Experiential Participation In Higher Consciousness


Norman D. Livergood



Related Essays



Process Four: Analyzing Apperception to Discover Higher Thought

     To begin this next section, study carefully these two sources:      By using special methodologies of investigation to examine our ordinary states of consciousness, we discover aspects of supersensible knowledge. We must first recognize that our ordinary experience involves more than naive realism assumes.

"There is experience not only of the sensible and the corporeal, but also of the spiritual and intellectual; not only of the physical, but also of the intelligible. For every true method of knowledge must undergo distinctions and differentiations within itself according to the fields of objects to which it relates. According to the being towards which it is directed, and according to the end in view, experience itself must undergo transformations and pass through a certain intellectual scale." 1

     By using special techniques of analyzing ordinary sense perception, we recognize that in our various modes of apperception, 2  we do not experience "pure" sensory input without any mixture of thought involved.

"Knowledge does not consist in impressions of sense, but in reasoning about them; in that only, and not in the mere impression, truth and being can be attained."

Plato, Theaetus

      Perception is always permeated by Thought; there is never immediate apprehension of an unmediated reality. As we seek to understand Reality, we impose certain ordering principles on our sense data: causality, objectivity (seeing things as objects), space, time, etc. Contrary to naive realism, Reality is not easily knowable.

Self-Analysis and Self-Purification

      In attempting to gain a true awareness of Reality, we must work through distorting elements, both internal and external, and have the courage of our informed convictions once we gain a grasp of truth (for example, acknowledging what our opinion is regarding what's happening in the world).

     We have to begin by searching within ourselves to discover what we think we know about Reality but don't really know (ignorance of ignorance). When we discover that our impressions of Reality are inaccurate, we must correct them through thoughtful examination of evidence as to what is really the truth. We find that the media in today's world create delusions as to what's happening and that special interest groups disseminate propaganda (false information) to try to create in our minds a counterfeit picture of Reality.

Benjamin Whichcote       The methodology of Plato, described in the essay we linked to above, is the same in principle as that of all other teachers who were in touch with the Perennial Tradition, such as the seventeenth century Cambridge Platonists. 3

      Dogmatists--those who dictate what reality is, according to their own interests without examining evidence--are the actual and abiding enemies of truth. Dogmatists come in all stripes: fundamentalist followers of a religion, naive empiricists, scientific materialists, dogmatic capitalists, diehard rationalists, doctrinaire socialists, and so on.

      We can achieve a fresh understanding of Plato's ideas as we study how they were embodied in and advocated by the Cambridge Platonists of the seventeenth century. Throughout the Dark Ages, ecclesiastical and secular rulers had decreed what was the truth--and daring indeed were the few brave souls, such as Galileo and Bruno, who dared to dissent. The Platonic tradition had been represented in each century by courageous thinkers (such as Boethius and Bernard of Clairvaux) who understood how important it was to help humankind understand that truth is determined by Reason. 4  This tradition emphasizes that we must cleanse our minds from the myths of "the cave"--the commonplace misreadings and distortions of truth.

     This idea of self-analysis and self-purification was expressed in eloquent terms by Plotinus:

"Withdraw within yourself, and examine yourself. If you do not yet therein discover beauty, do as the artist, who cuts off, polishes, purifies until he has adorned his statue with all the marks of beauty. Remove from your soul, therefore, all that is superfluous, straighten out all that is crooked, purify and illuminate what is obscure, and do not cease from perfecting your statue until the divine resplendence of virtue shines forth upon your sight. . . . But if you try to fix on it an eye soiled by vice, an eye that is impure, or weak, so as not to be able to support the splendour of so brilliant an object, that eye will see nothing, but even if it were shown a sight easy to grasp."

Ennead I, "Of Beauty," Book VI, Chs. 8-9

Henry More       The Cambridge Platonists were insistent that spiritual truth cannot be gained merely through dogma or doctrine, that it must be judged by human experience. Henry More expressed this idea in his Enchiridion ethicum, the principal ethical work of the Cambridge School:
"Every vital good is perceived and judged by life and sense. . . If you have ever been this, you have seen this."
You can only understand a reality if you have experienced it, if a part of your very being has participated in it.

      It may now be more apparent why we are focusing on experiential participation in this essay--because such existential engagement is essential for true understanding. And it also should be clear why we are using the term "Reason" in its capitalized form: because naive reasoning cannot go beyond the ordinary dimensions of commonplace thought to the world of Higher Consciousness--the Self.

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite."
William Blake

     When we cleanse our "doors of perception" to attain a grasp of truth, when we work through credulous "realism" to an understanding of Reality, we come into contact with supersensible forces within us--we arrive at Reason. The Cambridge Platonists changed the focus from the object to the subject, from sacrament and dogma to experiential participation and personal experience.

     The reason for this shift is that we can only discern the reality we're capable of discerning; our mental and moral states determine how well we can understand Higher Reality. Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464 C.E.) had asserted that God is for every man what he perceives God to be, and that the form and quality of this perception depends on that of the individual.

     One of the Cambridge Platonists, John Smith, maintained: "Such as Men themselves are, such will God himself seem to be." He was somewhat echoing Goethe's: "Wie einer is, so is sein Gott." As a man is, so is his God.

New Light on Plato's Concept of Dialectic

     Again, we gain fresh insight into Plato's concept of dialectic as it expressed itself in the Cambridge Platonists. In Plato's philosophy "dialectic" originally meant "investigation by dialogue," exploring an issue through question and answer, as in Socrates' heuristic method and Plato's dialogues. The idea was that truth can only be discovered by the interaction of various points of view.

     The Cambridge Platonists insisted that we must tolerate opposing opinions because we cannot assume infallibility or total knowledge.

"Because I may be Mistaken, I must not be dogmatical and confident, peremptory and imperious," declaimed Whichcote.
     Such wide tolerance of points of view is commendable--especially in an era of Puritan and Calvinist fanaticism and persecution. But Whichcote and the others were true Platonists in maintaining that diversity of opinion is not only to be advocated in terms of moral decency, but that divergent points of view are necessary ingredients in the attainment of truth.

Analyzing Experience to Discover Higher Consciousness

     The Cambridge thinkers were true followers of the Platonic tradition in using the analysis of experience to discover eternal elements. Plato maintained that we could "recognize" objects only because we possessed the ability to use higher Forms to discern their instantatiation in shoes and ships and sealing wax--even cabbages and kings.

"In all the writings of the Cambridge thinkers, it is not so much a matter of extending the religious horizon as of penetrating into another dimension of religious experience. Differences of doctrinal opinion are not only tolerated, but welcomed; for such freedom is the condition under which the pure essential core of religion can become manifest." 5
      During the seventeenth century, the Cambridge Platonists had to contend against two major types of dogmatists: the Puritan reactionaries and the philosophical empiricists. Both these latter groups maintained that truth was easily determinable: by the dictates of those in power. Truth comes to us already formed, the empiricists maintained; we do not need to mix reason or thought into perceptual understanding. The Church dictates what is truth, said the ecclesiastical tyrants, and the believer does not need to worry his mind with such irrelevancies as evidence or proof.

Francis Bacon      For two of the major figures in the empiricist school--Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)--the primary motif was scientia propter potentiam--knowledge for the sake of power. Nature reveals it secrets, Bacon maintained, if we put her "on the rack," coercing her to give up her secrets--just as a heretic is put on the rack and gives up his apostasy. According to Hobbes, knowledge should serve the ends of political power. Both these men--and their followers--maintained that we must force reality to reveal itself to us, as we already know it to be. Therefore, truth requires no evaluation by Reason. Most of the empiricists were materialists and they maintained that in perception there is only sensation, with "thought," "self," and "imagination" relegated to the realm of shadowy unrealities.

     The ecclesiastical and political dogmatists, said the Cambridge Platonists, simply did not understand human experience.

"The chief weakness of the empirical doctrine of knowledge is, according to Cudworth, that it starts from an analysis of sense-perception instead of from an analysis of judgment. Hobbes believes he is giving an account of sense-perception when he explains it as the mere reaction of the human body to an external stimulus. But even if simple perception admitted of such an explanation, nothing whatever would be gained towards the derivation of knowledge. For the beginning of all knowledge lies, not in perception as such, but in the judgment concerning it" 6

     As we've seen, Plato--and his Cambridge disciples--maintained that no sense-object--for example, a triangle--can be recognised and defined, unless human reason is able to grasp the supersensible Form of triangle. For judgment to be possible, and with it the beginning and seed of all knowledge, a sensible subject must always be connected with a supersensible concept, the particular with the general, and the perceived or imagined with the Real.

     The Cambridge thinkers advocated a concept of experience which included both physical perception and spiritual discernment. If, as did the empiricists, one recognises experience only in the form of sense-perception and considers it as valid only in this form, this excludes the spiritual as well as the intellectual elements which are clearly evident from any discerning analysis of human experience.

Analyzing Experience to Discover Higher Self-Consciousness

     The English Platonists maintained that humans are capable of a form of "pure perception" which gives us access not only to the transcendent dimension, to the being and nature of the Deity, but also to our deepest immanent being. Through Reason we know not only the Divine but also our real Self.

"If perception were given only in the form of sensation, of an external impression affecting the senses, then all possibility of self-consciousness would cease to be. For what sense grasps and conceives is only the qualities of external things, not the character, states, and activities of one's own ego. We see and hear colours and sounds; we do not see seeing and hear hearing themselves. Even when, with respect to content, we remain within the limits of the sense world, knowledge of sensible things is never a cognitive act of the senses alone. An original and independent form of awareness (Gewahrwerden) operates here which has nothing in common, and is not to be confused, with that form of perception (Wahrnehmung) by which we stand in relationship to the corporeal world. Even the mere sense-impression, accordingly, in so far as it is not simply the corporeal impression, but the consciousness of this impression, contains a genuine and indispensable purely noetic element." 7
"How could our thinking insight sit in judgment on the declarations of the senses, unless there were something living within it which transcends sense-perception? Therefore the truth or falsity in things is decided by something within us which opposes the physical body and consequently not subject to its laws."

Rudolph Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact

     The act of perception, the Cambridge thinkers maintained, reveals primarily not the properties of the external object being perceived, but discloses the potencies and nature of the perceiving subject. Our ability to apprehend Reality is in direct ratio to our essence: our powers of fair appraisal, our capability of allowing an object to disclose itself to us without our dictating to it what it must be. Every act of objective knowing is also an act of self-knowing; the result reveals who we are as much as what the object is. In this comprehensive understanding of human experience, the Cambridge Platonists were head and shoulders above seventeenth century English empiricism, which had made a vain effort to resolve the knowing subject, the ego, into a mere "bundle of perceptions."

"Whosoever, therefore, shall know himself, shall know all things in himself; but especially he shall know God, according to whose image he was made; he shall know the world, the resemblance of which he beareth; he shall know all creatures with which in essence he symboliseth, and what comfort he can have and obtain from stones, plants, animals, elements; from spirits, angels, and everything; and how all things may be fitted for all things, in their time, place, order, measure, proportion, and harmony; even how he can draw and bring them to himself as a loadstone, iron."

Agrippa, Occult Philosophy

     As we develop ourselves--our awareness of ourselves and our world--we gain the ability to know more. It is not just a matter of getting in touch with more reality. We must improve ourselves--our mental and moral qualities--if we are to gain increased understanding of what we already are in touch with and new aspects of reality we will discover with our enhanced capabilities.

     Thought, as a higher organ, remains unnoticed in the ordinary conscious life; indeed there are many persons who deny its existence. But their denial is due to an incapacity to carry out genuine self-observation. There is something at work in Thought which is more than physical or terrestrial.

     As we examine our experience, we learn to separate the element of sensation from the element of thought. Thought has no connection to bodily sensation; in thought we are entirely separate from our body. In thought the human soul rises out of the bodily organism into a higher realm. As soon as a person becomes distinctly, separately conscious of the thought element in the act of perception, she knows by direct experience that she is acting as a living soul, quite independent of her bodily nature.

"Neoplatonism asserts consistently that the world as seen by the spiritual man is a very different world from that which is seen by the carnal man. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned; and the whole world, to him who can see it as it is, is irradiated by Spirit. A sober trust in religious experience, when that experience has been earned, is an essential factor in Platonic faith. Our vision is clarified by . . . steady concentration of the thoughts, will, and affections on things that are good and true and lovely; by disinterestedness, which thinks of no reward, and by that progressive unification of our nature which in the Gospels is called the single eye."

William Ralph Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus, 1917-1919

     Thought becomes deliberate as we develop the capabilities of critical thinking and critical consciousness. We not only sense and think, but we reflect and evaluate our experience, making judgements based on reason and morality.

     As Plato taught, a person can definitely experience herself as a supersensible soul-being, as she develops an advanced capacity for self-observation. Plato outlined a kind of meditative practice, an intensified activity of Thought, activating in itself the force that is otherwise used in sense perception. Our Thinking in itself grows so strong that it works with the same vivid quality which is otherwise only there in sense-perception. We begin to experience the Forms, such as Goodness, Beauty, Justice, and Truth.

"The soul then reasons in the most beautiful manner, when it is disturbed by nothing belonging to the body, neither by hearing, nor sight, nor pain, nor any pleasure, but subsists in the most eminent degree, itself by itself, bidding farewell to the body, and, as much as possible neither communicating nor being in contact with it, extends itself towards real being."

Plato, Phaedo

     This apperception of Forms is unrelated to memories from the past, sensory experiences in the immediate present, or contemplation of the future. The Platonic apperceptive experience in itself provides a content of its own, such as we otherwise only derive from sense-perception. As we develop this apperceptive meditative ability of the soul, we experience an inherent certainty that we're receiving no purely visionary content originating in our unconscious organic regions. We learn to experience realities which are called forth in higher consciousness without external perceptions, just as we are conscious of ideas in ordinary life when engaged in reflective thought, ideas independent of the physical world.

     Plato taught that as we develop our evolving consciousness, a supersensible, purely spiritual content enters the feeling and perception of the Self. The apperceptive meditative life gives rise to a form of supersensible self-awareness. This self-consciousness can then be directed to the activity of the Will in realizing new capabilities--even to the point of moving beyond the realm of Forms to the One, as in Plotinus' experience.

     In every-day life the activity of the will is consciously directed to external actions. There is, however, a spiritual expression of Will to which we pay little conscious attention: the activity of Higher Will which carries us from one stage of development to another in the course of our life. For not only are we engaged with different conceptual content within our soul, day after day, but our soul-life itself, on each succeeding day, evolves out of our soul-life of the day before. The driving force in this evolving process is the Higher Will, which in this field of its activity remains for the most part unconscious.

     Advanced self-awareness can, however, raise this element of Higher Will, with all its unusual powers, into our conscious life. When we accomplish this, we gain a perception of a life of Will which has absolutely nothing to do with any elements of a sense-perceptible external world, but is directed solely to the inner evolution of the soul--independent of the physical world. We learn by degrees to enter into the living essence of our Higher Will, just as in the former kind of meditative life we entered into the Higher Consciousness.

      Our conscious, deliberate experience of this element of Higher Will expands into the experience of an independent supersensible external world of its own substance. Having gained the aspect of Will, our supersensible self-consciousness finds itself in a supersensible realm filled with spiritual Beings and events.

      As we attain this Platonic apperceptive meditative ability, the experience of the supersensible world--and its events and beings--is different for every person. Bernard of Clairvaux's experience of the supersensible world--and the personage of "the Word"--is particularly instructive.

"I admit that the Word has also come to me-I speak as a fool-and has come many times. But although he has come to me, I have never been conscious of the moment of his coming. I perceived his presence, I remembered afterwards that he had been with me; some times I had a presentiment that he would come, but I was never conscious of his coming or his going. And where he comes from when he visits my soul, and where he goes, and by what means he enters and goes out, I admit that I do not know even now. . . The coming of the Word was not perceptible to my eyes, for he has not color; nor to the ears, for there was no sound; nor yet to my nostrils, for he mingles with the mind, not the air; he has not acted upon the air, but created it. His coming was not tasted by the mouth, for there was not eating or drinking, nor could he be known by the sense of touch, for he is not tangible. How then did he enter? Perhaps he did not enter because he does not come from outside? He is not one of the things which exist outside us. Yet he does not come from within me, for he is good, and I know there is no good in me. I have ascended to the highest in me, and look! the Word is towering above that. In my curiosity I have descended to explore my lowest depths, yet I found him even deeper. If I look outside myself, I saw him stretching beyond the furthest I could see; and if I looked within, he was yet further within. Then I knew the truth of what I had read, 'In him we live and move and have our being'. And blessed is the man in whom he has his being, who lives for him and is moved by him.

"You ask then how I knew he was present, when his ways can in no way be traced? He is life and power, and as soon as he enters in, he awakens my slumbering soul; he stirs and soothes and pierces my heart, for before it was hard as stone, and diseased. So he has begun to pluck out and destroy, to build up and to plant, to water dry places and illuminate dark ones; to open what was closed and to warm what was cold; to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth, so that my soul may bless the Lord, and all that is within me may praise his holy name. So when the Bridegroom/the Word, came to me, he never made known his coming by any signs, not by sight, not by sound, not by touch. It was not by any movement of his that I recognized his coming; it was not by any of MY senses that I perceived he had penetrated to the depth of my being. Only by the movement of my heart, as I have told, did I perceive his presence; and I knew the power of his might because my faults were put to flight and my human yearnings brought into subjection. I have marvelled at the depth of his wisdom when my secret faults have been revealed and made visible; in the very slightest amendment of my way of life I have experienced his goodness and mercy; in the renewal and remaking of the spirit of my mind, that is of my inmost being, I have perceived the excellence of his glorious beauty, and when I contemplate all these things I am filled with awe and wonder at his manifold greatness. 8

      As we develop this apperceptive meditative capability, reality--activity, thought, perception, etc.--is perceived and experienced while we retain the interior serenity encountered in contemplation. Simultaneously we learn to lead ourselves "into the inwardness," As Meister Eckhart says. We learn to think, speak, walk, and work without losing the profound quietude inside. We experience something and at the same time are vividly aware of ourselves experiencing--including our attitudes toward the experience.

"For the first thing on which blessedness depends is that the soul should contemplate God unveiled. In this experience the soul receives all her being and her life, and draws all that she is from the ground of God, and knows nothing of knowledge, or of love, or of anything at all. She becomes entirely and absolutely passive in the being of God. There she knows nothing but being and God."
Meister Eckhart

"Knowledge that the Eternal is not divided from him is the cause of freedom from the world, whereby the Eternal, the secondless bliss, is gained by the awakened. Therefore one should perfectly know that the Eternal and the Self are not divided."

Shankara, The Crest Jewel of Wisdom

     As we cleanse our souls and develop meditative capabilities, our spiritual eyes are opened; we begin to see things around us which we could not have seen before. We understand that hitherto we had only apprehended a part of reality.

     We come to the awareness that our own attributes, such as reverence, compassion, and respect actually enable us to gain a higher form of cognition. Our ability to discern is directly determined by our nature. We begin to realize that qualities such as truthfulness, courage, and honesty are the nutrients and enablers of our soul, just as ordinary food provides nourishment and energy for the body. Reverence for higher wisdom and appreciation of higher beauty awaken in the soul a sympathetic power through which we attract and reveal qualities in the beings around us, which would otherwise remain unknown.

     Gradually we develop a vivid inner life. We no longer dart from one sense impression to another, constantly seeking distraction. Our pathway to higher knowledge is not to blunt our awareness of the outer world, but while lending ourselves to its impressions, become guided by our rich inner life. When enjoying a beautiful painting, if we have developed depth of soul and wealth of feeling, this object has a higher meaning for us. What we experience within ourselves unlocks for us the beauties of the outer world.

      What we're learning in this essay is to remain in touch with our own feelings and ideas so we can develop an intimate relationship with the outer and the inner worlds. The outer world with all its phenomena is filled with splendor, but we must have experienced the divine within ourselves before we can hope to discover its depths.

Inner Tranquility

     As we progress, we gradually reach the point where we determine the manner in which the impressions of the outer world affect us. Someone may speak a word with the object of wounding or annoying us. Formerly it would indeed have bothered us, but now that we're gaining an experiential participation in higher consciousness, we're able--before the word has found its way to our inner self--to take from it the sting which gives it the power to wound or annoy.

     Such attainment of objectivity and detachment is essential, because only a state of inner serenity makes it possible for us to develop Higher Awareness. No specific circumstance of life can, by itself, supply the essential components for spiritual development; these can only be provided by the inner calm which we ourselves develop within our soul. Outward circumstances can only alter the course of our outward life; they can never awaken the inner spiritual man. Through our inner development, we are giving birth to a new and higher Self within us.

    Our higher Self now becomes the inner pilot who directs the acts and feelings of our outer self with sure guidance. As long as we allow our ordinary self to have the upper hand, our inner Self is limited and therefore cannot unfold its powers. If we depend on something other than ourselves--our mood or circumstance--to determine whether we get angry or not, we are not master of ourselves.

"The Second Property or Effect of Religion, whereby it discovers its own Nobleness . . . is this, That it restores a Good man to a just power and dominion over himself and his own Will, enables him to overcome himself, his own Self-will and Passions, and to command himself & all his Powers for God.

"There is nothing in the World so boisterous as a man's own Self-will, which is never guided by any fixt or steddy Rules, but is perpetually hurried to and fro by a blind and furious impetus of Pride and Passions issuing from within it self. This is the true source and Spring of all that Envy, Malice, Bitterness of Spirit, Malecontentedness and Impatiency, of all those black and dark Passions, those inordinate desires and lusts, that reign in the hearts and lives of wicked men."

John Smith (1618-1652), "The Excellency
and Nobleness of True Religion"

    As we develop the capability of apperceptive discernment of Forms, we gain the awareness that we are dwelling in a Higher World. This is a world concerning which our senses and our daily life can tell us nothing. We have shifted the central point of our being to the inner part of our nature, cultivating a communion with spiritual realities and entities. We now live in a higher world of Thought and we engage in experiential participation in silent thought-activity. We learn to welcome and appreciate the ideas, images, and feelings which Spirit communicates to us. We begin to realize that our inner thought-world is more real than our everyday experience.

    We learn to deal with our thoughts as with things in the physical world, and we realize that what reveals itself to us in the silent inward thought-world is much higher, much more real, than the things in the physical universe. We discover that higher Realities express themselves in this thought-world, not unreal phantasms, but higher Ideas through which higher Beings speak to us. Within the inner silence, words and ideas become known to us.

      Formerly, sounds and ideas only reached us through our senses and our mind; now intuitions resound through our soul. Inner words and meanings--aspects of a Higher Language--are revealed to us. The moment when we first experience the inner intuitions, is one of intense rapture; a second life has begun for us. Through our being, there streams a higher flow of wisdom and feeling.

    To assist in our development, we must permeate ourselves with the lofty elements by which humankind advances in intelligence and spirituality: the writings, images, and performances of those who themselves were or are possessed of the spirit, exemplars inspired to share what they receive. A wondrous part of our spiritual heritage are the anagogical 9 writings which themselves have their origin in just such revelation during meditation as we are seeking. Those in quest of the Spirit themselves set down in such writings the thoughts of the Higher Science which the Spirit directs advanced messengers to proclaim to the world.


1 Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England, 1953

2 Apperception is not mere sensation; it is the ordering, arranging, and categorizing of sensations to achieve knowledge. Reality, to be known, requires unifying intelligence to constitute the relations of its phenomena, to make it a connected world of experience.

Apperception is thus a general term for all mental processes in which reality comes into connection with an already existent system of mental elements (concepts, feelings, desires, etc.), and is thereby ordered, classified, explained or, in a word, understood.

3 Those persons who were either a part of the Cambridge Platonist movement or were supportive of it included: Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth, John Colet, John Smith, Henry More, Thomas More, Erasmus, Bayle, Shaftesbury, Hugo Grotius, and Leibnitz

4 I'm capitalizing the word "Reason" to distinguish it from naive rationalism or commonplace reasoning, which accept assertions without examining whether or not they are supported by evidence.

5 Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England, 1953

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs

9 Anagogical: from the Greek anagein: to lift up; the word denotes any element (entity or experience) through which a person's actions, thoughts and feelings are lifted up from worldly sense experience to realize an experiential participation of the spiritual realm