About a month ago I made a mistake. It happened sometime between my early morning preparation for waiting worship and the rise of Meeting.
The concept of the transpersonal is one which I have thought I understood intellectually for decades, going back to my naïve fascination with mystical paths in the 1970s, and maturing through years of contemplation and study.
That First Day, though, the concept became viscerally alive as I read a selection in The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader (9-11). Wilber quotes Emerson’s assertion, “The soul knows no persons,” and explains that transpersonal means “personal plus,” a transcending of the personal which enfolds it into a larger whole.
Then Wilber asks:
But what could an actual “transpersonal” experience really mean? It’s not nearly as mysterious as it sounds…. You yourself can, right now, be aware of your objective self, you can observe your individual ego or person, you are aware of yourself generally.
But who, then, is doing the observing?
Here is a reply from Emerson:
The soul in man is not an organ,…not a function,…not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and the will…. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
Something about this flipping of the familiar Quaker metaphor gave me an opening. Conventionally, we modern Quakers say that individuals have a “light within.” Emerson says, instead, that the light is the reality, and that we individuals are simply something through which it shines upon the world.
An opening is an experience of suddenly recognizing what one already knew but had not seen so clearly before. That was what happened for me before waiting worship on that First Day. I therefore went to Meeting eager to sit in this new awareness with my fellow Friends.
Granted, I centered down sooner and deeper than is usual for me, and the whole of the hour was profound. No sense of needing to speak, just an expectation that the others were sharing what I “knew.” Until rise of Meeting…when I realized that the room was full of visitors whom I had never met before, and that I didn’t know if any of the others around me “knew” what I “knew.”
I haven’t felt so profoundly alienated from those around me in a long time. It took me several days to recognize that it was expectation which summoned up that feeling. Nothing about the other people in Meeting that First Day brought it forth. Just expectation.
A month later, sitting in waiting worship yesterday. With my eyes literally open, so that I could recognize and greet each person who joined the circle.
Then the hour of deep silence, eyes now closed, sending my attention person by person around the circle, noticing however much or little I knew of each individual—without analysis or judgment. Nurturing a deep sense of no expectation.
At the rise of Meeting, for whatever reason, Friends immediately began exchanging their theories and anxieties about gluten and sugar and diet and genetically altered crops and the pervasiveness of processed foods and the impacts on physical and mental health…and…and….
I often feel distressed if worship, for me a deeply contemplative experience, leaps right into mundane, socio-economic discussion. My usual disappointment with such follow-ups to worship is that I long for something more “spiritual” in the way of public sharing.
And then, almost by surprise, the conversation shifted from anxious “me too” focus on material concerns. One Friend began to tell of her work in India, helping women and children whose men have met agricultural and financial failure to find new, simple economic grounding in the world.
The Meeting’s attention centered down. All that preliminary voicing of intellectual and emotional concerns dissolved into a sort of harmony of appreciation that our Friend and her colleagues were doing something real, with real people, in the real world.
The light, which often gets shrouded by our abstract concerns, shone through us onto people we don’t even know in a place most of us have never been.
For a while we were more than individuals. We were in unity.
A light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
And so it is,