Archive for August, 2013

Thinking with the Intellect

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

What is the Intellect? Permit me to quote by way of answer a short paragraph from the introduction to my recently published Schuon Reader. I don’t mean to suggest that this is the best possible response to your question—far from it—but it has the potential advantage of eliciting or provoking the meaning (as I understand it) while defining it.

“The Intellect is a power of immediate or intuitive discernment, unobstructed by the boundaries of physical objects and unaffected by the limitations of historical circumstance. In contrast with the reason or discursive intelligence, the Intellect enables us to see what is so, not as a conclusion conceptually derived from a premise, but with the immediacy of perception—or ‘combustion’ perhaps, to recall Plato’s ‘leaping spark’ (Epistle VII). It is a direct apprehension of being as object by virtue of being as subject, an apprehension that ‘comes into being’ when the mind attends to itself and to what makes it attend, and when in this way it enters into an ‘other’ that is essentially inward, there to know God. But not just any God or God in any mode: To see God truly is to see that there is within Him something other than God that ‘is’ God nonetheless, which is our seeing—and which our thinking, even in its most skeptical forms, has involved all along, though we ‘knew Him not’ (John 1:10).

I encourage you to think this “definition”, and not just think about it.

One Unmoving Step at a Time

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

To what extent (if at all) can we affect our own emotions? My answer depends on who we are. If “we” is a name for all our many inward layers and levels—”My name is legion,” said the demoniac (Mark 5:9)—then obviously our current emotional state will be “affected” (effected, in fact!) whenever we experience something in our environment that we like or dislike, and whenever a given memory (whether happy, sad, or something else) rises up to the surface of consciousness.

I suspect, however, that what you have in mind instead is the possibility of gaining a certain amount of control over emotional states by deliberately positioning ourselves at a point above both outward events and circumstances and the inward flux of reactions. So your question becomes: to what extent can we deliberately choose how we “feel” (or in fact whether we feel) rather than being mechanically driven or prompted to feel a certain way?

Well, if you’re asking what is humanly possible, my answer would be: to a very great extent indeed. To be a man is by definition to be able to pass altogether beyond the usual “flux” of life, both outward and inward, and to share in God’s freedom from what you called the “construct of time”. This, of course, is what the Christian tradition calls theosis or deification; what Hindus call moksha or liberation; what Sufis call fana or extinction.

On the other hand, if you’re asking about what “we” are capable of at the moment—you and I as we are right now—then my response would have to be considerably more cautious and restrained, though I hope not discouraging. Voluntarily placing ourselves outside the flux, taking up a position above our accustomed reactions, is obviously much easier said than “done”! An intense patience is called for.

And do note the quotation marks in that last line: unless the traditions are much mistaken, quod absit, it’s not so much a “doing” that’s needed as an undoing—a refusal to act, or react, in our habitual, mechanical ways; and then, having failed as we almost certainly will not-to-do, repeated refusals to react to our failures. This work is extremely difficult, say the masters, but it’s not impossible, “for it is God which worketh in you” (Philippians 2:13). One unmoving step at a time.