Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Foreword by Stephen Batchelor
He begins by noting how the word meditation has changed in response to the influx of Asiatic religion into the West, and its countercultural appropriation thereof. It used to mean reflective thought but now it relates to a spiritual practice, usually sitting quietly still. Same for the word mindfulness. And yet the West had tended toward the secularization of this practice, divorcing it from its religious Buddhist underpinnings. Westerners are more interested in its practical results in terms of reduced stress, a more balanced personality, lower blood pressure and so on.
This has also led to Buddhists reconsidering some of their religious tenets, like reincarnation. Should it be considered a relic of its religious history? Should westerners include some of the ethical injunctions from its religious roots? And what of the scientific study of meditation? Thompson tries to bridge the gap between first-person accounts of spiritual experiences and how they manifest in 3rd person scientific studies. Each perspective can learn from and modify the other through 2nd person philosophical dialogue and collaboration.
I've hit a wall in reading this book. I'm realizing I'm just not that interested in most of the material. Up to now I've been forcing myself to summarize most of it as a memory aid, since once I finish the book I'll donate it to the library. But it's ok if I don't remember most of those sections in which I'm not really that interested. So going forward I'll only comment on sections of interest to me and skip summarizing or commenting on the rest.
I've bogged down in the book a bit as well. There are intermittent points of interest but it is not consistently engaging.
Thank the Gods I never even started!
Imagination is involved in both waking and dreaming. Recall earlier that the brain wave patterns of both waking and dreaming sleep are similar. Even more so with lucid dreaming, since one is conscious that they are dreaming. Conscious awareness thus seems to be the indicator of when one is 'awake' in both states. In the case of the waking state it is awareness of the normally unconscious stream of consciousness, as well at the meta-awareness that watches this. That's one reason meditative traditions further develop this awareness during sleep, to make one's self-perspective a conscious, observant participant. Hence this is why it is called 'awakening' in the enlightenment sense.
However imagination does not mean something devoid of realty but rather the way our embodiment interacts with objective reality. In dreaming, although we turn off our sensory connection with the outside world, we nonetheless maintain a dream ego that operates within a dream world outside that ego, such world based on our memory of the waking outside world. The image schema that connect us to the outside world through our sensori-motor apparatus are operative in our 'imagination' during dreaming sleep as well.
Still, awakening in the traditional sense is about this meta or pure awareness that sees the content of both the waking and dreaming state as illusory, not the real deal. But the traditions didn't have the advantage of the third-person neuroscience to realize that imagination is not illusory or completely made up but a natural part of how we connect with the real in both waking and dreaming. This also contextualizes the so-called awakened state from a metaphysical absolute to a more naturalistic expression of our biological heritage located below reflective awareness in our primal and nondual image schema.
Thompson also said something interesting on pp. 198 – 200 to highlight the last point. In a discussion with Allan Wallace the latter thinks that this meta-awareness is indeed awakening and superior to and above --i.e., more real than--ordinary wakefulness and non-lucid sleep. Thompson disagrees, at least when it comes to non-lucid dreaming. These other kinds of dreams are important for learning and memory consolidation and acquiring skills, as well as developing one's creative abilities. Lucidity might inhibit these activities. Like deep dreamless sleep is generally noted for allowing us to recuperate from the day's activities and intent focusing, to just go on idle so to speak. Lucidity during this might also interfere with that process.
Thompson asserts that these other non-lucid dreaming states are also authentic, real and useful, so lucidity should not be the measure of or solution for everything. I'd add this is also true of our ordinary waking state as well. Otherwise we end up identifying with this meta-awareness as the be all and end all of enlightenment with the resultant dualistic, hierarchical and metaphysical notions between the real and the apparent typical of such traditions, as well as of formal operational reasoning. I've noted elsewhere that the latter is also operational in the the former, since said traditions emerged around the time formop did so. As I've noted before, ironically it is he rational ego of formop that is the witness or this meta-awareness, and also given this capacity for a more objective third person perspective of ourselves it tends to fall into such dichotomous and metaphysical separation from our embodiment and the so-called relative plane into a heavenly, or at least completely abstract, plane. More on that in the next chapter.
It starts with a discussion of the different bodies according to Yoga: physical, energy, mental, subtle, causal. Thompson sees this not so much as actually different bodies in different planes of existence but as experiences of altered embodiment. The neural correlates of such different embodiments overlap with those of switching from first to third person perspective when we dream and imagine. E.g., in out-of-body experiences one still maintains a sense of a body from a centered perspective, which still orients via spatial image schema like up/down etc. This is even if we see our physical body from a third -person perspective, as if from above, since that perspective is still 'self'-centered with spatial orientation.
Such experience is grounded in seeing the self as subject or object. In OBEs the self is split between the two, since you identify with both but your self-location is seeing your physical body from a third-person perspective. This is confirmed with brain studies showing the tempoparietal junction being affected, which is responsible for these perspective shifts. This grounds such experience naturally in perspectival shifts instead of different bodies that can metaphysically separate from the physical. There is no evidence for the latter and plenty for the former.
It phenomenologically seems like the former, which often leads to ontological dualism within traditions devoid of such scientific study. This reinforces my prior contentions that when we develop formal abstract rationality we also develop the third-person perspective, which tends to be misinterpreted metaphysically both in the meditative traditions as well as even the scientific materialist perspectives with their own mind-body, subject-object splits. E.g., see Cook-Greuter's description of stages 3/4 and 4. She, like other developmentalists, use Piaget as a primary source up to this point, where there has been a lot of empirical research. (The post-convential stages go beyond Piaget, and that's where things get questionable, another story.)
Can we be conscious during deep sleep? It seems perhaps so, but it is a prereflective or reflexive sort of consciousness. When awakened from deep sleep sometimes we forget who are what we are, but we know that we are. This is a temporary loss of our reflective, autobiographical self that must be reconstituted by memory. But there is a certainly about our prereflective awareness in that moment. I'm reminded of the discussion of the aggregates in the fold thread, how they are impermanent and fleeting and must be continually reconstituted from moment to moment. But that would apply equally as well to this prereflective awareness, that it too is not some permanent, pristine or original face.
Yogacara and Vedanta schools posit that upon awakening one remembers the experience of this prereflective state. It's a state of consciousness without an object, whereas waking and dreaming have objects. It is an absence of objects but not of awareness. However it is interpreted as a pristine, original and metaphysical face due to its lack of taking fluctuating objects as its focus, the True Self or Witness, when in actuality it is simply our natural, embodied and prereflective awareness. Sure it seems like something metaphysical due to activating more primal brain areas and temporarily suspending the brain areas that give a sense of self in relation to space and time. But that is an apparent phenomenological sense devoid of the more third-person neurosciences that contextualize it more accurately.
“It seems possible, however, to extract the phenomenological core of the Advaita Vedanta conception of dreamless sleep from Vedanta metaphysics,” that such a state “is logically distinct from the Vedanta belief that the self is essentially pure consciousness” (245). Vedanta assumes that since a sense of ego is absent from this state that it must therefore be “transcendental—meaning not fundamentally embodied. It's open to us today, however, to think that the egoless consciousness in dreamless sleep is a fundamentally embodied consciousness, by which I mean a consciousness that contingent on the brain and other systems of the body,” thereby removing it from Vedanta's metaphysical frame (250).
I agree about that point in chapter 6, that this notion or goal of always being conscious of everything leads one astray into thinking that we can be conscious of everything. We cannot. As L&J are quite adamant, most of our cognitive capacities are unconscious and completely beyond conscious control or even awareness. Hence my oft repeated criticism of meditative traditions that we have the capacity to be entirely conscious of ourselves, let alone the entire reality of the universe. But if consciousness is the entire universe, you can see the metaphysical implication that Thompson refutes. Wilber also refutes it, calling the philosophy of consciousness or the subject. Derrida calls it the metaphysics of presence.
And yes, this preflective awareness during deep sleep might indeed interfere with our natural response to just plain sleeping without awareness to rejuvenate ourselves. Though I haven't yet seen Thompson discuss that like he did with non-lucid dreaming in chapter 6.
Also yes, in chapter seven Thompson did discuss how we can shift between first and third person perspectives in any experience or dream, often repeatedly.
From this version of Integral Spirituality:
"[The] myth of the given, which includes [....] the belief that the consciousness of an individual will deliver truth. This is why Habermas calls the myth of the given by the phrase 'the philosophy of consciousness' [....] So consciousness itself is deficient--whether personal or transpersonal, whether pure or not pure, essential or relative, high or low, big mind or small mind, vipassana, bare attention, centering prayer, contemplative awareness--none of them can see these other truths" [in other zones] (176).