The Imaginal Within The Cosmos: Natural Jesus (2): Prayer & Mental Fields
We read in biblical accounts that Jesus prayed mightily, often retreating from the crowds, from his disciples to pray and commune with his Father. With this in mind, I believe our quest of Jesus in relation to the Imaginal Realm has to begin with *prayer.* What is prayer, really?
Prayer is an universal phenomenon, present in all peoples and cultures. Prayer's historical antecedents are prehistoric. And prayer is expressed and experienced at multidimensional levels.
There are so many forms of prayer: personal, public, devotional, petititional, liturgical, silent, meditative, contemplative, centering, body control, biofeedback, transcendental, zazen, etc. There are so many styles and labels.
What really happens to us, to those of us who seriously engage in prayer? Some of us feel accepted or saved. Some experience "God" at greater levels. Some feel better physically and mentally. Some feel let down. Perhaps these various experiences depend on our levels and comprehension of prayer. Lots probably depends on the culture and religious system in which we reside, too.
Earlier, older studies usually relate only descriptive information about the phenomenon of prayer. I am thinking, of course, of William James, Rudolf Otto, and Evelyn Underhill.
James notes that when prayer goes beyond some recited formula, it is then that prayer "rises and stirs the soul..." For him real, deeply intent prayer engaged in intercourse with "God," is *real religion.* [William James, THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, Mentor Books, 1958, p. 352.]
Otto actually does not even use the word "prayer." I checked. But he does allude to "contemplation," that when deeply absorbed a mind is submitted to *impressions* of the universe. Otto relates this to a special kind of cognition, of knowing, in terms of intuition, surmises, or inklings. [Rudolf Otto, THE IDEA OF THE HOLY, Oxford University Press, 1950, pp. 146-147.]
Underhill places prayer under the title of "orison." She provides extensive descriptions of the experiences of prayer, especially the prayer of union and the prayer of quiet. She gets into the degrees of prayer. She talks about the intuitional, about rapture (ecstasy), about unknowing--but most always, again, in just religious terms. Her book, however, is a landmark. [See Evelyn Underhill, MYSTICISM: A STUDY IN THE NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT OF MAN'S SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS, New American Library, 1974. This book was originally published in the early part of the 20th century.]
The Jesuit William Johnston has written lots about prayer. Living and teaching in Japan, he is knowledgeable of both Eastern and Western forms. He talks about different physical states, scientifically verified, when engaged in deep prayer. But what I like most is a small idea he injected in one of his books-- talking about the mantra "Honour to the lotus sutra," Johnson discusses the claims that "the vibrations thus aroused tap the life-force which governs the activity of the whole universe." [William Johnston, THE INNER EYE OF LOVE, Harper & Row, 1978, p. 165.]
There's no denying that prayer is a powerful phenomenon. And I really do wonder if it is as of yet a mainly untapped human ability (or faculty) that actually might serve as a psychic channel to other dimensional levels of the Universe--and thus a channel to greater cosmic comprehension. Is it possible to discuss and study prayer outside of a strictly religious context and study it as not only a special human faculty but as perhaps a universal communications systems--of which we are only becoming aware?
Now let's look at some of Larry Dossey and Rupert Sheldrake's ideas about prayer.
Larry Dossey, M.D., is the Executive Director of the Journal of Alternative Therapies. He also once served as the division head of Alternative Medicine, the US National Institutes of Health. As for Rupert Sheldrake, he has served in the following positions: Fellow and Director of Studies in cell biology and biochemistry at Clare College, Cambridge; Science Philosopher at Harvard University; Research Fellow of the Royal Society (UK); and a member of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He is famous (or controversial) because of his theory of morphogenetic fields in biology.
Dossey focuses-in on two experiments in relation to prayer. He considers the work that cardiologist Randolph Byrd, with San Francisco State General Hospital and formerly a professor of the University of California, carried out with prayer and human patients. Dossey also draws upon the work done with prayer and plant material, which was carried out by the Spindrift researchers in Oregon.
And Sheldrake picks-up with some of Dossey's commentary on prayer. But let's proceed with Dossey.
Dossey considers that prayer involves a quality of consciousness that could be considered *nonlocal.* What does this mean? First, as Dossey puts it: "local" means something in the here and now. Local mind as represented in the scientific materialistic view essentially means the mind is localized strictly in the brain. On the other hand, "nonlocal" is a consciousness that is not confined to just brains and bodies, but rather is a kind of extended mind that can spread out over enormous distances.
With this background, let's return to Dossey's focus on the Byrd and Spindrift experiments regarding prayer. The Byrd experiment involved recruiting dispersed Roman Catholic and Protestant prayer groups to pray for designated sick people. The results, generally, are as follows: the patients prayed for were less likely to require antibiotics; they were less likely to develop pulmonary edema; they did not require endotrachael intubation; and fewer of these patients died.
In the Spindrift experiment the testing involved prayers and rye seeds. It was an effort to investigate the power of prayer on non-human forms, in particular on plant life. The rye seeds were placed into different sides (A and B) of a container. Only one side was prayed for--and the results showed significantly more rye shoots for the seeds prayed for. Beyond this, in terms of praying for the sick--the Spindrift researchers "stressed" certain rye seeds by adding salt water to their container. After prayer these stressed seeds seemed to overcome their adverse environment and sharply increased rye shoots.
Considering these experiments, Dossey wonders how prayer "knows" which seeds to help. Indeed how does prayer "know" which patients or people to help? Sheldrake has some opinions about this.
Sheldrake links his theory of morphic fields with the idea of an extended nonlocal mind. Sheldrake sees mind in terms of "mental fields." In this case, he means minds that go beyond, through, and interface with the electromagnetic patterns of the brain. These mental fields can extend over large distances.
Perhaps at this point, however, before we proceed, a brief review of Sheldrake's theory would be in order!
Sheldrake's short explanation of morphogenetic fields are that they are causal fields "with an inherent" memory provided by morphic resonance. Beyond biological fields, there are other kinds of morphic fields--such as mental fields, behavioral fields, social fields. There are fields acting through fields at all levels of reality. They interface with one another; and, consequently, for Sheldrake there is no mind-body dichotomy.
Now--it is these mental fields to which Sheldrake believes there is a "medium of connection" through which prayer works! At this point Sheldrake draws back to Dossey's question, about how prayer "knows" the recipient.
Sheldrake contends that a mental field is about a series of connections between us and people, animals, places, etc., that we know and care about. Morphic fields have to have a mental connection--there has to be a link between the sender and recipient in prayer. A mental field cannot simply spread serendipity, whether in terms of recipient or locale. In some way the pray-er has to know (or know of) the recipient.
The above provides some other approaches (besides religious) to prayer. But at this point we have talked mostly of prayer only in the context of nonlocal mind--the human collective mind. But what of Jesus, of us, communing with Higher Levels beyond ourselves?
Perhaps there are gradations of Universal Mind, various tiers of potential communication throughout the Imaginal Realm, throughout what may be Ultimate Reality?
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