For thousands of years, time uncounted, humanity got on just fine under mystical assumptions. I reject the notion modern Western rationalism is any improvement at all. The whole question is answered too often from the circular logic which assumes Western rationalism is the only fit basis for judging in the first place.
The fundamental question mysticism answers is the human soul is not tied to what the body and intellect alone can handle. There is this thing we call the “subconscious” — a nebulous term for anything not entirely conscious. The term itself implies the conscious intellect is the highest plane of thought. A more accurate term is “non-conscious.” While we do find in that territory a great deal of brutish and unreasoning emotion, that is hardly the whole content.
Indeed, the beginning usage of that extra built-in processing capability is to drag out the unexamined emotional content. If you don’t know what you feel, you’ll never find out why, nor can you hope to free yourself from the dangerous and self-destructive demands. While the job is never finished, building the habit of self-honesty in examining those feelings is absolutely necessary for any progress at all. The term “neurosis” is largely a word for the habit of avoiding digging into the basement of the soul. You might be saddled with some serious emotional baggage, but you don’t unload it until you know what it is.
Once you have begun tagging that source of non-conscious input, you are in a position to approach the task of discerning between what is literally sub-conscious and what is hyper-conscious. I know most Westerners reject from the start the notion there is anything higher than the rational process, but pure logic is a relatively recent concept, and so far, hasn’t yielded much more than shallow material progress. We don’t really understand the universe any better than ancient man, we just have some of the mechanics worked out. They would say we don’t get the meaning, and would further assert there certainly is one. The reason so many Western philosophers reject it is because Western rational forms are completely unable to process meaning on that level. The whole point of mysticism is engaging something above the mere intellect.
At some point, you aren’t trying to gather facts, but decide what to do with them. Facts don’t give themselves meaning. They have to be ordered by some outside consciousness. The purely rational intellect won’t get you very far. The first step to a higher level of consciousness is recognizing logic isn’t the only path to decision. Go ahead, and lay it out as far as logic will take you, but realize it has reached that limit, and you need something more. Having to some degree developed a means of ferreting out mere emotional input, we are in a position to add intuition.
At the simplest level, intuition means not having to process the entire chain of decision in a fully conscious mode. It’s more than just a short cut, but that’s where it seems to start. Someone with, say, a talent for intuitive mathematics need not calculate, but can process the numbers somewhere outside the conscious thought channels. But when it comes to harnessing thinking for the sake of grave decisions, math alone won’t get it. The parallel should be obvious. There is a part of our human intelligence which does not operate out in the open, because it’s much faster and arguably less cluttered. Not infallible, but reliable enough in the sense it’s as good as you might get through conscious reasoning. At some point, tuning this alternative system results in something more reliable.
Naturally, part of that means not just emotions, but digging up things you can’t walk away from, such as values on things you tend to impute absolutely. That is, it’s not a simple question of rational good or bad (i.e., usefulness), but a matter of whether you can or cannot take some choice without betraying your own mental stability. Once you realize some of the fundamental causes of neurosis, and take more conscious control of how they feed into your decision process, you begin to identify things you cannot change. Your intuition will always bounce off those core values. Once you can understand with some degree of clarity what you cannot do, or what you must do, you can trust the results of letting the intuition run across that core without having to drag out each piece in the light of conscious reasoning, because you know it won’t change your decision.
It’s not as if those core values are immutable, but they tend to operate that way. Simply becoming aware of those things, laying them bare, as it were, will eliminate a lot of implausible things you need not consider. This does not make them wholly part of the rational process, because they often are not rational at all. The trick is deciding that’s okay, that’s normal, that’s they way human nature is designed. Once you draw that outline, you’ll find influences totally beyond your control, and often not entirely yielding to conscious discovery, will cause those things to shift a bit. The shift will register the next time you run something through the same intuitive channel, but only if you remain consciously aware of that possibility when the process of decision comes back up to the level of awareness.
Yeah, we don’t really have a good set of terms for dealing with this, do we?
That’s because the biggest part of this remains outside the intellect. Words are the handles of the mind. We can, at best, outline the contents of the upper level of the soul. A critical element of growth in this direction is the simple act of getting off to a quiet place, settling down and letting your mind roam free. Take at least an hour. Nobody can make this work for you, and descriptions of various disciplines don’t transfer well between individuals. It either works or it doesn’t. For some, it helps to occupy the conscious mind with low-level routine tasks, drone labor, something which distracts the frontal awareness so the background can work unhindered. You can’t really monitor it, so don’t try. But if you make it habit to give your soul a break that way, whatever can happen will happen.
No, things like TV and music won’t do it. The former, along with any other flickering display media, will simply shut down the non-conscious, along with most of the conscious. It is hypnotic, and there is no good thing coming from that direction. If you can’t wrestle the conscious mind with full capacity, you can’t do anything at all. Music tends to exercise a portion of the non-conscious processes itself, so keeps it distracted. Just silence, in a place which helps you feel insignificant and alone — that’s essential to the process.
If nothing happens, you aren’t harmed in the long term. Frankly, the only folks I know who get nothing from it have still too many obvious internal conflicts to resolve. It’s not just our imagination; seasoned mystics can tell. That’s part of what you build. You gain enough internal peace to sense conflict, and the true nature of it, externally. It’s not a matter of really having all these wonderfully sage answers to world problems; it’s more of simple awareness. The non-conscious does eventually begin feeding back into the conscious, because your internal deep self really does want to fix up the messes. It’s not happy with all that trash in there. So in order to answer questions of meaning, it has to gain room to operate. The intellect becomes the servant, not the master. Inevitably, it results in the ability to detect conflict in others. Not the smart-alecky, always analyzing others, expert psychologist or psychoanalyst, but the genuine friend who wants you to find your own peace. Those other types want to enforce their brand of fake peace on you, but mystics are content to let you find your own.
So clearly, the closest we can come to talking about this usefully is at the level of intuition. Human language breaks down quickly before we actually get very far through that doorway. But this way of viewing life was around way back from the beginning of human existence. Indeed, the Bible — from start to finish — assumes this intellectual culture and orientation. Trying to read the Bible from the Western rational frame of reference is beating your head against stone. The results aren’t very pretty, and all these wonderful organized religions which claim a piece of the name “Christian” are proof of that.