Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Imagination and Mystical Experience

Phylogeni of living organism.Image via WikipediaA great friend from the School of Cultivation and Practice just wrote an excellent article about Internal Gong Fu Paradigms. In it, he elucidated wonderfully (in my opinion) the different paradigms that underlie various internal gong fu practices, covering everything from Chi to Mechanism to Functional thinking.

In this article, two paradigms are discussed about which I have a certain fondness: these being the imagination paradigm (which he calls the fantasy paradigm) and the mystical paradigm.

Now, before going into what I believe to be the merits of these two kinds of experience, I will discuss what I believe to be the groundwork of a workable paradigm, which is an orientation to reality. In my practice of Wujifa, Functional thinking has been upheld as a philosophical cornerstone. In the Internal Gong Fu Paradigms blog, it is explained this way:

Functional paradigm: Looks to generalize principles
found in natural, scientific and various other processes.
Not based on rules or methods.

I will reiterate for emphasis: to generalize principles. In my view, this means to discover connections. Originally, the concept of functional thinking comes from the work of Wilhelm Reich, who used it as a way of understanding basic underlying patterns and principles of nature.
Reich broke down functional thinking into four main principles ( From Wilhelm Reich Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy p. 218)

1. Every living organism is a functional unit; it is not merely a mechanical sum total of organs. The basic biological function governs every individual organ as it governs the total organism.
2. Every living organism is part of surrounding nature and is functionally identical with it.
3. Every perception is based on the consonance of a function within the organism with a function in the outer world; that is, it is based on vegetative harmony.
4. Every form of self-perception is the immediate expression of objective processes in the organism (psychophysical identity).

The basic idea is that instead of pure subjectivity or objectivity, we acknowledge that these two things form a functional unity. Mechanism and Mysticism, under Reich's defintion, split this unity and give emphasis to either pure subjectivity (in mysticism) or pure objectivity (as in mechanism). However, since these two things are infact interrelated, any splitting of one from the other results in a deviation from realistic perception of things as they are.

Therefor, the principle of connection as discussed in Wujifa is at play here, in realizing that our experience comes from a functional unity of internal and external factors.

Now, back to imagination and what might be called "mystical" or "religious" experience. (as an interesting sidebar, the word "religion" comes from the prefix "re" and the root "legare" which means to connect, so religion means reconnection). Mysticism, as defined in Wikipedia"is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight"

Continuing on the discussion we began, I find great value in this kind of mysticism, which is to say, a mysticism which is based in direct experience. This kind of mysticism, to my reckoning, does not break the principle of functional thinking, since it is, at its core, a reconnection and not a disconnection from reality. (not to say that disconnection from certain things is not useful or functional, I can see how exploring disconnection would teach us some interesting things about our perception and experience as well.) However, in the reconnective form of mysticism I aim to discuss here, experience recognizes the unity of subject and object, and is therefor highly functional under Reich's definition.

So what do I mean by religious mysticism? As I said before, it is philosophy of mysticism that is based on experience of connection. Connection to what though? In Wujifa, we would say "yes"... connection to what. Beginning from "you are where you are and that's where you start" it's always looking for those connections. Maybe right now it's connection to your lower back, or connection to the environment around you. Maybe later on there are other cool connections that start to show up.

The tricky part is what the Internal Gong Fu Paradigms blog was talking about in terms of "often getting lost and failing to develop validate-able skills". What exactly does this mean specifically... well, I can imagine that roots are going out of my feet into the ground, but that doesn't necessarily mean I am developing internal strength or "rootedness" in terms of something that can actually effect my way of being in the world in any way.

In Wujifa we have a saying, "The method is not the truth, once you get the feeling, get rid of the method" (this is discussed a bit in the blog Wujifa: Mental and Physical Means for Discovery and Growth) What this means is that methods are not "bad" they are inherently useful as ways of discovering more of what we're looking for (Relax, Balance, Structure : Ease, Equilibrium, Connection : Power, Poise, Unity) [from Wujifa Triangles] as long as they lead us to greater feeling, understanding, and awareness of our principles.

So then, what is the difference between Imagination which is a useful method in Wujifa and that which is not? My hunch is that Imagination as a useful method leads to a physical/emotional shift. For example, maybe imagining roots coming down into the ground is a good way to "suggest" a certain kind of connection with ones feet and legs, or a sinking. At any rate, my guess would be that a useful imagination as a method would lead to a change in actual experience of oneself. To keep things functional, if one part (imagination) moves, all parts (physical, mental, emotional) should show a corresponding variation.

The problem, I believe, is the separation between head and body which Internal Gong Fu Paradigms discussed under the heading of Mechanistic thinking, and which was put in the category of Euro-American paradigms. It is, unfortunately, part of our culture that separates ideas from experience. Perhaps in a more connected place, ideas and experience would be more integrated, and imagination would be connected with a shift in experience as described above. Again: Connection, Connection, Connection. Always connection.

Please take all these ideas with a grain of salt. They are my experiences, and yours may be different. However, I am glad to share them, because I have found them very helpful and useful. Also, these ideas are in progress, which is to say they are in a process of development. As I keep exploring them, I will add more posts here to the blog.


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  1. Nice train of thought... As I see Wujifa one key element that stems from "you are where you are and that's where you start" is the word YOU. What I am suggesting with the word you is the word "Responsibility." What I am suggesting is where the buck stops? Who, what, is responsible? Many want to make a method responsible... Another is ownership and functionally being responsible for the work. Since you bring in Riech this is one of the keys to the mystic and the mechanical... Being personally responsible and doing the work is key. Yes we need other people this is why we also look up to our school brother and senior brothers... The bottom line still comes down to responsibility and personally being responsible.

  2. I like this post. You flushed out ideas in a way that I couldn't. Very nice! I particularly like:

    "To keep things functional, if one part (imagination) moves, all parts (physical, mental, emotional) should show a corresponding variation."

    I think this is where many internal gong fu teachers and students get stuck: How do you know if a particular (imagination) method results in a corresponding variation? How do you validate?

    I understand and agree that the intention of religion / mysticism / spirituality is to develop connectedness however, I think our mechanistic body/mind split culture creates a fundamental disconnect between mind and body so then what is left to connect "spiritually"? Only the mind? How can corporeality connect spiritually? And how do you validate this in the context of internal gong fu training?

    And so an honest appraisal might reveal, "Hey, I can't even feel deep mind/body connectedness, maybe I should start where I am and maybe through learning feeling corporeal connectedness that one day I may feel spiritual connectedness and that feeling may be entirely different than the disconnected mental construct of spirituality I currently believe."

    Again, I like this post! Very thoughtful.