Love and Beauty

…for a poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him. Plato

Let’s start at the end. What gives us joy, reason, meaning, and a feeling of being alive, connected, loved and loving? Is it not, as Plato, the poets, the mystics and many other ordinary persons have shown from time immemorial, a deep and abiding personal experience with love and beauty?

In his most recent book, Secret Body, Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions, Jeffrey Kripal takes us on a deeply satisfying exploration of the relationship between modern currents of discontent, political division and concern for the future humanity, culture and the planet itself, compared to the state of our spirituality, or lack thereof, and specifically the loss of a deeper, more personal experience of the divine.

Consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know, or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell at the moment, this presence is entirely sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we would know later we would only know in, through, and because of this same consciousness.

There is then, by way of intimate and direct apprehension, no knowing outside of the experience of one’s conscious mind and body. Whether a metaphor or not, we are in, or within, an unseen parameter of the limits and expansions of conscious experience.

Embedded within the confines of our experience is a sense of dualism, strangely apparent, whether from the experience of being a separate body immersed in so many naturally occurring instances of “two,” or from the habits of mind in which language seems only able to abstract and translate immediate perception and sensation into discrete sequences, ideas and parts. Time and space, as primary conditions of embodied life, will always have their way with us. The sense of duality at root of embodied existence, may however provide more than what meets the eye, but also what meets the heart.

Like some immeasurable kabbalistic structure, all of reality is really made of letters, words, thoughts, in short, of a writing mind, but we only catch glimmers of this Logos, this Meaning of all meaning. As a result, we are not the writers but the written. “We are not the artists but the drawings.” And so we submit to the inherited scripts of our ancestors — so many fake worlds, unreal identities, and simulacra. (Philip K.) Dick gave all of these constructions and discourses a name: the Black Iron Prison.

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Perhaps as humans first began to use language, unburdened from the library of one’s cultural historical past, language may have been, more or less, an expression of immediate experience. The accumulation of “so many fake worlds, unreal identities and simulacra” had yet to carry with it a thread of the past, as it so clearly does today, so much so, that we’ve incorporated within our identity, histories, arbitrary and incomplete as they might be, conditioned and contextualized by how we hear and understand them today. While threads can be useful for carrying forward patterns and trends, knitting together coherency, an ongoing heroic, but futile, struggle of life against death, to our detriment, has dominated both land and mind in every culture and era. The arrow must fly, but care should be taken to know what we’re aiming at. All the random aiming of arrows over the vast expanse of the universe will ultimately fail to bring us closer to the divine, in which a fuller experience of love and beauty awaits, if we continue to shoot in the dark.

Non-human animals also compete in a struggle for life, but without the aid of technology, the damage to themselves and others remains quite limited. Although seemingly less than ever at the mercy of the elements and the powers of nature, such as they are, we moderns are out of shape and psycho-spiritually out of shape for any real struggle. Our hubris for fixing what we have in fact broken, seems to know no bounds.

We really think we are our masks and language games. We privilege our religious egos over our humanity, our societies over our species, our cultures over consciousness as such. We have it exactly backward. This book is about reversing that reversal. There is no more urgent political project than this.

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What then, can be said to the ways in which we go “about reversing that reversal?” Although we could go on forever describing our current dilemma in terms of the inherent limitations imposed from within and without, is there perhaps something available to us, from time immemorial, continually overlooked by the distractions of the day-to-day struggle, immersing us not only into our storied lives, but keeping us from stepping out into what may only present itself as impossibly remote possibilities of our future selves? And can language, story and imagination, that which immerses us, according to the prevailing myths of the day, in the “bad play” we currently find ourselves in, be the very vehicle that moves us into those future selves we currently envision and hunger for?

The one as two

Although ideas of wholeness may attract us as ways to heal division, and integrate the broken pieces of ourselves, others, and the world divided, we might question whether or not a more useful means of perceiving, which reflects more closely the physiology of the body, could prove to be useful. Surely, wholeness is a seductive word which points to a truer reality in which both love and beauty flourish, but is there any hope that mere mortals can find an access point in which we can truly commune with the divine?

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The experience of ourselves as not one, not whole, but rather as having two modes of perceiving, or what we simply refer to as an ability to both perceive through the senses while reflecting on that which is perceived, is somewhat obvious to most of us. This double vision can be seen structurally throughout the physical senses, from the two distinct sides of the brain, both with unique modes of perception, to the stereo-optics of our vision we are naturally equipped with. The mind and imagination too, see two-fold; inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, self/other, dead/alive, male/female, true/false, along with a myriad of other polarities that easily get our attention. Perhaps though, instead of being compelled to choose sides, opposites might present an opportunity to see as two, in stereo, forming a syzygy rather than a conflict.

The “one as two” dynamic appears throughout the ages in a variety of personified forms, including, the spiritual twin, guardian angel, Daimon, Genius or doppelgänger. These others may serve as necessary agents whose purpose is to engage us in dialogue with an autonomous figure in dreams or reverie. These are not only convenient fictions, but for some, living presences, visible or otherwise, that we engage with as partners in life’s journey. They offer us the opportunity to relieve the ego of its claim to that of sole purveyor of conscious experience by presenting an invisible otherness through reflective moments, offering to us messages that grace our steady movement throughout the day and night, and opening us up to a fluidity in our interpretation of reality along with an opportunity to deliteralize any stringent claims we’re tempted to settle upon, from the perceptions we are immersed in and influenced by. This would be akin to James Hillman’s perspective in which we share a “being in soul.” The soul for Hillman is necessarily a perspective, rather than a thing. Soul in this sense acts as a mediator, a carrier of the universals, downward, to the root of each personal embodied life.

We desperately need a new theory of the imagination (or a revived old one), one that can re-vision the imagination not as simply a spinner of fancy and distracting daydream but also, at least in rare moments, as an ecstatic mediator, expressive artist, and translator of the really real.

Ecstatic mediator? Perhaps the only way to entertain the possibility of such an idea requires that one incorporate a practice that acts as a portal to the impossible; for facilitating the experience of something present that is more than just “me.” The recognition that one indeed has habits of perception which can be seen through and reworked towards something more satisfying, can serve as an initiator into seeing habit itself as that which constrains thinking, exposing us to the susceptibility of falling into belief as an end point, a conclusion, which ultimately stifles the senses and constricts access to the universals. This codification easily becomes a death of soul, in which we no longer engage the living waters of life, but settle for drinking from the swamp.

Jeffrey Kripal sees the need to revitalize the quality and value of our spiritual experiences, if we ever hope to revitalize the human experience and end the current death spiral. Perhaps too, what we’ve come to call “paranormal” may just be a term that has come into use alongside an increasingly modern prejudice in which our fear of the esoteric, its relationship to the erotic, and invisible realities has gone underground.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J.. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Kindle Locations 4076-4078). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Expression

“In culture, any culture, we are bound to that which is deemed possible. In the comparative imagination that can relate consciousness to culture and culture to consciousness, we begin to free ourselves for the impossible.”

Language

Language can be seen as one mode of expressing aspects of the unseen. Through definition we divide and separate the world into things. Words, however combined and multiplied, cannot express the true essence of the things they refer to. But words, as referents to the essence of things, serve as portals to what is currently unknown, or impossible, to a future in which the impossible becomes possible.

Erfurt in the 19th century1820 paintings. Letters in art. Trompe l’oeil in Germany

Language not only divides, but conjoins. It’s use becomes a sexy, reproductive participant in creation. Language reveals layers of meaning, expanding awareness through metaphor, imagination and suggestion. Writing becomes an art of being authored, or written, in which we in turn are authoring, or writing the impossible into being. The once impossible becomes possible, not only in the sense of the creation of tools, technology and artifact, but through the discovery of other realms and beings at one time invisible to us. If this sounds far-fetched, think only of dreams and all that you encounter there. But if you write or read as a creative practice, you probably have experienced the power of language, ideas and symbols to expand your awareness.

Cosmology

People in every culture have expressed a cosmological belief of some kind. From stories of the gods and creation myths, down to our modern language of mathematics and physics, cosmology can be seen as culturally dependent expressions of current states of consciousness, or perhaps, expressions as what the cosmos itself is aware of.

Our current understanding of a theory of evolution that believes we are the result of a series of mutations of life forms through a force called natural selection, would disagree that the cosmos is “aware” of anything. The belief that Intelligence or consciousness of any kind is a participant in the creative process is suspect, and so, called anthropomorphic. Consciousness and intelligence are here understood as mere by-products of a neurological brain.

“Krao”, the “missing link” : a living proof of Darwin’s theory of the descent of man : special lectures, 2.30, 5.30 & 9.30… : all should see her : [jungle illustration].

The theory of evolution is also an expression of a culture that believes in a Cartesian duality; seeing with a mind split from the body. If consciousness is a by-product of evolutionary processes, it could not have been a participant in anything prior to its existence, so the story goes.

It is curious to me that there is no current recognition of evolutionary mutations beyond us humans, except allowing for the possibility of alien life forms. If we can’t see it, touch it and measure it, it doesn’t exist. Consciousness as something generated by matter has implications for how we understand ourselves and the nature of reality. But, if consciousness is experienced as an expression of a primary intelligence of the cosmos, than we are also participants in the evolution of a reality that intends to expand the limits of our current awareness.

Expression

The sense of separation that we experience may be what helps to bring into being the impossible into the possible. The suffering of separation and division through thought and language, perhaps seeds the cosmos through a dialectic between what is possible and impossible. We are perhaps then, the cosmos creating itself into powers and realms not yet known, or perhaps, not yet existing. This can only be possible when we admit the possibility that consciousness is not a by-product of matter, but a primary aspect of the cosmos.

Jeffrey Kripal suggests that somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century, modern culture began to disdain any notion of metaphysical aspects to reality. His book, Authors of the Impossible, recalls a multitude of modern accounts and stories of people’s adventures in other realms, which we now call dreams, OBE’s, NDE’s, UFO abductions. He says:

“We are magicians all. But as whole cultures extended through centuries of time, we are much more than a collection of knowing and unknowing magicians stumbling about with their consensual spells called Language, Belief, and Custom. We are veritable wizards endowed with almost unbelievable powers to shape new worlds of experience and realize different aspects of the real.”

In closing, I must add that the ideas, except as noted, are my own take on the ideas in Kripal’s book. Although in so many ways, I remain indebted to the ideas of others and those discussed in his book, Authors of the Impossible.

“To author one’s world, however, whether literally or metaphorically, implies the use of language, which is a left-brain capacity. So an author of the impossible is not someone who has shut down the left brain with all its critical and linguistic powers and tender sense of individual identity. I do not mean to be so simply dualistic . Rather, an author of the impossible is someone who has ceased to live, think, and imagine only in the left brain, who has worked hard and long to synchronize the two forms of consciousness and identity and bring them both online together. Finally, an author of the impossible is someone who has gone beyond all of these dualisms of right and left, mystical and rational, faith and reason, self and other, mind and matter, consciousness and energy, and so on. An author of the impossible is someone who knows that the Human is Two and One.”

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Sacred Transgressions

“Although paranormal phenomena certainly involve material processes, they are finally organized around signs and meaning. To use the technical terms, they are semiotic and hermeneutical phenomena . Which is to say that they seem to function as representations or signs to decipher and interpret, not just movements of matter to measure and quantify.

In his book, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred, Jeff Kripal takes a look at occult phenomena and their relationship to writing and reading that serve as bridges to the sacred and a superconscious realm.

“…paranormal phenomena are semiotic or hermeneutical phenomena in the sense that they signal, symbolize, or speak across a “gap” between the conscious, socialized ego and an unconscious or superconscious field.”

More than this, he attributes to reading and writing a power to:

“..replicate and realize paranormal processes, just as paranormal processes can replicate and realize textual processes.”

Reading and writing then become a participation in a process whereby we tap into a superconscious realm through story and myths of an occult or paranormal nature. Occult (meaning hidden) reading and writing, become a way in which one transgresses societal and cultural norms of perceived limits of reality. Occultism itself is a fairly modern phenomena which perhaps parallel the advent of communication technology, whereby we perceive and transcend cultural limits through access and comparison to foreign or alien (pun intended) notions of culture and reality.

The process of incorporating new ideas and symbols that shape and color perception and consciousness have always been at play. Through modern technologies that extend our view and reach, we now experience an unprecedented exchange between cultures inviting everything from amazement, disorientation, to war and destruction. Perhaps they also invite a reorientation towards a more expansive view of both the physical and non-physical boundaries of experience. It may not be surprising that the scientific aim of finding the edge of the universe coincides with expansive explorations of the boundaries of awareness through dreaming, meditation, hallucinogens, music and art. Explorations of the physical nature of the cosmos seem to be reflected in explorations of the non-material, hidden or occult nature of the world.

Even the marginalizing of the occult, for Kripal, serves a purpose by allowing irrationality to flourish off the cultural grid. He sees too, a sacred aspect to occult experience which becomes more viable in a secularized world. Ultimately serving a religious function and reclaiming for a secular society a valid experience of an invisible, imaginal, esoteric world of a superconscious field. To occulture then, is to create opportunity for a new dialectic between science and religion.

Superconsciousness then, is a realm transcending cultural differences and is accessible to anyone, regardless of time and place. Although the potential to experience superconscious awareness is ubiquitous, language and customs of culture limit awareness by creating perceptual boundaries. As I imagine it, this realm includes universal pre-figured archetypal, symbolic, religious and mythological forms as expressions of the conscious aspects of a totality that includes the physical forces and constraints of the universe.

“It is within this same dialectical context that I understand occulture as a kind of public meeting place of spirit and matter, as the place where Consciousness both occults or hides itself in material and symbolic forms and allows itself to be seen, “as if in a mirror,” so that it can be cultivated and shaped into definite, but always relative, forms. Occulture, then, both conceals and reveals.”

There remains a necessary and creative tension between the exploration of hidden dimensions of experience and the rigor of materialist science that fascinates me. I enjoy listening to popular scientists explain the necessity of space travel and cosmological laws for it often reveals symbolic and religious parallels. It doesn’t matter if scientists, or any of us are aware of this or not, it still feeds the expression of an ever-broadening cultural psyche. In the same way, occult, sci-fi and fantasy writers (think Philip K. Dick), through the esoteric dimensions of their imaginings, sometimes feed scientists with ideas for technology.

The existence of a superconscious realm also has parallels to Plato’s idea of anamnesis, or learning as remembering, especially the remembrance of archetypal and symbolic forms, whether from a personal or transpersonal past or future. If the source of consciousness and our very existence is the superconscious realm itself, it is no surprise to feel a sense of deja vu, or a hint that there is more to existence than meets the eye that only sees from within its culture, time and place.

La Vie Mysterieuse magazine, Number 55, April 1911

Why some of us experience these hints more often, I do not know. In recalling my own childhood states of awareness, I was occasionally aware of something both hidden and forbidden, never completely able to ignore the presence of something beyond my senses. In my early teens, a time when my family life was turned upside down, I began to experience frightening poltergeist phenomena accompanied by an overwhelming sense of disorientation. Because of my family situation, it’s no surprise and can be written off as a by-product, or hysteria. But the effect of this experience increased my respect for the irrational and the sometimes inexplicable nature of life.

What intrigues me about Kripal’s ideas as well as those of Frederic Myers, is the connection of writing with the occult and revelation, and specifically to the idea that we are stories being written, especially as we read and write the impossible, or Henri Corbin’s imaginal.

“Corbin understood the imaginal to be a noetic organ that accessed a real dimension of the cosmos whose appearances to us were nevertheless shaped by what he called the “creative imagination” (l’imagination créatrice).”

I think he’s on to something quite meaningful to suggest that throughout our lives, we are writing and authoring, and at the same time we are being written and authored by glimpsing the imaginal, which in turn reveals through our creativity. Also, he quite comfortably acknowledges the necessity of ambiguous ideas, which to my mind most accurately reflect the nature of human experience.

“On one level at least, the human personality for Frederic Myers is an evolving story written into and read out of the cosmos over and over again within what he calls a “progressive immortality.” Read and written thus, we are all occult novels composed by forces both entirely beyond us and well within us. As a One that is also Two, we author ourselves, and we are authored.”

There’s more to the book which, if time allows, I’ll continue to write about.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.