Book Review: Dark Night Early Dawn

Christopher Bache explores the “deep ecology of mind as it reveals itself in nonordinary states” in Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind (p.16). Bache’s contention is that “we need to expand our frame of reference beyond the individual human being and look to the living systems the individual is part of” (p.16). He believes that “one of the greatest challenges facing psychology and philosophy today is to grasp the full implications of our interconnectedness” (p.115). He thinks that “the fundamental polarity of our nature is the polarity of individuality and wholeness, and wholeness includes both depth and breadth” (p.115). “… it is not individuality itself that is the illusion but our sense of being isolated from the whole” (p.264).

Dark Night
The book’s title points beyond “the individual to the collective dark night” (p.16). Christopher Bache is convinced that “we have entered a time of unprecedented disruption of life at fundamental levels that will soon reach catastrophic proportions” (p.16). He believes that “the more clearly we understand the deep structure of events that are overtaking our lives, the more we may be able ease the pain of the transition humanity is being called upon to make” (pp. 16—17). At a deeper level, this will “involve a deep shift in how we collectively feel about each other and the world at large” (p.231).

Transpersonal Paradigm
Christopher Bache thinks that “we are so deeply habituated to thinking of mind as a private phenomenon that recognizing its collective component is extremely difficult and triggers a chorus of objections” (p.205). “What is required”, he says, is that individuality is relocated within a “transpersonal paradigm” (p.205). This allows us to recognize the dynamics that are visible if we are “open to new and startling observations drawn from carefully scrutinized experience” (p.205). “While not abandoning our skeptical edge, we must push our critical faculties to explore uncharted territory” (p.205).

“Because we are constantly taught that only individual beings have minds, we fail to recognize instances of transindividual mental functioning operating in our everyday life” (p.183). Transpersonal experiences “arise from a complex interaction between the mind doing the exploring and the larger Mind being explored” (p.30). This means that “we must use mind to explore mind” (p.30). We must also ask what the implications of these experiences are “for human existence” (p.7). We need to be “more sensitive to the limits of human understanding and more open to the unknown” (p.39), especially if “controversial data … has been gathered according to the same methodological standards accepted in other contexts” (p.39).

Conceptual Framework
Christopher Bache tries to create “a conceptual framework” (p.254) based on his work with “psychedelic states” (p.9), his experiences in “the classroom” (p.184), Richard Tarnas’s overviews of “Western philosophy” (p.22), Stanislav Grof’s study of “the deep psyche ” (p.48), Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of “morphic fields” (p.78), Kennet Ring’s observations from “NDEs” (near-death experiences) (p.111), and “chaos theory” (p.241).

Bache’s observation is that “Sheldrake’s hypothesis of morphic fields meshes with Grof’s experiential data” (p.80). He recognizes the “similarity of psychedelic states to NDEs” (p.109). Studying “the experiences of many persons” together with the possibility of repetition in psychedelic therapy “draws out the organic processes involved, showing … how one state systematically unfolds into another” (p.109). His experience is that “the individual and collective energies of everything that surrounds us creates a collective net of influences that flows through our conscious and unconscious awareness” (p.150). Our “sense of identity” is “a transparent reality in continuous exchange with a larger field of awareness created by our previous life experiences” (pp.163—164). Our sensitivity to this exchange increases as “our basic sense of identity shifts, becoming progressively deeper” (p.164).

The most powerful context in which Christopher Bache has experienced “the field dynamics of mind on a regular basis is in the classroom” (p.184). Bache thinks that “at least” some of his experiences in the classroom can better be thought of as “the manifestation of a group mind” (p.195). Slowly he began to “recognize the existence of these fields” operating in his classes (p.195). Eventually, it “simply became more elegant to conceptualize” his observations as “symptoms of a unified learning field that underlay and integrated the class as a whole” (p.195). As he made the shift to thinking of this “something” as mental fields, a “variety of conceptual and experiential pieces began to fall into place” (p.196).

Provisional Conclusions
Many experiences through the years led Christopher Bache to draw a number of “provisional conclusions” (p.196). Bache thinks that when “a number of minds come together and integrate their individual capacities, it is as though they become phase-locked in ways analogous to how individual neurons become phase-locked in hemispherically synchronized brain states” (p.209). “When persons open themselves to each other and focus on a common goal, their individual energies meld in a way that mediates contact with levels of intelligence and creativity that are beyond the reach of these individuals acting alone” (p.209). What cannot be “accomplished separately becomes available to those who work together” (p.202).

Christopher Bache believes that mental fields are “always present whenever collective intention is focused in group projects of sustained duration and repeated form” (p.197). These fields “appear to vary enormously in strength, reflecting a variety of factors” (p.197). The “key ingredients” for these fields to form seem to be: (1) “collective intention”, (2) “sustained duration”, and (3) “repetition” (p.198). It seems as “… sustained and repeated focusing of many minds on a single purpose creates strong currents within the larger field of mind” (p.199).

Early Dawn
Christopher Bache thinks that “we are only beginning to glimpse the collective dynamics of mind” and wants to “encourage increased discussion of these important issues” (p.187). The observation of “energetic resonance and … fields operating in educational contexts has the potential to transform not only education but a wide range of creative group processes” (p.209). The possibilities expand exponentially as we learn to enter into states of “synchronized group awareness” (p.209). Bache believes that “one of the most important theoretical and practical challenges … is learning how these fields operate, how to work with them directly, and how to manage the enormous energies that are sometimes generated when they are activated” (p.187).

Bache points out that “our individual choices may have enormous ramifications if they reflect our highest potential and seek the greatest good of humanity as a whole” (p.244). “As the inherent wholeness of existence becomes a living experience for more and more persons, individuals will find … new orders of creativity that could not have been anticipated as long as we were trapped within the narrow confines of an atomistic, self-referential mode of consciousness” (p.256).

Summary
Christopher Bache provides a creative and radically expanded view on what it means to be human, both individually and collectively. He approaches the subject with a deep respect and wish to understand. Bache takes the reader into uncharted territory. I’m not able (or prepared) to follow every step he takes in the book, but I think he has done a great job in balancing his deep (trans)personal insights with incisive thinking. His writing is characterized by a combination personal and intellectual honesty which makes me willing to listen. It’s a fascinating book on an important subject!

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