The Tangible and Intangible
in Human Spiritual Unfoldment
Electricity, magnetism, radio waves, atomic energy – these phenomena always existed in the very nature of things, but until we discovered them and developed the technology to make use of them, we couldn’t take advantage of their wondrous powers. Within our bodies exist potentials of as great a magnitude which, if tapped and utilized, can transform our inner experience as completely as the mind-boggling way we have transformed our outer world through the technological advances of the last 100 years.
The great spiritual sages of the past were masters of this inner technology. They understood how to move beyond the narrow and limited ways we regard our body and our bodily experience, thereby creating a whole range of new possibilities for human action and fulfillment.
All the great spiritual and inner development traditions are in essential agreement as to the key elements in the formula whereby the body can become a vehicle for contacting the true nature of reality – “a vessel of the spirit” – and as to the various stages of unfoldment which lead to a deep inner transformation.
LOOSENING THE GRIP OF THE TANGIBLE
The first stage of this spiritual journey is the necessity to loosen the grip of the tangible on us – the extent to which our experience is tied to and limited by the spell of the ordinary world of people, places and things: the visible, graspable, and concrete. Loosening the Grip of the Tangible involves establishing a foundation of sufficient freedom and of key qualities and states necessary to begin actively exploring the other, more inner realms of experience.
In the World But Not Of It
Spiritual masters agree that attachment to things of the world and the overstimulation of the external senses constitute an irremediable barrier to deeper spiritual experience. The first necessity is to break free of the pull of the world. This freedom is called non-attachment or non-identification. The pull of the world is looking for everything and all satisfaction out there in the material, outer realm. It’s all too easy to get caught in the vicious cycle of external stimulation, temporary gratification, not being deeply satisfied, then craving more stimulation – thus making real contact with one’s inner nature impossible.
Potentials of Human Upright Structure
Working to fulfill the explicit and implicit potentials of our human, upright structure has been a major element in helping us break free of the pull of the world (see sidebar). The outside-and-above pole of self observation provides greater leverage over our impulses and actions so we aren’t just pulled headlong toward the world. By consciously directing our attention to surveying the vast spaces of our world, we can be more fully empowered by nature and the forces and energies around us, and therefore less drawn toward superficial stimulation. And this focus on space helps free us of the small and narrow world of our work and preoccupations, and helps coax our bodies into a greater uprightness, spaciousness and lightness, releasing us from having a dense and contracted experience of our bodies. From the perspective of affirming and celebrating this uprightness and great openness, we are enabled through body sensing to taste a deep inner contentment. Through these practices, and many others, we’ve become firmly anchored in ourselves and less vulnerable to the pull of the world.
Importance of Calm and Clarity
When you’re calm and still, there won’t be so much noise, and where there is quiet, there is an entrance point for God. That’s very important, and that’s why every tradition stresses laying time aside for meditation or contemplation. The subtle enters through the things in us that are like the subtle, one of them being quiet, one of them being calm, so it’s essential to cultivate those aspects and atmospheres. It’s becoming like a clear, still lake that can truly reflect reality and seems to welcome you into its depths.
Another necessity for deeper inner experience is wakefulness and clarity of consciousness, so we’re not fogged out and dull. Our inner senses need to be clear and crisp and poised to receive. It’s like having a very refined and sensitive receiving apparatus that can zero in on the exact right channel and sharply register whatever signals or sounds are there.
Smoothing Our Rhythm and Movement
Since so much of what we do in our lives is active and moving, in all the great spiritual traditions there is an emphasis on right conduct of life: integrity and mindfulness in one’s actions; some regularity and rhythm, such as prescribed times for activities like prayer or meditation; and often ritualized movements such as the namaz or Tai Chi – all done in a way to contact and sustain a deep inner presence.
Movement which is done gracefully and naturally removes the noise and static which make it harder to notice that which is deep inside ourselves, and that which is beyond and greater than ourselves. Conversely, awkward, staccato, or discontinuous movement or an erratic rhythm of living make it impossible to stay centered and in contact with that place of calm, and to contain energy rather than ‘rev’ it away.
Moving Beyond Our Ordinary Consciousness
If it were not for the night, we wouldn’t know that the myriad stars and galaxies were even there, because daylight obscures them from our sight. In the same way, if we want to know inner reality, we have to find a way to switch off our ordinary consciousness. And even though the absence of daylight reveals the stars, our ordinary senses tell us little about them. But with the assistance of very sensitive and powerful instruments capable of picking up waves and signals from the furthest reaches of space, we have come to know and understand incredible things about the nature of the universe. In a parallel way, all the great spiritual traditions have practices designed to gravitate and store sufficiently large amounts of high-quality energy to sustain for prolonged periods the concentration and deep contemplation necessary to move beyond the limitations of our ordinary consciousness and to contact reality.
We don’t appreciate how difficult it is to free ourselves from this ordinary consciousness so we could explore and experience the domains that lie beyond it. We’ve lived and bathed in the spell cast on our consciousness by the tangible world our whole lives – it’s so familiar, and so noisy and loud and big in front of us! Steadfast effort and determination are needed if we are to succeed in not being dreamily and drearily entrapped in it.
Freeing Ourselves of Nuisances and Distractions
If we are going to successfully move forward, we must also be free of the various nuisances and distractions that could so easily draw us back into our ordinary consciousness. In every spiritual and religious tradition there is always some regulation of life that attempts to get one’s outer life in reasonable order, free of chaos and frenzy, so that we’re not so preoccupied with mundane concerns that we can’t explore the greater realities within us. There is also in every spiritual tradition some regulation of bodily habits so the body doesn’t become a nuisance or a discomfort to us. Hatha Yoga is a perfect example of a discipline done to make the body pure, supple, and strong, so clean and clear that in meditation, it’s as if the body is transparent, or not even there at all, and one can easily move toward that subtle inner realm which the normal consciousness of the body veils.
Now that we’ve sufficiently loosened the grip of the tangible, we have come to the very threshold of the second stage of the spiritual journey: Entering and Exploring the Intangible.
ENTERING AND EXPLORING THE INTANGIBLE
All the great masters have said that this world of ours is maya – an illusion – a projection or sleight of hand on the part of our external senses and the way our normal consciousness is conditioned by them that deceives us about the true nature of reality.
External Senses Deceive Us About Nature of Reality
One problem is that the world that we know through our external senses is not the world as it truly is – it’s merely the way that we experience it from the perspective of our senses and the limitations in their ability to register what’s out there. The fact that we cannot hear, see or feel something does not mean that it’s not there and real!
Secondly, the external senses were evolutionarily designed to serve survival needs and what they do is adapted totally to that function. That’s why different species see different kinds of light, and hear different sounds than we can. The reality that we normally perceive is totally conditioned by the nature of our sensory instrumentation and how that works, it’s not about the true nature of reality. If it was other than that there would be no difference between how we see the world around us and how a frog or a fly sees it.
Because of the senses’ prominence, we trust them, lean on them and believe in them to perform functions for which they were not designed and as means to answer questions requiring data they could never provide.
That’s why the spiritual masters are in agreement that we need to get beyond our normal sensory orientation if we are ever really going to know reality – we need a different means of access. These masters dropped underneath the external senses which are so intimately entwined with the tangible aspects of experience and developed latent inner senses. From this vantage point, they discovered subtle energies within and the pathways through which they coursed, and were able to experience the true nature of reality.
Reality is More Invisible Than Visible
When those sages of the past said that the world is illusion, projection, nothingness, or a void, we couldn’t understand what they were saying until we looked through electron microscopes and discovered that what appears solid is really mostly space filled with tiny, rapidly moving particles – that things are more empty than substantive. But it’s also true that when we look out into the vast universe stretched before us, we can see that the largest part of the world that’s visible is invisible, and is more space than solid, and more similar to air than the earth, and energy also is invisible – right there we have a big hint about the true nature of reality and the means of connecting with it.
Techniques That Can Be Done Continuously Throughout the Day
We are going to enter a much more inner dimension of the body and learn techniques to help us bypass our usual consciousness. You can explore the inner world and understand it as proficiently as our science does the outer world, but you have to give it the same kind of sustained attention that allowed us to master that external world. The key is finding techniques for putting your attention on that inner realm which can be used continuously throughout the day, while doing ordinary activities. This way you will soon establish a real familiarity and foothold there, and be positioned to move on to the more sophisticated inner exercises, deep contemplation, and constant remembrance which are the means for further progress. We learn by sustained attention, exploration and practice until the doors to mastery open.
It’s Real, but Not Material
We have body sensed a great solidity and power in ourselves, up to a threshold beyond which we sense something we can’t seem to get at, or at least by these same means – something we can’t quite locate in space like an elbow, but that feels equally real. The fact that it is invisible, intangible, seemingly inaccessible – that’s precisely what makes it spiritual, because it’s something that is there that is real, but it’s not material. You can’t find it. You can experience it but you can’t find it in the same way you could find a coin if you lost a coin, pick it up and hold it in your hand. But it’s real! It’s like, the reality of breath is real but it’s not like biting into a steak.
Body Sense the Intangible
There’s an aspect of us which we experience as solid and very physical. And there are other aspects of ourselves that feel more like the air or space – intangible. The first kind of tracking is to become as aware of the intangibles in your experience as you are of the tangibles. By tracking I mean: maintaining as continuous a contact as possible with the intangible until you get well acquainted with it as a friend.
So, along with body sensing the tangible as we have been doing, I want you to begin to body sense the intangible. You must learn to track aspects of yourself that have potentials different from the ones you’ve been exposed to. Because if you’re going to move more subtle energies, distribute them, use them, you’ve got to get underneath this solid body and find your way into the nature of your body which is other than rock hard. You’ve already created more space in your body structurally, by just being more open and more upright – now you’ve got to enter those spaces with your consciousness.
When you’re body sensing, and you get to the place where you can’t really make a tangible contact, get into the fact that you can’t. I don’t want you to try and make it tangible – I want you to track the intangibility of it, and keep your consciousness there.
Stir Up the Intangible Within Yourself
I want you to stir up and track the intangible in yourself, and begin to sift the intangible from the tangible in your experience. So, track whatever you can find that isn’t dictated to by the limitations of the senses. Track things that are unlimited because you can’t even find where they are! They are not even located in time and space, in any tangible, graspable, circumscribable way. On the extreme end of the spectrum of intangibilities, there’s absolute silence, and absolute space, and absolute clarity. You could say that extreme intangibility is the vastness, the unlimitedness, the clarity, the all-encompassing nature that God is.
Where Am I?
Here’s one way to get started: ask yourself the question: “Where am I?” Where am I?!? Your sense of self, or your consciousness, where is it located? You can’t find yourself – there’s no point in you to identify with you. Any time you talk about yourself – “my thoughts, my body” – I’m not those things! You can knock on all the doors in all the parts of the organism. Is “I” in there? Those doors will open up and you won’t see anything, because it does not exist in the same way as tangible things that can be located in time and space, and yet we have a clear distinct experience that there is something that we can call “I”or “self” or “consciousness.” That’s the stuff you’ve got to focus on. I want you to remember and stay as constantly aware of that aspect of yourself as possible.
Tracking the Breath
One of the best trackers of the intangible is attentiveness to the breath. That’s a very ancient technique to get into this realm. The breath … where is it? There’s no question that something happens when you breathe. But where does it come from and where is it going to? The fact that you can’t see it doesn’t mean anything. You can experience it and that’s very crucial. I want you to become very aware of the fact that when a breath goes in and out of you, you cannot grasp it. You can’t contain it. You can’t tell where it begins and ends.
The Channelless Channel
If we’re going to explore the nature of subtle energies and the channels through which they flow in our bodies, our first step is to get acquainted with what I call “the channelless channel.” It’s like the entrance to a huge cave that gets you in there, from where you can then go and explore all the various side channels. The channelless channel is a big wide opening into a realm of resonant dimensions. Entering the channelless channel is basically finding a way in – beginning to get underneath this tangible body. It’s about how to pop the cork on our usual perception and go inside the bottle and discover what the contents of that bottle are about.
First, use external space to help you get into internal space: the part of you which is intangible is like the space around you. And the more open you are to the space around you, the more it becomes easy to track the internal space inside you. That’s key! You’ve got to maintain a constant awareness of that external space because we’re so cut off from internal space. Then you can go into internal spaces just as vast. But to find the vastness inside it’s essential that you maintain the openness that we’ve worked to create with our upright structure. You understand, what I’m attempting to do is open a channel from that space around you into the part of you which is most about space.
Then, take your mind … where is it? I’m not talking about your brain, the place where thoughts appear and originate, but your mind, that thing you can’t put your hand on. I’m talking about when your mind is clear and there are no thoughts – taste the space that’s inside your mind. Internal space – it’s the part of me which is like that space out there, but which is inside me. The place you experience as hollow. There’s a mind there but there’s no spot or location or physical sense of it. Take the hollowness that is up here, that sense of intangibility that is mind, pure clear mind, and identify your mind with the space around you to help you to feel the space inside. Then, from the pole of self-observation, its aboveness, outsideness and intangibility, move further in and then down, following the channelless channel down and in, maintaining as much prolonged awareness of that as possible – and your journey has begun.
Intangibility of the Tangible / Tangibility of the Intangible
When we have spent sufficient time exploring the intangible in ourselves to have a distinct sense that what once seemed tangible to us has more of the taste of the intangible than its former seemingly tangible nature, we will have arrived at the threshold of the next stage, which is Living the Intangibility of the Tangible. At this stage, we discover and contact the true nature of the self. We are free in our spirit, free of being bound by the illusion of the tangible world, and the illusion of the body as a tangible thing.
The nature of the body is experienced as rarified and refined and the channels and the pathways of more subtle energies can be known and accessed because we are at home in that dimension of ourselves. It is in this stage that one becomes a true master of energy. One can now gravitate, tap and store subtle energies, concentrate and upgrade them, and ultimately deliver them to points of usage in the body, thereby creating a whole range of new possibilities for human action and experience. We will have opened up a space and a place and a receptivity in ourselves to be able to have concourse with that which is selfsame in the universe, so one can be circuited, linked, and fully empowered by those energies.
At this stage, we have a clear sense that as regards the universe and God, we are the same as that. But there is one more veil, and that’s the veil of the Self. To enter the next stage, one must move beyond the self. This is the realm of those rare souls who, having attained perfection and fulfillment of self, give themselves up for the sake of the whole, withholding nothing – where “love is reckless” and the ultimate mystery of service and sacrifice lie.
Beyond the barriers created by the spell of the world, the spell of the senses, the spell of the body, and finally the spell of the Self, lies the final stage in the journey: Being the Tangibility of the Intangible. This is the mystical mergence or true union which results when one has succeeded in moving beyond all these barriers. Here the spiritual world is as palpable and real to us as the material world seems now, and the material world, while known as intangible in its true nature, is seen to be permeated and truly enlivened with the power of the source from which it was created.
This is that truly hidden realm where the seemingly miraculous can happen, where the dual aspects of inner and outer, matter and spirit, self and universe, fully interpenetrate and merge. A different compound of body is created, referred to in the various traditions as radiant or glorious body. Transformation/Infusion is a process spanning these last two stages whereby the world in all its magnitude and with all its essential qualities can fully penetrate and transform the body and where it can truly be said, “Thou Art That.”
See also Up Off All Fours