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Response to Govert

Nov 28, 2000 01:51 PM
by Peter Merriott

Dear Govert,

I hope you will forgive the long post. Others not interested after the
first sentence can simply skip it.

You asked about the possibility of an "overlap between a phenomenologically
based theology and the philosophical aspects of theosophy."

Your question left me with an interested curiosity as to whether you had
something particular in mind?

I think we may have talked briefly about this before, and I don't remember
exactly what we may have said, so apologies if I repeat myself.

As you well know, Phenomenological Research is quite an undertaking and
because of the amount of interview data required from each participant (or
co-researcher, as they are sometimes called) the numbers are often much
smaller than those used in Quantitative Research. Thus a qualitative
Phenomenological Research Project may well involve a study of up to 20
people whilst the quantitative project will probably include up to hundreds.

I have carried out some small studies of peoples experiences of the
'Transpersonal' / 'spiritual'. The Alister Hardy Centre in Oxford,
England, have accumulated about 5,000 plus reports over the last 30(?) years
or so, though many are not 'in depth' descriptions. Various research has
been carried out on the data gathered by them. There is quite a bit of
research carried out by the Association for Transpersonal Psychology in the
USA, and other places in England. Most of my first hand experience comes in
part from small studies but largely from my work over the last 14 years as
psychotherapist who has been priveleged to have clients who come to him who
wish to share and explore the experience of the 'spritual' and
'transpersonal' domains along with the search for 'meaning' within the
everyday trials and intitiations of life.

In William Bucke's work, "Cosmic Conscoiusness", he listed a number of
criteria he found present in "transpersonal experiences", namely:

a)	The subjective Light.
b)	The moral elevation.
c)	The intellectual illumination.
d)	The sense of immortality.
e)	The loss of the fear of death.
f) The loss of the sense of sin.
g)	The suddenness, instantaneousness of the awakening.
h)	The previous character of the individual - intellectual, moral and
i)	The age at which the illumination took place.
j)	The added charm given to the personality of the individual by the
k)	The transfiguration of the individual, as seen by others, while the
experience of the Cosmic Sense is actually present.
(1901, pp 72-79).

William James, in "The Varieties of Religious Experience" (1902, pp380 -
382) from his studies of reported experiences suggested there were four main
characteristics that described mystical experience:

1.	Ineffability - experiences that were too great to be expressed in words
and thus had to be experienced directly as their meaning could not be
imparted to others.

2.	Noetic quality - mystical states involve an experience of knowing, of
having direct access to knowledge otherwise unobtainable to the discursive
intellect. These are the experiences of illumination and revelation full of
significance and importance .... while 'inarticulate' they carry with them a
curious sense of authority for after-time.

3.	Transiency - such states of consciousness cannot be sustained for very
long. .

4.	Passivity - while the onset of these states my be facilitated by mental
or physical activity and preparation, when the characteristic sort of
consciousness has set in the Mystic feels as if his own will were in
abeyance, perhaps even feeling that s/he were grasped and held by a superior
power. These states are different from automatic writing and mediumistic
trance where the subject may have no recall of the experience after it has
happened. On the contrary, with mystical experiences memory of the content
always remains along with a profound sense of their importance.

James and Bucke were early pioneers largely sidelined by traditional
pyschology which, in its desire be seen as 'scientific', excluded research
and studies that did not focus on observed physical behaviour.

Hay offered an analysis of the data obtained from 5000 people held at the
Alister Hardy Centre. Such experiences could be resolved into a simple form
of classification which captures the essence of those experiences:

1.A patterning of events in a person’s life that convinces them that in some
strange way they were meant to happen.
2.An awareness of the presence of God.
3.An awareness of receiving help in answer to prayer.
4.An awareness of being looked after by a presence NOT called God.
5.An awareness of being in the presence of someone who had died.
6.Awareness of a sacred presence in nature.
7.Experiencing in an extraordinary way that all things are ‘One’.

I wonder if you feel any of this is related to your question about
"Phenomenological Theology"? Below are some of my own findings derived from
the people I have worked with as a therapist over the years. Below are
eight constituents of transpersonal experience derived from such work:

1.	Profound Feeling / Experience.
2.	Experience of a Higher Power / Larger Consciousness.
3.	Guidance and Revelation.
4.	Higher Purpose.
5.	Transcendence.
6.	Inner Freedom.
7.	Unity.
8.	Return / Rediscovery.

1. Profound Feeling / Experience.
The nature of those experiences are of such intensity and depth that they
are experienced as indescribable. It includes those intense feelings such as
bliss, joy and rapture as well as those aspects of experience that have a
profound impact on the individual and/or are overwhelming. Profound is also
used in the sense of deep feelings which are felt to be innate.

2. Experience of a Higher Power / Larger Consciousness.
This constituent includes those descriptions of transpersonal experience in
which the individual is aware of, or feels part of, a higher / larger
consciousness or power.

3. Guidance and Revelation.
In this constituent there is once again an underlying dynamic of a higher
power or larger consciousness that is implicitly and explicitly experienced.
What makes this a separate category is that this dimension refelcets those
descriptions that emphasise an experience of guidance, direction or an
access to knowledge or to a ‘knowing’ which comes from within. This also
includes an experience whereby wisdom, knowledge and even states of being
and consciousness are revealed.

4. Higher Purpose.
An important aspect of each person's experience of the transpersonal is the
encounter with meaning and purpose. This comes as a discovery, a direct
realisation beyond theoretical belief, that there is a purpose to life and
that this purpose has its roots in the transpersonal dimension. Such a
discovery brings a sense of certainty and trust in life as well as the inner
strength to surmount great difficulties. Experience of a higher purpose
also includes an awakening of altruism, the taking up of a spiritual path,
and the establishing of a working relationship with the transpersonal self.

5. Transcendence.
Transcendence refers to those experiences that touch a realm beyond ‘normal’
human experience. It includes touching a dimension that exists apart from
the limitations of the material universe and is not subject to its laws.
Some have described it as “that devastating Presence” that transcends all
limits; an experience of omnipresence where the past, present and future all
merge; an experience of pure awareness in which the personal “I” is absent.
Essentially, it’s an experience of going into infinite realms of Being,
beyond life and death, whereby one breaks through from the limited to the

6. Inner Freedom.
Inner Freedom appears to be both an aspect of, and a consequence of,
transpersonal experience. Like some of the other constituents there is some
overlap, particularly with the constituents of Higher Purpose and Unity. A
distinguishing characteristic of this constituent is the experience of inner
freedom from outer events and inner demands. It involves an acceptance of
oneself, others and life at large. As one person stated, it is "...freedom
from the desire to change, yet free to be totally willing to be changed."

7. Unity.
While a constituent of transpersonal experience, each individual experiences
Unity in a variety of ways which suggest this aspect of transpersonal
experience has a number of levels. In an experience of total
non-separateness it can be one wherein the individual experiences herself AS
everything and everybody. A slightly different sense of unity is suggested
in feeling at-one with everybody, or feeling at-one with the source of
everything. A different quality again appears present in the feeling of
being ‘connected’ to everything or to the source of everything.

8. Return / Rediscovery.
.. an important constituent that suggests one aspect of transpersonal
experience is about rediscovering an essential aspect of one’s being that is
always present and yet is not recognised. This is often decribed as
discovering THAT which one is and always has been.

As I listen and explore with those who come to me, I see over and over again
how people begin to discover and articulate the meaning of their
felt-experience of life. This is not a meaning GIVEN to their experiences,
nor a meaning TAKEN or derived from their experiences by interpretation. It
is more a discovery that life and its experiences ARE full of meaning if one
can just 'listen' in the right way.

Is this phenomenological based theology? Perhaps to the extent that such
felt-meanings do become the living structures of each person's understanding
and articulation of the Divine. And the faith that characterises such
theo-logia arises out of the experience of felt-meaning in ones moment to
moment experiencing rather than from an external source. I see regular
overlaps between this and the philosophy of Theosophy.



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