The Search: Experiencing Depth

Written by Philip Walter on Feb 5 at 1:11 am in iSPIRITself, meditation, The Search, weMINDculture

This is Part 2 of a 5-part series of articles called The Search. Start from the beginning here.

Go deep into personal transformation through genuine depth experience.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Clifton.

William James was very pragmatic in his philosophy. He understood all too well that in the spiritual realm, individual experience holds the key to profundity. No amount of Sunday School lessons, inspired sermons, enlightenment weekends, or yoga retreats can turn you on like the graceful kick in the ass of life experience. However painful and difficult to deal with, one’s own personal experience can set him free.

The first line of Patanjali’s Yogasutras states, “Thus proceeds Yoga as I have observed it in the natural world.” And Socrates admitted centuries earlier, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Both these guys are saying just what the Bible says. As noted earlier, from Deuteronomy “…the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart…” and even more powerfully, from Jeremiah 31: 33-34,

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. All of them, high and low alike, will know me.”

And even more directly, from the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna,

“Give me back the fruits of my actions, you bastard! They are mine. Who said you could claim them for yourself? The fruits and the actions are mine. You are merely my instrument. Go forth and enjoy the delight of pulling the bowstring. Enjoy the satisfaction of hitting the mark, knowing that no one has ever been born, and no one ever dies, for there is but one, and that one is me. And I am Krishna and you are Krishna – that One is what we are.”

All these thoughts point to the same truth: that the higher power, that governing force, which makes all existence possible, indeed God, is in all of us. It is amazing how the truth resonates everywhere.

What all this seems to mean, and what James would assert, I’m sure, is that all you need to find truth and happiness is already within you. For some, it lies deeper than for others, but the key for all is plumbing that depth. This brings us to the first characteristic of graceful understanding: depth. Like Jim Morrison says, you’ve got to “break on through to the other side.”

This is, after all, what non-duality and equanimity are all about. Non-duality cannot deny the existence of separateness, of the seer and the seen. It can only embrace both and admit the fact that they are simply two sides of the same coin. This is obviously difficult to see when you’re chained to one side, unable to break through and see the other, unable to step back and see the whole coin flip wildly through time and space.

This is where Depth comes in, wielding his powerful sword. Depth allows you, no matter how far out on one pole or the other you may be, to carve your way through to an understanding of the other side, making possible a more clear view of the entire landscape. Ken Wilber put it best in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution,

“It is often said that in today’s modern and postmodern world, the forces of darkness are upon us. But I think not; in the Dark and the Deep there are truths that can always heal. It is not the forces of darkness but of shallowness that everywhere threaten the true, and the good, and that ironically announce themselves as deep and profound. It is an exuberant and fearless shallowness that everywhere is the modern danger, the modern threat, and that everywhere nonetheless calls to us as savior.”

So how exactly does one go about plumbing the depths? How can one avoid the tyranny of shallowness? Frankly, as relativistic as this sounds, To each his own. There are as many ways to go deeper as there are human beings. Take drugs for example. In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley describes an encounter with your everyday flowers in the following way,

“I continued to look at the flowers, and in their living light I seemed to detect the qualitative equivalent of breathing – but of a breathing without returns to a starting point, with no recurrent ebbs but only a repeated flow from beauty to heightened beauty, from deeper to ever deeper meaning.”

The scene Huxley depicts in this passage took place while under the influence of mescaline, the synthetic form of Peyote. Psychedelics have long been a source of inspiration for human beings. In modern times, however, it has been noted many times what is truly important about these experiences. “We have to distinguish,” in the words of Tim Leary, “between the experience, a new experience – and whether you can communicate the experience. That’s where the artistry comes.” And that is where the significance sets in, for to communicate is to internalize.

Think about it, if you explain something to someone else, how much better do you understand it in the end? Odds are you understand it quite a bit better than before. This is because of depth, because through clarifying the concepts in an act of communication, they have worked their way deeper into you. This is depth, this is internalization.

This is why Ken Kesey stressed going “beyond acid.” One must find a way to make the ecstatic experience resonate from day to day. “Altered states have to become permanent traits,” according to Huston Smith.

But this discussion is premature. Going “beyond acid” involves resonance and that’s the next chapter. Depth, on the other hand is more kin to “finding acid” or “taking” it than going “beyond” it. Finding and knowing how to take it are really the first obstacles to internalizing the experience, because as we’ll find out later, without depth, resonance has no authenticity, no fulfillment. So how else can we get deeper besides doing mind-altering drugs?

Well, another potential depth experience is sex. Sexuality has for centuries been recognized as a means to experience ecstasy and go deeper. And what’s more, we’re still exploring that same subject today, in our own modern ways, finding that not much has changed.

Dr. David Schnarch, in his book Passionate Marriage, lists the following eight characteristics of what he calls “wall-socket sex”:

  • Time stops.
  • External reality fades; there is a sense of being transported to another place and time.
  • Your consciousness changes, so that, for example, separate acts blend into a single prolonged event. A million delights merge into one.
  • Boundaries between you and your partner shift or cease to exist. You feel your partner next to you – without touching – as if your bodies are intermingled. Your skin feels open, your pores enlarged.
  • Your emotions appear on your partner’s face. You see your essence embodied in your partner. He or she knows exactly how to touch you. S/He moans at the exact instant everything seems transcendentally perfect to you.
  • Your partner’s face “melts,” taking unusual or unexpected emphasis and character.
  • You watch your partner undergo age changes. You know exactly what he or she looked like in childhood, or will look like when older. You see the child and parent in your partner.
  • Profound mutual caring and joy overflow the bond between you. You’re moved to tears, appreciating other people past and present, and what it means to be human.

And that is certainly a depth experience. No drugs necessary. Anyone who has experienced even one of these feelings during sex can attest to the reality of the outlandish descriptions. And to those who haven’t had the pleasure, I suggest you step to it.

But whichever side of the fence you find yourself on right now, the reason I chose to quote Dr. Schnarch is because of his relevance. I could talk about ancient ideas of cosmology and the union between male and female, but what’s even more fascinating is how a clinical therapist in the 21st Century has found once again that sex can be a profound depth experience.

But this is not the end of the story. Dr. Schnarch was among the first to merge marriage therapy with sex therapy. They have long been two separate disciplines. He believes, however, that one cannot treat one aspect without looking at the other. Sexual pathologies cannot be fully understood without consideration of the individuals involved in the relationship.

See, human sexuality has the potential to go beyond biological function. But it is a system that requires both integration of other and assuredness of self. One must maintain a solid sense of self in close proximity to those with whom he interacts, especially those of high importance (such as a sexual partner). This model of differentiation is the basic framework of generous understanding. The generous understanding I speak of has two characteristics: depth, which we’re discussing now, and resonance, which we’ll get to later. Depth is roughly equivalent to defining a solid sense of self, while resonance can be thought of as seeing yourself in others, or integrating the external experience into your unique worldview (and vice versa).

And now that I have covered sex and drugs, though not in that order. It seems only natural we turn to rock ‘n’ roll. Or more accurately to music in general. Like sex and drugs, music can be a window through which we view the divine nature inside everything, and experience true depth.

Trey Anastasio, guitar player for the band Phish, said of playing on stage: “We don’t have to worry about fixing the car, cleaning the house, or paying our bills, or any of that crap while we’re up there. We just float.” And this is what we all want, yes? An ease about life, a way around the distractions of the world we know, straight to the edge of the self, where it inevitably merges with the Self.

And not only can the experience of playing music take you to this edge, but so can listening or dancing to it. Music has long had a place in most of the world’s major religions, and this, I assure you, is no accident. Music stirs the soul and invites the body to move, and the mind to let go, surrendering to the flow of ecstasy.

And when one hears or begins to play or sing music that truly resonates with them, that says something to them. They know it, they feel. This, my friend, is Heaven on Earth. This is joy, faith, hope, and surrender.

In Matthew, Jesus gives the following description of the kingdom of heaven:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” [Matthew 13:44-45 NIV]

The kingdom of heaven is joy, faith, hope, and ultimately peace, for the joyous rapture of finding depth that resonates fills one with faith and hope, leading to a peaceful grace that shines through each moment. It is an active, complete understanding of the nature and presence of God in every person in every moment. It is genuine depth. Genuine depth is God trying to see Himself in the isolated reflection we call you, or me, or John, or Debby, or Rick, or Neal.

The forms of depth, or the avenues down which it can be explored, are truly infinite. To illustrate this once more, I’ll turn to the words of Hatha Yoga adept Godfrey Devereux, who once described the liberation process of yoga as taking place over the course of five steps. The steps themselves are irrelevant to our discussion, but he says that “these five steps, which I am going to describe in relation to Yoga, can be seen to apply to any process of habituation, any acclimatization of an organism to new and unfamiliar circumstances…” And this, he says, leads to “a progressive deepening realization of our relation to actuality and its inherent nature.”

This, to sum things up, is why depth is so important: it pushes our limits, stretching our awareness of who we really are. It truly confronts our selves with unfamiliar and uncomfortable circumstances that require us to either grow or give up. And this is where the magic happens.

To be clear, however, this is not to say depth can’t go pathological. Let me assure you there can be too much of a good thing, and they were right when they said, “Everything in moderation.” Some activities can take a person so deep, they feel comfortable only in terms of those activities. This lacks resonance (I promise we’ll get to resonance sooner than later) and can quickly lead to pathological behavior.

But what is it, then, that makes depth work in the right situations, or more accurately how does depth function in the growth process? Well, the principle reason depth (in the non-pathological sense) leads to growth, is that it brings you to the edge. It forces you to make a decision, and through this process helps you define who you are in the face of massive influence from the exterior world.

See, growth is the combination of two things: differentiation and integration. To grow as humans, we must increase our sense of who we are as well as our sense of how we fit into the whole. When differentiation outgrows integration or vice versa, disaster often ensues.

But coming to the edge challenges both. And if done sensitively, you will find that the edge moves spontaneously. Either you find you are capable of something or you find you aren’t. You feel can move forward, or you feel it’s time to back off. Your potential as a human being is constantly changing, and the sure-fire way to maximize this movement is to go to the edge.

This is what Jesus was talking about when he described the merchant selling everything he owned for the pearl of great value. We have seen from our recent discussion that there are innumerable ways to get yourself to this edge. The pearl of great value can truly be found in many waters. And how you judge a pearl’s value all depends on who you know and what you know anyway, so you may bet the farm on a total lemon.

The point is, however, you bet the farm in the end anyway. This is joy, faith, and hope leading to peace and ease. Betting the farm, taking the leap, surrendering to the spontaneous presence of God is what the kingdom of heaven is all about.

But surely, you say, this can’t be the whole story, right?

And you are right.

What is it that allows depth to do its work? How can depth really transform life from mundane to amazing? Well, the thing that makes the difference is resonance, which to this point I have been avoiding, but it’s now time to see how the experience of depth becomes true internalization and opens the door to a daily spiritual life through resonance.

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