The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight

We do our Christian history in retrospect; like white people watching The Help, we write ourselves into history and assume that we’re the good guys & on the right side of history.

Our catechism process assumes we know the right things about Jesus.

We’ve sent others to the stake because they know the wrong things about Jesus.

We think that by claiming the title ‘Christ’ that we have recognized all that we need; this is a fatal assumption, blunting the very instrument we need.

Cynthia played a ‘dirty trick’ on their parish in Aspen by asking – “If the resurrection didn’t happen, would that change what you believe?” She elicited a strong reaction from her congregation – “What are you, a Unitarian or something?”

Even so, you can be a completely orthodox Christian and recognize that Jesus’ apprentices weren’t following him because they knew Jesus was resurrected, or the Son of God – all of the theological categories contemporary orthodox Christians cite for following Jesus. They knew/believed none of that yet! It hadn’t happened yet. And yet there was still a compulsion, still an attraction.

Modern spiritual teacher A.H. Almaas distinguishes between ordinary knowledge and direct knowledge. The former comes pre-packaged from outside, via formal education, cultural conditioning, et al. “Depression is anger.” “Pedophilia is incurable.” Etc… It’s an essential cultural shorthand; you must acquire a store of ordinary knowledge. But. It’s radically limited in that it comes from the outside. Direct knowledge comes to us in the moment, from a deeper place within ourselves. Intuition is a weakened form of this. Something you know & recognize because it’s been indelibly imprinted in your being all along.

Ordinary knowledge tends to override and disenfranchise direct knowledge. Loving Jesus and a sense of calling starts people on the path to ministry; seminary tends to separate people from this immediacy, this central integrity of your call.

What happens with all education, & spiritual education in particular, is a seduction of our birthright (direct knowledge) for a mess of pottage (ordinary knowledge).

We don’t yet have an anthropology of direct knowledge. Direct knowing is a heart capacity, not a head capacity. The path is faith, as opposed to 20/20 hindsight and perception by separation. Direct knowing is not infallible; it can and should be purified and matured. But if you override it, you’ve essentially destroyed a person. Direct knowing is a living umbilical cord connecting our being to God’s. Our certainty, integrity, authenticity, and marching orders flow to the heart, and are mediated through the heart. Purification of the heart is what classic Christian spiritual training is all about.

Direct knowing is accessible only by an alert knowing of the present moment.

To be continued…to see where Cynthia’s going with this, I recommend checking out her books The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and MindCentering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.

In this series:
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery 

20 Responses to The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight

  1. Mike L. December 2, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Michael, I really couldn’t disagree more with A.H. Almaas. I’m not disagreeing with the value of practices like meditation and other spiritual disciplines (I’m a fan as long as they are not mystified in a way that is used to manipulate). I’m talking about the mistake of dividing knowledge into 2 fabricated categories (ordinary knowledge and direct knowledge). Intuition is the same kind of knowledge as every other kind of knowledge. We take in data, then process a conclusion based on our experiences with similar data. In instances we’d label “intuition”, it’s simply that the data we’ve collected, which leads you to a conclusion, is not something blatantly accessible by others. A smell, a detection of body language, a pause between sentences, these are all data points that lead to a conclusion (an intuition).

    The biggest clue that this is baloney is the use of the “heart v. head” metaphor as literal “things”. We say “I feel it in my gut” or “it’s from my heart not my head”, but those are metaphors. It’s the same thing happening in both cases, and it all happens in our brains. What we really mean when we use the metaphors of gut or heart is that we are not able to remember or articulate how we acquired the data used to reach the conclusion. We don’t remember that she tilted her head or looked up an left when she said something, but we know in our “gut” that she was lying because our brain did capture the data points. Those intuitions are just as physically reducible as choosing which loaf of bread to buy because one physically felt softer than the other. The feeling that we “know”, is the same. Exaggerating that gap in understanding or mystifying the event as something non-physical (yep, dualism is rearing it’s ugly head again) is not so helpful. If anything, it’s misleading or even dishonest.

  2. zoecarnate December 2, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Hi Mike – good interactions! Would your beef with ‘ordinary knowledge’ and ‘direct knowledge’ dissipate were they re-termed ‘second-hand (or cultural) knowledge’ and ‘first-hand knowledge’? Probably not, eh, as postmodern epistemology insists that all knowledge is mediated…I get that critique but on a visceral level sometimes we ‘know that we know that we know’…

    And – as far as literalizing metaphors, you’re dead-on. I don’t know how much of the rest of this series that you’ve read, or if what I’m referring to is yet to come, but some of the latest research indicates that the brain isn’t the only game in town – that we actually do some thinking & feeling & remembering with other organs of our body, particularly our heart. See this discussion of the emerging field of neurobiology. So yes – Cynthia believes that these are more than metaphors, and that leading-edge science is bearing this thesis out.

    • Brittian December 2, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Thanks for saying those words in response mike. You beat me to them, and said them in a friendlier fashion. Well played

    • Mike L. December 2, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      I might be willing to soften my criticism if those terms were replaced. But you’d also need to lose the worst line in your post,

      “Something you know & recognize because it’s been indelibly imprinted in your being all along.”

      Really? “indelibly imprinted in your being” You’d need to unwrap that and hoist some hefty evidence to take that sentence seriously or even make it something meaningful. The upside is that if you could do it you’d win a Nobel prize or something 😉

      I’m very familiar with the research (neuroscience is a pet project and I just can’t read enough books on the subject). But the research doesn’t exactly present itself as you describe it. The more current theories are not really suggesting anything like the leap you are making or the conclusion you seem to draw from their research. The collection of the entire nervous system and the intertwined nature of our bodies and brains still does not create this “gap” for mysticism or dualistic supernatural “imprinting” that you are suggesting (I think that’s what you are suggesting). The role of the rest of our cells on our experience doesn’t make it less physical, but instead, even more physical and more likely reducible to cellular biology, rather than something “mystical” (unless we can use the word mystical as a synonym for “incomplete science”).

      Are you really heading toward Cartesian dualism with this?

      • Mike L. December 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

        Ok, I read the entire series over lunch. You know I am a friend and fan of your blog, but I think this series is difficult to swallow. I think you are really stretching claims about both Jesus and about modern neuroscience.

        When you say (in an earlier post in the series), “When Jesus looked out his own eyeballs, he saw a radically different world than we see when we look out of ours”, that’s completely unsupported speculation on your part. How would you know what Jesus saw through his own eyeballs? Come on, you can’t make those kinds of statements. That’s your own projection into his character. I’m a Jesus fan, but Jesus didn’t teach far from the tree of his tradition. It doesn’t appear that he was teaching something so radically different in content from his teachers and peers, but instead framing it for his current social and political setting. You seem to claim that Jesus was offering a different metaphysical philosophy than his peers. I don’t see anything that would suggest he did that (or any Gospel writer did in his name). Most of the words attributed to Jesus were either direct quotes of previous Jewish social philosophy or parables about those same ideals being played out in life.

        I’d also like to unpack how you used intuition as a weak form of direct knowledge. That’s where my criticism comes in. That use makes your word substitution suggestions (first-hand and second-hand) invalid. What makes intuition special(different) is not that the information is first hand. If you witnessed a robbery with your own eyes you would never call your conclusion about the robbery happening an “intuition” even though you witnessed it first hand. You’d just say that you saw it happen. What makes something an intuition is your inability to account for how you collected the data and drew the conclusion. That you “intuit” something means you are not certain of the source information that led to your conclusion. It has nothing at all to do with it first originating either first hand or second hand. For example, you could have read a book (clearly what you’d call indirect or ordinary knowledge) but you may forget you read it and use it later to “intuit” some answer without remembering where you got the data to draw the conclusion. I’d tentatively suggest that most “intuitions” are nothing but ordinary knowledge about things for which we forgot how we obtained the information needed to draw our conclusions. I guess that’s my rub with these “categories of knowledge”.

        To help me understand, can you give me an example of something that is “known by being imprinted in your being”?

  3. Tana December 2, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    This post made me cry tears of joy and tears of sad remembrance. Tears of joy when I thought how CB’s “tricky question” would no longer pose a problem for me and what that means/has meant since. Tears of sadness from your last paragraph – people want to know why I don’t attend church anymore. It’s complicated and multi-layered but at the heart of all the reasoning, it boils down to not trusting that my DK will be overridden again like it was when I started on my spiritual path.

    Thanks, Mike. Great post again.

    • zoecarnate December 2, 2011 at 11:39 am #

      I hear you, Tana. Rare are the congregations that encourage or nurture each participant’s direct knowing. I have a feeling that St Gregory’s in San Francisco does; I’ve heard that the Church of Conscious Harmony in Austin does. We want to visit North Raleigh Community Church locally next Sunday, as some of our friends at Trinity’s Place are also involved there.

    • zoecarnate December 2, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      Holy schnikies, Tana – I just realized: You’re in Seattle, aren’t you? Do you know Rachelle Mee-Chapman? Check her stuff out; she facilitates a women’s wisdom circle that might be right up your alley! How could I not have put 2 and 2 together before..?

      • Tana December 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

        I’m not in Seattle (unfortunately) but across the water in Kitsap County. I’ll still check Rachelle out though! Thanks for the connection.

  4. Seth December 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    The scripture “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil” comes to mind and now am looking at this from a whole new depth.
    I am interested Mike L. (and Mike M.) how this is understood in light of your contention of there being no separateness of mind and heart (that is if I am understanding you correctly) and also in light of non-dualism which points to dis-identifying with the projected self of the mind (old man) and identifying with the new/true self which is one with Christ within?

    • Mike L. December 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

      Seth, I don’t think it has anything to do with mind/body dualism. I read that wisdom literature as a father teaching his son to be careful not to leave his traditions. I read “your own understandings” as new ideas and “trusting in the Lord” as advice about holding fast to the traditions. It’s exactly what elders say all the time in every culture. The verse is followed by some specific examples about giving generously to your neighbors, avoiding violence, etc. Most of those passages give you a bunch of symbolic terms and poetic language, then give you the literal meaning near the end (usually about social structures and actions).

      Using a metaphor and then unpacking it can appear to create a kind of dualism. But symbolic language isn’t dualism. It’s two ways to reference the same thing (one thing). I think symbolic language is how we got to dualism. But a metaphor doesn’t create a different substance than the thing it points to.

      In the same way, a mystical experience has real physical expressions and real physical explanations. Mystics use beautiful symbolic language to describe their real experiences. That’s great! However, if we try to take the metaphor out be the explanation for the experience (the cause of it), rather than a pointer or descriptor for what the experience feels like, then we end up with a superstition. The most extreme versions of mysticism can become manipulative superstitious explanations. That trend of misuse shouldn’t taint the real experiences or our use of poetic descriptors.

      • Seth December 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

        Mike L. – I would like to say that this present learning about non-dualism vs dualism talk is somewhat new to me. However, in my own experience over time I have come to know this but just not with the same lingo. For instance, growing up going to church and viewing much of the christian life as being done or lived out once or twice a week at a building and in a service that created in me a dualistic mindset. And I started to see that it is prevalent in our culture. I then started to look at and take Christ as my life without any separation in regards to what activity I was involved with. This caused me to start experiencing Christ in a true and living way that just wasn’t event driven. (this is a very condensed version of my experience by the way).
        It was when I started to see that my life was more about Him than me and He was calling me to His purpose versus what was His purpose for me that I have embarked down an adventure with Him that is now leading me to know Him in deeper ways in community with others that I never knew was possible.
        Reading “Practicing His presence”, and “Letters to a modern mystic” along with this blog series and other writings I am starting to see and understand in a much more clearer way some things the Lord has been doing in my life all along, what He has been encouraging me with all along yet it seems so new and vast that I feel in order to know and experience my Lord more I am having to allow Him to expand my thoughts of Him and what I mean by that is start identifying with His life in me and not just have a relationship with my refined ideas about Him.
        So when I read what you responded on about Prov.3:5-6
        As I have progressed in this journey with the Lord I have had to trust Him with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. Perhaps He is leading me to understand the traditions so to speak of what was normative in the 1st century church in the ways of beholding and fellowshipping with the Lord, while letting go of the traditions that are “man-made” that have kept me from knowing Him more fully. How does that track with what you are saying. (I tried to be brief and to the point and trust you will understand where I am coming from, if anything isn’t clear please ask)

  5. Seth December 3, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Thank you Mike for your response. I am tracking with you on that.

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