What the heart sees
Is it real or is it imaginary? Does it matter?

Published 09.13.06 © 2006 Creative Loafing

My friend Rose D'Agostino is more educated in energy medicine than anyone I know. Were you and I living in Asia, the notion that the body and mind can be healed by the transmission and manipulation of energy would not seem so odd. In the West, because it's inexplicable, it is suspect to most of us.

But I've experienced Rose's work many times. When I was in the hospital she gave me an energy session after my knee surgery and the difference the next day was notable. Rose has lately been working with a system developed by Vianna Stibal, "Thetahealing," that she says evokes the theta brain-wave state. This in turn allows her to call on the Divine to perform healing.

I know. When Rose starts talking about this stuff, I get very uncomfortable. In fact, that's just what happened two weeks ago when I went to her house for a session. She was working on my knees and began talking about "essence."

Some background: During the writing of my doctoral dissertation, I fell into the pit of post-structural theory, where words like "essence" have no meaning since they suggest a fixed central identity. Such theory has been helpful in many ways, because while denying the comfort (and pain) of absolute truth, it also means that identity is much more fluid than has been traditionally thought. I try to help clients literally experiment with identity.

But the loss of any notion of absolute truth tends to entail the loss of spirituality, too. (There being no "truth," how can there be a "higher truth"?) But it's also true that spirituality can deeply enrich life, despite -- perhaps because of -- its operation outside the empirical paradigm, just as art does.

"What is essence, Rose?" I asked. "My mother just died, my body has been shattered by surgery, I don't know where to go next with my practice. What does essence have to do with anything?"

I imagined someone talking to Humpty Dumpty about "essence" after his fall.

In her tolerant way, Rose asked me if she could invite the "teachers" -- I don't know -- to give me an "embodied sense of essence."

"Uh, sure," I said, while thinking, "Oh, Rose!"

But, within seconds, my imagination exploded -- and I do not make a distinction between the imaginary and the visionary. They both occur in a space that's both here and not here. They feel "realer than real" but are not perceived by the literal eye.

I saw myself on my back spinning, sucked up through the ceiling of the room into the sky, out of sight and, most incredibly, while this ascent was occurring, my body vibrated from head to toe. Then, I reached a place of complete stillness, and a huge pair of eyes opened. They were the eyes of my former spiritual teacher, Mother Meera, whose "darshan," the self-revelation of the guru, consists entirely of meeting the devotee's gaze in silence.

Then, behind her eyes, the eyes of my mother appeared. Both directed my gaze toward my heart, which was throbbing, spinning, flying. They were both "working" on my heart, which I have never stopped believing is as much an organ of perception as any of the five senses.

I then entered a conversation with my mother, at times deep and at times confusing. There isn't space here to describe that conversation, except to say that it too was intensely "real" -- almost musical, in the way angels were once said to speak.

But as important as the particulars was having the spiritual reawakened in me after years of mainly occupying headspace. It also reawakened my heart's consciousness. How long the effect of such experiences will last is always questionable, of course. I think they are invitations to redirect one's attention, not cures.

Are such experiences "real" or "imaginary"? Was that really my mother or a psychological projection? In truth, I don't think they belong to either state of consciousness. The Greeks called such a state "enthymesis" and the Sufis called it "himma." This healing process, according to Henry Corbin, involves personification, imagination and desire -- "having something present in the heart."

Of course, Rose has her own explanation for such experiences and, in the end, it doesn't matter much how you explain them. What they reveal is a world in which we are free to travel but seldom visit.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.