A brisk sea breeze greeted him just as the morning sun began to ease its way over the monastery wall. Giving little notice to the all too familiar miracle the Dominican priest hurriedly made his way across the courtyard toward the chapel. He knew that immediately after the Mass he would be diving back into his work on the third part of his colossal Summa Theologiae, which so far had consumed six years of his life.
As perhaps the greatest mind of his time, what Thomas Aquinas couldn’t have known that morning was that when he would step out of the chapel there in Naples some two hours hence he would not write one more word.
For on that early December 6th morning in 1273 the “Prince of Scholastics” had such an epiphany, such a life altering, mystical experience that never again would he have any interest in intellectuality and the doctrines and dogmas it cultures. He said, “Such things have been revealed to me that now all I have written appears in my eyes as of no greater value than straw!”
An eye-popping footnote is that Summa Theologiae was intended as a manual for religious beginners providing a compilation of all of the main theological teachings of that time. Today, in its original unfinished form, it comprises some sixty volumes and totals over 10,000 pages!
So through this ecstatic mystical experience Thomas Aquinas’s consciousness moved dramatically away from the linear, never satisfied, ego based realm of the mind and into the all-satisfying realm of soul awareness. In the twinkling of an eye Thomas Aquinas stepped out of the limited territory of reason and into the all-satisfying sphere of direct perception.
And yet man in his reasoning, left-brain dominated consciousness always seems to get caught up in the same mistake, again and again, age after age. He thinks that his reasoning thoughts about God are giving him actual knowledge of God.
But the flaw is obvious. For our left-brain is nothing but a processor. It reasons and analyses. It functions by deduction, by inference, not by true first hand experience. And so man gets himself into all kinds of mischief by relying too heavily on the imperfect tool of his intellect.
“The world is flat” and “the sun orbits the earth” are a couple of useful examples of the mischief this lesser tool can get us into!
But interestingly, when we listen to the enlightened ones from across the ages they always speak about their experiences, not about their thoughts!
This next story really brings this point home. In her stunning book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, Dr. Jill Taylor consciously watches the hemorrhaging left hemisphere of her brain fill with blood and shut down. While at the same time she perceives her consciousness moving over into the right side of her brain where she experiences, without any religious overlay, an intensely blissful awareness of an all-satisfying love and peace. And in the absence of her reasoning, ego driven left hemisphere, she perceives herself as absolutely perfect, whole and beautiful just the way she is.
Through the shutting down of the ever-active linier, judging side of the brain, Dr. Taylor’s consciousness shifts into her right hemisphere where she experiences a powerful sense of peace and contentment, discovering there that she is not alone, and that she is “One with the universe” and one with her Source. In doing so she accomplishes what yogis and meditators the world over know as the key to spiritual discovery. She quiets the ever-busy reasoning side of her brain!
What an unexpected and amazing gift Dr. Taylor gives to the world by recounting her experience in the language and understanding of a brain scientist. In a very thorough way she gives a physiological explanation of a spiritual experience. That is such a timely gift for an age that is rapidly moving away from intellectual doctrines and towards quantifiable personal experience.
In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Dr. Taylor says from her unique first person experience that: “Religion is the left brain’s story about the right brain’s experience!”
How wonderfully succinct is that?!
I’m John Johnston. See you next time, here On the Cosmic Porch!