Reanney, D. The Music of the Mind: An Adventure into Consciousness

The Music of the Mind: An Adventure into Consciousness, Hill of Content, 1994, 186 pp+viii

Darryl Reanney’s previous book The Death of Forever, was one of those rare books to succeed in weaving a genuinely new synthesis about the place of humankind in the universe. The Music of the Mind continues this theme and brings it to a triumphant conclusion.

The immediate difficulty of any reviewer confronting this material is how to do it justice. The author has written sparingly, with great focus and economy, of matters that cannot be readily summarised. So to understand this book, and Reanney’s achievement, I cannot over-emphasise that it is necessary to read it. And I hope that many people will, for work of this quality is rare. Many have tried to touch on the big questions of life, death, consciousness and meaning, but few have done so with such clarity, elegance and truthfulness.

Reanney understands the source of much of our modern malaise. “Society is sick” he writes “because we have lost the ‘story’ that bound us together”. So far so good. Thomas Berry and others have come to the same conclusion. He then proceeds to demonstrate how many of our beliefs and dominant ways of knowing have produced an impoverished view of reality. “Our problem as human beings is that the very way our minds operate depends on the principle of separation”. Or again, “we have nourished a view of reality so impoverished it has crippled the very roots of our way of seeing…consciousness is much richer than this”.

But this is not another diatribe against modernity. The often-sterile posturing of academic debate is sidestepped entirely. Instead, he draws on a range of sources to outline a richer view of reality. Paradox is part of his method, and like a Buddhist Koan, he uses it to help us to reflect on hidden truths. Language is not all it seems: it is a thing of power and a barrier to knowing… The brain is not the seat of consciousness…. While we are conscious in time we are not conscious at all… Death is not an ending but a transition…and so on. To even state these items baldly is to risk misrepresenting them, for this is not a tired re-write of holistic orthodoxy. It is a book that challenges us at a number of levels – thought, belief, experience, memory, being – to re-frame our view of our place in the world, and indeed, the universe.

In many ways he presents us with the essence of a ‘new story’, one that has been developing for a long time, but which can only now perhaps, in the late 20th Century, be told as the insights of eastern wisdom and quantum reality merge.

Each person will react to this book differently. I have one experiential confirmation of part of it. Some years ago I was unexpectedly bowled over by a healing I received at the Findhorn Community in Scotland. For a few moments I was immersed in an indescribable universal light, which was all-powerful, and entirely benign. It is no exaggeration to say that my view of reality was profoundly and permanently altered. For Reanney, as for many others who know the field, higher states of consciousness are seen as a royal road to awareness. Here he uses accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) to show how these hints of the infinite (‘ineffable light, transcendent love, an intuition of timelessness, the loss of sense of self’) help to substantiate a more profound view of life, mind and being. Since perception is limited by the organic equipment nature has provided us, as well as by the cultural ‘software’ we use, such evidence does encourage a wider, more insightful view. And that is a valuable gift.

I won’t try to complete this sketch of the work, but I will say this. It would be a mistake to be put off by the subject matter. His conclusion (and it is by no means forced, it emerges centrally from the substance of the work) touches the very heart of our contemporary dilemmas about personhood, meaning/meaninglessness and the looming global problematique. In his view, ‘we need no longer regard ourselves as accidental irrelevancies in a mechanical universe but as participatory co-creators of … an evolving work of art’. And later, simply, ‘what we do matters’. Since the 20th Century has moved to a very different tune that is a message we need to hear – and apply.

Some may dismiss it as just another theory, a perspective or even a mythology. But to be dismissive is to miss the point. Reanney has seen the world in its agony, seen through the veil of appearances, and with enormous courage and discrimination drawn an interpretative map that points both higher and deeper than we are conventionally given to look. As such, this book is a profoundly valuable and heartening contribution to all our contemporary debates and dilemmas, an act of recovery in its own right. It acknowledges the abyss we are collectively facing – and sees a path beyond it. Yet it is not difficult to read. There is no jargon. But, step-by-step, it brings the reader to a point where he or she cannot help but stand in awe of the achievement – and what it implies. Here are some outlines of a renewed worldview, a fresh vision, which decisively take us beyond the traps of the late industrial era.

Finally, a profoundly moving irony pervades the book. Darryl Reanney is no longer around to enjoy the appreciation it will no doubt generate. He died shortly before it was published. But part of his thesis is proved nevertheless. His spirit inhabits these pages and his voice is therefore not stilled.

Published in 21C, Commission for the Future, Melbourne, Autumn, 1994, p 94.