Beyond the Boundaries of the Intellect

June 17, 2019

The popularity of the mystic Sufi poet Rumi is based on his love affair with God, expressed in such ecstatic terms that he makes the spiritual journey seem deeply romantic. But Rumi also reported about how his state of consciousness felt, which gives valuable clues about higher consciousness itself.

Here is a beautiful line of his that has profound implications for consciousness as well: “Exchange your cleverness for bewilderment.” What kind of bewilderment does he mean? To most people, bewilderment is the opposite of an appealing state, since it implies indecision, confusion, perhaps loss of control entirely. Rumi was known for applauding such a state, however, if the result was bliss and ecstasy.

To modern ears the message is more pointed. “Cleverness” is Rumi’s synonym for the rational mind, which seeks explanations that are logical and consistent. The aim of the intellect is to bring everything down to earth, so to speak, eliminating the folderol and fantasy associated with spirituality and mysticism in particular. Rumi encountered this not in terms of modern rationality with its basis in science but from clerics who studied and became expert authorities on “correct” Islam.

Another way to put Rumi’s idea comes from the inspired Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, who said, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” This translates into the declaration that making maps, models, brain scans, and anatomical pathways to explain consciousness isn’t the same as experiencing it.

This is an undeniable fact. Take the most basic conduit of experience, the five senses. Remove any one of them, and it is impossible to bring it back by describing it. “Color” is meaningless to someone who is blind, just as “scent” is unfathomable to someone without a sense of smell. But logical models supported by facts, data, and experiments overlook the obvious truth just stated. There is a fallacious claim that the brain, once its operations are fully mapped and analyzed, will disclose the source of the mind.

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