Monday, January 25, 2016

Meditative Brainstorming

Meditative Brainstorming
Emanuel Swedenborg--visionary, mystic, and my personal role model--didn't just stumble onto his visions of heaven and hell. Those experiences are extraordinary accomplishments, and if anyone wants to achieve them, they need to spend a long time preparing for it. Swedenborg did this, though he wasn't aware he was doing it: from childhood, he would go into a meditative state to efficiently work on intellectual problems. Wilson Van Dusen describes this process in his book The Presence of Higher Worlds:
"Since childhood, Swedenborg had a personal practice that happens to be one of the ancient Hindu Yoga and Buddhist ways to enlightenment. He didn't know he was following an Eastern religious practice because the literature on this had not yet been translated, yet his method is not surprising in one who so much enjoyed intellectual analysis. He would relax, close his eyes, and focus in with total concentration on a problem. At the same time, his breathing would nearly stop. Awareness of the outer world and even bodily sensation would diminish and perhaps disappear. His whole existence would focus on the one issue he wanted to understand"
When I read this passage about a year ago, I thought it was amazing. I wanted to use this process myself, but I was hesitant because my past experiences with conscious "brainstorming" had always been lackluster. If I have any interesting ideas (and I like to think I do) they happen spontaneously and without warning; deliberately pursuing insights almost never worked. However, I eventually realized that my conscious daydreaming was inefficient because I was trying to think the way I thought people were supposed to think. I believed that intellectual thought could only happen in words, since that's what you read in novels or see in films. But the ideas I had spontaneously never came to me as words; instead, they came as pictures.I couldn't see that Swedenborg's brainstorming didn't happen in strings of words or sentences. He actually says this in his pre-spiritual-awakening book Rational Psychology:
"[If] we remove particular ideas, that is, withdraw the mind from terms and ideas that are broken, limited, and material, and at the same time, from desires and loves that are purely natural, then the human intellect, being at rest from heterogeneous throngs, as it were, and remaining only in its own ideas and those proper to the pure intellect, causes our mind to undergo no other changes, or to draw forth no other reasons save those that are concordant with the ideas of the pure intellect."
In the meditative practice that inspired this passage, Swedenborg would withdraw his thought from particular, broken ideas and focus it on deeper, more perfect and universal ones. To put it in other words, he wouldn't think in terms of x issue with y particular mining operation (Swedenborg administered the mines in Sweden before his spiritual awakening), but would ponder the deep, general principle underlying that issue. You can't put this into words. Using language from his spiritual works, we can say that "a word is just a mental image given visible form" and conclude that he thought entirely in images or pictures while meditating.
So when I realized this, I decided to finally try Swedenborg's "meditative brainstorming" to plan an RPG campaign I've been working on. I filled up a bath and turned off all the lights except for a few candles. Then I closed my eyes and began to think. I immediately noticed that I didn't need to exert myself at all while doing this; letting symbolic pictures relate to other symbolic pictures--all without any words involved--moved the process along effortlessly. I also noticed that I didn't have to come up with an exact mental image: even just the suggestion of one would work.
I then realized that the images were completely arbitrary, though they worked perfectly. They were just a "body" that the purpose behind a thought could use to show itself to me, a "form" to its "substance," a mirror to reflect its light. All our thoughts are likewise "bodies" for mental purposes, but I don't think we realize that we can express our thoughts to ourselves (and maybe even to each other) without going through all the effort of formalizing ideas into words and sentences. We can use pictures--or even just suggestions of pictures--instead.
Finally, this experiment has influenced the way I pray. In prayer, I now don't use words as often as I used to. Instead, I think using the slightest suggestion of my meaning, which suffices. From my experience, God can then respond through an influx of impressions akin to the way I offered the prayer. And answers come more easily that way: if we're to believe Swedenborg, language becomes less and less verbal the higher in heaven you go, so it would make sense that prayer is more effective the more you think without words.
If you haven't tried anything like this before, I encourage you to experiment with thought that doesn't use words. It's amazing, it's fast, and it's very fulfilling.

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