This is the latest in a series of articles. In an earlier one I offered a spiritual solution to the so-called Hard Problem of Consciousness. This was based on two almost identical understandings of what it means to be human, one by Raynor C. Johnson, author of impressive books on spiritual themes, and another by the Theosophical Society. Both say that a human being is a hierarchy of several bodies. If required, please consult that article [click here] for the details. In the last article [click here] I considered whether there is any evidence to suggest that this scenario is correct. I focussed on the question of higher bodies in general, and specifically on the etheric body. Here I’ll consider whether this hierarchy of bodies is separated into a lower and a higher level. Evidence which suggests this comes from an understanding of meditation, artistic creativity, and guidance apparently from somewhere beyond the personality.
How do we understand the purpose of meditation? The conventional viewpoint, as in Buddhism and Hinduism for example, is that the conscious self is seeking to control and silence all thoughts, the chattering mind, in order to access a higher state of consciousness. We might say that the soul is attempting to return to where it naturally belongs, where it feels more at home, in the spiritual realm. Interpreted according to the hierarchy-of-bodies scenario, this chattering mind could well be the lower mental body, which is a barrier to achieving this higher state, since it completely occupies our psychological space, leaving no room for anything else.
According to the viewpoint of modern science, however, everything to do with consciousness is a by-product, an epiphenomenon, of the brain. The thoughts of our chattering minds must therefore be generated by the brain. Some neuroscientists even go so far as to say that the self, thus consciousness, is an illusion. So they would have to conclude that our conscious selves, which are either created by the brain or are illusions, have the desire to silence thoughts, the contents of the mind. If this is so, the brain has created an entity, possibly illusory, which wants to stop one of the main activities of the brain, the production of thoughts. One part of the brain is therefore in conflict with, and trying to put an end to, another, even though the first one might not really exist. If a war of this kind is really going on inside our heads, surely we would all very soon be driven mad. I therefore suggest that this scientific scenario is ridiculous, and that the spiritual explanation makes better, perhaps perfect, sense.
Turning now to the question of creativity, Raynor Johnson says of the causal body that it “belongs to a level that inspires all the highest forms. The imagination of the finest artists, sculptors, musicians, and poets has been kindled from this level of consciousness”. This sounds very reasonable, for how else are we to understand such extraordinary creativity? Could it have evolved through a process of natural selection? Arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins once said: “Fundamentally at the gene level elephants are just like gigantic colonies of viruses which are all programming the elephant to make more DNA via the indirect process of making an elephant first. But it doesn’t do justice to the process, because an elephant is such a complicated creature, such a complicated thing, that we focus our attention on the elephant, and we see that it is doing it by another means”¹.
He is thus suggesting that the fundamental reality of life is DNA seeking to replicate itself, and that the physical elephant is merely a somewhat irrelevant by-product of that process. By implication, therefore, a human being is also merely a by-product of DNA’s attempts to replicate itself. In which case the desire and the skill to create such magnificent works as Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Bach’s fugues, and the art of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian are also irrelevant by-products of life’s main purpose, that of DNA seeking to replicate itself. If that is DNA’s exclusive preoccupation, why would it show such a strong interest in the arts?
I suggest that it is hard to take such ideas seriously. Instead let’s consider whether there is evidence for the process of musical creativity according to Raynor Johnson’s perspective. A good example would be what the rock star Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has to say about songwriting:
- “Great songs write themselves. You’re just being led by the nose, or the ears. The skill is not to interfere with it too much. Ignore intelligence, ignore everything; just follow it where it takes you. You really have no say in it, and suddenly there it is… You realize that songs write themselves; you’re just the conveyer”².
- “People say they write songs, but in a way you’re more the medium. I feel like all the songs in the world are just floating around, it’s just a matter of like an antenna, of whatever you pick up. So many uncanny things have happened. A whole song just appears from nowhere in five minutes, the whole structure, and you haven’t worked at all”³.
Keith Richards has probably never heard of the causal body, but uses language highly suggestive of it. In any event, he is clearly saying that his music and lyrics are written at a different level of being, which his ego-self has merely tuned into.
Along these lines, he tells a fascinating story about one of his most famous songs. In the previous article I argued that the etheric body is better able to operate when we are asleep. The same would also seem to be true of the creative, causal body, for Richards says that he wrote Satisfaction during the night while he was asleep (or at least thought he was). He taped it onto a cassette recorder, and had no idea he’d written the song when he woke up: “I wrote Satisfaction in my sleep… it’s only thank God for the little Philips cassette player. The miracle being that I looked at the cassette player that morning and I knew I’d put a brand-new tape in the previous night, and I saw it was the end.” He then rewound the tape and found 30 seconds of the famous riff and the lyrics that would become the song’s title (together with 40 minutes of snoring), even though he had no memory of doing this⁴.
There are other factors possibly relevant to this story, for it would not be surprising if some alcohol were involved. What is clear, however, is that it was not his conscious self writing the song, which was coming from elsewhere.
Further evidence for sources of musical creativity beyond the personality is suggested by the practice of improvisation. One especially skillful exponent was Mozart, who had a prodigious ability to compose on the spot:
- “A priest Placidus Scharl recalled that, at the age of 6, “one had only to give him the first subject which came to mind for a fugue or an invention: he would develop it with strange variations and constantly changing passages as long as one wished; he would improvise fugally on a subject for hours, and this fantasia-playing was his greatest passion”.
- The composer André Grétry reported that Mozart’s father had asked him to write a very difficult Sonata movement. “I wrote him an Allegro in E-flat; difficult, but unpretentious; he played it, and everyone, except myself, believed that it was a miracle. The boy had not stopped; but following the modulations, he had substituted a quantity of passages for those which I had written”.
- As a teenager Mozart gave a concert where, according to a witness: “an experienced musician gave him a fugue theme, which he worked out for more than an hour with such science, dexterity, harmony, and proper attention to rhythm, that even the greatest connoisseurs were astounded”⁵.
It is hard to see how improvisation, at this level of skill and spontaneity, could be the product of the ego-self, let alone the brain, no matter how musical the person. It seems truer to say that the music is playing the performer or, as Keith Richards would say, the writer appears to channel the music.
I’ll now turn to my third topic, that of apparent knowledge, or guidance to the ego-self from other levels of reality. Many traditions believe this to be the case, so that we encounter terms like the Self (Carl Jung), the Higher Self (Psychosynthesis), the Subliminal Self (Frederic Myers), the soul, and the daemon (Ancient Greece). Examples of such guidance are dreams, divination, powerful intuitions, and so-called Freudian slips.
1. Dreams are the most obvious and most available source of guidance. Many authors have written on this subject. Perhaps the most important is Carl Jung, who placed dream interpretation at the centre of his therapeutic system. He said “we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions”⁶. A book I especially like is Arthur Bernard’s God Has No Edges, Dreams Have No Boundaries⁷. His experience is that no matter what you (your ego-consciousness) may think, your “dreams say think again”.
Dream interpretation is not just an aspect of Western psychology. It can also fit in with:
a) Hinduism. See, for example, Realities of the Dreaming Mind by Swami Sivananda Radha⁸, a western woman initiated into the Hindu tradition. She has created a “Dream Yoga”, and talks about the “Guru within”.
b) Sufism. I once was privileged to attend the daily meetings hosted by the Sufi teacher, Irina Tweedie. Each one began with a session of dream sharing and interpretation.
c) Ancient tribal traditions. See, for example, Patricia Garfield’s chapter on Native Americans in Creative Dreaming9⁹. She says that all tribes assign special importance to dreams.
2. Divination. I have given Tarot readings. I am usually assured by the questioner that what I have said has been relevant and meaningful, and yet he or she has chosen the cards when they were face down. Magical and mysterious though this may seem, the hidden self must know which cards are which, and guide the person to choose the appropriate ones. That has been my own experience when being given a reading by others; a certain card suddenly seems to stand out from the others, seemingly asking to be chosen.
An I Ching coin consultation is broadly similar to a Tarot reading. The interesting difference is that, with the Tarot, the questioner does actually choose the cards, which allows the possibility of some involvement of the hidden self. With the I Ching, however, when the coins are thrown, the person has apparently no control over how they land, so it seems that one would have to ascribe this to ‘chance’. Yet, as Carl Jung assures us, meaningful answers are the rule! (Can one’s own hidden self control how coins land?)
3. Strong intuitions. Many people feel that they are guided in life by an inner voice. The word actually suggests inner teaching (in-tuition), so that we can reasonably ask, if we are the pupils, who is the teacher? Sometimes this experience can become even more intense, when the ego-consciousness is gripped by what seems to be an overwhelmingly powerful idea, something irresistible. You know that it will not let go until you have performed what it demands, and when you have done this, the outcome is positive.
An outstanding example of this phenomenon is Rosalind Heywood, writer on parapsychology, who talks about receiving ‘orders’. A powerful example occurred one afternoon when she was told by this inner voice to meet the three o’clock train at Wimbledon station. In order to do this, she had to borrow a neighbour’s car, which shows how important it was to her to obey such instructions. By following this ‘order’ she managed to save the life of her husband, who had suffered a heart attack¹⁰.
4. Freudian slips. Sigmund Freud’s book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life¹¹ introduced the world to this idea. His most powerful example, so extraordinary that it is almost impossible to believe, tells of a woman who, seeing a man in the street, fails to remember that she had recently married him. He reports that the marriage came “to a most unhappy end”.
What does the phenomenon of the Freudian slip mean? In general terms, we can say that the ego tends to lie, be prone to self-deception, yet something inside wants the truth to be recognised. There is thus a hidden intelligence which somehow forces the ego to make a mistake in speech or action, revealing what it is trying to conceal. Again I assume that this other consciousness is the Higher or Subliminal Self. Freud’s example seems to be a clear message from this hidden self, which wants the woman to recognise the terrible mistake she has made. I have an outstanding example of a Freudian slip from my own experience. Some time ago I attended a group-therapy weekend. Some exercises were conducted in pairs, and I was involved in one of these with a man, I would estimate, in his late twenties. During a pause in the exercise, to avoid an embarrassing silence, I engaged him in conversation, and my opening gambit was “How long have you been in therapy?”. His reply was “since I was 11”. This was a strange answer — it seemed a young age to start — so I asked him, “what happened then?” He replied, “I was sent away to boarding school”. I was excited by this; it seemed like an obvious example of a Freudian slip — his deeper self was making him aware how his problems had started, a wonderful gift which would aid him in his therapy. However, when I started trying to suggest this to him, his expression visibly changed, and he went into a state of anxiety and denial, and tried to explain that it meant nothing, was just a “slip of the tongue”. His ego-self clearly wasn’t ready to hear the message.
5. The source for the three quotes is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozart’s_compositional_method
6. Man and His Symbols, Picador, 1978, p92
7. Wheatmark, 2009
8. Shambhala, 1996
9. Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1995
10. Described by Lawrence LeShan in A New Science of the Paranormal, Quest Books, 2009, p30. Rosalind Heywood and ‘orders’ are also discussed by Colin Wilson in Afterlife, Grafton Books, 1987. Her autobiography is called The Infinite Hive.
11. Penguin, 1991