The article was originally featured in the journal Alternatives, based in Oregon 2001
Many years ago, in Morocco at the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, I both induced and received a remarkable insight into the nature of consciousness. I had been there with my wife Alicia and two-year-old daughter Sofiah, having landed in Tangiers from Tarifa in southern Spain. We had been vacationing in this southern mountainous region having an idyllic time in a remote shepherd’s cottage. All had been blissful until the winds blew and then we found out why Tarifa holds international windsurfing competitions and why this part of Spain has so many mad people. The wind howled continuously, and one ghastly morning as our legs were sandblasted on the beach, we eyed the ferries, crisscrossing the straits and were inspired to leave those empty beaches where the waves of the Mediterranean met the Atlantic and sail away into another adventure.
We took the ferry over to Morocco. It was a difficult time, because we had made the decision not to fast, and yet here was almost an entire country doing Ramadan. Our hunger during the day was somehow magnified by the absence of open cafés, or empty restaurants. One night in Tangier, we found ourselves sitting in a café, listening to five men playing music, and a hookah was being passed around. It was filled with kif and although I had not used any hallucinogen or narcotic for many years, I felt that I needed to experience once again what these sensorial-altering drugs were about. It was as if I wanted to challenge myself to compare what is revealed (from the Divine) and what is induced (experiential consciousness).
We were sitting cramped on a wooden seat as the smoke, music, and environment created a unique atmosphere. One of the men leaned over and said in Arabic that my daughter was very beautiful and I replied in some very rusty Arabic that she was a gift from God. Alicia wanted to know what was exchanged and as I turned towards her, the full impact of the kif hit me, as I articulated to her what I had said, a euphoric and spontaneous experience occurred as I fell into a state of glossolalia, and out of my mouth came a spontaneous rendition of the opening verse of the Qu’ran – not unlike the Lord’s prayer – sung in full voice, even as I was taken into my body, tissues, and cells, until at last, fully conscious and fully surrendered to God I experienced every cell praising Allah. The music had changed, the beat altered as these men – I realized later – saw that I was in a relative state of fana or extinction, or at the least, decided their music should accompany or promote the drug-induced state. For what seemed like ages, I reveled in those sublime moments and then felt Alicia’s hand gripping my leg and heard her concerned and alarmed voice asking me what was happening. I gradually let myself rise and fully erect, conscious, I turned without a look or moment of thanks and walked out. My back was ramrod stiff, I felt tall, and full of something as the crowds thronging the square parted – or so it seemed – to let me through to the mosque where I was heading. Alicia, carrying Sofiah, was trying to keep up with me, not knowing what was really going on, separate from my own experience. She coaxed me back to our room where I lay on the bed without talking. I fell into a reverie and experienced my life go past like a movie but instead of the bardo (of Buddhist death), I woke in the morning to another day.
In my life I have been blessed by having many internal experiences, many of which were facilitated by changes in my physiology – specific exercise, certain Sufi techniques, altered breathing – this is known by the Arabic as Tarik or the path toward God, whereby we utilize psychospiritual exercises to change our state and reach for the Divine. We use our will and our own power or animal self to make us shift state – akin to present-day shamanic endeavours to find transcendence or altered realities. Other inner experiences have occurred spontaneously, or through a state of absolute quietness and surrender to the One. This is known as Hakekat or direct experience. My experience above seems to have been a blessing in that I induced, through altered neurotransmitters, a change of state, but perhaps my surrender initiated a unique receiving within that experience. I had wished for a change of state that could encompass many realms, but the act of surrender directed me to the One.
I practised as a cranial osteopath and acupuncturist in my London practice, and here in America see clients as an ontologist – looking at the root causes of illness, dysfunction, states of behaviour, allergies, and the like. and how those root forces or elements affect our being. I have taught a body of work for twenty years that assists the practitioner to ‘read’ the story from a person as to the origins of their dysfunction and to be further guided into facilitating a resolution specific to that person. In so doing I have been privy to an enormous amount of personal inner dialogue as to the root causes of state. People see me because they operate from a state of consciousness that is less than the dictionary term – consciousness is a state of knowing – of our condition, existence, sensations, and mental patterns. For most of us we are separate from the origin – the root cause – and thus of knowing, and therefore our dysfunction may initiate a questioning, an odyssey, or a journey that may take us into enlightenment or knowing of our state.
Ontologically, the human organism is composed of four parts – which are mirrored in our evolutionary unfolding in utero. First, there is the material blueprint, followed by animation as the vegetal and rudimentary nervous system and physiology develops, followed by our animal self – our gender and instinctual mechanisms for survival – our mammalian brain – and finally in the last ten weeks the full development of our human neocortex. Our material state or consciousness is that which is derived from our constitution, the sum of our parental and ancestral DNA or genome that makes up our body frame, the tissues and organs as raw material. This is our material self – a human whose nature it is to walk through life with little overt change. They may mirror familial patterns and are held in the past, the old and the known. This is the human who manifests the genetic tendencies, the illnesses that are in our families – the miasma that percolates through our cellular memory. The proverbial ‘chip off the old block.’
I recently arrived back from a visit to England, having managed to see my eighty-eight-year-old father for several days. We had a great time, although as I watched him engage with people, speak, potter around, and do things in the kitchen I was very aware of how many of his mannerisms, figures of speech, movements, and poise had also manifested in me as I have become older. One evening we had gone out with my twin brother Richard and had a great time quaffing warm English beer and the ubiquitous pub dinner of fish and chips. At one point my father announced that black and white do not mix well in marriages although brown or yellow to ‘white’ do. This incendiary sentence drew sharp intakes of breath as ‘the twins’ took immediate umbrage over their father’s gaff and argued to corral his insensitivities and intemperate language. We were instantly rebuffed by his ‘experience’ whilst in India and Kuwait, where we had grown up. I suddenly exploded with rage and indignity, as I then challenged him to a ‘what if’ his granddaughters (three) married other races, and in particular black as one of my daughters was in Africa at the moment. He adamantly stuck to his guns, and so I launched into a tirade including using his early morning bout with tachycardia – to which I had help attenuate – as proof of his heartless consideration to the human race. The charged atmosphere resounded in silence, my brother aghast, dad quietened, shocked, and facing, perhaps for the first time, an articulated mirror.
I went back to my lodgings that evening and in my prayers and contemplation I cried for my lack of humanity, my stubbornness, arrogance, and petty mind – seeing how my anger arose from seeing such similarities within me – I asked for a width of feeling to enable me to encompass humankind, a capacity to be more than the proverbial black and white – right or wrong, to be open-minded and inclusive and to give me strength to rise up from the family predisposition or genome.
Consciousness is rooted in the niche that we humans operate from. These engage different parts of our neurology, which makes us ‘tune’ into things relevant to the niche we occupy. From Neoplatonic, early Christian, Kaballistic, and Islamic thought and parallel to modern quantum physics, the human organism can be seen as operating from a variety of differing quanta of energy. The Self can be seen as an organism that consists of four lower parts, each of which manifests as a distinct life force or carrier wave. These quanta or selves, known in Islamic Sufi terminology as the nafsu – are ordered, but when disorganized, become dominant or out of order, which then alters consciousness, health, well-being, and function.
Common with our evolution, our living system is composed of material, vegetal, animal, and human selves. A Noble Self is seen spiritually, non-corporeal, as an intermediary force, and acts as a bridge from the ordinary human to the Divine. It comes to us, rather than us to it. The human sits on top, making choices to surrender to what is metaphorically above, or to be guided by what is below; supported by instincts, intuition, and our more material inbuilt wisdom, whereas knowing comes from the human and wisdom from Grace, that is, above.
For most of us, we may equate the experience to consciousness – that is what we experience is consequent to consciousness; but to understand what we ‘feel’ the sensate awareness goes through a variety of cognitive functions – we upgrade the experience by noticing, and then being aware of it, being attentive of its power and shape, and then in mindfulness letting the ‘ah ha’ come from within – this is consciousness – to ‘know’ the archetypal force or experience that has been tasted. Being back in England, and in the familiar, was a force that influenced me and made me default to my roots or base self, and thus the part of me that rebelled and suddenly emerged was the old ‘me’, my undifferentiated self – that which was mirrored back to me through my father. My material origins ‘forced’ me to operate from its nature, and held me to a consciousness of the old and the known. My power – the animal self – was so displaced at that moment, that I could only erupt in an unnoble way which was to become angry and loud. My genome was dominant at that moment, and my consciousness emanated from that niche, with my humanity placed in its familiar position of defensive and habitual argument at the tip of my tongue, with a little forethought and only hindsight as my companion.
All humans illustrate the niche they operate from. We may observe that we may use or favour a particular mode of thought, and may articulate our thoughts with “I feel” (vegetative) or “ I think” (human). Conversely, we may be dogmatic, defensive, territorial, or sensitive to our gender (animal), or we may be very black and white, fixed and immoveable in our ideas and replies, emotions, and body mannerisms (material). All of these illustrate the niche or aspect of the human organism that may take power or dominance. Sometimes we are so cut off from our bodies that we receive no feedback -no instinct, intuition, feeling, or state that may warn us that we are separate from our resources.
For all of us, we interface with the world through these differing parts. Spiritual and other altered reality experiences are almost always mediated through our vegetal self. Intellectuals, scholars, theologians, and those who take a philosophical view of the world almost always bypass the sensate and experience through their cerebral mindfulness, unless they incorporate some discipline that allows their minds to relinquish control so that they taste the reality too. It is often said that the mind is not a spiritual organ, inferring that mere cognition does not make a reality, for consciousness surpasses mere intellectual rigours and encompasses. encloses, widens, penetrates, and alters all parts of us.
My experience in Morocco was a good example of being in a particular niche. The atmosphere, the different culture, the smell of herbs and spices in the marketplace, intermingled with rotting food piled high waiting for the street cleaners, the familiar mixed with the unfamiliar, the smoke of the hookah and the narcotic itself took me into a vegetative state – the feelings. My sensorial apparatus was altered in every way, and so what became dominant at that moment was my feeling nature, for my neurology was bombarded by sensation both from within, as the kif opened the gateways for opiate receptors in my brain, and by the environment, and situation. What I now understand is that I experienced the kundalini up my spine – the earthly equivalent of an enlivenment, as the ‘snake’ unwrapped (neurotransmitter release) and created a backwash of cranial fluid into the ventricles of my brain causing a huge limbic release and expansion of the whole cerebral architecture including the temporal lobes, whose influence is now seen in transcendent experiences. We are encoded for religious or spiritual experience within the matrix of the temporal lobes. However, this rapture appeared also to be followed by a direct inner experience of the heavenly equivalent of the kundalini (the shekinah) known as the Ruh ha Qodesh, the Holy Spirit or the Ruh Kudus for I had distinctly experienced cellular worship but at the level of my feelings – the vegetative part of me. That is, my feelings experienced the One, but it was induced by a drug whose nature cannot catalyze anything above its own state. This drug was vegetal – made from the plant kingdom-– which in itself cannot rise beyond its own state unless carried by something bigger – in this case the human life force. The vegetal life force is then carried by the human life force giving it momentum and transcendence which creates the illusion of wonder and Grace but in actuality, merely serves to experience the taste of worship at the level of feelings. Pretty extraordinary – but not human worship, just a view of the worship of the plant kingdom or realm – amazing but not very useful, except that it has kept me from needing to take any drugs ever since – some thirty or so years later.
For most of us living in a material world – in pursuit of the American dream – we long to climb out of the material basement – our genome – and to come alive. Many of us are not fully alive (in an inner sense rather than mere mobility and function) so we use sensory input to change our state. This artificially lifts us out of our niche – the material. It brings our feelings alive. Spiritual techniques and artefacts that also change our neurology without drugs also change our state. They lift us from state to a higher niche. The problem is that although we change our feelings, we may not really change anything else. This is because we may have placed our feelings often hungry for real nourishment, to be a pinnacle of consciousness, but in fact, are only an aspect of the whole. For the feeling nature should be subservient to our animal or instinctual self – our drive, ambition, power, and charisma, which then supports the human self who then is able to put into practice what we have experienced. Practice tells me that for much of my life, the experience was the ‘ah ha’, but left me unable to really change consequently. I was far too long in my own stasis before I was able to see that I had placed my feelings (and experiences) on top, and thus left my instincts and humanity out of order, unable to (literally) move and sustain myself through my inner experiences. As I have gradually put my house in order, through surrendering to The Implicate – the primary organizing force in the Universe, my capacity to put my life into order has subsequently grown and developed.
Solihin is co-author of a new book about the Life Forces and the order and hierarchy of a human being, presenting a renewed model of ancient understanding in a contemporary non-clinical, non-didactic language. Being Human: exploring the forces that shape us and awaken an inner life, by Solihin Thom, Alicia Thom and Alexandra ter Horst is available at good bookshops, or online at www.beinghumanbook.com. Solihin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org