"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.
The riddle at the heart of opening sentence of Bacon's Essay on Truth has preoccupied thinkers since the dawn of time. But Christ had already given an answer:
Truth is like love - it obeys a logic whose intricacy defies analysis. Yet we can observe its operation thru the following syllogism:
Truth is only Truth if it does indeed set us free:
Anything which does not free our spirit cannot be Truth:
If we do not experience freedom then what we think of as Truth cannot be (complete) truth.
Always we want 'answers' - but, as I hope to show, nearly every question stems from our anxiety about the three central questions of life which Gauguin depicted: Where have I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?
Gauguin painting: Where Have We Come From?
So what is the biological imperative towards knowledge? What is it knowledge of? What can it be knowledge of except of ourSelves and the riddle of our existence?
I can only see one goal worth pursuing: to be, to be at one. For this pilgrims and knights errant traverse long weary distances - to arrive at themSelves - for there can be no other destination which we can recognise as Home other than feeling at one, complete, held fast in love. 'In my end is my beginning' as Eliot says, or in the words of Robert Frost: 'Home is somewhere you somehow haven't to deserve'.
This search for at-one-ment is our impulse to Godhead, the point at which there are no answers because there are no questions. Existentialists would say 'the answer is that there is no answer', but the truth is that ultimate question-dissolver is emotional and cannot be comprehended by the brain alone, since the nature of the answer does not lie in the same set of dimensions as the question.
The curiosity of why humans should have evolved a divided consciousness when all other life-forms are blessed with a unified awareness is resolved in the passage from Yanagi I quoted earlier:
... everything that has been divided yearns to be reunited; everything has, so to speak, been divided in order to long to be one again. 23
He says elsewhere:
In Japanese there is an untranslatable phrase: fusoku fori. It means roughly 'unattached and undetached' - an example would be the way the Buddha's eyes are usually depicted as neither open nor closed, or the enigmatic half-smile of the Mona Lisa. It symbolises the Buddhist Way of the Mean, that cannot be defined. It signifies that the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.
This is the experience Braque spoke of as attaining harmony in 'a sort of intellectual non-existence'.
The Far Side
The following is a vision of life in the spirit community given me in meditation in 1991. Take it as you find it:
Knowledge doesn't exist in abstract. It must be held in common.
Take the example of music. Within the music-making there exists a minimum of six-dimensions of awareness: musicians have a three-dimensional physical relationship, a fourth dimension connects them psychically with each other, a fifth with historical awareness of their own position in the past-future continuum, and a further dimension which constitutes their perception of the activity itself and its 'meaning'.
Think therefore of each dimension as being like coordinates in a computer-assisted-design program. You study the parameters, and then when you feel ready you command the computer (your own consciousness) to calculate all the relationships and in a surprisingly few years you begin to perceive the depth and breadth of music - you know the subject from every angle ... and that knowledge shows you how much still remains to be learnt!
If that is true of one activity like music you can understand the multi-dimensionality of existence by comprehending that, spiritually, every single activity within all awareness, not just your own, is related at higher psychic level like an inverted pyramid. At ground level you're aware of very little, but as your insight grows you become aware of more and more. Therefore to hold a correct model for knowledge in your mind it's necessary to relate not just music to, say, midwifery: both must be correlated to particle physics, cricket, coal-mining, market-gardening, and so on.
Impossible within one mind? Well, some have achieved a measure! When the sum was less, knowledge could be, and was, carried entirely within the collective consciousness of a given tribe. Where such tribal consciousness exists the collective knowledge is infinitely more than the sum of the individual members.
Your culture has chosen to multiply abstract knowledge, information, in a 'point-less' and myopic search for 'reality' and so, supposing reality to be physical, has developed physical, rather than mental, systems for storing and retrieving memory.
We have no physical memory systems, nor need of them, for there is no physical-time-dimension with us: what we do have however is a multi-dimensional collective awareness.
Now, we gave you that example in the crudest terms. To comprehend spiritual multi-dimensionality you must imagine the nature of knowledge to be quite different. Factual knowledge, head-alone knowledge, is profoundly irrelevant to our existence. What is of significance to us is heart knowledge, knowledge that leads to growth, the most intimate knowledge of our fellowship one with another.
Within the universe there is an infinity of souls. It would be impossible for those of our limited attainments to know all, but our existence revolves around a shared awareness with an affinity of partners within an 'arch, or circle, of consciousness'. We have instinctive awareness of the joys and hurts of the least member of our affinity. Anything that happens to one affects all as profoundly as a drop of water landing on a web. Does it threaten one? All take the strain. Does one fibre glow in the sunlight? All are warmed by its gladness.
Within our consciousness exists not only the dimensions of all our fellows' personalities, but the algorithmic relationships interconnecting us. These are in constant dynamic adjustment spreading vigour and excitement throughout the community. Our relationships are our awareness and the power of unconditional love maintains them in a continual dynamic.
Tiring? Not at all. Could you ever be tired of true love? Anyway we have no moving parts to wear out!
To this you must add our relationships with the further arches of those with different vibrations to ours which stretch beyond our sight in every direction: above, beneath and laterally, not forgetting our relationships to your world! Exciting? Every minute!
Because we are in such intimate relationships one with another knowledge travels between us as vibrations travel along wires. If I speak to you it isn't I but all who speak through me - for what is lacking in my personality is generously and immediately supplied by others who are instantaneously aware of my deficiency. And so all are continuously made whole as knowledge (awareness) is increased.
If you can get your head around the idea of non-gravitational juggling, or acrobats performing in (say) 6-12 dimensions of space-time, all responding to other with infinite subtlety and generosity, empowered not by mere skill but by a heartfelt wish for service, then you could begin to imagine the world that surrounds you inside.
But it can only be approached through no-thought - the invisible vortex at the centre of stillness.
The best way to journey is to take your understanding as far along the road as it's willing to go - when the time is right the mind adds an additional dimension to its awareness as easily as an automatic gearbox changes gear.
The nature of I AM, the existent one, is so multi-dimensional that to catalog a few aspects seems almost impertinent. The easiest way to start is to think of the most recent occasion you were among close friends: when you laughed and reveled in each other's company, and between yourselves alone shared something unique, the warmth you lack now you're apart.
At that time you no longer felt isolated, your personalities melded together to assume a identity of common interest. You couldnt've said what it was, but you knew it to be there. A dimension was added to your 'idea' of happiness that hadn't been there before.
That is one aspect of divine nature. The experience itself isn't 'God', but the nature of the experience is - that 'being on the same wavelength'.
The profoundest element in the divine nature is the very simplest - a desire for companionship. If you have watched other people enjoying themselves and have felt yourself excluded by an invisible pane then you have understood another aspect of God - both inclusion and exclusion.
S/he, God, is all knowledge and all pain, all love and all failure of love. There is nothing that can happen which exists as a dimension outside hir character. Such complexities of emotion may be too vast to comprehend, or they may be too intimate. Like you, we of the spirit world, can't comprehend a reality of such magnitude. Indeed seeking to keep up with this extraordinary being is the magnet that draws all life onward.
Spiritual progress (enhancing awareness) involves passing through 'brick walls'. At first you instinctively create conceptual boundary walls in order to 'make sense of' the information you have received. But as you go inward to a deeper knowledge of your own heart so you also move your horizon outward, because your acceptance of the laws of gravity has released you to move upward.
As you make new boundary walls you marvel at the childish inadequacy of your earlier limits. Yet the great masters retain the child's initial sense of wonder. That is the key to the saying 'experience is a circle whose circumference is everywhere, whose centre nowhere.' When you are truly balanced you no longer need walls because you no longer need 'support'.
You exist, but more than that, you know you exist. You have an awareness (existential multi-dimensionality, if you wish) which can project itself into the minds of others or the consciousness states of all animate and inanimate creation, precisely because it knows itself. You can begin to feel the yearning in a blade of grass.
But you can hardly ever be aware of more than one emotional state at a time. The source of the universe, the existent one, simultaneously comprehends and processes all imaginable emotional states from murderous rage to seraphic bliss, not only as the mind of a Machiavelli but also as the softest-hearted nursing mother. Nor only on one level. Hir imagination creates (and is in turn created by) the complete range of possibilities within every single physical and metaphysical life-form.
Even the word range mis-implies something ultimately finite - here you can begin to understand multi-dimensionality. There is no outer edge to I AM, yet there are degrees of probability, and as the strength of probability decreases so it metamorphoses dimension and takes on a new character, but at the same time is suspended multilaterally in the optimum inter-relationship by the relative force of probabilities.
It's true of your own personality too: if you take time to consider how your opinions are 'held' - how they form your nature, yet are in turn formed by it. They, the probabilities that constitute your belief-system, form a major part in the makeup of your personality.
No explanation of existence can follow a two dimensional line, for ultimately progressive experience exists in an ever-increasing number of dimensions. Yet you can't start by explaining multi-dimensionality in abstract, because it doesn't exist in abstract, only in relation to the percepts which create it.
This is the reality of spiritual understanding. You have to be willing to surrender conceptual thought for perceptual awareness; and for those who have been intensively trained in the former this is a painful reversal of their world-view.
You see multi-dimensionality in the web of interconnecting relationships every person builds up over a lifetime. The dimensions of relationship are forever being extended and deepened. Far from bewildering the individual, the complexity of these inter-relationships seems to grow more profoundly simple as the years pass.
So it is at the pulsing heart of the universe. I AM draws you onward into love, into a fullness of experience where yin and yang dissolve in complete satisfaction. In the meantime, yet permanently, s/he trembles at the rejection of your coldness, grieves over your near-sightedness, cherishes your insights - yet is also the vacuum that creates and nurtures your expansion by being the pressure which impels you outward into yourself.
S/he is so unimaginably vast yet so indivisibly intimate that no mental framework can comprehend the scale of hir existence within the limitations of four-dimensional language.
That is one purpose of your existence: as the search is rewarded it levitates you into deeper realms designed to further that awareness until it grows close to you - and in meeting you becomes I AM.
As ever, the irony exists that you have to discover what the granite rocks know. You yourselves know before you discover: what you discover is not new, it's another way of knowing the same knowledge, another dimension - the more dimensions you can be aware of the more coherent the image that you have of knowledge and its relationship to existential reality - itself only an illusion.
A mystery? No, infinitely simple. Your heart has already revealed more than you can ever absorb via your head.
The Unlimited Mind
How then to create a bridge between the delight and liberty of that world and the elaborate self-torture we have created for ourselves at the cusp of the 21stC?
In that ideal world, energy and freedom coexist, with mutuality as a counterpoise. Noone takes more than another can give: noone gives more than another can take.
It's essential to understand that that ideal world is already present - not on the plane of reality we share through this printed medium, but it exists in imaginative reality as surely we are now sharing in an act of extrasensory communication - just as surely as the dream of peace on earth is new every Christmas Eve.
In a video lecture entitled Recovering The Soul,24 Dr Larry Dossey, former Chief of Staff of Dallas Medical City Hospital, speaks of well-documented evidence about extrasensory phenomena such as prayer, absent healing and their effect on sickness. He says "We must conclude that consciousness is not constrained by the body. There is an aspect of the human which is loose in time."
He goes on to recount the Remote Sensing Experiment of Professor Robert John of Princeton University, described in Margins of Reality, in which 'senders' were randomly matched by computer and given images to thought-project to 'receivers' up to 6000 miles away. "The results show that the images got through in the majority of cases - but the strangest part is that the 'receiver' often got them up to three days before they were sent" - before the parties had even been randomly matched. "From which" he concludes, "there is an aspect of the psyché, the mind or soul, that is infinite. The mind is not confined by time or place."
I am suggesting that this quality of 'mind' manifests itself in psychic functions such as mediumship or extra-sensory perception and is substantially the same as Jung's view of the Collective Unconscious and an aspect of the experience by which many people describe God.
The Vedic concept of an intelligent universe illuminates this distinction: to arrive at understanding of 'the existent one' requires that two elements, two hemispheres of the brain if you will, be united: Brahma, that which exists regardless of our perception, Mind, while Atma, individual experience, mind, is of whatever profundity our heredity and constitution allow.
There is a seamless division between our perception of the larger aspect of Mind, as a consciousness clearly 'other', and that 'Other' consciousness's inspiration of humanity's search for it. (It being joyful self-awareness.) I see this imagery like a web passing from ourselves in the physical world through the myriad colours of a discarnate dimension to the vibrant and invisible heart of the universe, infinitely distant yet infinitely present. Or perhaps as a bell tent whose circumferential connection to the earth requires the sustaining focus of a ridge-pole, itself stabilised reciprocally by tension from the circumference.
Creativity and mysticism, and indeed sexual tantra, all address this non-physical, experiential 'reality'.
The nature of knowledge
But how do we know anything, and what is it we 'know'?
Knowledge may be taken to indicate active memory-awareness coordinated within a person or group and therefore psychically alert: as opposed to information which in archival form is psychically inert until known by individuals. As indicated above, a difference of psychic/ psychological function exists between these aspects (the spirit and the letter) which is of significance to the very nature of music, and which I hope by the end of the article to have illuminated.
The Sanskrit word for knowledge, jnana, means rather more than wisdom. Jnana implies resolution of struggle by achievement of an overview, the intellectual penetration to the heart of matter - 'answers' being subjectively as well as objectively meaningful. And in Tibetan rigpa, enlightenment, means 'knowledge about knowledge'.
Knowledge and truth have a symbiotic relationship. We acquire knowledge continuously, by selecting what we believe to be accurate (true) information. This process is innate, beginning with coming to know our childhood world, and extending this contingently throughout our lives in an interactive web of emotional perceptions that connects us to the phenomenal world.
Two keys are required to unlock the jewel-box of 'meaning' - one is ontological fact, the other is a contextualising overview or mythos. Scientific thought has not yet been able to develop a model that includes the meta-physical awareness with which to contextualise information. For only at this point does it truly become knowledge. Tho technology has conferred many practical benefits an obverse effect is that once a technical discovery becomes standard procedure the numinosum 25 which surrounded it while it remained the knowledge of initiates evaporates and its reproduction becomes mechanistic.
In every culture what society understands as knowledge governs (/is governed by) how its thought-forms are structured. The confusion of information with knowledge has resulted in (/been caused by) the industrialising of education - itself a reflection of the Western obsession with increased material comfort in place of a dedication to either knowledge or compassionate truth. In cosmic terms this is actually ajnana, ignorance, for wherever knowledge is not held within a balanced consciousness distortions of and to human nature are bound to occur. (Quod erat demonstrandum!)
By current definition, knowledge does not include what is not known. The principal reason is self-evident, but the second more sinister: because if we were to structure our conception of knowledge to include what is not known we would discover something like a mediæval map: a hypothesis with a tenuous relationship to ontological reality whose vacant areas might be populated by 20thC phantasmagoria - albeit of a less vivid character than the medieval cartographer's!
To talk of Unknowing is ridiculous to the rational person. We who are heirs of the Enlightenment are protected from the dark Unknown by a horizon of light carefully, or fearfully, constructed by our forebears to exclude the irrational. But our Cartesian concept of knowledge requires the breathing space, the imaginative freedom, of what is unknown as much as it requires what is known. For scoff as we will, the Void keeps breaking in as John Updike so brilliantly captures:
They are above us all the time,
the good gentlemen, Mozart and Bach,
Scarlatti and Handel and Brahms,
lavishing measures of light down upon us,
telling us, over and over, there is a realm
above this plane of silent compromise.
They are behind us, beneath us,
the abysmal books, Shakespeare and Tolstóy,
the Bible and Proust and Cervantes,
burning in memory like leaky furnace doors,
minepits of honesty from which we escaped
with dilated suspicions. Love us, dead thrones,
sing us to sleep, awaken our eyes,
comfort with terror our mortal afternoons. 26
Semiotically, light brings an illumination which differentiates: dark is an all-enveloping void - space and time disappear into an infinite and threatening womb. (That word is deliberate.) The darkness of Unknowing magnifies our childhood terrors of abandonment. In it the reassuring contextualisation of relationships disappear and we are left alone with our Self.
It is unnecessary to quote Beckett for the parallel with 20thC thought to be clear.
Contact with Mind is identified with positive values: light, warmth, fulfilment, knowledge, harmony, God; whereas contact with the Void, the Unknowing, is connected with negativity: fear, loss, incoherence, darkness, barbarity, Devil. Every religious culture has its own language and configuration of images for discussing/ evoking the God-reality it honours.
When first encountered the inner creative void is dimensionless and infinitely frightening, it is occult (hidden). Intriguingly Jung concluded that 'the Self often first confronts a person in a hostile manner.'27
But as we become accustomed to the sense that it operates (/is operated) by emotional not mental priorities we begin to colonise it and contextualise experiences within it in a totally new way. Such is the power of grace, often our introduction to this side of awareness comes in a 'peak experience'. The emotional intensity of peak experiences is such that they begin the process of colonisation - analogous to the way an 'open mind' permits the synchronicity we call beginner's luck!
If Mind/Void are doublets of the same entity, why do we perceive them differently? Perhaps because we're born with a natural attachment to the exoteric, the phenomenal world, in which reside those we love and who supply our lives with 'meaning'. Instinctively we know that to pass from a world of familiar objects and undifferentiated awareness to one of self-awareness and individuation we must traverse a pons asinorum across the void, a sorting of 'men from boys'. And that is deeply frightening, because it is a journey of faith; no end is in view when we set foot on the rainbow bridge for the end lies in a different dimension inaccessible to linear 'meaning'. It is only when we are willing to abandon an attachment to left-brain awareness that holistic meaning manifests itself.28
Altho the serious creative artist and the mystic use different vocabularies and methods, the nature of their inner explorations is fundamentally similar. This is the meaning I take from the passage in TS Eliot's Four Quartets where he says
... each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling ...
Going on to speak of 'undisciplined squads of emotion' Eliot uses language symptomatic of an intellectual trapped in the stilted conventions of 'educated' (left-brain) Self-control, ashamed of, yet dependent on, his (right-brain) creative anarchy. He continues in a passage no less relevant, citing every attempt as ...
... a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say ...
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
The last sentence is profound. Who can prophesy acceptance? 'Man proposes: God disposes' And what is acceptance anyway? ...
A thing beyond us ev'n before our death,
A fancied life in others' breath:
All that we think of it begins and ends
In the small circle of our foes and friends. 29
As ever, Yanagi articulates the profound perspective:
Each has responsibility for all things:
noone is responsible for anything.
Everyone is answerable to each other:
noone is answerable for more than [hir]self. 30
To the extravert, acceptance is sine qua non. While it's just as welcome to artist or mystic, it's strictly a bonus: for the introvert what really counts is the truthful externalisation of inner vision.
George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, who often preached in riotously adverse situations, frequently recorded sentiments in his journal along the lines "I [ac]quitted my soul, and so parted, whether they would hear me or no." He spoke faithfully what was shown to his inner awareness and by so doing believed he had discharged his responsibilities.
On a parallel track Marie-Louise von Franz writes
The art of creativity that the unconscious demands from consciousness [is] in many such cases ... that work be done for its own sake even if the world is never to see the finished product. 31
Might not mystics and artists from Jeremiah to Van Gogh, Bach to Simone Weil, John Cage to Meister Eckhart have said something similar? Did Schubert compose for gain?
Nothing that is done from a spirit of service to the highest good is ever lost. I noted down the following paragraph in a lecture by Ram Dass (the former Harvard Prof Richard Alpert):
Service awakens us from the illusion of separateness. The ideal karma is to do an act without being an actor and without being attached to the outcome of the action.
Only this frees us from the endless cycle of cause and effect, action and reaction, death and rebirth.
As Above, So Below
I mentioned the Void being womb-like. In her fascinating study of The Inferior Function, the operation of the subconscious, Marie-Louise von Franz speaks of Western ideology being made up of quaternary images: consisting of 'conscious' trinities and a 'compensating opposite' which is perceived as 'other' and remains in, indeed cannot be drawn out of, the subconscious - most conspicuously the Christian Trinity and its oppositio compensandum, the Devil.
This 'inferior function', she suggests, is like an ocean fish you can hook but is too large for your boat; and this conflict ultimately forces you to come to terms with the limitations of your vessel. That realisation produces 'a shock to the whole system'
which means for the thinking type the famous sacrificium intellectus ... having, as it were, the humility to go down with all your ... other functions onto that lower level.
Really getting in touch with the inferior function is something like an inner breakdown ... but it has the advantage that afterwards some functions no longer tyrannise the ego nucleus.
One can therefore say that the inferior function is really the bridge to the experience of all the deeper layers of the unconscious. Going and staying with it ... for a long time effects a radical change in the whole set-up of the personality.32
I see this womb-like quality of the void as its power of fertility - its operation mysterious but sure. I would also connect it to female awareness and a women's feelings about menstruation - the 'accursed gift' whose sensory dominance of her life creates an 'otherness', an uncontrollability, which to the continence of the masculine physique arouses horror, scorn and disgust - as the proscriptions on women and menstruation in nearly all patriarchal religions witness.
A complementary dependency on the vagaries of the subconscious keeps the creative artist and the mystic in a state of profound humility wherein they are far more receptive to the gifts of the Cloud of Unknowing than 'normal' people.
Sound as Healer
The concept of shamanism unites the two perceptions I have been expounding. Shamans are healer-magicians who enter the void by means of trance or ecstasy and have commerce with the spirit world, or Mind, in order to bring collective and individual health to their tribe.
In contemporary terms, I see this function as being like a prospector entering the wastelands of the soul and returning with small prised nuggets of personal 'meaning' - or, to be fanciful, schools of achæologists retrieving a three-dimensional mosaic whose design is slowly becoming manifest - despite furious and opinionated theorising!
I don't want to go too deeply into the question of what constitutes shamanic experience within the arts, since this ground is excellently set out in two contemporary books Through Music To The Self by Peter-Michæl Hamel and Dreaming With Open Eyes by Michæl Tucker.33 Indeed my interest is not in suggesting that some experiences are shamanic, but rather that shamanic experience is part of a universal phenomenon such as that mentioned in the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews:
What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them.34
Here the apostle is describing the prelude to the Decalogue, a conventus tremens, an overwhelming encounter, where the psychic elements we're calling Mind and Void fused together in an epoch-defining moment that touched archetypal depths within everyone present. The passage also forcibly reminds us that exposure to ecstasy is necessarily limited because of its overwhelming character.
The idea of discovering 'reality' in extreme states is also represented in a remarkable series of Japanese sculptures in the Kanon Temple, Kyoto. For Buddhahood (release from illusion) can occur in the nadir of misery as much as in the zenith of joy. 35
Raijin, God of Thunder,
Part of the Kannon Bodhisattva at Sanjú Sangendó, Japan. AD1249.
The path has two forks. Both may lead through a 'dark night of the soul' and in both the soul, labouring unconsciously to bring about a conventus tremens, sucks experience dry before reaching atmajnana (soul knowing) - one path is followed in the belief of achieving an altered state: the other in the desire of achieving an altered state. Even if the altered state is conceived of very differently in either case, nevertheless belief and desire are two sides of a single coin.
While conditioning and inclination may cause one person to perceive and pursue the goal physically and another spiritually -the Dionysiac & the Apollonian- it is of course absurd to see the two paths as separate; nevertheless this dualistic taboo is very strongly constellated in Christian culture, and accounts for the frenzy of prurience that overtakes tabloid guardians of the banal whenever these sexual and religious aspects of the 'hidden' are found together - the only occasions when the average population encounters them.
Language, coherence and above all relationships mask the immensity of the void beneath our feet. Anyone who has had experience of a marriage breaking up, of mental illness in a loved one, or of a sudden financial reverse will know how terrifyingly quickly every signpost pointing to normality is torn down. In states of extremity we become aware how illusory and gossamer-thin is the web of meaning that connects us with other human beings.
It is when we reach beyond our ultima thule, the farthest known 'comfort zone' on our emotional map, that subconscious and conscious suddenly fuse in an alignment which illuminates subjective and objective reality, and our platform of awareness experiences a quantum shift.
In Literature & Evil Georges Bataille says of Kafka:
[he] was nothing but the refutation of effective authority. He bowed, and as he bowed, he loved and died, opposing the silence of love and death to that which could never make him yield, because the nothingness ... or the void, or others, are all equally close to an impersonal fullness - which is unknowable.
Unreal death, which leaves us the feeling of a void, attracts us at the same time as it disturbs us, because this void is connected with the fullness of being. 36
I read of a survey a few years back which found that writers were 40% more likely to experience some form of mental disturbance than average members of society. This is a function of mental pathology of creatives and sensitives. Their very gift is a thinness of psychic skin, whereby they pick up vibrations from the Akasha, the subtlest of the psychic atmospheres surrounding us, to which 'average' individuals are impervious.
Entertainers treat with naked power of the subconscious but all too often, like sufferers from mental disturbance, they are buffeted by its electricity without being able to discern an ultimate meaning or purpose in their experiences. To gain what Mind/Void has to offer we must, as von Franz says, submit to it. The St Vitus-like jiving of an adrenalin junkie goes nowhere unless it is truly intercourse with an 'otherness'.
From the standpoint of modern depth psychology, this shamanic experience amounts to undergoing an invasion of the collective unconscious and dealing with it successfully. Only when [s/he] has experienced the infinite in [hir] own life ... has [it] found a meaning. Otherwise it loses itself in superficialities. 37
The whole phenomenology of the pop publicity machine is geared to elevating 'abnormal' people to stardom - psychically-sensitive (and therefore unstable) personalities who accept a surrogate role as exemplars of furor Dei, the madness of the gods, which they act out on the tabloid stage for the diversion of the general public without ever achieving the release of personality into ecstatic reality of Mind - because our culture, by denying its existence, experiences only the Void.
Yet with the simple password yes, the Void is no longer hostile.
To talk of vocation may seem absurd in these days when 'artist as conman' is the beau idéal. But those who feel a profound calling should be aware they are not without resources. In Profession & Vocation Von Franz also quotes a Buryat man who had been sick for 15 years and 'ran around naked in the winter behaving like a fool', until at length, he
found his helping spirit, who said to him: "why are you carrying on like that? Don't you know us? Depend on us, your utcha". [ancestral spirit helpers] 38
Reporting his reintegration into the tribe as a successful healer, she records that Siberian Tungus say that before a person can become a shaman, he must suffer the harassment of the spirits for a period of years. And that it's strictly forbidden to act as a shaman until [s/he] has been fully healed from the initiatory illness. So don't feel alone if you have known these feelings.
The passage I quoted above from Paul's letter to the Hebrews continues in a way that reflects precisely that transformed consciousness where the anarchic ecstasy has been drawn into a vocabulary of 'meaning':
But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where millions of angels have gathered for the festival with the whole [assembly] in which everyone is a 'first-born son' and a citizen of heaven.
If we master the anarchic void, that doubt-full serpent that threatens to swallow us whole until we have wrestled it to the ground, then we have begun to realise our Godhead. Another allegory shows us Isræl who successfully wrestled with an 'angel', but ever after bore a physical reminder.
Their 20thC equivalent, Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, persists until she gets behind the curtain at the castle of Oz and sees how the trick is done.
All of these 'Masks of God' represent the Self projecting its fear of transformation onto an archetypal or dream image. For of course God is pure spirit and therefore all and none of these images. Once we see the distinction between mask and reality we no longer project our inner emptiness onto the external world and endeavour to fill this psychic vacuum with more possessions, or the pursuit of pieces of paper.
My own impulse to pursue the hazardous and quixotic inner journey, whose fruits I set before you, was thrown into high gear by the beauty of my slumbering infants. I was enjoying a modest success as a dramatic composer but had no 'answers' for anything, and within my heart was an ache that my children's 'innocence' hammered upon with an overwhelming resonance.
Being without answers is our nameless dread. It deprives us of the power to differentiate ourselves as individuals, thereby putting the ego (our identity) under threat. Yet how can we accept as 'answers' what we know to be incomplete? Once again Pirsig's Metaphysics of Qualities offers a model:
Scientific laws are invented by sanity.39 There's no way by which sanity, using the instruments of its own creation, can measure that which is outside of itself.
Instead of seeing things in finite terms, we need to see answers lying at the 'sweet spot' within a balance of probabilities, just as a musician empirically optimises hir timbral quality to idealise the acoustic. It is not a single cold, pinned down, bureaucratic answer, it is a question of 'feel' and of responding to the moment. What Buddhists call 'suchness'. It's similar to exceptional beauty which, says Yanagi, may be judged by a single epithet:
Shibui: 'of itself alone /nothing else at all'.
Our world abounds with different aspects of beauty. Each person, according to disposition and environment, feels a special affinity to one or other aspect. But when taste grows move refined, each will necessarily arrive at the beauty that is shibui. If one seeks depth in beauty, this stage must be attained some day. Shibui is the sesame to open the doors to the infinite mysteries of beauty.
This is the only word I know of in any language that expresses this idea: its absence in other languages is indicative of its absence in the æsthetic awareness of these cultures. Shibui is a profound, unassuming, quiet feeling, peculiar to the Orient.
While we admit incompleteness we're bound to creative interaction with whatever we encounter; the game isn't over, everything is still in play. What a true understanding of the mystical teaches is that thought can assume any form, and that any physical entity is a dynamic coherence of probabilities which could evolve in any dimension.
An idea which Stockhausen expresses in saying that 'what we have to compose is composition not compositions.' Today the idea of a Schoenberg painting or a Burgess composing is no longer bizarre. The creative psyché is like light which shines through whichever aspect is most translucent at the time. Stockhausen ...
More and more we're concerned with the process of the forming of something. When we see an object like this ... tape recorder, it's important to think about how [it] came about. Why this tape recorder? We should think about what it was before and what it will be afterward in order to understand it.
We're so used to seeing the so-called objective world like a horse wearing blinders - making it blind to reality. 40
The Indian teacher Sai Baba says that there is a particular quality of knowledge, atmajnana, by which
all things can be known. Knowledge of mud and of gold gives knowledge of all pots and pans, as well as of all bracelets and necklaces. The mud and the gold are the truth; their modifications and transformations are temporary, mere name-forms. So too, the world, like the pot and the bracelet, is just an effect, the cause being sath (is-ness) ... the [latent] universal characteristic of all [matter] which [is present] even in the absence of objects. 41
This is borne out by the psycho-acoustics of stereo sound. A precise stereo 'picture' may be recreated in our minds by the 'effect' of a recording even tho the 'cause', the instruments, is absent. Multimedia technology shows how 'answers' in one sensory gateway warp over into another synæsthetically.
We've outgrown the exclusivity of earlier disciplinary distinctions. Yet if we are not simply to fool around with contemporary technology as, literally, a set of 'effects' we must rediscover valid new æsthetic criteria. And here Yanagi once more articulates the unchanging bedrock:
A true artist is not one who chooses beauty in order to eliminate ugliness, [for s/he doesn't] dwell in a world that distinguishes between the beautiful and the ugly, but rather s/he has entered the realm where strife between the two cannot exist. This is a state of mind characterised by the words buji ('no event') and bunan ('no trouble'). What is implied is an absence of storm, of conflict, of dis-ease. Worshipping the beautiful and hating the ugly are immature: in the work of one who seeks enlightenment there is no room for encroachment of duality.
The noun shibusa [formed from shibui] reflects a practical reality. It evokes the abstract by means of the concrete. It is a mirror reflecting inner nature. 42
How then is shibusa to be achieved if not by a 'total integration of sensory awareness', the inner truth I spoke of earlier?
The term created by Jung to describe the process of fusing self, Self, mind and Mind is Individuation - by which, simultaneously, the ego is shattered and re-formed.
This is the ultimate mystery - and its real-isation is the initiation into all mystery religions. It lies at the heart of the Christian Eucharist: that only by the breaking of Christ's body could the unique quality of his energies be freed to fertilise the collective psyché of humanity. As he himself predicted ...
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and 'dies', it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. [John 12:24. JB]
Failure to accomplish this integration has immensely damaging effects for a creative individual, as Jung observed:
Nietzsche['s] ... God was dead. The result was that Nietzsche himself split and he felt himself forced to call the other self 'Zarathustra' or at other times 'Dyonisos'. For such a man it seems to be dangerous to make the statement that God is dead. He becomes instantly a victim of [mental] 'inflation' since the idea of God represents [such] an important, even overwhelming psychical intensity [that] one single person could not carry the total amount of energy.
'Ordinary' people are similarly affected, but only in proportion to their psychic susceptibility.
If dull people lose the idea of God nothing happens ... But socially the masses begin to breed mental epidemics, of which we now have a fair number. 44
The sense of psychic deadness so many people project as the 'death of God' may be traced to a decline of collective awareness in the metaphorical nature of the phenomenal world, that is the decay of creative mythology - itself a product (/cause) of the reification of material commodities as their numen is harnessed to specific tasks by technological skill - as Primo Levi, chemist /philosopher and holocaust survivor, evokes in his autobiography Periodic Table, where he links the atomic numbers of metals to periods in his life and to their original magical significance with alchemy.
Historically, we can view a gradual decline in the metaphoric nature of language. Shakespeare, standing at the threshold of the major conceptual shift that occurred in the 17thC, foresaw the tragic fall of language into the rigid mould of objectivism. 45
That is the view of Robert Lawlor, writing in the introduction to Daniélou's study of 'The Four Aims Of Life In The Tradition Of Ancient India'. And significantly, Kierkegaard's quintessential articulation of the sense of loss felt by 20thC humans occurred during the great ferment of industrialisation. Our very 'advances' deprive us of childhood's instinctual certainty in the imaginative /imaginable nature of 'reality'.
The historical growth of information-consciousness has led writers of every generation to lament their contemporaries' continuing decline from some mythic golden age of 'herd' knowledge. Thus Goethe prior to the French Revolution:
Once long ago there was a Golden Age,
But where has it flown to? All hearts long in vain
For the time when men roamed freely on this earth
Like happy herds, all innocent in pleasure. 46
Even if you see this as reflecting the educated adult's divorce from his psyché, it remains true that as we replace metaphoric knowledge with increasingly specialised information the value placed on heart-knowledge, jnana, sinks further and further below the horizon. In place of a metaphoric overview we now have the myopically academic idea set forth in Nicholas Rorty's Contingency and Irony - we can only ever know about our own specialist areas and should take everything else with a pinch of salt!
Robert Pirsig expresses his disgust that ...
Scientific, intellectual culture [has] become a culture of millions of isolated people living and dying in little cells of psychic solitary confinement, unable to talk to one another, really, and unable to judge one another because scientifically speaking it is impossible to do so. 47
And the music producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt offers a penetrating analysis in The Third Ear to which I shall return in the final section of my article.
In musical cultures where overtones are put up with as a 'necessary evil' every note is separated from all the rest ... each note is only a particle - like people in modern mass society.
In the realm of overtones ... every single note entails the vibration of all the rest ... as modern holism shows that human beings resonate with the universe. 48
How to escape?
So is everything lost? I think not. Our age is probably neither better nor worse than any other. The search for individuation has always been a distinctly un-popular pastime. Indeed despite many counter-attractions I suspect that today our knowledge of psycho-therapeutic procedures and the synthesis of non-european philosophies probably offer better tools for undertaking this exploration than many available to previous generations.
The important thing is for creative artists not to allow themselves to wallow in nostalgia but to look forward to the enormous possibilities we have created for ourselves. We must begin, as 'unacknowledged legislators', to re-form society by allowing our extra-sensory awareness to bring into existence a world of mutuality, using telecommunication not to stimulate desire for profit but to spread pride in all that is noblest in human nature - undefeated by every previous success and proud of every failure!
The future is a person of surprisingly easy virtue who will sleep with whoever asks. Anyone who is willing to 'pay the price' can define the future. No psychic gift is acquired without some personal price, but the gift is not only of infinitely greater value but is invariably itself the doorway to some transcendental reality.
Ours is a time of immense and vital ferment as the dominant materialist mono-culture is seen to be inadequate on so many levels. We artists have a supreme responsibility to accomplish our own individuation so as to contribute a subjective truth that is both coherent and honest but above all dynamically constructive to a tense and dispirited populace. In The Religious or Magical Attitude Marie-Louise von Franz writes
Art as a primordial psychic phenomenon fulfils a religious task and represents an aspect of that 'careful taking account of transcendental powers' that parallels the chants, prayers and rituals of the priests. Giving form to the spirits is a 'sacred' task, and they have to be formed for their own (the spirits') sake, not according to the taste or mood of the artist.
By seeking a personal understanding that bypasses the illusory limitations to consciousness imposed by contemporary fashion the mystic and artist are renewing the well-springs of knowledge; and in doing so are honoured 'to be God with God', in that resonant phrase. The process carries the individual deeper into jnana as both vehicle and signpost to the fullest self-awareness of which s/he is capable: the realisation that we are not other than God.
Once we have the humility of that self-knowledge we're able to pronounce the sacred words I am - the formula whose discovery by (/revelation to) Moses has uniquely empowered the Semitic religions. At this point hope and fear may subside. Knowing jnanically, ie with integrated emotions, the relationship between our heart and the great heart of the universe there is nothing left to learn. Duality becomes one. This is vijnana.
After completing this piece I encountered Sai Baba's luminous description of that process, which perhaps short-circuits all my laboured description:
Sàdhakas [followers of sàdhana, the path of enlightenment] ... have to climb a ladder, the steps of which are Savitharka (argument), Nirvitharka (no argument), Savichara (analysis), Nirvichara (no analysis), Sammatha (integration), &c.
The knowledge of the world is not real knowledge. It is relative knowledge; the knowledge of the non-real. The knowledge of the eternal Absolute is the Real knowledge. That is acquired by Dhyana (meditation). The fire of Dhyana and Yoga (discipline) will reduce to ashes the sapless activities of the Manas (conscious mind). Immediately thereafter, the Jnana (knowledge) of the Real will flash; it will shine with undiminished effulgence; its Light will never go out. For those established in this Real Jnana, there is no past, there is no future; all ages are to them in the present, in the actual moment of experience. 49
Such timeless Vedantic wisdom is also found in the musicologist Alain Daniélou's comment:
In transcendent reality, there is neither end, nor beginning, neither obstacle, nor effort, nor person seeking to liberate himself, nor anyone who is liberated. 50
And what, after all, is Enlightenment - but to be fully awake, fully self-aware?
23 back 30 back 42 back The Unknown Craftsman, Sóetsu Yanagi (1881-1972) (c)1953, Kodansha Int UK 1972.
24 back Recovering The Soul, Dr Larry Dossey, Mystic Fire Video, US 1994.
25 back 44 back Numinosum is either a quality of a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence causing a peculiar alteration of consciousness. (Psychology & Religion, CG Jung, Yale Press US 1938).
It's instructive to compare the release of power arising from scientific discovery (ie, accurate analysis of physical phenomena) with its psychological equivalent where moral power within the public psyche is released when latent emotions are triggered by films or other popular artforms.
26 back The Angels from Midpoint & Other Pms, John Updike, Deutsch, 1969.
27 back The Philosophical Tree, CG Jung, Collected Works vol 13.
I explored these issues in my play The Watcher In The Rain (1990) whose plot revolved around the treatment of James Joyce's schizophrenic daughter by Jung.
28 back Think of the fairy tale of Billy Goat Gruff and the trolls who oppose his crossing the bridge.
29 back Essay on Man, Alexander Pope, 1733
31 32 back The Religious or Magical Attitude in Psychotherapy, Marie-Louise von Franz, Shambhala 1993
33 back Peter-Michæl Hamel: Through Music To The Self (Element) - Michæl Tucker: Dreaming With Open Eyes (HarperCollins). Qabbalists would note with wry amusement the number of Michæls involved with this question!
34 back Hebrews 12.18/19 quoting Exodus 19 & Deuteronomy 4. (Jerusalem Bible)
35 back There used to be a London pub decorated with a rogue's gallery of notorious gangsters. There was an extraordinary consistency in the expressionlessness of their eyes - within those dark and psychotic pools lay a depth of self-knowledge that made them as fearless of their own deaths as saints.
36 back La litterature et le mal, Georges Bataille, Gallimard 1957: Literature & Evil, trans A Hamilton, Calder & Boyars UK/US 1973.
37 back Memories, Dreams & Reflections, CG Jung
38 back Profession & Vocation in Psychotherapy, Marie-Louise von Franz, Shambhala 1993
39 back 47 back Lila, Robert Pirsig, Viking 1992)
Sanity here being Conventional Knowledge, ie the Void kept at bay.
40 back Stockhausen, Conversations with the Composer, Jonathan Cott, Picador 1974, quoting The Genesis of Living Forms by Raymond Ruyer
41 back Upanishad Vahini, Sai Baba, SSri Sathya Sai Book Trust, Prasanthi Nilayam, PO515134, Anantapur (AP), India. nd.
45 back Virtue, Success, Pleasure & Liberation. Intro by Robert Lawlor, Inner Traditions US 1992
46 back Torquato Tasso, JW von Gthe (c)1790, trans Alan Brownjohn, Angel London 1985
48 back The Third Ear, J-E Berendt (c)1985, Element Books 1988.
49 Dhyana Vahini, Sai Baba. Sri Sathya Sai Book Trust, Prasanthi Nilayam, PO515134, Anantapur (AP), India. nd.
50 Mandukya Karika, (trans A Daniélou) quoted in his Virtue, Success, Pleasure & Liberation, Inner Traditions US 1992