There appears to be considerable confusion in humanist thinking with regard to the notion of transcendent living, and what is often referred to as ‘altered states of consciousness’. However, from the perspective of Spiritual Humanism, these are not inimical to integral human development. It may therefore be worth for us to enquire briefly into these, and perhaps in the process arrive at greater clarity with regard to their appropriateness in a truly humanistic enquiry.
Spiritual Humanism sees the general human condition as a state dominated by a process it describes as the ‘thought/attention-knot’. (For a detailed description of this disempowering phenomenon, please refer to: Chapter Three of my book:: Spirituality Without God). Briefly we could say that the thought/attention-knot is a process whereby thought and attention form an ongoing and habitual association which creates a reality (one could almost say, a condition of being) that has often little or no relation to the challenges facing us as human beings.
And while we are absorbed in this state of thought reality, we externalize and dramatize a style of living based, not on clear perception and intelligent participation in life, but rather on one which is characterized by conditioned forms of behavior and debilitating relational limitations. Conditioned responses become the measure of our interaction with life, and these form an impenetrable barrier between our living reality and the potential for inner and outer order. This inner ordering of our lives to bring it in line with reality is always available to us, but generally greatly obscured by the limited vision which this conditioned thinking and feeling project onto our field of experience.
The presumed rationality on which Humanism places so much value, and in which it has invested so much hope as a true source of guidance through which to achieve human well-being, is therefore not such a pure instrument of reason and reasonableness as one might think. Much of what we see today in the form of institutional corruption, mismanagement, emotional barrenness, stress, fear, political domination, wars, and other socially induced expressions of human life, can be traced back to the inappropriate use of the rational faculty.
Pure reason is a myth, as much as God is a myth. In the human context the notion of rationality as the final arbiter for adequate responses to the challenges facing us, is something we may find in the writings of those well-intentioned, but often misguided, folks, who still believe that right thinking will ultimately lead to right living. This naïve contention within the humanist movements worldwide is not unlike those which would make us believe that by merely telling people to be as God wants them to be, such exoteric forms of manipulative conditioning will result in the love, human warmth and relational integrity towards which these philosophies point.
The truth is that we mostly live in, and as, a dream created and sustained by thought, together with the power of attention to focus us exclusively within the content of our thought-projections. We dramatize these thoughts and mistake them for reality and then project a further thought into this pool of confused thinking which suggests that the rational mind will deliver us from the problems we have created for ourselves. But as we have seen, the rational mind is a myth. It projects how things could and should be. It does not reflect reality back to us because it reflects too much of itself. The mind that sees itself cannot see reality. Images it thus creates could be seen as integral to its own confusion.
Here we notice a distinct difference between what is and what should be. ‘What is’, is the confusion within our own ‘rational’ thinking process because of conditioning and contradictory desires and motives, and from this confusion the same instrument projects as ‘what should be’ the presumption of its own unconditioned, true functioning. Thought can create images of anything and then projects these as possibilities or even ‘truths’ about its own abilities into the future. But all such projections are part of the dream. They serve to delude us into believing in the validity of maintaining the status of uninformed and uninspected living based in conditioned thinking.
Spiritual Humanism suggests that we wake out from this dream. Humankind has been caught in this dream for as long as it has been around. Nothing the dream can propose to rescue us from its own delusory state has the power to free us from the debilitating limitations of the dream itself. The dream is a contraction within the wider context of human life and human potential, and culturally binds each nation to their own self-imposed limitations dictated to them by their particular cultural version of the dream. Whether the content of the dream is God or rationality, or war, or national pride, or our own personal limitations – these are all part of one single process: the reality created by the thought/attention-knot. A reality that is nothing but a dream – lived, dramatized, engaged and externalized as reality.
Clearly this is a very tenuous and a rather difficult position to find ourselves in. Nothing we do is not infiltrated, conditioned and controlled by the particular aspect of the dream we happen to associate with at the time when we need to decide and act upon the challenges of life. We slip as easily into our dream as we do when we go to a movie or when we read our favorite author’s new book. But whereas books and movies are appropriate occasions for us to enter the dream-state of our imaginations, the real world is not. Life itself is the final arbiter and if we approach it with an instrument so fatally flawed as the conditioned mind, believing this to be an instrument of pure reason and reasonableness, we will create for ourselves the confusion which we see as part of every aspect of our human-created world.
From a Spiritual Humanist perspective, the question is therefore rather simple: are we destined to continue to participate in the less than human expression of the dream, or is there a way of life freed from the inherent constraints of the illusory nature of the dream?
Spiritual Humanism suggests that there indeed a way out from the dream, and that is to wake out of the dream. And the way to wake out from the dream, is to transcend the dream-state altogether. This is what the term ‘transcendence’ points to in the understanding of Spiritual Humanism. And as there is no way by which the dream could be transcended without entering into the awakened state – which is not of the nature of the dream – the transcendent state could quite legitimately be called an altered state of consciousness. In fact, we could take this one step further and suggest that this altered state of awareness, is not only ‘altered’ in terms of the dream, but totally beyond the grasp of the dream. The altered state can access and understand every aspect and every limitation within the dream, but the dream can never comprehend that which is not of its own making. The lesser cannot fathom that which is beyond its grasp. The larger view, the larger picture, the greater way, free being, is of an order different to that of the lesser state. And because the dream can only make images of itself and project these as better, more functional and real than its own limitations, (such as pure rationality), it continues to live within the borders of its own projections, mistaking these for the borders of life itself.
From a humanist point of view, altered states of consciousness and transcendent living are therefore expressions of nothing but human life itself. These terms merely reflect deeper aspects of human functioning, generally obscured by the attitude so prevalent today within modern Humanism, which presumes that right thinking will result in right action, and as a consequence of which, will result successful living.
This, in my book, is the humanist tragedy. In the quest to free themselves from the God-paradigm, humanists grasped on to the rational/scientific model to produce human well-being. This will not work and has never worked. The instrument through which they hope to achieve this is fatally flawed.
The true humanist answer to conventional spirituality lies not within the domain of rational thought, but in the direct experience of that greater living reality which already stands free from dilemma, limitation and mental and emotional conditioning. To be truly human, is to be humane. And to be humane, is to stand within the transcended state which is neither touched, nor controlled, and not conditioned, by any lesser state created by, and projected from within, the dream.
PLEASE REFER TO OTHER ESSAYS ON SPIRITUAL HUMANISM