Diana Durham – Coherent Self, Coherent World – Review

In a lecture called ‘Imagining Otherwise’, included in his book Green Man Dreaming (2018), Lindsay Clarke deploys a diagram of two intersecting circles to illustrate the relationship between our inner and outer worlds. The shape made by their overlap is the ‘mandorla’, a shape that in Christian art commonly encloses Christ to represent the gateway between the mortal and the divine, and that resembles the vulva, another gateway between worlds. Clarke argues that the mandorla in his diagram represents the creative imagination, the tool by which inner and outer – and other opposing pairs such as feminine and masculine – may be reconciled. In her new book, Coherent Self, Coherent World, Diana Durham uses a similar set of diagrams to explain how ‘intuitive mind’ (equivalent to Clarke’s ‘imagination’) mediates between the ‘implicate’ and ‘explicate’ orders of being. These terms come from the physicist David Bohm and provide a more science-friendly way of talking about what one might otherwise think of as spiritual experience.

Intuitive mind facilitates the expression into the explicate (the manifest external world) of patterns of coherence emergent from the implicate (or what in spiritual terms we might think of as divine consciousness). The process is most easily understood in the case of an inspired maker’s fashioning of beautiful art. But Durham emphasizes also its operation in the dynamics of organizations or groups and the production, say, of policies that work effectively, in contrast to the incoherent policies that result from the absence of connection with inner wisdom. (Not hard to think of a few big examples of that right now!) The principle equally extends to the condition of the physical environment under our care.

Much of the book is taken up with explaining the theory of this dynamic. The big question, though, is how do you actually produce such coherence in practice? Durham briefly acknowledges the key elements of personal practice – some form of meditation, and some form of teacher or guide – but her crucial contribution here draws upon her experience of ‘Dialogue’ groups that Bohm helped to develop. The principle here is that through free-flowing conversation, in which people’s presence to each other is facilitated by sitting in a circle and ideally a leader who is already habituated to the implicate, participants collectively open to that inner consciousness which transcends their separate individuality and thereby forges a powerful connectedness between them. People may experience resistance to this. Some may remain so attached to their individual identity that they will drop out of the group rather than go with the process. Particularly topical right now, in a time of ever more strident identity politics, is Durham’s observation that when people have no connection with their inner self, no awareness that the implicate even exists, then their entire sense of self is invested in an externally constructed identity, which may include their sense of nationality, race, sexuality, class, and/or religion.

This book speaks to a fundamental issue of being which is at the same time an issue profoundly relevant to the cascading crises of our time. It is carefully argued, and the exposition of theory is leavened with stories from history and mythic literature. I have one lingering question, about the privileging of ‘coherence’ itself. Is it possible, I wonder, that some things emergent from the inner to the outer world might take a more chaotic form and yet still be productive of beauty and love?

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