Living Time

Maurice Nicoll was an early colleague of Jung's, a life long friend of Ouspensky's and one time pupil of Gurdjieff's at Fontainebleau. Professionally he was a distinguished neurologist and psychologist who towards the end of his life took typewriter ribbon to paper and produced a remarkable series of books of which Living Time is an exemplary example.

The style of writing is paradoxically both dry, measured, restrained and completely captivating not least because of the lucidity with which it deals with, and illustrates, a complex subject matter, resistant, as St Augustine knew, to being talked about namely time (and eternity).

He is essentially an empirical neo-Platonist by which I mean his highly developed understanding of a Platonic understanding of a hierarchical universe defined through levels of consciousness is coupled with a desire to ground this in explicit (and contemporary) explorations of consciousness.

So, for example, Ramsey's (and William James') famous experiments with ether are allowed to prompt an entry point into the less familiar understandings of Plato and the Hermetica.

Most interesting to me, on this reading, was the emphasis on both how genuine transformation can only come from 'ideas from above' and how recognizing the 'above' as an actual dimension is the first step to receiving such ideas, is indeed one of those ideas. 

We cannot reason ourselves into changing using the evidence of our senses because, as Plato knew, this is merely speculative. The senses give us a world modeled to our senses and, thus, is naturally limited by them. The material reason has to work on and shape is only a fragment of the whole, though an especially alluring one. We can rearrange the deck chairs, through reason, into a more acceptable configuration but we are still on the Titanic!

Nicoll stresses the importance of 'cosmology' in which an understanding of 'time' and 'eternity' is critical because if we are to be lured into transformation, we need to live in a 'world' where transformation is genuinely possible,

This captured for me my uneasiness with 'spirituality' as seen as an internalized, private set of happenings freed of 'religion' - a binding account of how things are (even if imperfectly understood) - because as Nicoll remarks about Jung, this can become a mere shuffling of the pack of our emotional life towards modest re-balancing and if our time horizon is only 'this life', seen as a limiting period of passing time, we may think that there is no time (and no point) to attempt the significant work of change implied by the high inheritance that Plato suggests, and Christianity extends, of being made in the image and likeness of God and being able to fully live in God's time, that is eternity.

I recall one afternoon's meditation session when this became glimmering apparent. I was kneeling on my stool, the September sun on my face, peacefully alert, when I realized that 'I' was not dead. This (from a passing time point of view) was obvious - I was breathing, I was hungry - but what I resonated with was a deep, freed sense that 'I' could not die, that everything that mattered about 'I' was, is, and always will be alive. 'I' was an inhabitant in the mind of God and thus free of death. This was momentary, though how long does a moment last, but I notice freeing. This 'idea from above' that came to me loosened (though certainly not entirely or completely) the grip of my growing, middle aged, periodic 'death panic' - either 'what next?' or 'nothing next?'. There is no next for 'I' because this 'I' is eternally present.

How that might be understood more deeply is the quest of Nicoll's book. It is an adventure in ideas beyond the scope of the ordinary.


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