Last night we watched the film Bliss (2021), starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek, written and directed by Mike Cahill. It is a good psychological thriller. Here are a few quotes:
Isabel: “The thing is that it’s amazing how easy humans can get used to even something spectacular.”
Isabel: “Most people say, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ But I say, you have to experience the good to appreciate the bad.”
Greg: “You know, it’s the other way around.”
Isabel: “Bliss is not a feeling. It’s not a place. Bliss is a state of mind that can only be achieved by understanding the contrast with the opposite state of mind.”
I’m fascinated by this philosophy that in order to know anything, we must know its opposite. Knowledge arises in the crossroads of the dialectic, the juxtaposition, the polarity between two ends of a spectrum, like the two poles of a magnet. That is the epistemological field of possibility where knowledge arises, in the inbetweeness.
As Richard Rohr has noted, “reality has a cruciform pattern,” and is a “collision of opposites.” Or as St. Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa called it, a “coincidence of opposites,” a coincidentia oppositorum. Even modern scientists have discovered that reality seems to be two-sided in many cases, a complementary of qualities or properties, for example, things being both a particle and wave in superposition, or “wave-particle duality.”
Without the experience of an end to a polarity, can we truly know its opposite end? If we don’t know dark, what is light? It can only be nothing. Light may be, but we can’t know it if we don’t experience its absence. Then suddenly, we recognize it is gone. What was present and unknown is known only when it becomes absent, and the opposite quality is now present. If we don’t know object, what is space? If we don’t know sweet, what is bitter? We expand our ability to know through stretching experience to both ends of dualistic possibility. Perhaps this is why Joseph Smith once said (after which this website is named),
Thy mind, O man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse; he must commune with God.
The HIGHEST and LOWEST, both the utmost HEAVEN and the dark ABYSS. Opposites. Complementarities. Polarities. One doesn’t exist without the other. We only know things through their duality.
Isaiah intuited this when he said:
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.-Isaiah 45:7
This is perhaps why in order to gnose nonduality, we must transcend knowing, the thought-filled mind (which only contains dualities). It may seem that duality and nonduality would be themselves yet another duality, and that might be true in a sense, but I suggest that duality actually proceeds out of nonduality, the One becoming the many. It’s not just that duality is at one end of the spectrum, and nonduality is at the other. Nonduality is the whole spectrum, and duality arises as the possible particular expressions of that whole spectrum in the mind’s knowledge. Its expression is when we know and taste of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God is the ground of all such dualities, the superpositioned holistic field out of which all polarities come, both light and dark, prosperity and disaster, hot and cold, left and right, up and down, on and off, 0 and 1, even good and evil. Is evil an expression of God then? Perhaps. What else could it be? Although I usually prefer to regard evil as an unconsciousness of God, a veiling of God, rather than as an active manifestation of God. As Julian of Norwich realized:
It behoved [was necessary] that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
An unconsciousness of God is paradoxically perhaps knowing and knowledge, and the consciousness or gnosis of God is an unknowing or end of knowledge.
Here are some more insights from the prophet-mystic Joseph Smith:
[If Adam and Eve had not fallen, they would be] having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.-2 Nephi 2:23
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.-2 Nephi 2:11
The Sufi mystic Rumi once said,
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep
Last night I posted this on Facebook:
Heaven and hell are states of mind.
Heaven is when we are free of thoughts.
Hell is when we are lost in thoughts.
The Kingdom of Heaven is within us because it is pure consciousness prior to all thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, empty of thoughts of self and other, fully aware of and being in the Living Present. This is the Parousia, at-One-ment in God.
In Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse not long before his death he said, “the MIND of man—the intelligent part—is as immortal as, and is coequal with, God Himself.” By the “intelligent part” I suggest he was referring to pure consciousness as that which is at the root of mind, its source, eternally and identically God in us, aka the Kingdom of Heaven within, as Jesus also said (Luke 17:21).
Joseph also said, “A sinner has his own MIND and his own MIND damns him. He is damned by mortification and is his own condemner and tormenter. Hence the saying: They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. I have no fear of hell fire, that doesn’t exist, but the torment and disappointment of the MIND of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone—so is the torment of man.” Thus, our mind, filled with thoughts, is hell, and damns us, separating us (ego) from the Living Present.
Thy mind, O human!
So to return to the original question, is bliss a state of mind? I think the answer might be yes and no. We can only know “bliss” as an object of knowledge, “bliss” as a word being some thing known. But what is known in the experience of bliss? Nothing. This is gnosis. Bliss is gnosed, not known, in reality. It is when the mind is free of thoughts, when nothing is known, when all knowing comes to an end, when we stop tasting of the Tree of Knowledge of Dualities. This is contemplation.
Bliss is heaven, and it is known in consciousness when the mind is empty of contents or modulation, being perfectly still and void. This is “Peace, be still.” It is perhaps a state of mind when the mind is empty and free, free of states. Is that itself a “state”? Is being stateless a state? Is nothing a thing? Is knowing nothing still knowing? The opposite state of mind of bliss is perhaps having states, having mental contents, the mind being something, the beginning of knowledge of dualities. Bliss is the gnosing of the whole before its expression, out of which all expression flows like living waters.
Could we gnose bliss if we didn’t have the knowing experience of duality? Is this bliss “good” only if the “bad” is known? This is perhaps where language begins to fail us. In the experience of bliss there is no “I” to gnose it. The gnosis is it. “I” don’t even experience it. It simply is itself. That emptiness, stillness, peace, void, is it. It doesn’t become it because we become empty. It is always the emptiness, the whole, the container, pure consciousness, ultimate reality, and our minds become veiled from it when we become aware of the host of dualistic perceptions, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and our constructed “self” identity, including the word “bliss.” As we become veiled again in our knowing, the mind may interpret that void of itself, that gnosis of unknowing (true ignorance), that nothingness of self, as something we call “bliss.”
Be still, and gnose that I AM God.-Psalm 46:10 BHT