In Our Pandemic Times
COVID is one of those unpredictable natural phenomena that throws the whole of humanity into multi-level turmoil, challenging much of how we thought we can live our lives. We are forced to reflect, review and rethink how we live on this planet, making it improbable to hold on to the old consciousness horizons we were used to. This can be seen as a form of initiation we are willy-nilly subjected to.
Initiation is a rite of passage. The person undergoing initiation, the initiate, enters either by tradition, design or chance into a psychologically embodied process of transformation that opens her consciousness to further dimensions of human existence not previously aware of. Initiation is a transformation, in which the initiate is ‘reborn’ into a new role. Examples of initiation ceremonies might include Christian baptism or confirmation, Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, acceptance into a fraternal organization, secret society or religious order, or graduation from school or recruit training. A spiritual initiation rite normally implies a shepherding process, where those who are at a higher, more experienced level of consciousness, guide the initiate through a process of greater exposure to a fuller breadth of knowledge. One famous historical example is the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. Puberty rites were historically very important as a way of channeling the adolescent’s unruly states of mind towards a contextually more encompassing and knowledgeable view of reality. The adolescent has to learn to see beyond the consciousness of his own tribe into the vastness of world reality. In short, the importance of initiation lies in its consciousness-expanding effect, so that we do not remain stuck in the false, and frankly often painful belief that the state of consciousness we spontaneously slide into during the transition from childhood to adulthood is all there is.
With the dawn of quantitative science a few centuries ago and the temporary amnesia with regards to the fact that humans have minds, the notion of initiation became obsolete, because initiation is a mind process. With the recent (a few decades) recognition of consciousness and mind as possible objects of scientific inquiry, and the central importance of subjective experience as an aspect of mind so necessary for living the good life, I think it is time to revive the notion of initiation, which can teach us so much about our human existence and how to make it more bearable.
Initiation entails a fundamental structure seen across cultures, which we can use as a psychological guide on our exploration of mind and consciousness and our development of mindsight. This is why in this year’s Mindsight Intensive I have been focusing attention on initiation therapy and the transcendental aspect of human existence.
Every initiation rite teaches five negative and positive truths that need to be absorbed. These are:
- Life is hard and full of suffering, but there is a way of easing this burden.
- You are not that important, yet there is a way of realizing that you are everything.
- Your life is not about you, but you can discover that you are about life.
- You are not in control, yet you can learn to become an active participant in the inevitable flow of life.
- You are going to die, but you can discover that you are much more than what dies.
The transformation algorithm meditation we practice in the Mindsight Intensive, essentially a practice focused on the phases of the breathing cycle, allows us to access these five dimensions of initiation in a most direct and efficient way. Each initiation dimension, when deeply incorporated and assimilated, contributes to decreasing our suffering.
1. Through mindsight we discover that the inevitability of suffering cannot be met successfully through avoidance of pain. We learn to let go of the fight against the inevitable. Instead, we embrace as best we can the full complexity of reality and the full force of truth with a kind and welcoming intention that helps bring clarity to our awareness of what is really going on. With that awareness, we gain more freedom of choice when it comes to possible actions that contribute to decreasing our suffering. Embracing our breath the way it is without manipulation teaches us that.
2. Science tells us that so far in the evolution of the universe we are an infinitesimal afterthought the universe can do without. From a cosmic perspective our solar system will soon be burnt up and transformed into cold nothingness. So when it comes to you and me in the individual physical form we came into existence, we have precious little importance. However, our mindsight reveals the possibility of a great fascination we can cultivate with how energy and chance conspire over huge periods of time to give rise to something as marvelous as our human consciousness; and we can do that without having to resort to any extraneous notion of a creator. Not only that, but the expansion of consciousness through mindsight allows us to touch the direct experience of actually being the unfolding universe. Each one of us is the universe and life in its unfolding, beyond the temporary and mortal carcass we presently find ourselves imprisoned in. In fact, once we see our bodies more deeply within the large context of universal reality, and realize that we not only have, but also are a body, the body ceases to be a prison, but becomes the vehicle of liberation. The breath teaches us to see beyond the physical concreteness of our body into the limitlessness of our Being.
3. Life is not about you, because this separate ‘you’ or ‘I’ we always refer to is but a construction of the mind, just a thought, a notion, and not anything real, the same way a wave thinking of itself as a separate entity is but a movement of the ocean. Our mental capacity to construct a ‘me’, or more accurately many different ‘mes’ from moment to moment, which we are usually unable to differentiate, is a gift of human consciousness that allows us the freedom to realize how our existence is about life. The universe lives in part through us as marvelous conduits of its awe-inspiring enormity. In the outbreath we learn to relinquish this constructed notion of a separate self.
4. Science tells us that we are biological algorithms as I have written elsewhere, and as such control far less than we believe. Having little control does not mean we are at the mercy of the slings and arrows of circumstance. We can actively participate in the universe’s creation! We need to relinquish our sense of omnipotence by learning to get out of our own way and not resist the inevitable flow of reality, which causes so much suffering. I love swimming down the Rhine in Basel. The current is strong, and there is no way to swim upstream against it. But carried by the current, you can swim closer or farther from the shore, and decide when you want to get out of the water. After the long pause at the end of the out-breath, the in-breath will arise whether you like it or not – you might as well not waste your energy taking the in-breath – instead, just let it happen.
5. Although you are going to die, the question is who ‘you’ is. As in the above paragraph 3., our mindsight examination of this question reveals that we are not defined by the boundaries of physical birth and death. The pause at the end of the out-breath is an opportunity to enter the nameless, timeless essence of your Being and realize how constructed your sense of time-bound separateness is. This is your chance to learn to die before you die and lose your fear of death, so that you won’t die when you die.
This whole initiation process causes a basic change in one’s existential condition, liberating us from the profane of time and history, so that we can fly like a butterfly into the sacred dimension of timeless life. The mundane becomes sacred, and this sense of sacredness alleviates our suffering. As Mircea Eliade would say: “Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew. The initiate can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods.” This is a way of saying that we don’t have to be tyrannized by an autopilot mode of consciousness that leads to living and destroying like animals, but that we have the capacity to meaningfully participate in the awe-inspiring mystery of our universe’s unfolding in a constructive and beneficial way. Eliade again: “Initiation’s function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations coming after us, and to help them assume the responsibility of being truly human and hence participating in culture.” This human world in the deepest and most evolved sense of the word, reveals a world open to the limitless capacity of human consciousness we call transcendence, because it transcends the limited view of an untrained human mind.
To this end, we cannot stay stagnant in our endeavors to improve our lives, as if we were trying to improve the script of a dream, even though we all want to use any means available to us to make ‘the dream’ of our physical and social reality as palatable as possible. Beyond that, initiation towards transcendence is about waking up from the dream and touch a dimension of consciousness that allows us to feel the mystery of life in a direct and compelling way beyond all suffering and time-bound existence. This awakening, also called an orthogonal shift in consciousness, is not some kind of remote prize for the chosen few, even though so many people look for it their whole lives without success. It is quite simply speaking an inherent capacity of most human beings, for which we are all wired. What’s difficult is the methodical training process necessary to activate this dormant faculty, which requires dedicated work on challenging every assumption we are used to living by within the boundaries of everyday, untrained consciousness. Once seriously launched on this journey, its beauty lies in the fact that there is no return, no place to reach and no achievement to pursue. There is only the walking on the path to nowhere and everywhere, knowing that we never ‘get there’, but can simply notice improvement in our ability to lovingly get out of our own way and surrender to what is, whether we like it or not, moment by moment. Our conscious walking is Being.
Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.