Shirley Klippel: The Inner Teacher & the Numinous Nondual Experience
This article [based on the author’s dissertation] is about the process of having a numinous experience. Complex issues as to the role of sensuousness; the role of gender; and why Eastern-oriented compared to Western-oriented experiences are so different are also discussed. While Eastern experiencers report a oneness experience, Westerners report a sense of twoness and the phenomena of inner dialogue.
Focusing on the under-reported Westerners’ experience, the study introduces us to Celtic consciousness by describing William Sharp’s experience and his relationship with his inner teacher, Fiona Macleod, which is a compelling example of the strong Western tradition of nondual consciousness in which Western men report female inner teachers. When compared to the more disciplined Eastern approach just the opposite occurs—no inner teacher, no dialogue and no self!
An experiencer of the numinous encounter herself, the author agrees with theorists Michael Washburn and Lionel Corbett that the numinous is best viewed as a healthy and evolutionary growth experience.
The article also invites further research on three major concerns: 1) Do all experiencers go to the same place? 2) Is our physic structure one of a dialectic triggering us to automatically seek what is missing and 3) What role do our senses and our gender play in this nondual/numinous encounter?
The term nondual experience as of this writing seems to be the cutting edge word to describe what we experience when we let go of our ego consciousness and engage the other more neglected aspects of us. The term I am more familiar with is numinous as coined by Rudolf Otto and used by C. G. Jung and other religious studies scholars. As a Celtic studies student I also use the term seduction to describe this initiatory experience into the immortal realm. I will define and connect these terms shortly.
In the winter of 1983 I had a nondual spontaneous experience that I described as a cosmic orgasm. It was a massive infusion of energy that would take three years to integrate with my existing self. While I had studied world religions and philosophies, I had no spiritual practice and was completely unprepared for my encounter with what I am now calling my soul consciousness or inner teacher. However, I did have what Sigmund Freud and the “French Freud,” Jacques Lacan tells us is important: a desire for the adventure into the unknown other.
The purpose of this article is to open up a dialogue or, I should say, to join an ongoing discussion within the psychological community about the nature and impact of this nondual experience. Although I worked alone in trying to understand what had happened to me, I did encounter pioneers like Stan Grof, Larry Dossey and Rachel Naomi Remen and in fact produced a series of national conferences on the topic of consciousness and addictions in the 1980’s. However, it was in the 1990’s my search for answers took an academic turn and I enrolled in a doctoral program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. My dissertation is dedicated to finding answers to what this numinous experience means for me and to identify others throughout history that had similar experiences. What I found, as others are claiming, is that there are different types of experiences, with some people experiencing a oneness experience and others reporting a sense of twoness. In addition, the people experiencing twoness report what I called divine dialogues or inner teachers whereas the oneness experiencers report a loss of self or no self. These types of experiences may or may not equate to experiences of the Eastern oriented compared to the Western oriented tradition. And yes, as I report, believe it or not, the West actually does have a tradition—a tradition of inner teachers going back to pre-Socrates philosophers like Parmenides and Empedocles.
I now give a brief overview of my dissertation identifying the trends I discovered, the issues I identified and resolved; but more importantly, issues I identified but was unable to resolve. In this article I look at the differences between Eastern and Western experiencers, the important role of the female inner teacher and the expansion of my answer to Freud’s question, “What’s in it for me?”
The title is: Celtic Siren: A Case Study of William Sharp’s Seduction Experience In Which The Numinous Other Is Understood And Interpreted. The focus is primarily on one man’s numinous experience, William Sharp, but it soon evolved into not just his story, but the story of the history of the numinous experience itself, at least from the Western world as well as the story of Celtic consciousness. It is a triple biography! This biographical approach is the view from a chronological perspective or the length of it or from across time. The cross-cultural view is the main focus of this article –the nondual dialogues, or as I call them, the divine dialogues.
Before discussing the dialogues, I need to go over definitions as the terms have different meanings to many of the contributors to this discussion. As used in this study, the definition of numinous experience is that it is an experience of an intense energy exchange in which the ego self is transformed into what Jung termed the Self with the capital “S“. I should point out my definition and Jung’s definition is different. Jung took Otto’s term, the numinous, and equated it with archetypal experiences. For Jung archetypes present the same luminosity as described by Otto and as with Otto’s formulation, the archetype can present both positive and negative sides. Consequently, Jung’s definition is much broader than mine and includes dreams, visions and déjà vu experiences. In this article to avoid confusion, I will use, as I did in the dissertation, my definition of numinous.
In his book The Religious Function of the Psyche Lionel Corbett gives the following definition of the numinous from a psychological perspective:
“The numinous experience arises from an autonomous level of the psyche and is either the source of, or the medium for, the transmission of religious experience, empirically, we cannot say which.”
He goes on to give examples by what he means by a numinous experience:
- A dream
- Walking vision
- Experience in the body
- Within a relationship
- In nature
- A synchronistic event
On the other hand, Michael Washburn comes from a philosophical point of view, and basing his definition on Jung’s ideas, he goes beyond them to include the immortal realm. This is Washburn’s definition as defined in his book, Ego and The Dynamic Ground. In order to understand Washburn’s definition of the numinous, we must first understand what he means by the term Dynamic Ground:
The power of the ground . . .is a fundamental reality of the soul. It is true that owing to original repression, the power of the ground is rarely evident within consciousness. Although usually repressed and unconscious, the power of the ground is something that can impinge upon consciousness in many ways. As psychic energy, it amplifies experience across all dimensions, and as spirit, it affects dramatic transformations of the ego and of the subjective life.
For Washburn luminosity is intermixed with sensuousness. His view of the relationship between spirit and soul is dialectic and Dynamic Ground is the fuel that makes the exchange between the two occur. For Washburn the numinous experience relates and is intermixed with all three stages of human growth, so is evolutionary in nature. His definition is:
Mystical illumination is an experience of inconceivable enormity . . .the ground releases a prodigous outpouring of spirit. The aperture of the soul is opened to its widest pore and spirit, in the fullness of its power and glory, graces the ego with the ultimate contemplations, is inherently of the nature of a gift.
I have more to say about the role of sensuousness and dialectics later in this paper. Echoing Washburn’s theory of spirit is personalized and the body is spiritualized, Corbett writes, the numinous experience results from the interaction of soul and spirit, and, if successful, allows more of the Self to embody as soul. Henry Corbin expresses the same dynamic “the body is spiritualized the spiritual is embodied.” I resonate to these theorists’ descriptions as they come closest to explaining what happened in my experience.
Nondual Experience Definition
Nondualism may be viewed as the understanding that dualism is illusory. Many traditions state that the true condition or nature of reality is nondualistic, and that dialectic dichotomies are misconceptions of reality. William James coined the term sciousness or consciousness without consciousness of self. However, it is a term the Eastern schools have used more than the West. For Buddhist the non-self or no self is the goal of their meditations – the practice of breaking through the separation and returning to the oneness.
The experience practitioners describe is not unlike the numinous experience as it includes a sense of energy where formlessness infuses into form and a direct experience of oneness is reported. A leading nondual teacher, Peter Fenner, describes a nondual experience as:
. . .it includes all phenomena and experiences, with nothing left out. If any experiences are excluded or resisted in any way, the state is, by definition, dualistic rather than nondual. This nondual quality inevitably embraces paradox—that is, the possibility that something can be both true and false, good and bad, present and absent. Contrary to the experience of conditioned mind, unconditioned awareness allows us to remain peaceful and undisturbed in the midst of paradox and ambiguity. Our usual preferences for order, structure, categories, and concepts don’t exist when we rest in this nondual awareness.
These are all working definitions. William James was the first to claim the numinous experience is ineffable. However, to communicate we need to use the language we have available.
In addition to the primary case study of this nineteenth century Scottish mystic/writer, I discuss others; namely, Merlin and Viviane, Dante and Beatrice, Boethius and Lady Philosophy, Socrates and Diotima, Lord Krishna, Arjuna, Job and Yahweh and my own nondual dialogue and awakening of the soul’s consciousness. These divine dialogues are used as the mythological approach to understanding the numinous experience. I devote a chapter to the psychological approach utilizing Freud and Jung’s theories, and a philosophical approach with G. W. F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger and Paul Ricoeur. Finally, I look at the research done by religious studies scholars like W. T. Stace, Ninian Smart and F. C. Happold. In essence, Sharp’s experience of the numinous is analyzed from every discipline available to me. From the psychologists, I asked the question “what”, from philosophers the question “why” is answered and from human development theorists Michael Washburn and Lionel Corbett “how” is the focus.
A major part of this article is spent on unresolved issues and my thoughts about them; however, I first feel it is important to give the reader a sense of my own experience and why I was directed by my inner teacher to search out my own Celtic heritage for answers. A heritage I was unaware of when this endeavor began.
My own experience came by way of an inner dialogue. I was in a hospital setting and was in the process of being required to swallow some very unpleasant liquid. I remember reading Alice Walker’s Color Purple where she describes turning herself into a piece of wood when she was being abused. Taking a cue from Alice, I decided to turn myself into a chalice and allow my whole body to absorb this unwelcome substance. It not only worked to avoid immediate pain, the process led to a long encounter with the otherness within myself.
However, having no meditative practice, or knowledge of anything other than the traditional forms of Western medical practice and organized religion, what I experienced was beyond my scope of comprehending. The state I experienced was one of unconditional love, acceptance and a challenge or opportunity for growth. Existing belief systems disappeared, all fear dissolved and a dialogue with the unknown other began. I had a sense I was being called to serve, an image of the French Foreign Legion came to my awareness and I understood the mission was to be somewhat secret and somewhat dangerous. I silently asked questions and “heard” answers. I understood very few people had an experience as the one I was undergoing and when I questioned, the answer came back less than 1% of 1%. I was to play a role as a communicator and take the lost, misinterpreted sacred knowledge and convert it to today’s language and sensibilities. I sensed if I accepted this new life, my old life, as I knew it, would disappear. My sense of disorientation was answered by an image of the old king dying and the new king being greeted with the first traditional words, “God Save the King”. I understood being English, with no spiritual discipline, this was the best my mind could deliver – but I understood a death of part of me had occurred and had been replaced by something new and different.
The only disturbing aspect was that I projected a male voice onto the dialogue. I am thinking this was because my only reference point for anything like what I was experiencing was from my Catholic high school education and thoughts of St. Bernadette and the children of Fatima and remembering they thought they heard instructions from the celestial realm of God.
Following the spiritual path was easy as I just followed the energy. What I mean by “following the energy” is: I became inner directed vs. outer directed. Prior to the numinous/nondual experience, I had set goals based on external conventional cues, whereas subsequently I have based any life choices on what my inner teacher, or as Walt Whitman says, my friendly co-worker, signals me to do. A couple of examples of signals are: books falling off shelves indicating I need to read this and it is important to my path, including in the case of R. J. Stewart‘s book the words The Immortal Hour jumping off the page. Another example of being led was a small advertisement in a local paper for a thirty-hour spiritual retreat at Mt. Shasta literally stopped me in my tracks and I knew I had to be there. This was my introduction to Findhorn’s Game of Transformation and the five participants and two skilled facilitators helped me integrate this numinous experience into my life. From there I followed the trail to my Celtic heritage starting with Sharp’s Celtic renaissance in the nineteenth-century and working my way back to Ireland’s first poet, Amergian. At the time there were many books on American Indian spirituality but none on the Celtic counterpart. Even Pacifica Graduate Institute had no courses on Celtic mythology so I found myself embracing the Hindu cousins in particular in the words of Lord Krishna’s “I am” poems. I was able to piece together a Celtic worldview and identify a path of destiny similar to the one discussed in the Bhagavad-Gita, referred to from now on simply as Gita.
In terms of the religious scholars my experience falls into the category of nature mystics and because it is a twoness experience and includes the body and the senses, it is considered a lower level experience than those reported by the Eastern oriented schools having a oneness encounter. As I said earlier, I follow the energy and the energy was insisting on Sharp and the Celts.
Who is William Sharp/Fiona Macleod?
What is unique about Sharp is that he not only identified with an inner female teacher, he presented his teacher to the public, literally, to the world. For thirteen years Sharp wrote under the pseudonym of Fiona Macleod and his many books on Celtic myth were translated into several languages, the most popular being The Immortal Hour, an adaption of an Irish myth about Etain and Mider.
For Sharp, having an experience before Freud’s and Jung’s time, he believed what happened to him was a mystery. In an effort to communicate the Fiona mystery Sharp gives us a beautiful allegory.
All the formative and expressional as well as nearly all the visionary power is my friend’s [meaning Fiona]. In a sense only hers is the passive part, but it is the allegory of the match, the wind and the torch. Everything is in the torch in readiness, and as you know, there is nothing in the match itself. But there is a mysterious latency of fire between them [. . .] the little torch of silent igneous potency at the end of the match—and in what these symbolize, one adds spiritual affinity as a factor—and all at once the flame is born. The torch says all is due to the match. The match knows the flame is not hers. But beyond both is the wind the spiritual air. Out of the unseen world it fans the flame. In that mysterious air both the match and the flame hear strange voices
What is Celtic Consciousness?
My introduction to Celtic consciousness came by way of Sharp. From my own inner teacher I understood what Sharp had done to reclaim Celtic consciousness in his era through his writings under the pseudonym of Fiona Macleod, I was to do for my time through the available media of the twenty-first century. In order to understand Sharp’s numinous experience, it was necessary for me to understand the Celtic worldview in which he lived. To me Marie-Louise Sjoestedt best captures the Celtic worldview. Celtic consciousness is different from both the consciousness of the Greek and Roman counterparts of their day and from our own dualistic consciousness of our times. To quote Sjoestedt:
A discussion of the mythological world of the Celts encounters at once a peculiar difficulty, namely, that when seeking to approach it, you find that you are already within. We are accustomed to distinguish the supernatural from the natural. The barrier between the two domains is not, indeed, always impenetrable: the Homeric gods sometimes fight in the ranks of the human armies, and a hero may force the gates of Hades and visit. . . But the chasm is there nonetheless, and we are made aware of it by the feeling of wonder or horror aroused by this violation of the established order. The Celts knew nothing of this.
I imagine during the Celtic era that a significant percentage of people were experiencers of nondual consciousness, compared with less than 1% today. This is supported in my study by the evidence of the inner source for all their creative expressions.
French anthropologist, Lucien Levy-Bruhl coined the term participation mystique to describe the relationship between the indigenous people and nature. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur and others have referred to this same symbiotic bond as the first naiveté. I am not sure about all indigenous peoples but I did research the Celtic tribes of Britain around the time of Pythagoras and I found evidence based on their poetry, myths and art that tribes like the Iceni in East Anglia experienced nondual awareness.
Figure 1 Iceni Coin 1 A.D.
It is well documented and accepted that the Celts revered nature. What is less known is that according to Ammianus Marcellinus, they followed Pythagoras‘ teaching. More importantly, art critics Andre Malraux and Ruth and Vincent Megaw claim their intricate abstract designs on the sacred stones, on the backs of mirrors and on coins are inner directed.
In addition, the Celts embraced the feminine and held rituals to balance the opposite elemental forces. French philosopher George Dumézil’s research on the ancient balancing rituals supports this claim.
Figure 3 Castlestrange Sacred Stone
County Galway, Ireland
My point here is that although it is fragmentary, the West did have its own heritage of experiencers of nondual consciousness and as I proved in my dissertation,
Celtic consciousness equals nondual consciousness. If no other myth makes the case, the story of Etain and Mider clearly tells us Etain forgets who she is and thinks she is merely a mortal until Mider reminds her that she, like him, has an immortal element to her being.
For the title of my doctorate work I purposely chose the term seduction, as this reflects the Celtic teachings through the myths like the Scottish Thomas the Rhymer and the Elfin Queen, the Welsh Shepherd of Myddvai and the Faery Maiden and the Irish Ossian and Niamh. In each story the feminine “seduces” the male seeker and takes him to the immortal land of tir n’og. As Stephen James wisely points out “we do not go to faery, we become faery.” Here I am reminded of W. B. Yeat‘s poem of Ossian’s seduction experience. A few lines will help convey the sense of a mortal being swept off their feet.
And Niamh calling: Come away, come way.
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl around,
our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
our breast are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
our arms are waving, our lips are apart,
and if any gaze on our rushing band,
we come between him and his dead of his hand.
we come between him and his hope in his heart.
I turn now to the five key themes that presented themselves during the dissertation process. These themes are:
1. Divine Dialogues – East/West differences and One/Twoness?
2. The Inner Teacher: The Rise of the Repressed Feminine?
3. A Dialectical Universe: A Need to balance opposites
4. Dante’s Sin of Lussuria and the Issue of Sensuousness
5. Freud’s question, “What is in it for me?”
1. Divine Dialogues: East/West Differences and One/Twoness
The divine dialogues were a key part of my dissertation and a few words of explanation are necessary before going into a discussion about them. The suggestion to use this format came from my academic advisor; her reasoning was that Sharp was unknown and if I used someone like Dante’s stature my message would be more accessible to others. I knew very little about Dante or any of the other divine couples.
Imaginary vs. Inner Teacher Dialogues
Following Plato’s and later, Walter Landor‘s cue, imaginary dialogues were used. As an example of this is in Sharp’s biography, I created an imaginary dialogue between Dante Rossetti and Sharp in order to bring aliveness to the auspicious event. I bring this up because in the discussions of the divine dialogues it is sometimes difficult to discern which ones are a literary device and which are what I’ll call a report of the numinous encounter — and a dialogue with the otherness itself. As described by Mary Watkins in Waking Dreams, The same technique is used as an effective tool for healing personal and emotional traumas. Possibly this inner teacher dialogues could be viewed as an extension of this process and merely is a tool to heal us at the spiritual level.
Each of the five inner dialogues I research and discuss was unique and not all of them involve a numinous experience. The dialogues involving the more traditional sources from the Bible and the Gita were solely masculine energy involving imagery of battles, conflicts and rules. I am referring to Job and Yahweh and Arjuna and Lord Krishna respectively. Job did have a numinous experience whereas Arjuna did not. My reasoning is Job underwent a transformation but with Arjuna there was no “death” nor any reported change in his life.
Issues of Oneness and Twoness
The major difference I discovered was that the Western experiencers mostly had an experience of twoness, involving an inner dialogue. This dialogue was either with an archetype wise female type as represented by Boethius’s Lady Philosophy or a non-gender type like Walt Whitman whom he referred to as the soul. Whereas, the Eastern-oriented experiencers typically reported no dialogues but a sense of oneness with All That Is, to reference Alan Watts‘ words. Westerners like Bernadette Roberts and Franklin Merrill-Wolff who studied Buddhist practices are also included as Eastern-oriented practitioners. Their reports were consistent with other practitioners of Buddhist practice regarding the no-self and a merging with the oneness into a blissful state. As I referenced earlier in this article, the religious scholars seemed to have a bias in favor of the Eastern more disciplined documented practice and concluded this type of experience was superior to the Westerner’s spontaneous more sensual one.
Issue of Uniqueness
This was not a major theme in my study but it is one that warrants further research—especially a comparison of East/West experiencers. I actually started off my first page of my dissertation with a quote from the Delphi oracle “Know Thy Self.” For me the two dialogues that touched on this issue were Merlin’s and Krishna’s. Merlin‘s tradition is carried through the middle ages and the Knights of the Round Table hear Merlin’s dictum “to find your own path and that each path is different.” I found the identical teaching from the author of the Gita when he puts into the mouth of Lord Krishna, ”Do your own duty. It is better to do your own duty poorly than another’s well.” The message is clear, do not take your clue from external stimuli, but go within to find your own unique destiny. The messages were given 1,000 years apart but appear to be in agreement. As I have been discussing, however, other evidence suggests a less than uniform standard between East and West on this uniqueness issue.
From my observations I find the difference is in the process of transmission of the numinous experience from teacher to student. In the East, the model is external and male, whereas, in the West, the teacher is internal and female. This difference is discussed in more depth in the following segment. My point here is, in the East, a standard and proscribed method is advocated and followed by both master and disciple—in essence there is a road map. In terms of the goals all have the identical goal of passing through the four stages and achieving oneness or emptiness, to use more Buddhist language.
In the Western tradition the uniqueness for each one to find their own path and identify their own goals is adhered to. As outlined in the dialogues each seeker had a spontaneous experience—there was no guru, no map, no doctrine, and no expectations. In the Western model the transmission came as a package, the map, the enlightenment and the boon all came simultaneously. It was only then, the inner teacher through the transfer of energy, gives advice regarding an external guide, if indeed one is even necessary.
2. The Inner Teacher is Feminine
While the transmission of sacred teaching on the nondual experience in the East has a strong and well-documented heritage, the situation in the West is more fragmentary.
In fact, from the earliest times in Greek civilization, starting with Plato and Aristotle, an emphasis on the rational mind was valued more than the intuitive faculty. However, a recent book by philosopher Peter Kingsley reveals that as far back as Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who is credited as a teacher of the Celts and of the pre-Socrates disciples like Parmenides and Empedocles, men were reporting a female inner teacher. To quote Kingsley:
He (Parmenides) wrote it (the poem) in three parts. The first part describes his journey to the goddess who has no name. The second describes what she taught him about reality. Then the last part starts with the goddess saying, Now I’m going to deceive you; and she goes on to describe, in detail, the world we believe we live in.
We do not know if Socrates, Boethius and Dante were influenced by Parmenides’ poem of the goddess with no name but they all pick up the female inner teacher.
The major underlying theme throughout my dissertation was this concept of the inner teacher. Inspired by the most famous inner dialogue of western civilization, the one between Dante and his imaginary Beatrice, I found this same pattern of inner work repeated across Western cultures. To my knowledge this phenomenon does not happen with the Eastern experiencers.
These dialogues start about 2,500 years before Jung introduced his concept of the inner anima archetype within the man. As stated, it started with Parmenides and his goddess with no name and continues throughout the history of Western civilization until Sharp and his Fiona experience. The imagery is no longer confrontational, but one of encouragement and nurturing, which is best illustrated with Boethius and Lady Philosophy: “I shall quickly wipe the dark cloud of mortal things from our eyes.” This inner teacher goes on to inform her student:
whatever strays farthest from the divine mind is most entangled in the nets of Fate; conversely, the freer a thing is from Fate, the nearer it approaches to the center of all things. And if it adheres firmly to the divine mind, it is free from motion and overcomes the necessity of Fate.
We are told that Boethius book; The Consolation of Philosophy out sold the Bible from the years of 400 A.D. until the late Middle Ages. The figure of Lady Philosophy dominates this work, as she becomes the inner teacher to aid Boethius in his suffering and final execution. Even with the dualistic worldview, the inner teacher is alive and well in the writings of St. Augustine who believes his inner teacher is the inner Christ. Merlin’s inner teacher is Viviane in the French version and his sister Ganieda in the Scottish tradition. In both traditions Merlin has a sacred dialogue and determines his soul’s work is done and it is time to pass the specter to the female line. For most tellers of this legend, Merlin willingly and enthusiastically accepts his destiny and bows out from center stage. The imagery in this divine dialogue is very sensual and Viviane at times appears more human than immortal. This is the one Western case study that is comparable to the Eastern tales of the master Guru Rinpoche passing on the sacred teachings to his disciple, in this case, Yeshe Tsogyal, through a secret society using the tantric techniques.
As already stated Dante inspired the idea for these dialogues. Dante, in turn, was inspired by Boethius’ account and duly credits him. In Dante’s case being influenced by the heavy hand of the Catholic Church his imagery is less sensual and more virginal. In fact, both St. Bernard and Beatrice chastise him for not being spiritual enough.
Finally, the nineteenth century British poets pick up the scepter. This is where Sharp comes in and his inner teacher, Fiona Macleod as well as Canadian psychologist Maurice Burke, American poet Walt Whitman, A. E. Russell and W. B. Yeats adding contributions to the numinous dialogue of their day— the feminine element returns and the Celtic renaissance ensues for a while.
I am wondering why so many Western men report their inner teachers are female. Is it as Tarnas suggests, because of the repression of the feminine?
And this dramatic development is not just a compensation, not just a return of the repressed, as I believe this has all along been the underlying goal of Western minds to reunite with the ground of its own being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life and thus recover its connection with the whole . . .
This line of inquiry has raised more questions than are answered and calls for further research on this topic.
3. A Dialectical Universe – What it Means for the Nondual Experience
Dialectics has played a major role in both Eastern and Western philosophical histories. In the West, the basic idea could be traced to Heraclitus of Ephesus, who held that all is in constant change, as a result of inner strife and opposition. Aristotle credits Zeno of Elea, but it was Plato through his dialogues about Socrates that gave dialectics the prestige.
In the dissertation I use Hegel’s theory of synthesis of opposites and connect his ideas to the numinous experience by positioning the ego self and the divine aspect at opposing ends. The diagrams labeled Figure 6 and Figure 7 at the end of the article may help convey my point.
In the 19th century Marx and Engels expand on Hegel’s theory developing Dialectic materialism and providing us with the four basic principles involved in a dialectical universe. These principles are as follows:
1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time
2. Everything is made out of opposing forces/sides
3. Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one force overcomes the other.
4. Change moves in spirals (or helixes), not circles. Sometimes referred to as negation of negation.
This way of thinking is difficult for us Westerners embedded in a dualistic world-view. In this system, instead of rigid opposites, we have a much more fluid system. A system I have described earlier as the Celtic world-view. It is also the Hindu and Buddhist world-view. The history of the dialectic in the Eastern world is equally rich and complex going back to the 620 A.D. in which vicious debates of opposing philosophical sides resulted in cruel executions. The Hindu philosophical system is underlaid by a dialectical foundation in which the three elemental gods correspond to Hegel’s theory. For a Hindu, the creation god (Brahma) balanced the forces of order (Vishnu) and disorder (Shiva).
As I identified in the dissertation, the numinous experience is easier to understand within a nondualistic system like the Celts and the Hindu ones. These systems are inclusive of both the visible and the invisible realms and embrace all ways of accessing knowledge—both rational and intuitive/non-rational. In Alchemical Studies, Jung compares West and East, stating:
They [the Chinese] never strayed so far from the central psychic facts as to lose themselves in a one-sided over-development and overvaluation of a single psychic function. They never failed to acknowledge the paradoxicality and polarity of all life. The opposites always balanced one another—a sign of a high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism.
Many writers have said in our modern era that we are experiencing a suppression of the feminine elements in our culture. Jung’s point may explain why the Eastern cultures were able to remain more balanced than the West. If this were the case, would Westerners experience the loss of the feminine, whereas the East would bypass this step and experience a state of pure bliss?
The Chinese symbol of the Yin Yang reflects this focus on balance, as does its Celtic counterpart of the double spiral.
Figure 4 Yin-Yang Symbol
Figure 5 Newgrange, Ireland
The same message of balance is also conveyed in the “I am” poems. A brief example from Irish bard Amairgen is compared to the Gita text. Similar text exists in Rumi’s poetry from the Sufi tradition and the Thunder Perfect Mind poem from the Hebrew tradition.
I am Wind on the Sea
I am the fairest of flowers
I am Salmon in Pool
I am the wind
I am the moon
I am the dice player . . .
4. Dante’s Sin of Lussuria and the Issue of Sensuousness
Although this issue of sensuousness presented itself in all three major approaches–mythological, psychological and philosophical, I had concerns my committee would reject my inclusion of it as a key component of the numinous experience. The issue of sensuousness first appeared in Dante’s dialogue, then in the psychological approach with Jung, with Hegel and Washburn in the philosophical analysis.
A word needs to be said about my use of Washburn’s theory rather than the better-known theory offered by Ken Wilber. For me, it comes down to this issue of the senses. Washburn includes the sensuous component within his definition of the numinous experience, whereas Wilber does not. In fact if you put Wilber and sensuousness in a search engine, there are no matches.
Traditionally, in both the Eastern and Western approaches, the senses have been seen as a source of temptation and an obstacle to be overcome in one’s journey to enlightenment. Women have been associated with the body and because of the Bible story about Eve, more susceptible to temptation and consequently viewed also as an obstacle on the path to nirvana.
Of all the issues I identified, this issue of sensuousness came as a surprise. What was particularly surprising is that the West and the East were in agreement. If we take Hegel’s definition we use a broader definition than what most of us could accept. For Hegel, looking at the broadest scope possible, beingness itself has desire, sensuousness and desire for otherness.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante, the poet, puts in the mouth of Beatrice “Doth thy not know that man is happy here? She is implying that Dante, the pilgrim, could have reached her before but for his dalliance with distractions of the flesh. We never know for sure why Beatrice scolds Dante, but scholars have debated about the sin of Lussuria ever since and it has no sign of abating as of this writing.
What I found interesting as well is that when Dante is lost in the dark wood, he comes across three animals: a lion, leopard and a she-wolf. These same earthy foes are warned against also in the sacred Hindu texts. While I can understand prior to the numinous experience, one needs to focus on the intention at hand and to release oneself from all other distractions of every type, during and after the encounter with otherness, the body and the senses play a vital role. For Walt Whitman, the body and soul become friendly coworkers. For John Donohue, the soul is the friend as it states in his book Anam Cara. Henry Corbin gives a similar term in discussing the Sufi mystics’ experience of the numinous. It is, after all, these two elements that have the dialogue.
As outlined in the figures 6 and 7 at the end of the article, according to Hegel and Washburn there is desire on both the human and the spirit side to make contact. Just a line from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit should suffice here to make this point. “The beginning of spirit is nothing but its own being, and therefore relates itself only to its own determinations”. Hegel’s idea is elucidated by Jon Mills, “furthermore for Hegel . . .spirit is self-positing—the deity may only manifest through the act of will. I interpret that Hegel is saying the divine abyss, the unfathomable, had desire, just as the human has desire to know its own otherness. What is being said here supports Freud’s and Lacan’s position that nothing happens without desire. This was true in my case—I wanted a challenge, a change, something beyond the known culture.
According to David Abrams, in his book The Spell of the Sensuousness everything is imbued with sensuousness including spirit and must be part of any human or spiritual endeavor. I have made a case here for this position, bringing evidence to bear that this is the path, however undocumented, followed by the West.
As already mentioned, while the activity is strictly secret, the East does not only acknowledge, but maintains its most protected and private teachings for those qualified to experience the sensuousness—a prime example is the Bliss Queen herself, Yeshe Tsogyal.
5. Freud’s Question
Are both experiences important and valid? What is the impact of both? While both make positive contributions to pass on love and hope to humanity, the Western model seems to take to heart Bachelaire’s injunction for poets and mystics to take the rest of us on a sacred journey.
Over a hundred years ago Sigmund Freud asked the important question: What is in it for me? Or to rephrase—why should I, or anyone care about your subjective experience that only seems to impact you? Freud’s exact question is:
If the truth of religious doctrines is dependent on an inner experience, which bears witness to that truth, what is one to do about the many people who do not have this experience? One may require every man to use the gift of reason which he possesses, but one cannot erect, on the basis of a motive that exists for a very few, an obligation that shall apply to everyone. If one man has gained an unshakable conviction of the true reality of religious doctrines from a state of ecstasy which has deeply moved him, of what significance is that for others?
My answer when I wrote the study in 2005 is the same today. You should care because experiencers typically bring back, to use a Celtic term, a boon. The boon is a gift to be used for all of humanity. This gift is transformed into, to use a term from the Bible, fruits as in “by their fruits you will know them” I would go so far as to say if an experiencer does not bring back a boon and fails to use this gift for the betterment of all of us, no numinous encounter, at least as I have described it in this article, took place.
In my case, as with Sharp, I have accepted the path of destiny and will follow the energy wherever it leads me. The academic turn has led me to writing this article and to participating in the upcoming conference on nondual psychology in June. I look forward to these public dialogues.
Topics for Future Discussions
1. Do experiencers of the numinous or nondualistic encounter only a place of oneness or a sense of twoness? In other words do the people who report a no-self, for example, Bernadette Roberts, and the people who report a super-self or soul-self who they can “dialogue” with, for example Sharp, go to the same place or different levels or do they go to a difference place entirely?
2. Stace and other religious studies scholars claim the Eastern oriented experiencers who report a oneness experience who have achieved their espoused goal of overcoming temptation of the senses obtain a more mystical /higher level experience than the Western nature mystic types and those individuals who report spontaneous numinous breakthroughs like Sharp, Whitman, and myself. Is this a valid assessment? Could there be a male bias involved here?
3. Somewhat connected, but opening up a new line of inquiry, is the issue of the suppression of the feminine elemental principle. My question is this: Are we, as a being (part mortal, part immortal), designed to instinctively seek a balance between opposites? My point is that for us, living in a male dominated worldview of the 21st century, going into a nondual state, we find ourselves confronted with what is missing; namely, the feminine element, Is this then, only happening to Westerners and not to the Eastern-oriented experiencers? If so, is a similar, if different, balancing dynamic part of their experience?
4. Taking this line of thinking to the next step. My final, and for me the most disturbing question concerns feminist theory and the major issue I encountered with the chapter on the dialogue between Socrates/Plato and Diotoma—where is the feminine voice? Are women so dominated by the masculine worldview and the male gods that we cannot remember who we are and even with the powerful numinous experience are unable to process it except through, to quote Jacques Lacan‘s term the language of the father. If you recall, it was Lacan who said: “La femme n’ exist pas.” Woman does not exist!
At the beginning of this paper, I asserted that what was being undertaken here was a triple biography—Sharp’s, the numinous experience itself and Celtic consciousness. For me, each of these subjects has a common difficulty—that of being systematically suppressed by the dominant culture. Their stories are interrelated and interwoven just like the design of a Celtic knot.
In this article I have merely scratched the surface and introduced you to what maybe some of you intuitively know, that beneath our every day commercial reality lies an elemental foundational power and this power is accessible and a delight to a few, a source of discomfort for some, and is eschewed by most.
Celtic cultures were crushed by their Roman conquerors and occupiers and have been banished from world center stage and considered the barbarians of Europe throughout history and remain so to this day.
Sharp and his colleagues opened the door for us to Celtic Consciousness and Jung and his wife Emma took the next step and united Celtic consciousness with the numinous experience. Many times throughout history the suppression component of who we are has appeared, only to be put down and forced back into the shadows of society, not unlike what happened to the Celtic gods surrendering to the Sons of Mil and retreating to the Sidhe.
We are now at the threshold of another opportunity to reclaim this lost heritage. It is time to bring the balancing rituals back. It is time to take responsibility and play our part in the Grand Design. The characters in my divine dialogues did their part but are silent now. I hear the music and Niamh is calling to come away, come away—it is our turn to dance with Dionysos, to drink with Queen Medb and to drive the chariot into battle with Lord Krishna.
Shirley Klippel, Ph.D. A spontaneous nondual awakening in 1983 started Shirley’s journey — one that reconnected her to her Celtic heritage. She co-founded Brookridge Institute, offering conferences in Consciousness and Addictions, obtained a Ph.D. in psychological and mythological studies, and is now involved in dual careers producing documentary films and facilitating the Game of Transformation.
Shirley’s research indicates that the ancient Celts were experiencers of nondual consciousness and her goal is to communicate this discovery. British born, she has lived in San Francisco Bay Area for many years where she maintains her “day” job as Human Resources Director for a TV station.
*This article used by authors permission and from Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology, Vol. 2: Spring 2010.