Science and Spirituality: ‘Effing the Ineffable’

February 10, 2014 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

What is glimpsed is a world in which there is greater trust and less worry; in which mystery or uncertainty do not need to constantly explained and understood, but can simply be met as they appear….

- Professor Guy Claxton (illustration by Dwyllis Maggs)

 

Introduction by Jonathan Rowson

After many requests, it is a great pleasure to be able to share the transcript of Guy Claxton’s public lecture at the RSA in November. The talk developed an account of the connection between embodied cognition and spiritual experience to a packed Great Room, but was so rich in content and expression that many who attended or listened online were eager to see the text.

Guy was my PhD supervisor and we are now friends, so I am by no means impartial, but I have chaired many RSA events before and this was the first time I felt speechless at the end of a talk. The content below reveals Guy’s very personal, informed and evolved take on the fundamental question of what it is to be human. Guy is a Cognitive Scientist, best known for his pioneering work on Building Learning Power, but he has also described himself as ‘a Buddhist in remission’ and he calls upon his spiritual hinterland in what follows.

The ideas and positions developed manage to be grounded, evocative, and strikingly non-partisan in spirit. Hardened atheists may regret the lack of a scientistic debunking of the spiritual, while those yearning for details of what may lie ‘beyond’ materialism may also feel frustrated by an unwillingness to venture out in that direction.

Guy gave generously of his knowledge and insight, but he steadfastly refused to be drawn on more speculative or divisive questions. In this sense the event was a perfect contribution to the work we are developing in this area, showing the value of going ‘beyond belief’, with a deeper inquiry into human nature and experience. I believe Guy succeeded in explaining spiritual experience without explaining it away.

This was the second lecture in our series of six public events on the how new conceptions of human nature may inform our appreciation for the nature and value of spirituality. These public events are part of a 20 month project called Spirituality, Tools of the Mind and the Social Brain, which includes a broader programme of research, culminating in a final report scheduled for September 2014. The next scheduled public event in the series is Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of the critically acclaimed ‘The Master and his Emissary’ on March 31 who will talking on the subject: “What happened to the soul?”.

The reaction to Guy’s talk was extremely positive. The RSA Replay was viewed over 8,000 times, and the edited video has already received almost another 8,000. However, some of the best ideas and exchanges were in the questions and answers, so after reading below, I would encourage you to listen to the full audio recording too. In the transcript below I have only edited out references to slides and made minor amends for comprehension where necessary. Enjoy!

On Being Touched and Moved: Why Spirituality is Essentially Embodied (Professor Guy Claxton, RSA, Nov 26th 2013)

Thank you.

What I want to say about embodiment is part of a broader picture of spirituality, which I do not have time to justify here. But to make sense, I do have to state its main contentions rather baldly.

Spirituality and religion originate in a particular kind of felt experience. These experiences are typically short-lived, surprising and uncontrollable, but they seem, to the person having them, to be highly significant and attractive.

THE BACK-STORY

Spirituality and religion originate in a particular kind of felt experience. These experiences are typically short-lived, surprising and uncontrollable, but they seem, to the person having them, to be highly significant and attractive. They go by a variety of names – kensho, satori, the Grace of God, sometimes mystical experience or a peak experience – though they often have no florid elements such as visions or premonitions. I shall call these experienced Glimpses (with a capital G).

Spiritual practice is the attempt to recapture or stabilise such Glimpses: to make them home ground rather than holiday accommodation. Religions are originally codified and organised sets of such spiritual practices. They often develop around an individual who seems to have cracked this quest for stabilisation – a Jesus, a Muhammad, a Siddhartha Gautama. Their fleeting Glimpse has been held steady. Such people offer Promise – if I did it, so can you – and a Path – follow in my footsteps.

But the path has many Potholes and Pitfalls, most of which I am going to pass over this evening. But I must mention one. One of the apparent consolations of religion is an escape from death. People’s anxieties about death are attributed to a physical body that will inevitably let them down, and they are encouraged to find solace in a world of abstract but indestructible forces and entities such as the Immortal Soul, Almighty God or Reincarnation. Mind and Pure Thought are Good and Higher; Body and Emotion are traitorous and Lower. So mind and body are split and set at odds with each other. I want to suggest that these Glimpses involve an apparently miraculous healing of that split; but that the miracle can be explained by biology.

First, I want to concentrate on what the Glimpses are. Let me set the scene with a short poem by WB Yeats called Vacillation, which many of you, I am sure, will know. It beautifully captures several of the recurrent features of a Glimpse. (Imagine Yeats – or yourself – at a window table in Starbucks on the Strand, perhaps.)

My fiftieth year had come and gone

I sat, a solitary man

In a crowded London shop

An open book, an empty cup

On the marble table-top

 

While on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed

And, twenty minutes, more or less

It seemed, so great my happiness

That I was blessed, and could bless

 

Glimpses

There is a database of thousands of ‘glimpses’ gathered over the years by the Alistair Hardy Religious Experiences Research Centre, now based at the University of Wales in Lampeter. I have highlighted some of the commonly occurring elements (see video). Let me read you a slightly longer extract from one of those reports. It is also set in London, this time on a commuter train.

“Vauxhall station on a murky November Tuesday evening is not the setting one would choose for a revelation of God…The carriage was full. I cannot remember any particular thought processes which may have led up to the great moment… For a few seconds only (I suppose) the whole carriage was filled with light… I felt caught up in a tremendous sense of being within a loving, shining purpose… In a few moments the glory had faded – all but one curious lingering feeling. I loved everyone in the seats around me. It sounds silly now, and indeed I blush to write it, but at that moment I think I would have died for any one of those people. I seemed to sense the golden worth in them all.”

As you will see, people reach for a variety of metaphors and images as they attempts to describe their Glimpses. But it is possible to discern a common core of qualities that many of these experiences share. (I’m going to ignore for the moment the variety of visions and premonitions that sometimes –but by no means always – accompany the Glimpses. I think a good case can be made that such dramatic, eye-catching aspects of the experience are accoutrements rather than of the essence, but I don’t have time to pursue that here…)

ASPECTS OF THE EXPERIENCE

Glimpses are surprisingly common – in surveys up to 50-60% of people admit to some such experience, and they are frequent in teenagers too. Such experiences tend to be under-reported, however, partly because they are seen as highly personal and private, partly because they are hard to talk about, and partly for fear of being thought ‘odd’. They are usually fleeting and elusive – Yeats’ 20 minutes (more or less) is common, though some come and go in a few seconds, and a few are more lasting, such as that of the British scientist John Wren-Lewis. And they vary in their intensity, some being pleasant but not momentous, while others seem to strike at the very foundations of our normal ways of perceiving and feeling.

Despite their evanescence, glimpses are regularly felt not to be illusions but concrete reality unmasked: things unusually accurately and intensely perceived.

Glimpses seem infuriatingly elusive – they appear out of the blue and disappear again of their own accord, and cannot be held on to deliberately. Indeed, the deliberate attempt to control them seems to make them slip away all the more. Nevertheless, despite their evanescence, they are regularly felt not to be illusions but concrete reality unmasked: things unusually accurately and intensely perceived. And, as I have already noted, they also seem frustratingly hard to capture in words. As the English philosopher Alan Watts put it, the aftermath of a Glimpse may require an effort to speak the unspeakable, scrute the inscrutable – and eff the ineffable.

Despite this difficulty, there do seem to be a number of common characteristics of a Glimpse that can be described relatively easily. First, there is the physical burst of vitality and aliveness, often described as brightness, energy and warmth. In the yogic traditions, this release of pent-up vitality is referred to as kundalini, and is often sought through deliberately targeted exercises. In the language of cognitive science, we would describe it as an abrupt intensification of perception, both in the so-called special senses that detect different kinds of energy from the external environment, and also in interoception – the awareness of the internal state of the body itself. Normal experience seems muted and attenuated by comparison

Secondly, there is a felt shift from separation to connectedness; from being an individual, somewhat isolated observer, looking for connectedness, to being essentially and intimately connected. The Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast describes this as a spontaneous shift from Longing to Belonging. The English mystic Douglas Harding used to describe human beings as ‘built open’, but often suffering from an illusory sense of closedness and self-containment. Normal life seems rather lonely by comparison

The flip-side of belonging is care. One of the most attractive facets of a glimpse seems to be the liberation of affection. Instead of being too busy to care, you notice what needs doing to look after the people and the environment around us, and naturally do it. It’s as if we no longer waste time trying to decide who is worthy of our affection, by virtue of their familiarity to us, or being morally deserving, but, like the man on the train, simply because one sees ‘the golden worth’ in everyone. Normal life seems, rather sheepishly, to be self-centred and ungenerous by comparison.

As the English philosopher Alan Watts put it, the aftermath of a Glimpse may require an effort to speak the unspeakable, scrute the inscrutable – and eff the ineffable.

Then there is a feeling of ease, as a complex weight of considerations and concerns seems to drop away, and life appears radically simplified. Rabindranath Tagore said “It is very simple to be happy, but it is very difficult to be simple”. A Glimpse seems to reveal the truth of that in direct experience. What is glimpsed is a world in which there is greater trust and less worry; in which mystery or uncertainty do not need to constantly explained and understood, but can simply be met as they appear. Normal life seems stymied by second thoughts and conflicts of interest by comparison.

So I suggest that spirituality and religion start not from a system of belief that offers comfort and meaning, but from a first-hand glimpse of a different way of relating to the vicissitudes of life. And this shows up not as a thought, a wish or an interpretation, but as a direct experience. It is seen and felt, not construed or imagined. It is embodied.

 So I suggest that spirituality and religion start not from a system of belief that offers comfort and meaning, but from a first-hand glimpse of a different way of relating to the vicissitudes of life. And this shows up not as a thought, a wish or an interpretation, but as a direct experience. It is seen and felt, not construed or imagined. It is embodied. 

SCIENCE

Can science add anything to our understanding of what these Glimpses are, where they come from, what their validity might be, and how they could be earned or encouraged? I think physics was a false dawn in this respect. I bought The Tao of Physics – but I never really bought it. The idea that the key to happiness lay hidden in quantum uncertainty and microtubules seemed as unlikely and unhelpful as the idea that the Archangel Gabriel might swoop down in a burning chariot and carry me off to Paradise.

But now I think the scientists of embodiment are on to something. Here’s a few of the pioneers: Andy Clark, Francisco Varela, Susan Hurley, Jeffrey Gray, Mark Johnson and George Lakoff. Actually I have added one physicist – David Bohm – because he was really more of a psychologist. Let me try to give you a few illustrations of what they have been up to, and how this body of work is beginning to illuminate those elusive Glimpses. To do so in the time, I am going to have to ignore many of the technicalities, and make use of a variety of metaphors myself.

PEOPLE AS SYSTEMS

At the most general level, there is the deepening understanding of human beings as biological systems – technically, Complex Adaptive Dynamic Systems. Biologically, we are more like clouds or whirlpools or waves than snooker balls. We see ourselves as mid-level entities, operating in time-scales from seconds to years and sizes from millimetres to kilometres. But if we only stay at that level of description we miss important things about ourselves. Like the cloud or the whirlpool, we only have the appearance of semi-stability because we are in constant interaction with wider systems that keep, quite literally, ‘whipping us into shape’. Bodies and minds are semi-stable forms that are composed of constantly changing and constantly interacting stuff. Try to take the whirlpool home in a bucket and you will be disappointed. Waves don’t carry the same water forward; they are born, so to speak, have a life, travel, interact, and die, because they are constantly being whipped into shape by a complicated dynamic interaction between wider groundswells, currents, wind-forces, the phase of moon, the rotation of the earth and the wake of a tanker that passed half-an-hour ago…

Conscious mind, we might say, is a kind of phosphorescence that can appear to crest each wave, if further conditions are fulfilled. Consciousness is spume or spindrift. If I were to really see myself in this light, as a temporary form created out of wind and ocean and moon – not just to entertain the idea, but to know that that is what I am – things would look very different (especially the inevitability of death). Astonishingly, right here and now, the World is Guy Claxtoning in a particular (and, it has to be said, rather peculiar) way. This talk should actually be billed as ‘by The World, temporarily masquerading as Guy Claxton’.

The body is what connects us to these wider forces – a dynamic pattern of sensibilities and concerns that are in constant resonance with the larger systems within which it is implicated. Physicist David Bohm referred to this wider swirl of energy and information as the implicate order, which explicates itself from time to time as a Guy or a Jonathan. Disconnect me from this incessant flow of perturbations and resources and, like the whirlpool in the bucket, both body and mind will immediately begin to disintegrate.

Disconnect me from this incessant flow of perturbations and resources and, like the whirlpool in the bucket, both body and mind will immediately begin to disintegrate.

The body is much more sensitive to this myriad of shifting influences that the conscious mind. Under controlled conditions I can flash you those eyes so quickly you are not aware you have seen anything – but within 50 milliseconds your amygdalae are fired up and your body is already sending bursts of adrenaline to muscles and heart, and parasympathetic impulses to your gut to dampen the ongoing processes of digestion. You may or may not be aware of these repercussions, but you won’t know where that blip of threat came from.

PUPILS

We are especially built to reverberate to the social world. Digitally enlarge the size of the pupils slightly in a photograph, and I will describe the person and warmer and more attractive – and I won’t know why. Mirror my body language in a subtle way and, again without knowing why, I will trust you more. Show me a clip of a friend in pain and my brain will automatically squirm in sympathy. Through the body I am deeply ecological, profoundly and ceaselessly in conversation with the physical and the social milieu in which I am embedded (and from which I am continually emerging). Like the wave, I am made up – concocted – by the world around me. Like a mobile phone, I may look like a lump of stuff, but I am actually aquiver with information – whether I am currently checking myself for messages or not. So says the science of embodiment.

Through the body I am deeply ecological, profoundly and ceaselessly in conversation with the physical and the social milieu in which I am embedded (and from which I am continually emerging).

KANIZSA TRIANGLE

The view that consciousness gets is a very partial, and in some ways inaccurate, reflection of all the activity that is going on ‘below stairs’. In this familiar figure, the Kanizsa triangle, there is no white triangle, lying on top of the black figures, slightly brighter and slightly in front.  What consciousness sees is not what’s there, but a useful, plausible guess about what’s probably there – which in this case is wrong. Out of the swirl, the body-brain constructs a semi-stable image, our ‘World’, which isn’t an accurate representation of ‘what’s out there’, but a tissue of useful but fallible predictions about how things would change if I did various things like moved my eyeballs, or reached out my hand, or smiled. We actually see the world in terms not of what it is, so much, as what I expect to be able to do about it. If my concerns or priorities change, so does the world. Hills look steeper to tired people. Coins look bigger to hungry children.

We actually see the world in terms not of what it is, so much, as what I expect to be able to do about it. If my concerns or priorities change, so does the world. Hills look steeper to tired people. Coins look bigger to hungry children.

INTEROCEPTION

My current state of bodily needs, resources and capabilities is constantly being relayed to the brain where it infuses all of the central or ‘higher-level’ processing. As the work of Antonio Damasio shows, we know our values first by getting a visceral sense of Right and Wrong: a feeling of ‘better to go this way’, and ‘doesn’t feel good to go that way’. People’s sensitivity to these bodily promptings – their ability to hear and to heed their intuitions – predicts how well they make value-laden decisions.  “By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes” turns out, sometimes at least, to be a valid form of cognition.

Even the understanding of abstract language is underpinned by the body and its capacities. When I read ‘Guy gave a lecture’, my brain’s motor system is instantly and irresistibly primed to move my hand outwards from my body. If I have to respond by moving my hands inwards, to hit the appropriate response button, the motor system gets conflicting messages and the response is slowed down. If I had read ‘Jonathan took Guy’s point’, the reverse would have happened. Abstract thinking never loses its roots in the bodily bedrock of sensing, acting and feeling.

The idea that Cognition and Emotion, Mind and Body, come from different realms, and are constantly at odds with each other, doesn’t hold. When I ‘get’ a joke, comprehension and feeling are locked together. Merely understanding it is quite a different thing. When I am touched by Billy Eliot’s Dad’s change of heart, and his decision to risk his social position to support Billy’s dream to be a dancer, my appreciation does not just happen in my head; it happens in my chest and throat and eyes as well.

Abstract thinking never loses its roots in the bodily bedrock of sensing, acting and feeling.

JAPANESE ART

When I gaze at a picture in a gallery, I am not thinking much, but my whole being is reverberating with a deep kind of knowing. As Suzuki says, the experience is aesthetic precisely because it is not clearly explicated.

In these kinds of experience, our reactions are not considered. They well up from deep inside us. Sometimes they catch us by surprise, and often remain unexplicated. But are they rare moments of embodiment? Or are we always like that, but just not noticing it? David McNeill, a venerable psycholinguist at the University of Chicago, suggests that all our actions, utterances and thoughts well up inside us, starting from a deeply visceral seed of meaning or intention. Like a bubble released from the bottom of a pond, or a baby gestating in the womb, the intention gradually grows in size and complexity till it breaks the surface, so to speak, as a well-formed action or thought. Or, most commonly as some combination of thought, action and feeling. We gesture as we speak because gesture and utterance started from the same seed, but took different branches along the way, and carry different facets of the original intention. Our default way of knowing is simultaneously linguistic, affective and enactive. It takes effort and sophistication to decouple them, and to imagine ourselves to be, whether ideally or in fact, calm, rational beings.

So perhaps it is all welling up –but we don’t notice it. The process of welling can be too fast to catch, so it looks like the thought has sprung fully-formed into our minds – indeed, was actually produced by our minds. And maybe we have become neglectful: we simply fail to notice the less-clear precursors of our thoughts and deeds. Instead of sensing the real origin in the dark recesses of the body, we invent a more proximal cause called ‘Will’ or ‘Volition’ or simply ‘I’.

Our default way of knowing is simultaneously linguistic, affective and enactive. It takes effort and sophistication to decouple them, and to imagine ourselves to be, whether ideally or in fact, calm, rational beings.

Perhaps that is what people see and feel in a Glimpse: they feel that reintegration and un-pent-up-ness. They feel the fertilised egg of thought embedded in the immune system and the digestive system and in smooth and striate muscle. Maybe what Julian of Norwich really said was “All shall well, and all shall well, and all manner of thing shall just well up”.  Perhaps the very idea of well-being is inherent in those Glimpses. (Though playing with the multiple meanings of the word Well reminds me unfortunately of a Peter Cook sketch in which he explained that his wife was not a well woman…she hated being lowered down the well every morning.)

If embodied cognition is right, we are capable of badly misconstruing ourselves. We commonly see ourselves in a distorting mirror that minimises the importance of our bodies, and the ecological connections that extend therefrom, and exaggerates the importance of the bubbles of conscious thought. A lot of trouble and anxiety is created by that distorted image. Mere inconveniences get blown up into matters of life-and-death, for example.  But that false reflection does not affect the actual workings of the Body-Brain-World System that I actually am. I always carry on being as ecologically connected, and unconsciously influenced, as I always was.

EINSTEIN

And occasionally, if I am lucky, I get a Glimpse of biological Buddha Nature, or the Godhead. I see behind the mirror – and, for a few minutes, all the habitual weightings in my neural networks get re-set. In this new light, I find that much of what I had been treating as disastrous turns out to be humorous. The lonely bubble is instantly transmuted into a reverberating network of connections. And a vast, conscripted army of neural censors and sentries – the massive, continual deployment of frontal-lobe inhibition that I had thought necessary, to keep me out of trouble – is suddenly redundant. Those neural sentries strip off their uniforms and start to party! No wonder the world look brighter, and the interoceptive system suddenly pumps up the volume. Of course the world looks luminous and the body blazes with warmth and energy. Where else is all that pent-up neural activation going to go?

Now it’s time to stop welling, and pipe down- and let someone else have a chance to well more exuberantly.

Thank you.

Comments

  • MatthewMezey

    Like Jonathan, I really enjoyed Guy’s lecture at
    the RSA. His descriptions of ‘Glimpses’ really resonated with one experience I
    had when I was a teenager. I first spotted Guy’s work with his 1986
    book ‘Beyond Therapy – the Impact of Eastern Religions on Psychological Theory
    and Practice’ – it’s great to finally see him in person.

    There was a discussion (with dozens of
    comments) on the Fellow’s RSA Linkedin group about the lecture: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=3391&type=member&item=5811813034301095936&qid=b99a0ea5-fea0-48da-a743-0fc1aaa453c8&trk=groups_items_see_more-0-b-ttl – do take a look if you’re interested to see a bit about what RSA Fellows are thinking, or are up to, in relation to ‘spirituality’.

    Here’s my (overlong) report on the event, that launched the
    discussion:

    Did you
    come along to Tuesday’s fascinating and wide-ranging RSA lecture by Guy
    Claxton? If you did, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    It was such an interesting event that Indra Adnan – who ran a pioneering series
    entitled ‘The ‘S’ word’ at the ICA years ago [spirituality then felt to be
    undiscussable in liberal circles!] – is thinking of organising some discussion
    salons for Fellows, to accompany this series of RSA spirituality events. (Let
    me know if you’d be interested in attending, if these go ahead).

    The lecture was titled ‘On Being Touched and Moved: why spirituality is really
    about the body’ – http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2013/On-Being-Touched-and-Moved

    Guy warned us at the outset: ‘If you’ve come looking for enlightenment, this is
    going to be another disappointing experience for you!’ – after hearing that
    some had wanted something somehow more ‘transformative’ from the first in the
    series of 6 events that Jonathan Rowson (Director of the RSA’s Social Brain
    Centre) is running. Here’s his blog post about the event: http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2013/socialbrain/touched-moved-preview/.
    Tuesday’s event was the second in the series.

    BRIEF ‘GLIMPSES’ OF SPIRITUAL REALITY

    In Guy’s view spirituality originates in short-lived felt experiences – elusive
    ‘Glimpses’, which have be called many things. Maslow famously called them ‘Peak
    experiences’.

    Spiritual practice seeks to stabilise these Glimpses – to make them ‘home
    ground, rather than holiday accommodation’, he explained. Religions are sets of
    practices often taught by someone who seems to have achieved that
    stabilisation.

    He suggested that up to 50 or 60% of people admit to such glimpses but mostly
    don’t feel safe about sharing them with others. He shared some of the examples
    of spiritual experiences gathered by the Alister Hardy Research Centre (I have
    belatedly remembered that I think I sent them my own such ‘Glimpse’, decades
    ago, when I used to receive their newsletter. I’ve been in a ‘Dark Night of the
    Soul’ since that temporary experience, I suppose…;-) ).

    The glimpses feel like concrete reality unmasked, he said – but are
    frustratingly hard to explain in words. David Steindl-Rast talks about it
    feeling like a shift from ‘longing to belonging’, a feeling of greater trust
    and less worry – that feels like a reconnection to our birthright.

    EMBODIED SPIRITUALITY

    He then talked more about the role of the body, and how the role of the
    ‘bubbles of conscious thought’ have been exaggerated, instead the body has the
    central role (along Jonathan Haidt lines, perhaps). In reality we are
    ecologically connected, and unconsciously influenced – reality is made up of
    systems, waves, Bohmian implicate orders etc…

    A Glimpse is ‘seen and felt, not construed or imagined. It is embodied’, he
    said.

    Though attempting to keep scientific and objective, he was persuaded to mention
    some of the Teachers he had followed (eg the controversial Osho/Bhagwan Shree
    Rajneesh, Ram Dass, Martine and Stephen Batchelor) even admitting that he was
    once accused of being ‘a spiritual autograph-hound’! ;-)

    My own brief glimpse did seem to reveal that true reality is really one of the
    deepest empathy and pro-sociality – yet, as Guy explained, very temporary!

    So like Matthew Taylor’s ‘Social Aspiration gap’, few seem to have cracked the
    challenge of turning temporary states into enduring realities (and some of the
    teachers who do achieve this, seem to become worryingly otherwordly, to the
    point of self-neglect. I think Ramana Maharshi might’ve been one example of
    this).

    Though I can’t precisely put my finger on why, I personally
    - at the end of the day – think this ‘spiritual’ growth might be crucial to the
    full realisation of RSA agendas. Prof Kegan at his lecture at the RSA in May – http://www.thersa.org/events/video/vision-videos/robert-kegan
    - explained how even the (pre-spiritual?) growth of the capacity in more people
    for the ‘Self-transforming’ mind would have a huge positive impact on
    humanity’s ability to cope well with the world’s ‘Wicked’ issues (issues that
    the more common independent and ‘arrogant’ mindsets don’t work well with).

    In case this sounds too woolly, these understandings were used by Mike Pitt,
    the CEO of Kent County Council – who received a Knighthood for the
    transformation he wrought there. I wrote a short case study about Kent in ‘Anti
    Hero – the Hidden Revolution in Leadership & Change’ http://osca.co/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Anti-Hero-October-2013.pdf
    (see page 70/71).

    Presumably growth towards the stabilisation of more ‘spiritual’ modes would
    have even deeper positive effects on the individuals themselves, and their
    contributions to society. (Researchers including Susanne Cook-Greuter have
    found that the emerging, later stages of adult development become increasingly
    ‘spiritual’ in their characteristics).

    A PRACTICE TO GIVE YOU A GLIMPSE?

    Interestingly, it is possible to get a sneak preview/glimpse of the kind of
    experience that a veteran Zen meditator might have after decades – by using
    Genpo Dennis Merzel Roshi’s ‘Big Mind’ process: http://bigmind.org/. I suspect the RSA isn’t quite experimental
    enough to offer that kind of experiential process to an audience as yet – and
    the more cerebral of us might struggle to let go of our stream of cognitive
    associations for long enough to play at this exercise (which is drawn from a
    merger of Jungian voice work/Gestalt/Zen). I was first showed the ‘Big Mind’
    practice by a friend – in the space of a couple of minutes, in a Thai
    restaurant! (It largely worked – a definite glimpse).

    Interestingly, there was – briefly – a regular Mindfulness session for staff
    here are the RSA, but it stopped when the temporary staff member who ran it
    left. As I mentioned here recently, I’m wondering whether it needs to be
    re-started, but have more than enough more pressing tasks to get on with, so
    haven’t quite grappled with it…

    SPIRITUALITY IN PRACTICE: TRANSFORMING THE WORKPLACE

    A topic I hope gets mentioned at some point in the RSA series is how
    spirituality might play out in the real world of the workplace (perhaps the
    last place we tend to look for ‘spirituality’?).

    Lynne Sedgemore CBE FRSA might be a great speaker on this topic – as her
    ‘spiritual’ (as well as Kegan/Torbert-inspired) worldview enabled her to create
    a passionate, innovative and collaborative workplace. Her Centre for Excellence
    in Leadership (training org for FE sector) was the second UK winner of the
    ’Spirituality in the Workplace’ award, after the Body Shop.

    I think hearing from Lynne would take us way beyond ‘spirituality’ as some kind
    of New Age woo-woo, and beyond spirituality interpreted by (reductionistic?)
    science, towards spirituality as a real-world activity. Interesting!

    Even if we all find plenty to disagree with, in that approach… ;-)

    I wrote a short case study about Lynne as a post-heroic leader in the AntiHero
    report: http://osca.co/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Anti-Hero-October-2013.pdf
    (see page: 98-100).

    Here’s a paper about Lynne’s organisation: ‘Maximizing the Triple Bottom Line
    & Spiritual Leadership: The CEL Story’ -
    iispiritualleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/SLTCELLAOM1.pdf‎

    Any thoughts? How might ‘spirituality’ usefully relate to RSA agendas?

    Matthew Mezey

    (RSA Online Community Manager)

  • drokhole

    This was an absolutely phenomenal lecture! Really admire and appreciate how you are handling this series, and that you are doing it in the first place. If I may be so bold to recommend a fantastic speaker fit for this cause, it would be David Bentley Hart. His book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss is, quite simply, one of the best and most comprehensive philosophical (and phenomenological) books on God/spirituality/whatever that I’ve read in quite some time. Hell, it’s a great book on philosophy and consciousness/mind in general. The subtitle – “Being, Consciousness, Bliss” – is actually derived from qualities of God delineated in Vedic/Hindu philosophy with the Sanskrit terms sat (Being), chit (Consciousness), ananda (Bliss).

    It’s a great book for anyone on either “side” of the debate. He addresses both naturalistic and theistic arguments…including commonalities in the conception/felt experience of “God” across theistic traditions and the problems and failure of modern fundamentalism and zealotry. Can’t recommend it, or him, enough.

    • jonathanrowson

      Many thanks, and I have ordered the book.
      Jonathan.

      • drokhole

        Excellent! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks again for all your dedication and efforts!

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