For years I had not really understood what Herakleitos meant when he said that “I explored myself…and I could not find the boundaries [limits, peras] of the psyche…”. Of course not: the open soul has no boundaries, no limits. It opens up into the unbounded, the unlimited, and shares then in its unlimitedness. The open soul is not the psyche of standard modern psychology, nor the “I” or ego of everyday life. It is, rather, a conscious participation in the mystery of the Whole, of the unbounded It-reality beyond all speech and name. When psyche opens, it is no-thing; perhaps one can say, “not itself, but selfless.” To put the experience paradoxically: when the soul opens, it is no longer a soul, at least as long as the awareness of the experience lasts. Simple consciousness.
Of course there would be a danger of hypostasizing the open psyche into “God” or “being,” or the Whole, but to do that may be a mere playing with words, and it in effect would concretize the experienced unbounded opening back into an imagined entity or being. In the opening of the soul, there is neither “I” nor “You,” but simply consciousness: awareness without names, things, activities. Unadorned, simple awareness. Perhaps this is what William James called “pure consciousness.”
It may be fitting, as has been done, to call Herakleitos and others—from Plato to William James, Bergson, Whitehead, Voegelin—who experience consciousness in this way “mystic philosophers,” as has been done (for example, by Whitehead and Voegelin). Or one could speak of the opening of the soul that forms the experiential basis of philosophy as a mode of self-transcendence, as a simple, noetic awareness of that which is. It is noetic or knowing in the sense of an unthinking but intensely aware gazing of the mind (nous, intellect). As consciousness (psyche) opens up, noetic and logical processes of the mind differentiate. To think is to name things and beings, and to reason (use logos) about them; noein [noetic awareness] is simpler, more primary or basic, without words, and is, perhaps, ever present beneath every act of thinking, but usually not recognized as such. But this point remains for the time being an hypothesis to be experimentally tested. It may be that in the act we call “thinking” [legein, usinglogos], consciousness is not open as such, but limiting itself in the act of thinking. If this is true, then one can understand why a human being seeking to explore reality—what is—must move back and forth between sheer openness and the self-limiting act of thinking. Perhaps this back-and-forth process is described in Plato or Aristotle (I will give thought to this possibility, which seems familiar to me, most likely from the Phaedrus or the Symposium of Plato.) And if this is a reasonable guess of what one experiences in thinking and knowing [noein], then one might playfully change Descartes’ famous cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) into “I think, therefore I am self-limited,” or more paradoxically, “I think, therefore I am not.”
One is most truly oneself when one is not self-enclosed, or a closed soul at all, but awake in the act of non-self-limited consciousness. If this is a reasonable formulation of the truth of experience, then one can recognize the common basis in philosophy, Buddhism (as in Zen) and the mystics of various traditions. I, for one, have long been drawn to all three of these human modes of experience (philosophy, Zen, mysticism), because I have sensed in them a similarity not in formulations or mythical developments, but in the engendering experience: open consciousness.