Winter White at Back River
Waterman Trail, Georgetown, Maine
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She said ...
I'm trying to share with my family and friends what I've experienced since coming here, but they get confused and angry with me.
Well, what am I to do?
But don't I need to share what I've come to see with them?
It's what you think you need to do, but they don't need you to. Inquire in silence, 'Why do I feel this need for others to know what I've come to experience?'"
*Brian K. Wilcox. "Meetings with an Anonymous Sage."
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Christ stands beside me. He is in my room, standing under a lamp. His right-hand posture indicates he is a teacher, as he holds forth the teacher mudra. The other hand holds the Scripture. He has an orb around his hand and is dressed in a blue tunic - signifying the mystery he is - and red - connoting his blood shed on the cross. I sit writing in my chair, in the corner of the room, where I write, pray, and contemplate in silence, and he is on my right. But what is this Christ?
The icon of Christ the Teacher I purchased on a recent silent retreat. Why? Due partly to the icon resonating with something in me I hold dear. I do not know all the reasons I bought it, feel drawn to it, and have placed it near me. I know it is not from devotion to Christianity, the church as an institution, or church dogma.
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The integral philosopher Ken Wilber wrote in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, that "mystical validity claims are anchored in extralinguistic realities that, however much they are molded by cultural factors, are not merely the product of shifting cultural and provincial-only fashions." Rather, "the referents of the transcendental signifiers exist in a worldspace [space of meaning, network of meaning] that is disclosed to those with the appropriate developmental signifieds, even if these are always already culturally situated." Wilber compares this to natural science. Science can, within a cultural context and using the symbols of that context, make universal claims of what I call a transcontextual nature.
Now, I will unpack all that - or try to - using the image of Christ. For persons who see with the eye of contemplation (I will return to this eye soon), Christ is initially a culturally embedded image evoking a non-conceptual experience free of time, culture, and the tradition(s) in which the signifier arose. Outside the location in culture, one experiences Christ as more than a Jewish man from the 1st Century and taught and worshipped within a particular space and time - including diverse religions and sects within religions, as well as various, at times contrary, beliefs about Christ within single sects. Jesus, for example, is highly respected as a prophet in Islam, and the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote books about Buddha and Christ, seeing the connotations of each as complimentary.
Some within Christianity see Jesus and Christ as the same, others see Christ as a universal presence - the preexistent Word - and Jesus the man, born about 4 BCE, embodying this universal Quality - of course, the two need not be mutually exclusive. Early on, the church debated this matter intensely, and, as always, the majority won; after that, Jesus the man as the sole Christ was accepted by most as true (or orthodox).
Hence, what a signifier points to is usually determined culturally by consensual agreement - often by the social elite. Persons outside the majority are esteemed as acting in infidelity, and a special vocabulary grows up to assign them and warn the "faith" of them: for example, in religion, heretic, and in nationalism, unpatriotic. This kind of majority opinion is called consensual belief. It may or may not be true, or it may be partially true and partially untrue.
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Now, to the eye of contemplation. St. Bonaventure, a 13th Century Franciscan, presented a formula for accessing depths from which we arrive at meaning, or interpret signifiers - depth implies increasing clarity and subtlety:
(1) The eye of flesh (sensory; pre-reason)
(2) The eye of mind (rational reflection; intellectualization)
(3) The eye of contemplation (Spirit; subtle insight; contemplative; mystical)
These developmental stages are as normal as learning to sit up, crawl, stand, walk, climb, and run. Spiritually, we can keep crawling, or we can become a runner. St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3.1-3 (GNB) about baby Christians ...
As a matter of fact, my friends, I could not talk to you as I talk to people who have the Spirit (or spiritual, spiritual people); I had to talk to you as though you belonged to this world (i.e., world-system; not nature, physical environment), as children (or infants) in the Christian faith. I had to feed you milk, not solid food, because you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready for it, because you still live as the people of this world live. When there is jealousy among you and you quarrel with one another, doesn't this prove that you belong to this world, living by its standards?
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So, what does this Christ beside me mean, or signify? The answer is based on where you see from - what eye you see with. If we keep growing spiritually, we grow to see with the eye of contemplation. We see things we did not before, even when seeing the same things. I see Christ beside me differently than what I was taught early in life and for some years later when a conservative evangelical pastor, even as I see the Buddha that sits to my left, on the other side of this room, differently than earlier in life - the Buddha in my upbringing was associated with cult and devil.
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The Way of wisdom-insight is to keep growing. If we remain on the Way, we do not need to force ourselves to see differently. These capacities arise as we become prepared for them to emerge. Once they appear, there is no going back. We will never see the same again and find it impossible to tell what we see. We will remain silent more often than before rather than trying to speak about what we experience. Our lives will show others we now see with the insight that is subtle, inclusive, and integrative rather than merely sensory, rational, and exclusive.
I was raised, for example, on a Christ who loved everyone but included as belonging to him and going to a heaven only Christians. Slowly, I saw differently - better, another seeing arose. And the seeing differently continued through wedding intellect and spirit. Reason assisted in framing what the heart came to know is true, while reason came to be insufficient to articulate the nonconceptual knowing that arose through encounter, or intimacy, not thought.
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Some final points of import ...
(1) When the eye of contemplation arises, the other means of knowing continue to function, but now in service to the wisdom you now experience. Each evolvement in seeing incorporates the previous. Simply because you see contemplatively does not mean you stop knowing through the senses or intellect.
(2) The eye of contemplation is post-rational (not anti-rational); thus, one can share about the experience vaguely but cannot explain what is seen.
(3) The best witness to the eye of contemplation is a life lived in inclusive love.
(4) In some Eastern traditions, the eye of contemplation correlates with the third eye, often depicted in the middle of the forehead and slightly above eyebrow level.
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*©Brian K. Wilcox, 2023.
*Use of photography is allowed accompanied by credit given to Brian K. Wilcox and title and place of photograph.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.