Cleansing Our Lens of Perception
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
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IN CHAPTER SIX of EYE OF THE HEART Cynthia Bourgeault’s writing is, for me, the clearest and most pragmatic of all I’ve read of her writings thus far. This essay is about cleansing our “lens” of perception — not only so that we see the world, both physical and spiritual aspects, as they are; but more importantly so that we “see” ourselves as we truly are, and not as we imagine ourselves to be — the “price” of seeing clearly being the self-centered and isolated egoic self in exchange for the “Real I” as part of the greater Whole.
It’s not necessary to synthesize this chapter for the sake of brevity, as it’s already as succinct and comprehensive as it can be. I think it serves my readers best as an excerpt without interpretation or condensation. I think you will thoroughly enjoy reading and flowing with Cynthia’s stream of consciousness. (Note: you may want to refer back to my previous post when she references the various “worlds” through which we travel as we ascend in consciousness.)
IN THE PAST two chapters we’ve been looking at some of the ways in which imaginal causality expresses itself in this world. Now it’s time to look a bit more closely at some of the ways in which this expression can be distorted — or in other words, areas in which some purification of the vehicle is necessary in order to ensure a greater reliability and consistency of connection.
The Sufis call this work “polishing the mirror” or “cleansing the lens of perception.” For Christian readers long accustomed to associating purification with sorrow and penance, this “housecleaning” metaphor may indeed offer a refreshing new take. In this more praxis-oriented context, the issue is not so much remorse for our moral failings (although that never drops out of the picture) as it is a deliberate effort to keep the viewing screen clear so that what falls on it is not immediately distorted by lower-order agendas.
The biggest single area of distortion lies in the tendency to drag the interpretation down to the level of magical thinking. At this level the focus is on individual “signs and wonders,” almost invariably drawn from the stock repertory. An eagle feather drops in your path, a rainbow appears in the sky, a shooting star streaks across the night sky, and suddenly you are in receipt of a personal message from God! Or perhaps you race on ahead and start filling in the pieces of the imaginal puzzle with your own imagi-nation and mental calculations. Then you are in some ways worse off than if you had never begun, conscripted to a scenario that exists only in your own head. In both cases there is a level confusion going on here, and this confusion is what will inevitably switch the message (however accurate it may have been at its initial point of impact) onto a generally unreliable track.
Who is this “I” who is receiving the message? The confusion is between two levels of consciousness, which in the classic typologies of both East and West are known as “psychic” and “subtle.” The bottom line is that imaginal causality belongs to the subtle level of consciousness; all attempts to capture it at the psychic level will lead to distortion — at best innocuous, at worst downright dangerous.
The psychic level of consciousness is that intermediate state at which a growing sensitization to transpersonal (a.k.a. “psychic”) phenomena is still firmly tied to an egoic (or narrative) self-center . . . and insofar as it does signal the initial opening of the imaginal capacities, it represents progress. But it is a very unstable place in the growth curve, and until the tension is ironed out a lot of damage can be done.
I will speak only in passing here of those more dangerous levels of magic and the occult, which happen in exactly this configuration at its extreme negative pole, i.e., a pronounced psychic capacity tied to a strong, amoral personal will. With concentrated attention and training, it is indeed possible to draw down the energy of World 24 and even World 6 to wreak havoc on this earth plane. Gurdjieff called such people “hasnamusses,” but perhaps the old term evil will serve just as well. We see them in the Hitlers, the Jim Joneses, the cult leaders run amuck, and in many more who wreak harm in a much more subtle but pervasive way (I would personally place Ayn Rand in that category): too much psychic power, too little love.
The moral inversion at work here is not only an affront to the image of our common humanity, it also badly misinterprets the nature of the higher energy itself, which appears under this filter to be simply an impersonal, amoral, “spirit in third person,” another mechanistic force to be harnessed — not, as it really is, a powerfully compassionate and coherent relational field bearing the moral heart of God. When Teilhard de Chardin insisted adamantly toward the end of his life that “God is a person, God is person,” he was not picturing an old man with a beard up in the sky. He was saying, rather, that as we proceed further and further into those luminous spheres, we encounter more and more fully the personal, radiant, tender, and intimate presence of the divine heart, which can never be relegated to an “it.” It is always a “thou,” and it pulls us inevitably toward greater thouness, the ultimate sacrifice that is love’s.
The imaginal realm properly corresponds to the subtle level of consciousness, which in turn corresponds to a different kind of selfhood. We move here necessarily from a narrative or egoic seat of selfhood to the beginnings of authentic witnessing selfhood. The concept is not well understood in Christian spiritual theology, which still tends to confuse the mythical beast of “true self” with the high egoic functioning of world 48. Witnessing selfhood is a World 24 phenomenon. That discrete sense of a personal “I” marching along a linear timeline held in place by memory and desire, gradually shifts to a larger and more unboundaried selfhood, the “wave” form of oneself, as it were.
Paying attention not to what you are but to that you are is how the anonymous medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing summarized this fundamental shift in perspective.’ For Gurdjieff, this would be the beginning of the transition from “essence” to “Real I.” I have written extensively about this transition elsewhere, most recently in my book The Heart of Centering Prayer, so I will not elaborate further here.” But I would want to make very clear, with regard to our present concern, that imaginal causality can only be reliably read beginning at the level of witnessing selfhood and sooner or later demands that one join it at that level. The cost of admission to this new and more intense bandwidth of reality is ultimately your phenomenal self. Those things that you once thought were you — your history, your emotions, your particularities, your “descriptions” (as Beatrice Bruteau calls them) — are precisely those things offered into the refiner’s fires in order to create a being that can reliably listen and respond.
Seeing with the Eye of the Heart
In the Western Inner traditions there is a strong implicit thread that this shift to a new seat of selfhood is inextricably linked to a new operating system of perception, centered in the heart. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God,” said Jesus, in these words of the sixth beatitude inaugurating not only a new pathway of purification but in fact a new phenomenology of it. The heart is already implicitly identified as the seat of imaginal vision, and as the teaching gets fleshed out over the centuries, particularly in mystical Sufism, the consensus continues to build that the heart (rather than the cognitive mind, i.e., the brain) is the true organ of spiritual perception and the seat of our imaginal selfhood. . . . (All embolden emphases added)—Bourgeault EYE OF THE HEART
PURIFICATION OF THE HEART OF GOD
Over the past eighty-three years I have re-created my physical body twelve times over. With each new body a new mind was created as well, which allowed me to think anew and see anew, influenced by teachers and friends. What wasn’t created anew was my heart. Not my physical heart but my spiritual heart. That came with my spirit when I incarnated — and to the degree my mind has played its role in protecting my heart, I have retained some innocence. To the degree my mind has been self-centered and self-active, and has failed to protect it, my heart has accumulated such ill patterns as shame, guilt, and blame, to mention but a few of the many impure and disruptive feeling patterns and emotional impulses cluttering and sullying my heart’s lens of perception.
Many of these patterns were established in early childhood and during my youthful years of “exploring the field,” so-to-speak, mostly with wreckless abandon and blind disregard for how my actions may have impacted and affected those around me. Some of them came with the larger collective body of which I became a member when I incarnated. Looking back now — which can be a dangerous and even fatal exercise — patterns of regret, remorse and self-loathing crop up for release and forgiveness — literally to be given up for transmutation in the purifying fire of unconditional love.
At the end of this eighty-three-year-old tunnel, I find my Self in the Light of this New Day as inseparably part of a Body, having no isolated and insulated existence — in the presence of my LORD God, naked and unashamed, having been freed of shame and guilt in the Presence of unconditional Love. As the lens of my heart continues to be cleansed — largely under the pressure of challenging circumstances and recurring memories of past “moral failings” — I continue to participate in the purification of the Heart of Humanity, which is the Heart of God; and I relinquish all identification with the debris rising up and out of my personal field and the collective field of this Body, of which I am but one member of billions. None of it is who or what I am. I assume identity with my true Self as being one with the angelic Fire of Purification. One with Love. Love is what and who I Am. Love is what and who you are.
I know it to be the truth, for myself and for each and every one of us. We belong to One Body, outside of which we are nothing. That Body is the Body of God on Earth. So, if you think and feel that you are insignificant, a nobody, then I encourage you to let go of that isolated and insignificant self and let go to your true Self. You, as a Human Being and incarnate angel, are essential and vital to the healing and restoration of the Body of God on Earth. That’s no small and insignificant role we are privileged to play while we are on Earth.
Knowing this as truth brings with it a certain responsibility from which these is no escape. There’s work to be done — spiritual, emotional, mental as well as physical — as none of us are free of our past, personal and collective, as long as one of us is bound to it.
Let us not be “burned up” with the debris that’s on fire and disintegrating in Worlds 96 and 192. Neither let us be distraught and destroyed with it. Rather let us identify with the Fire, be one with the Spirit of Purification, whose place of presence is the Heart. Let my heart, one with the Heart of God, be purified in love’s fire so that I may see as God sees me and all the members of His Body.
We belong in Gurdjieff’s World 24 . . . in the “Kingdom of Heaven”. . . where we receive our instructions: the ordinances of heaven from the Holy Absolute in World 1, their “dominion” of which we are ordained to set in the earth and manifest Creation.
Gurdjieff’s map of the worlds may be useful in helping one see where one is currently living: in heaven or in hell . . . or perhaps in between. If you’re moving through hell, as the saying goes, remember that it’s only an illusion, so just keep moving . . . UP! Up, up and away, as the song goes. Leave the world to its own undoing, and just let love radiate through your heart without concern for results. Until my next post,
Be love. Be loved.