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The Collective Message Inherent in Exceptional Human Experience
Rhea A. White
This is a considerably expanded version of an article I published in the Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan. 1995, 16-20). I describe two of my most important EHEs and show how they and the EHEs of others are messages both from and to the human collective species consciousness. I point out how our own seemingly selfish needs are answered when we contact and serve the needs of the Self we all are and describe the role EHEs play in this process.
Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty, wrote that that person "is unhappy, indeed, who in all his life has had no glimpse of perfection, who in the ecstasy of love, or in the delight of contemplation, has never been able to say: It is attained. Such moments of inspiration are the source of the arts, which have no higher function than to renew them" (in Read, 1958, p. 122).
In the past, the experience of having "attained" the ultimate may have been experienced as the End of all things--"the last for which the first was made." But we are in a new world now. In our day that level which was the awesome wondrous end, the ceiling of the old paradigm, is the ground floor of a new worldview. In the new paradigm, what was perceived as the end is our opportunity to begin. As the poet T.S. Eliot (1954) put it: "In my end is my beginning," or as it might more aptly be expressed today: "In our end is our beginning."
The new paradigm, or taken-for-granted worldview that is issuing forth from our very being, is not many but One. This new view is revealed by all exceptional human experiences (EHEs), or anomalous experiences that have been personalized, and that lead to personal and transpersonal growth and the experience of being inside a new worldview, the Experiential Paradigm (White, 1995/ 1997). I named it that because to be known it must be experienced, not simply thought out One type of EHE I call the literary experience; for example, reading the above statement by Santayana, induces (in me at least) a moment of vision into the heart of things engendered by the act of reading, which provided a glimpse of the limits of our individuality at the same time that it allows us to experience our limitlessness. True, the coming paradigm shift would mark the end of our sense of being a separate self, but at the same time it would create the possibility of knowing the Self we all are.
At the new level, which in effect marks the end of what one could call the "modern mindset," the possibilities of growth are far beyond our current comprehension. The direction of our new growth is indicated by our exceptional human experiences. These experiences (and it doesn't matter whether one studies one's own experiences or those of others) point to a world that is not nearly as physically limited as the old paradigm dictated. On the contrary, some (e.g., psychic and death-related experiences) indicate it is limitless. Some (the mystical experiences) indicate it is a holonomic universe in which everything is everything else. In some (encounter experiences), the world "out there" relates to us individually, and in others (enhanced experiences) we perceive, know, and act in mysterious and wondrous ways from a larger self--unknown except in such experiences.
It is a world we are meant to inhabit. It is a world in which one nurtures oneself by nurturing others and by not turning away from nurturing oneself as well, as each of us, too, is a person, and ultimately we are one. It is a world in which the urge for further growth and connection can be resisted only temporarily, for satiation is fully experienced only in the moments in which one becomes more than one was previously, and knows it. And even then, as Santayana wrote, the function of these experiences is to catalyze still further experiences, which in their turn would entail still more growth, as he also pointed out. It is a world in which one knows that to lie to or willfully harm another being is to be untrue to and injure oneself. But it is also a world in which "number one" still counts as much as it did in the modern worldview, but in the new view this is so only because one’s self, no less than anyone or anything else, springs from that One who it is said is "without a second." In a word, this new world is the Self we all are, and it will not be at an end until the whole creation travails no longer. And even that endpoint is likely to be but a new beginning.
The modern worldview labeled this a childish impractical dream. In its place we have created what is becoming a nightmare world. If we pay attention to our EHEs, if we can still recall them, or attend fully to those of others, we can awaken. As soon as we do, those EHEs will show forth the new world. We are called not to do but to be. Not to be practical but to be who we are. And who we are shouts to us from any and all exceptional experiences. Far from being chimeras, EHEs are the bedrock of the new dispensation. If we wish to take practical steps to save ourselves and this globe, let us gravitate to the More that we are and once and for all let go of what Shakespeare so long ago decried as our irritable penchant for "reaching after fact and reason." If enough of us do it, we can bring the new to pass. We can do so not only by sheer numbers, which would influence the conscious mindset of others. But there is another dimension of influence--an "inside" approach. If we are One, then those who go high enough and deep enough within themselves are likely also to influence the heights and depths of like-minded people and possibly even the whole species, regardless of geographic location. What a wondrous and practical application for psi--to awaken the truths sleeping in the depths of others who are whole continents and other cultures and languages apart! (I stress here that potentially this capacity is every human’s potential, anywhere in the world, regardless of race or culture. In this area, many first peoples are likely to be more advanced than Westerners, though some may lack the awareness of global consciousness, which is (fortunately) being aided by Western technology.
Instead of emphasizing factuality and sensibility, we must look for that which touches the heart and fosters meaning. This is no new vision. Jesus, for example, emphasized the importance of priorities, of seeking first the kingdom of God. He did not exhort us to strip ourselves and put off the good things of life in so doing. In fact, he pointed out that if we put God first, "everything else shall be added." He observed that if we want to preserve our lives, above all we must give them up. Surely he was not referring to some grand punishment that would be visited upon us if we did not voluntarily commit suicide, as it were. He was speaking of the reality of practical cause and effect. What we really mean by our "lives" is our sense of being unique selves, which we seek to preserve at all costs. But the only way to really experience and "have" that unique self enlivened and renewed always and in all ways is to give up the separate sense of self and realize that the seat of its uniqueness is, and always was, the Self we all are--that everything is. There is but one God, and he/she is what is unique in all of us. Get that priority straight, and everything else will line up and fall into place, within and without ourselves. Along with the scary realization that there is no place to hide comes the sure knowledge that there is nothing to hide from.
I am reading P.M.H. Atwater's (1994) Beyond the Light, which is about one type of EHE--the near-death experience. She says about NDEs what I have been saying about EHEs as a class: "The real power that emerges from near-death experiences is a collective one--not what one person saw or heard, but the sum of the many" (p. 181). Similarly, I have proposed that no single type of exceptional experience can give us the full picture: We need to put them all together to discover the paradigm that will be our unconsciously accepted mindset in the coming centuries. NDEs and mystical experiences are particularly rich epistemologically--as other ways of knowing. We need all types of EHEs in order to experience being inside what I call the Experiential Paradigm (White, 1995, 1997).
In a chapter on "revelations" that people have had while near death, Atwater (1994) describes a major insight into the nature of the reality that NDErs experience:
You return ... knowing we affect each other because we are all part of each other, and that we affect all parts of creation because all parts of creation interweave and interrelate with all other parts. Any sense of aloneness or separation dissolves in The Light of such knowing. (pp. 187-188)
Two of my major EHEs have given me a slightly different slant on this, although they affirm everything Atwater writes. They simply add an exclamation point, as it were. The first was my own NDE, which changed my life and led me into meditation, among other things, including conscious surrender to the will of the universe for me. As the two experiences happened two years apart, I never connected them integrally, although they seemed cut off the same bolt, until I wrote my unpublished EHE autobiography in 1993. Then I saw clearly that the second one was an outgrowth of--and perhaps even the fulfillment of--the NDE. When the second one occurred, meditation had reached a level of contemplation. One evening when entering into a state of contemplation while seated before a window, in the gathering dusk outside the street lamp went on, but I experienced it as lighting up inside me. Then I experienced the realization that everything outside was in me and I was simultaneously everything outside. (By "I" or "myself" I mean the ordinary feeling of being a unique self or feeling of "I." In other words, the feeling of "I" had not changed, but its content had been expanded immeasurably.)
In the midst of the wonder and elation and joy and gratitude that followed, I lost the ordinary sense of I that was there initially and became a much inflated, and then still later, deflated, self, but that is another story. It was not until 1990, on the wave that carried me when I arrived at the idea of exceptional human experience, that I resolved to live from and incorporate the knowing my EHEs had given me decades earlier into the way I actually lived my life. I took the knowings of my (i.e., our) larger self, which for all of us and everything is the Same, out of the secret places of my heart and soul and began using them in my work, in my thinking, speaking, and writing. The exclamation point I referred to earlier is simply that all parts are not only interwoven and connected into One, but the unique essence of each part is the One that is everything. It is paradoxical, but it is the most precious knowledge a human can have. We see and know and are gladdened by the knowing that our "I" includes the earth and everything in it, and beyond that, the Universe itself--any and everything that is or was or will be anywhere, anytime. It is not simply a grand collective but one organism , one being, one God. But God is not only that organism. What God is is beyond our ken, for the whole is always greater than its parts. But to the extent that anything is, its being, its essence, its uniqueness even, stems from God, that same One who is all of us.
Again, this is no new revelation. But it is always a revelation to the individual who experiences it for the first time. Then, truly, it is an exceptional human experience. I remember that before my experience with the street lamp having been struck by Meister Eckhart’s words: "All God wants is for us to be same. [Italics added.] (Unfortunately I do not recall the source.) It was like a koan to me. It sounded so boring to be the same as everyone else. But that is not what he said enigmatically, he said same, not the same. I know now full well what he meant. So does Atwater. So do most people who have exceptional human experiences. Instead of finding out that we are all the same, simultaneously experience the fullness of your unique self as being one with All. You then feel you have experienced the Self we all are. But beyond that, is the universe we all are. It is at the base of most religions. Traditional peoples everywhere still are aware of it in their teachings, though the reality of it is fading under the impact of Western civilization.(Kremer, 1992a, 1992b; Wilkinson, 1992). The best teachers in the Western tradition have also known it, though they may have expressed it in different words. See Huxley (1945).
But if we are to go on as a species, the time has come for everyone to know it and live from it. It is not enough to have a few seers teaching it. We all must know it even as we breathe. Then war and famine and destruction will cease at last, and all that energy that has gone into building walls and defending them (which now one aim is to extend to outer space) can be expressed in breaking down walls, delighting in and finding the sameness in all differences, and finding ways to help and encourage each other and all other life forms. In the coming millennium, either we will all live or no one will, unless it be but a remnant. To me, this is the collective message of EHEs.
Atwater, P.M.H. (1984). Beyond the Light: What Isn't Being Said about Near-Death Experience. New York: Birch Lane.
Eliot, T.S. (1954). The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Huxley, A. (1945). The Perennial Philosophy. New York: Harper.
Kremer, J.W. (1992a). The dark night of the scholar: Reflections on culture and ways of knowing. ReVision, 14, 169-178.
Kremer, J.W. (1992b). Whither dark night of the scholar? Further reflections on culture and ways of knowing. ReVision, 15, 4-12.
Read, H. (1958). The Nature of Literature. New York: Grove Press.
White, R.A. (1997). Exceptional human experiences and the experiential paradigm. In C.T. Tart (Ed.), Body Mind Spirit (pp. 83-100). Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads. (Original work published 1995)
Wilkinson, T. (1992). Spiderwoman's thread: The interpenetration of psyche and cosmology. ReVision, 15(1), 13-16.
White, R.A. (1994). Exceptional Human Experience: Background Papers. Dix Hills, NY: EHE Network. (Also published as Exceptional Human Experience, 11, No. 2.)
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