So, funny thing. It is actually pretty darn hard to think, if by thinking we mean something like considering a thing and its relationship to us and the world. What we are really good at is plugging whatever we think of into our established patterns for positioning things and then proceeding to go from there. It is one of the reasons that we are lousy at changing our ideas even when they don’t hold up all that well. Unless we stop and force ourselves to think, we tend to presume more than we discover. That’s actually not terrible and given how patterned the world can be, it’s even efficient. It does mean, however, that Gurdjieff has a bit of a point–it’s better to assume that we are more like machines, more like computers, than we are like what we imagine people to be. In other words, it’s better to start from the presupposition that we anthropomorphize ourselves and others to excess.
On some level, we are these weird machines piloted by strange spiritual aliens exploring this world. We forget that we are aliens and confuse ourselves with the autopilot system. The metaphor starts to break down, of course, because we are more integrated with our bodies, spiritually and materially, than any pilot with their vehicle. When we try to think, we need to think with this machine, not with some faculty separate from it.
Which is why thinking itself looks so bloody clumsy, riddled with metaphors and similes, metonyms and synecdoches. In order to communicate, we have to identify and exploit the variations in the fabric of our experience and find ways to make them mean something. The more fully we manage this, the more subtle our thinking can become. While subtle thinking isn’t always an advantage, it can more accurately detail our experience and can be helpful when the habits we have formed cease to serve us. The whole time we are trying to think, the edifice is threatening to come down around our ears, to collapse into the din of the world around us. We have to make words and concepts dramatic and clear because if we don’t they might just seem like more noise.
Now imagine all those other spirits who may not be so burdened by the meatsuit noise. What do they do when they have to communicate with us? Well, there are a whole bunch of options, but they first have to get our attention and that means they will often do the spiritual equivalent of yelling. They will reach into the net of signs that compose our language and start yanking hard on those, clanging them like alarm bells so that we don’t ignore them. These signs become symbols between us and them. Because we work best with repetition, they will likely keep ringing those bells, so that a lot of our communication with them will begin with a set of familiar symbols even if they don’t stick with them over the course of our conversation. These symbols will thus become very rich for us, bearing a lot of indirect meanings. For all that, they are still just signs and symbols.
[As an aside, I do wonder if language itself might have its roots in this. These early yells would have been much more symbolic and less differentiated by meaning but nonetheless started to steer the neurological patterns toward linguistic ones. It’s pleasingly humbling to think that most of what I’m doing here is just trying to yell a little more articulately.]
It isn’t the only way for them to chat with us. If we can turn down the noise, they can also speak to us much more quietly and subtly. Meditation is obviously one such technique, but so is ecstatic exhaustion where the senses have been so dulled that they can begin to tap out messages in our subtler body for us to hear. Some of those subtler messages are ones we ourselves can’t vocalize because they are phrased in terms that language in all its clangor simply drowns out. To work with those, we need to turn down our noise and then let them slowly trickle up into the rest of our psychic apparatus, eventually achieving a symbolic and maybe even theological articulation. These symbols are not perfect, these theologies are not perfect, but they are what we have to deal with when those subtle messages have bearing on how we live our loud and noisy talking-ape existence.
Not every effort at spirit communication is relevant to our mundane life, but in order to start making sense of which ones might and might not be, we need to start learning to tune in a little better to them and accepting that we actually aren’t all that good at it.