profound---merely the usual obscene vandalism of adolescent boys.) The moment I looked at it, I immediately thought of a Priapus. I had come across this ancient image when reading about the Athenian invasion of Sicily (an ancient military disaster with resonances with the current Iraq war.) On the night when the Athenian fleet set out on the doomed invasion, someone went around and broke off the penises from all the Priapus statues in the city. What became immediately obvious in the elevator, however, was the fact that all the examples of phallic graffiti that I had seen over the years were simply a modern manifestation of the same archetypal impulse that had led to the sculpting of statues in ancient cultures like Greece and Rome.

The point I'm trying to make is that whether or not there is such a thing as "magic", there most certainly is a collective unconscious---and that is what the "mysterious realm" is all about. Part of the process of meditation and spiritual practice is its exploration.


gukseon said...

Those are some amazing and powerful experiences you've had, Cloudwalker---thanks for sharing them. :)

I tend to take a pragmatic, "William James-esque" view of spiritual phenomena (maybe because I'm American). Regardless of whether they actually are pathways to the Mysterious Realm has little no bearing on their value to the practioner. (having said that I do tend to think such a Realm is "real" in an "objective" way, but I'm also aware that I can't prove that)

the Cloudwalking Owl said...

Summarizing them here they do look like a lot. But they are mere fragments of a fairly long life, and not terribly important in themselves.

I had a fight with a neighour last night and I suspect that I have learned more from the experience than from all the visions and weird experiences I had in the past.

Cathy Sander said...

I have experienced 'wyrd' things. In fact, because of a numinous dream which involved Newton in 2005 (and has been going on and off for years down to the present day), I have been steered towards physics research. I don't know whether this decision was a 'good' or a 'bad' one. I just had to deal with it on my own, as there was no one at the time of the event who valued such numinous events. As I would say at times, "We pick our poison and live with the consequences".

I often find myself taking it too seriously, which hasn't been helpful. I have been slowly learning the art of non-literalism with respect to these experiences, finding much usefulness in writing short stories, poems and trying to reach out to people I can trust with these things (not many, unfortunately).