The great divide between scientific and mystical views of reality lands on the question of our subjective awareness. It is harder to demonstrate objectively the transformative experiences that a seeker may undergo. Ultimately it comes down to how someone feels. This domain of feeling is so extraordinary and intricate in our subjectivity, and yet it has been often quite disregarded as the source of our capacity to orientate and connect with our environment.
Touch as a Core Sense
According to the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner, we have 12 senses. The sense of touch is core. Through touch we are woken up to the world, and through the radiation of touch information throughout our system we are enlivened. We are reminded of our primordial separateness and our wish to connect. Steiner said that without touch we would never become conscious of the Divine. When we touch something we are both so close and so far from it.Sensitivity is our radar system. In the confusion of different information pathways in which we are ceaselessly immersed, sensitivity is our capacity to fine tune, to touch as it were, significant elements from the whole. So sensitivity is expressed in our fields of perception, and our capacity to notice. This perceptual capacity continues to develop throughout life. Specialists in any field become hyperconscious of such elements as electric fields, or the way that patients’ skin colour denotes subtle changes in health, or the way that plants signal malaise, or if notes played are off key.
Discernment of Information
The distinction to be made between scientific and metaphysical approaches to knowledge has been in the discernment of information. Spiritual traditions have confronted this issue by evolving specific protocols of practice, of directing attention, of cultivating a stringent observer and witness, and of purifying the filters of attachment and desires and egotism that cloud the lens of perception.
In the Heartfulness tradition of meditative practices, all the teachers have proposed that the realm of most profound consciousness is known through feeling and this feeling connects with humanity. It is an unimaginable realm. We can only conceive it as a kind of enormous filigree network of intensity. It is at the most subtle level of our existence. One clear sign of a spiritually evolved person, a truly human person, is one who is consistently alert and sensitive to situations and others. So, the journey of spiritual evolution is one of increasingly refining our tools of perception, our capacity to feel the faintest trace of something, and to glimpse its meaning directly.
Mind as Embodied Cognition
In Eastern philosophies, mind is not seen as identical with intellect in the way that we may view it in the West. In fact, it is more equivalent to the entire field of sensibility in which we are immersed. Within this model, and especially in the Yogic traditions, the heart is understood to be the base of the mind. In a sense, it is the primary port of call for our sense of being and aliveness. It is equivalent to the entire nervous system within us. The heart is the field for the mind.As the meeting place of all the subtle fields of sentience within us, the heart has the capacity to integrate awareness into a core understanding. Within spiritual evolution, the task is to refine knowing—to rely on feeling more than thinking, because it is less constrained by concept. The mystic’s quest to know the ultimate reality cannot be based on an intellectual process. As Jung said, “We do not do well to look at the sky with the intellect. It is neither adequate for the knowledge of the psyche.”
Role of the Heart
In most human societies, a person will point to their heart when they refer to themselves. Focusing attention on the heart brings our sense of Self inward to a central core location. Both in the East and the West, the heart is regarded as the place of soul, of love, of knowledge and wisdom. These come through feeling rather than intellectual construct.In the Heartfulness way (a modern form of Raja Yoga), the heart is gradually purified of background impressions that restrict perception and cognition, so that there is a clearer field of experiencing and feeling. Like any instrument, the heart’s capacity to resonate truly can be distorted by the influence of other dissonances. It is through an attuned sentience and the heart’s refinement that the spiritual aspects within us can be felt and glimpsed. The heart can reflect the profound qualities of humanness, love, compassion, sharing, peace, a deeper sense of relatedness, as well as other qualities of infinite variation. In purifying the heart, openness to experience is increased with a simultaneous openness to compassion.From all of these perspectives, it can be argued that in order to ‘know’ something we need to be able to feel. We need to be as soft as cotton, so that a needle can pass through without touching.
The author is a Heartfulness trainer and currently supervises qualitative research projects at the Minster Centre in London