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Silent Listening in the New Dawn

A talk given by Sylvia Swain at the Autumn School at 47 Lillian Road, London on 27th November 1999

Phiroz Mehta was a man for an epoch, not just for our time, a farsighted man, whose vision extended far back into history and far forward into the future; that was the secret of his wisdom. To him the pure flame of religion, like the Ariadne thread, was never lost to his sight. One cannot be truly wise without taking into account the whole picture although, of course, every new exposition has to be appropriate to meet the need of the day, which includes the readiness of that time to absorb and adjust to the new psychological demands of the extended dimension of consciousness being put before it. Certainly not any new gimmick to attract restless minds which are only a symptom of the sickness. Religious development is not to be likened to intellectual advancement, a process of adding knowledge to knowledge, an accumulation, but on the contrary, it is the reverse. In this context Phiroz Mehta wrote, “Today’s human problem is less a problem of doing and much more a problem of being, less of activity and more of rest, less of the sound and fury of achievement and expansion and much more of silence”.

History tells us that many previous religious inheritances have gone rather sadly wrong. Without the guiding presence of the original teacher, followers organizing the teaching have been tempted to neglect the practice and only pass on the vision of truth and transformation through admonition, ritual, and the preaching of dogma. In the all-too-rapid change from listening student to organizing teacher, the vital element of their own transformation process can be missed, leaving a gap for corruption to creep in unnoticed. The transformation of the heart has to be worked on individually; mass conversions can lead to mass mindedness; individual factors left unexamined are fed by mass emotions and, through the loss of personal example, the history of even the world’s finest organized religions has become one of disagreements, rivalry, bloodshed and disillusion.

Through the integrity of the true heart of religion, truth survives, and every few hundred years, humanity is given another chance. In this war-torn century there have yet been distinct signs of a possible new direction for such as can listen within the din. We cannot silence the din of the world, but if we silence our inner din, we will be able to hear the voice of the new. There are peace and reconciliation movements, conservation activities, and many other signs of accommodation and rapprochement between opposing factions. However, all these outward activities are still under the aegis of outward organisations and very vulnerable to exploitation. Something more is needed to support such very sincere and well-meaning efforts. This is where only the new direction of the New Dawn can guide and support the goodwill which is surely here.

The problem with all attempts to organize new ideas is that, as we know, they inevitably end in confrontation because of the ‘self-other’ dichotomy of the psychic structure. This is why, although all the founders of the great religions have taught peace and love, most of their followers have been unable to achieve the new structure which is necessary for them truly to overcome that inherited division.

The new healing way forward can never be found in yet another outward direction because the dichotomy lies in the mind, not in the world, and certainly not in outer space which, in the collective psyche has become the latest expansion of the ego, attempting to make the final rejection of, and escape from, the here and now of the traditional religious practice of acceptance.

Nothing whatever of the dark residues of our human sin and suffering we harbour within the heart and mind can be left behind by any space traveller, and certainly not by any spaced-out traveller, but must accompany him on his every outward journey.

All so-called ‘new’ destinations in the outward sense will be experienced through the same old mechanism of the ‘self-other’ projection of the psychic contents, which governed the uneasy frame of mind which was driven to seek change in the outer spatial directions, in the first place. One can only hope that such keen travellers will eventually be led to investigate the journey to the inner world which Jung said is the ‘final frontier for mankind’ and which will lead them to the exploration of the unconscious, or in the words of the Buddha, to that “Unborn and Unbecome without which there can be no escape from the born and the become”.

To be a student of a new consciousness carries a uniquely personal and particular responsibility but, contrary to what we may assume, that duty is not primarily to ourselves, or our own hearts, but to the universal religious heart we carry within; no longer to express our personal preferences or seek any personal worldly achievement but to serve the needs of the world according to the ways of the heart of religion. The priceless gift of that transcendent knowledge makes us its willing vessel. Since transcendence is selfless, to be an empty cup is the aim; transcendence will know just what to do with us.

Life may send us a form of suffering or of happiness; it is how we learn from either of these which is the designated work. When we have learnt something by means of acceptance, or when we ‘know it through union’ as Phiroz Mehta said, we then become a useful instrument for helping any one who seeks that knowledge or skill; but to proselytize too soon becomes interference; then the willing conscious vessel of transcendence turns into a vassal, unconscious again, as the fragile concentration is fragmented. The way is a gradual process needing great patience, firstly with ourselves. To be impatient with ourselves is a sure sign of ambition and a great disturber of the mind, which explains why the Buddha said that patience is the greatest austerity.

We listen and learn. In one of his talks, Phiroz Mehta told us: ‘Deep insight comes from deep experience’. All experience makes us look into our lives in new ways. There are the experiences which happen to us and there is the question of how we respond to them; how they are registered on the internal scales. This is something to be borne constantly in mind for fear we become content with listening just to ‘get the words right’, making do with repetition at the verbal level of knowledge. Many people say, and they believe it, “My life has been quite uneventful, I have not had deep experiences.” Deep experiences do not come only from outside events or great tragedies, there is also such a thing as experience of the deep. Sadly, it can be overlooked as such. Let us take for example the experience of listening to the talks, each occasion is an experience of great knowledge and depth of insight being shared with us. Do we just take it in intellectually, or do we, as he advised us, ‘feel’ it out? Jung used to say: ‘We want to be washed without getting wet.’ That is not possible. We can learn words of wisdom without getting wet but the purification process demands that we get totally immersed.

Phiroz Mehta’s admonitions to ‘feel’ things out amount to the same thing. What are the organs of feeling? The brain is the organ of thought and intellect but it is the heart and the senses which register the feelings. The brain has been likened to a computer, a static recorder and sorter of information; that is as may be, but it is the human heart which emotes, which aches, loves, suffers, and which gets everything moving, which is the actual driving force.

Our problem is not that we lack experience but that we tend to select which sensations and experiences we will remember and which ones are unacceptable to us, and so we stifle them, removing them from the light of consciousness. In our early life of defenceless immaturity, this could have been the only option for surviving the ‘unendurable’. In those early years the brain is highly sensitive to pleasure and pain but has no knowledge of how to deal with it, other than to do this.

With the development of more mature consciousness, some will continue to use the escape method, but others will become more mindful and begin to realise that even to listen to the greatest wisdom without silent participation does not make us wise, but is still shallow listening. The mind in its depths harbours the unacceptable rejected things. Phiroz Mehta in his gentle way would remind us: ‘We cannot put cleanliness into a room but if we take out the dirt the room is clean.’ So how to take out the impurities from the room of the psyche? Observing the moralities prevents more impurities from entering the room but if the dirt is overlooked it remains in the room. The great cleanser in the psyche is the light of consciousness, and the ‘broom’, the instrument of the cleansing process, to be used every day as we would use an ordinary broom, is mindfulness.

The ‘king pin’ of it all, Phiroz Mehta said, is mindfulness, which alerts the mind, not only to the realities of the outer life of the senses, but also to the inner worlds of feeling and the deep psyche as yet unconscious to us. Eventually, both inner and outer, the open and the hidden, shape our development and our destiny. At first, it is the voice of the world around us which we hear and from which we learn from our elders and teachers, and the degree of attention given to those voices determines our interaction with the life around us. Below the surface of this conscious life there are other voices and other values. These are the archetypal voices of the animal and spiritual instincts and powers, conscience and intuition. As time passes, we begin to recognise that the experience of them can bring challenges of an ethical nature, urging us to temptations or to questions we would rather not answer, to home truths we do not wish to hear. Sometimes our ears as well as our eyes are wide open, and at others they are tightly closed, but the watchman of the unconscious keeps these doors ajar so that the voice is heard.

When insight comes from deepest experience, it always carries the hallmark of truth for those who truly listen. The truth is immediately apparent because it does not have to meander through the usual channels of rational argument, admonition or persuasion and is clear to any who have drained the cup of their life to the bottom.

Consciousness sees, mindfulness looks, deep listening educates and can be the instigator of the transformation process. Silent listening is to listen to that inner voice which is the ‘teacher’s’ teacher, giving full attention to what is being disclosed. All judgement, preference, or superficial chatter set aside, we become ‘choicelessly aware’ which is the truly liberating perception.

The new holistic orientation for mankind can take place only from the basis of a growing number of people possessing profound insight into the nature of our human nature and knowledge of the power of psychological re-orientation. For this a great price has to be paid by those pioneering individuals who make the supreme sacrifice, but because renunciation is a constant resource within us all, this power of insight could increase, albeit slowly, because it is constellated consciously, rather than unconsciously precipitated.

This is a season of iconoclasm; so many old traditions are being questioned and re-examined that perhaps the truly new psychological orientation may have a chance of being widely understood and acted upon. In such a psychological climate, an old Chinese saying may be appropriate: ‘The right man sitting in his house and thinking the right thought will be heard 100 miles away’.

Our time has produced its share of individual points of light in the areas of darkness of greed, war and hatred which have so shamed this century. One example is Nelson Mandela who, through his deep personal struggles, created an opening for the new to come. To do such a thing requires a new kind of energy and to do it on such a scale, a great deal of such energy. He has now been given a political position but it was not political ambition which earned him the status he has today.

It was the energy which came from deep suffering being transformed into deep insight, yet it was suffering he would never have chosen.

Once inside that prison cell, to begin with, he was alone with only his own anger for company; the terrible treatment meted out to him was calculated to turn that anger inwards to self-destroying bitterness, as has happened in so very many similar cases. He entered prison a very angry man from a very unjust and divided culture. He, in prison, was isolated, except for his captors who were both angry and cruel. He had no hope other than what came from within himself, and, in the course of time, he began to realise this and slowly and painfully began the classic, if rare, process of transformation. First came the resolution, then the long endurance, assisted by dawning perception, and the withdrawal of the projection onto his guards of ‘inhuman monsters’ restored them to humanity. In such circumstances, the heart takes up the feel of the endeavour and as the psychic ambience begins to change, the prison cell is transformed into the monkish cell, or meditation hut. As the mind frees itself, it transforms its surroundings. Even in a prison we can, in the wisdom of the Tao (v 47):

Without going outside know the whole world,
Without looking through the window, see the ways of heaven.
Thus the sage knows without travelling;
Sees without looking;
Works without doing.

Since then, those who can turn their personal suffering into a wider view of the world’s suffering, under whatever name and however large or small their actions, are doing the real work of transformation. It is after all only through the transformation of individuals that a new consciousness can arise for the race as a whole.

This century has been shaped by our collective daydreams, when we would have done better to have studied individual night dreams and traditional myths and fairy tales, in which are enacted for our guidance all the recurring situations by which individuals, groups, families and nations have been guided through the ages and still are today. Heroic, family, political and religious characters with their various scenarios are all shaped and guided by those examples of human behaviour, the archetypes of the collective unconscious. We are fascinated by them although we do not always recognize them for what they are. As adults, we really need to know the wisdom of the ages even from simple fairy stories for they too are illustrative of psychological transformation. In our time we have been lucky enough to have witnessed such a story in real life, the story of Princess Diana, featuring the traditional characters and which we have all participated in one way or another. At her funeral the press just wanted a sentimental headline; what ensued was phenomenal. A phenomenon is a spontaneous occurrence which, because it is instigated by the unconscious situation, takes consciousness and calculation completely by surprise, since the aim of the unconscious is to establish wholeness whenever a society becomes too one-sided in any direction or area.

Once upon our time there was a kingdom in which the monarch was gracious and dutiful but had become distant, and the nation had become divided against itself, its calculating business standards calculating in a lack of feeling for the somewhat neglected other half, and those who could not compete in that environment drifted, or were thrust into, the background, or underground. Into this sad ethos along comes the fairy-tale Princess, providing the youth, innocence, beauty and kindness of all the traditional heroines. At this time of widespread family breakdown, she had experienced for herself, in real life, the traditional fairytale background of aristocratic birth, the painful loss of mother’s presence in childhood and then, when she marries the Prince, this being a 20th century myth, instead of living happily ever after in the realms of innocence, the Prince turns into a ‘frog’ and they are then each embarked, know it or not, on the difficult journey of transformation. It is then that she is all too soon, in spite of outward pomp, thrust psychologically, among the ashes of heartbreak and sorrow once more, which is where the fundamental transformation story always begins, in the ashes, which represent mourning and the nigredo of the alchemical process; she is on that way from which there is no turning back. We cannot transform, nor can we transcend, that which we have not experienced, which is why an easy happy-ever-after scenario cannot produce the philosopher’s stone, or the true gold. In the sense of character in the religious life, the gold has to be there in potential from the beginning, for it to be produced at the end. She brought to her ordeals her motherly heart of gold which sustained her through all her trials. As in the traditional story, she made friends with the small, the little animals and the humble people but, being a true Princess at heart, she had the ‘royal touch’, in sickness and in health, in a ball gown or in rags. The royal touch is possessed only by those who have developed it within. Pursuing her alchemical destiny, she broke out of the gilded cage of traditional royalty and restored the feminine feeling function, as she touched the untouchable, the leper, the sick, the dispossessed and the AIDS sufferer, restoring them to a society which had forgotten or rejected them, awakening that society in the process. She was a wounded healer, she spoke up for all who felt lonely and rejected, as she herself had done. In the week of her funeral, the unconscious provided the phenomenal expression, from the people, of the transformation she had wrought in her lifetime.

The topsy-turvy spontaneous nature of the happenings of her life and death, and the effect they had on the Royal Family, reflect the fact that they were not controlled by any protocol but were determined by the archetype of transformation. She became the People’s Princess who possessed the true royal touch. In herself, Diana was neither saint nor sinner but a fallible human being thrust into a situation unprepared, for which only her natural warmth and humility fitted her to meet the highest and the humblest, and to change hardened social attitudes into kinder ones.

After her death the transformation process has continued within the Royal family itself. A frog being amphibian is a symbol of that process of metamorphosis as it changes from one element to another. To spend a short time a frog means to become immersed in the watery element, which is needed when protocol becomes dry and dusty. The feeling element having been restored, the Prince was restored to his human form, an older and wiser man.

This is one of the keynotes for today, that each man shall individually search out the living heart of his own free will and in his own way… Let there be unceasing vigilant investigation of that which is… Let the true man go to the living heart.

Phiroz Mehta, The Heart of Religion, p. 8

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