Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Witches and dyslexia

I've mentioned in passing in previous messages that I am dyslexic to some extent - enough to make me different, that's for sure! I haven't been tested scientifically, but I am a slow reader and, after looking into it a bit, I have other characteristics as well. I can see now that being dyslexic has shaped the passage of my whole life so far, including my experience as a Baha'i.

It came to my attention particularly last year, when Tom West, the author of the book "In the Mind's Eye", was visiting New Zealand and was interviewed on national radio. When I heard him talking about how dyslexic people tend to think, I was amazed and I discovered why I had spent my life struggling to 'fit in' and why I never was able to do post-graduate work at university. It was around 1999 when I discovered to my astonishment that it wasn't that I was stupid and everyone else intelligent, but that I was able to see things that others didn't see. Various things were obvious to me, but others never saw them, and so I thought what I saw was wrong (and, often, bad, I was told) and that I was missing what was plain to them. Getting on the Internet discussion lists was what woke me up. Finally, I met a few others who could see what I saw - so I wasn't stupid, for society said these people were smart - but most people didn't see what we saw.

I haven't yet read the book "In the Mind's Eye" - it takes a while for me to read a book! But I found a short essay on the Internet that's been helpful. It's called "Dyslexic Gifts" by Melanie Jameson. She says that dyslexia is a "difference in learning" but is usually thought of as a "learning disability". The brains of dyslexic people simply work differently to others, resulting in dysfunction in some areas and enhanced function in others. She lists 10 characteristics of the dyslexic mind, which she draws from her experience working in the education field.

"1. The fresh originality of an open-minded approach that is not limited by preconceptions...
2. A holistic (all-round) view rather than an analytical step-by-step approach...
3. An awareness of unexpected links, cross-curricular associations and unexpected applications...
4. Creative thinking and lateral problem solving skills...
5. Good powers of visualisation including visualising in 3D...
6. A range of artistic talents...
7. Excellent visuo-spatial skills...
8. An intuitive untaught understanding of how things work...
9. Well developed practical skills in a range of areas without any study of underlying theory...
10. Despite the fact that dyslexic people are generally restricted to their individual learning style and may be unable to mentally engage with a task without a personal link with the subject, this often results in a more intense, subjective and creative outcome."

I don't have all of these characteristics. The ideas that are important to me are: an original approach, the holistic view, seeing unexpected links, creative thinking, visualisation (of the whole of a system, but not in 3D), intuitive understanding in some situations, being unable to engage in a task unless it has a personal link to me, which results in an intense, subjective and creative outcome (my blog is an excellent example of that).

Melanie goes on in the short essay to say some key things about dyslexics, which were crucial for me: "the lack of confidence due to past humiliations which is such a pervasive feature of dyslexia; many dyslexic people have difficulty accepting that their work is good and have a real fear that they cannot handle success." I've already mentioned how I spent 30 years convinced that I was stupid. As for success, I live a very quiet life, in which I keep outside stimulation controlled. I am (or, at least, was) 'noisy' on the Internet because I could control the reaction to what I said by staying off the computer. These days I can't cope even with the discussion lists, so I write a blog where no one can write comments.

Melanie goes on:

"Tom West refers to the type of mind which is good at creating new knowledge but weak at retaining 'old knowledge'. In fact it is this acquiring and retaining of 'old knowledge' that has been the stumbling block for so many gifted dyslexic people often denying them access to higher education. Because reading is laborious and still not an automatic process, dyslexic students frequently fail to demonstrate that they are sufficiently conversant with the full range of research, theoretical approaches and the relevant historical background... Sometimes a tutor will have great difficulty assessing a piece of work which reveals true talent but does not conform to marking criteria; perhaps the ultimate example of this is an engineering student who designed a revolutionary new racing car engine but could not convey this understanding and insight in written form in his final examinations."

This is why I haven't done post-graduate work at university. But it goes further than that, right to the heart of my religious experience as a Baha'i. My understanding of what the Faith is is based on a visualisation of a transcendent schema. This has developed out of my reading of the writings and my dyslexic characteristics of holistic visualisaion, seeing the system behind things, making creative links and so on. These days, the whole of my religious experience is embedded in this sacred, colourful, dream world.

To me, all else is 'old knowledge': almost all the secondary literature written about the Faith and the religious experience of most Baha'is, which is embedded in a community and administration milieu. Like the engineer who invented a new car from whole cloth and couldn't explain it from accepted principles, I cannot describe or explain my religious experience working from the principles that most Baha'is hold as key to their understanding of what consitutes the Faith. To me, those principles are 'old knowledge' and you can't logically get from there to where I am - you have to be prepared to see with new eyes.

Now, it isn't surprising that my view of the Faith, which is almost universally misunderstood, is seen as a threat by mainstream Baha'is. I feel like I play the role of 'the witch' in ancient times. The opinions held about me are based on ignorance, superstition and fear. But in future more will be understood about dyslexia and how it enables people to think in new ways, and the Baha'i community will gradually become more tolerant of its members thinking outside the square.

One important fruit of the skills dyslexia gives me is my upcoming website. I hope to launch it sometime in April. To me, it is a product of my holistic view of the Faith; I want it to be a completely new way 'into' the Faith for people and a new way of seeing and experiencing it. Usually, when people learn about the Faith, it comes to them through the community/administration filter that Baha'is wear. My new website will give people the opportunity to learn about the Faith without that filter. Baha'u'llah is the most stunning beauty ever created. It would be a thrill for me if people were able to see that beauty directly in their early encounters with his writings.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

The Eden dream

"Myriads of mystic tongues find utterance in one speech, and myriads of hidden mysteries are revealed in a single melody" (PHW 16)

Warning, folks: I've got only one thing to say - same thing as last time - and I'm going to say it again.

Last year, I read closely for the first time Abdu'l-Baha's interpretation of the Adam and Eve story in Some Answered Questions (chapter 30). Adam was sent out of the garden of Eden because his soul, Eve, became attached to this world and lost touch with the spiritual realm. The snake is the symbol of attachment to this world. It's the same idea as the one I mentioned in my last post, about the bird whose wings get weighed down by the dust and clay of this world and can fly no more.

Yesterday, I saw all this in a new light. As I said in my last post, I've been getting a glimpse of a new groove lately. Perhaps the idea that best conveys it is that, increasingly, I experience life as if it is a dream. It's like living in a movie with great cinematography. You float through the swirling colours and images of the film and glide around like it's a dream. However, usually when you get out of the theatre with this lovely glow all around, you are struck by the harsh reality of the physical world. In the new groove, that doesn't happen because life is the movie and only attachment brings you down with a thump.

I know that, partly, this new dream world came out of my repetiton of the Greatest Name 95 times everyday. When you begin, "God is All-Glorious" is only a phrase you struggle to focus on. After a few years, it gradually turns into a reality that blossoms out of the "syllables and sounds" as they unfold each day. You have a sense of "God is All-Glorious" ruling heaven and earth and generating the reality in which you are steeped. As you become increasingly linked to the Power that generates the substratum of your total experience, you see the world less and less as a solid reality. You see it more as a provisional reality, much like the words on the computer screen, which depict a reality but which are just written in light and have no actual substance. That's where the dream state comes from, the knowledge that "the world of limitations" is provisional in nature - it's contingent and being created moment by moment by the All-Glorious.

And so it was that I was drifting around my dream yesterday, when suddenly I thought: surely, this is the experience that the garden of Eden sybolism alludes to.

I've grown to love some fast prayers. Now, I interpret most of what Baha'u'llah says in terms of my new dream state. For example, I hear him say for me: "cast me not away from the gate of city of Thy presence". I interpret "the city of Thy presence" to be my dream state of beauty. "Cast me not away" because I only experience it with his permission. Just as with any dream, it can disappear in a split second. "To disappoint not the hopes I have set on the manifestations of thy grace amidst thy creatures." Again, Baha'u'llah has me beseeching him to open and keep open the rain of his grace, which lifts me up to his city. Then comes the gorgeous names in which Baha'u'llah generates his golden-weather reality: "the Most Holy, the Most Luminous, the Most Mighty, the Most Great, the Most Exalted, the Most Glorious" and I imagine the robe to which all cling to be like the white clouds in the sky that stretch across the horizon of creation.

And Baha'u'llah has me beseech him: "by Thy hair, which moveth across Thy face, even as Thy most exalted Pen moveth across the pages of Thy tablets, shedding the musk of hidden meanings over the kingdom of creaton." I can see Baha'u'llah moving some hair off his face - like the Houri does - and as he does, an invisible fragrance of meaning sweeps over the land and catches me in its breeze, and a new image in my dream is generated.

I could go on forever like this. The prayers are full of this stuff. Why? Because that's all they're about and all they're for. They're designed to sweep us off our feet and take us away.

"Windflowers, my father told me not to go near them, he feared them always,
Said they carried him away.
Windflowers, I couldn't wait to touch them, to smell them, I held them closely.
Now I cannot break away."
("Windflowers" by Seals and Crofts)

My father feared them; and he was wrong. Steve and I watched a documentary last night about the war for land in Australia. The hour-long programme amounted to a retelling of the appalling violent and mind-numbing injustices done to the Australian Aboriginal people by many (not all) settlers. Once the Aborginal people had been crushed and almost wiped out, those that remained alive became a problem for the Australian government. Their society had been destroyed and they lived in slavery, poverty and depravity. At this point, the focus of the documentary changed: it was no longer about how to crush the "blacks" but about how to 'fix' them. The Australian government went through many fads, inspired by Darwin, eugenics and the like, trying to find the solution that would 'fix' the "blacks". The problem is still with the government today. What stayed with me was this 'fixing' attitude. You see it today with governments trying to 'fix' the Middle East (after exploiting and destroying it for its own good).

My experience is that things can't be 'fixed' (especially not by those who act from prejudice and greed); they can only be dreamt into health through love. In finding Baha'u'llah and learning how to dream his dream, I have learned to overcome my depression and have lost a lot of my impatience and anger. When Baha'u'llah says that He is the only answer, I think what he's saying is that the world can't be 'fixed' so much as only be 'dreamt' to health through participation in His Reality. In it, each of us finds wholeness and oneness. Nothing can be 'fixed' without it.

Commentary on Tablet of the Son

 Commentary on Tablet of the Son