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Posts Tagged ‘reality’

The proof of the pudding

Monday, January 30th, 2006

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it’s beauty.”
Albert Einstein

Pertinent to mention that most of this month’s blog contributions have been made under the influence of another proving!

This one’s particular focus at the more philosophical end of its spectrum has to do with the way in which the underlying state gives rise to its outward manifestations, and vice versa in how outer manifestations reflect the nature of the underlying state. It highlights the frequently paradoxical nature of the process – or at least paradoxical to western thought – and the way we tend to get things twisted back-to-front and inside-out.

Cosmic Sphere by Camille Flammarion 1842-1925

It was interesting that in response to January 27th’s post, Carol Willis mentioned the Golden Rule (see the Comments to that entry), and it’s right enough that it infuses the moral and ethical standards of most cultures on the planet right down to children’s stories such as Charles Kingsley’s 1863 classic The Water Babies featuring the redoubtable rulers of the water-babies’ kingdom, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. If recognition of the value of such principles is pretty much universal, how is it that we fail so dismally to carry principle through to action?

It lies in the nature of the mirror. The underlying state is not something that can be perceived directly. It’s evident only by the manifestations it gives rise to which are like a mirror to its nature. Since our attention is captured by the reflection, rather than its source, we mistake this for the fundamental “reality” and see things back-to-front and inside-out, often entirely oblivious to the fact that there’s an underlying state generating these manifestations in the first place. The result of this is that we aim for the ultimates, the manifestations of the underlying state, as goals in and of themselves. Because we perceive them as goals, rather than reflections, we attempt to impose them on ourselves and others rather than focusing on the underlying state that naturally and spontaneously gives rise to them (much as Paracelsus highlights in the quote beginning the last post).

“What we are looking for is what is looking.”
St Francis of Assisi

As our self-discipline (or imposed discipline) strengthens and we succeed in acting in ways that are selfless, compassionate, etc, we believe we’ve achieved our aim. Which indeed we have – we’ve succeeded in imposing these qualities on ourselves. But the underlying state remains unchanged. It’s merely been strait-jacketed into a facsimile of the genuine article, but will continue as it always has to make its nature known in acting out, projection onto “other”, or in internal dis-ease, while we, delighted with our successes in overcoming our “base nature” and “doing the right thing”, remain ignorant of the fact.

We’ve made this error with each of the major world religions; the main reason why we’re left now with so much profound fragmentation, conflict and empty ritual. We’re making the same mistake again with the re-emerging spirituality of the “New Age”. Everywhere people are concentrating on the ultimates; trying to be in the eternal now, in universal compassion, etc, etc, learning techniques to impose this discipline or that discipline on themselves in the hopes it will lead to realisation, and ignoring all the reflections in the mirror which tell us what state we’re really in.

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
Søren Kierkegaard

This isn’t to say that practicing such techniques can’t help us along the path to the realisation we desire, only that we’re very good at fooling ourselves into thinking we’ve “got it” when we haven’t. We want it so bad we ignore all the signs telling us we’ve still got stuff nailed under the carpet to attend to.

A lot of the stuff under the carpet comes from the basic assumptions we’re conditioned with since childhood, passed down from generation to generation, and which are so universal we can’t see them for what they are. The doctrine of original sin, for instance, has one helluva lot to answer for. The idea that we’re born bad and have to spend the rest of our lives struggling to keep the badness under control accounts for an awful lot of our bad behaviour, not to mention the backlash notion that we’re really full of fundamental goodness and anyone pouring cold water on the unending feel-good fest is just being negative. We’re born neither bad nor good. W’e’re just born: with the potential to destroy or create, to fragment or amalgamate. A potential almost as diverse and limitless as the life-force of which we’re an inseparable part, and equally free of value judgement. How we’re conditioned to see and value ourselves, how we come to terms with that, and the choices we make as a result, are what determine the “reality” of our lives and the quality of our actions.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity … and I’m not sure about the universe.”
Albert Einstein

Solve et coagula

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

William Blake's The Ancient of Days, 1794

“Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Came across an interesting blog entry from Suzanne Taylor in The Conversation on alchemy, animism and the inner vs. outer manifestation of the spiritual dimension of existence. She quotes a piece which suggests that in psychodynamic terms “the gods, deities and spirits have become our modern day dis-eases, … the formal cause of our afflictions”. Have added this comment to her thread, culled in part from comments I’ve made elsewhere in this site.

A complex subject to unravel. A few points seem worth making here before going any further.

The first is that any description of reality that’s ever been produced is just that. A description, a map, or a model of it. It’s reality as we perceive it, and has consensual validity only insofar as others agree that it successfully models their experience of it too, or can be persuaded to accept it as such. It’s not reality itself, even though we tend to live our lives for most of the time as if that’s the case. That distinction needs to be kept in mind. All too often the map gets mistaken for the territory, or far worse, is given precedence over it. (Most of the unspeakable brutality of which we’re all capable arises from a desire to enforce a particular view of reality on those who don’t share it.)

The second is that an impartial view of the evidence would seem to suggest that reality itself doesn’t appear to favour any one view over any other. It cheerfully supports diametrically opposing viewpoints on all sorts of things to do with it, and obligingly offers up proof after proof to their proponents that enables them all to lay claim to validity. Every person alive has a valid view of reality. It may not be a view that’s shared by many others, but that doesn’t render it invalid or “wrong”. “Right” and “wrong” aren’t absolutes carved into the fabric of existence. They’re simply shorthand for “things that me and people who think like me agree with” and “things that me and people who think like me don’t agree with”.

The third is that it’s the old story of the popup launcher icon blind men and the elephant. So if we want to discover the whole elephant, any half-way decent attempt to construct a robust model of the nature of existence needs to accommodate as much as possible of that existence. This means encompassing the fullrange of human experience and knowledge in every field through all times, rather than flitting from one limited subset of it to another, disdainfully dismissing the remainder as somehow irrelevant or inadmissible, or the product of presumed “inferior” minds in past times or technologically unsophisticated cultures. All that’s doing is perpetually moving around to different parts of the elephant with an elephantine measure of arrogance in tow.

So what we’re talking about here in the charting of the decline of animistic and alchemical beliefs is only shifting perceptions, changing models, that have the appearance of being reflected in outer reality. For other societies, such as what remains of First Nation cultural viewpoints on all continents, the perception of the immanence of life still remains. It’s not the world that’s de-spiritualised and de-animated, it’s our perception of it that’s become so. Conceptual exclusion of any aspect of existence will dis-ease us when we encounter evidence of what’s excluded. It doesn’t fit our idea of how things should be. In other words, the mythical gods are not the formal cause of our modern dis-ease. It’s our inability to recognise and integrate the spiritual dimension of existence and include it in our conceptual model of “reality” that is the cause of our dis-ease. In some ways it doesn’t much matter how we model it, because it will only ever be an approximation, an analogy; what matters is that we do.

Then comes the question of how we relate to it – ie. whether it resides “out there” or “in here”. This comes down to what we define as “self” and what we define as “other”. If what we define as “other” is, in fact, an aspect of “self”, then it becomes part of our (Jungian) shadow to be continually reflected back to us from “out there”, possibly bringing a measure of dis-ease in the process. If, as quantum physics (not to mention various mystical traditions) seem to suggest, the entirety of existence is fundamentally correlated and the “individuality” of any part of it is only relative and contingent, then the distinction between “self” and “other” is conditional, not absolute. The realisation of that can release us from dis-ease. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” and even “I am He as you are He as you are me and we are all together”.

Blasphemy? Consider this. Jung perceived that archetypes relegated to shadow are ones that are unconsciously acted out. The Judaeo-Christian foundations of our society have so comprehensively severed any aspect of divinity from “self” that it becomes hopelessly inevitable that we will unconsciously act out in a god-like way. This brings our arrogance, our superiority, our conviction that our view is “right”, and tendency to imagine we have some god-given right to impose those views on every other culture on the planet into sharp relief. Cultures who recognise the spark of divinity inherent in every lifeform don’t need to act out in this way, which pretty much consigns them to being stamped out by the likes of us. As a culture we in the industrialised nations of the west have been, and continue to be, guilty of crimes against other lifeforms that make Hitler look like a pussy cat and our illusions of moral superiority quite dreadful distortions. Yet contrary to expectations, transcending the somewhat illusory nature of the distinction between “self” and “other” and accepting our divine attributes brings about a deep humility. It no longer becomes necessary to act out.

How “real” is any of this? Perhaps it’s like Borges said.

“We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”
Rabindranath Tagore

Daft days

Thursday, January 5th, 2006
Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

“Let us admit what all idealists admit – the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done – let us search for unrealities that confirm that nature. I believe we shall find them in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno … ‘The greatest wizard (Novalis writes memorably) would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of accepting his own phantasmagorias as autonomous apparitions. Wouldn’t that be our case.’ I surmise it is so. We (that indivisible divinity that operates in us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it as enduring, mysterious, visible, omnipresent in space and stable in time; but we have consented to tenuous and eternal intervals of illogicalness in its architecture that we might know it is false.”
Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions

After writing the previous entry, this lovely quote from Borges (above) came to mind. It was also very timely in view of a few “tenuous and eternal intervals of illogicalness” in the architecture of our reality that were making themselves felt, and the fact that it all coincided with what in Scotland used to be called the “Daft Days” around Christmas and New Year when the established order would traditionally be turned on its head for a succession of riotous celebrations.

My daughter has been “losing” some things in her room, some of which turned up again today. All of us have been through the third degree as she was convinced it had to be one of us, but nobody goes into her room because we’ve simply no reason to, and nobody had.

Just how many of us, I wonder, have seemingly misplaced items we were convinced we left in a certain place, only to find them turning up somewhere else in the vicinity some time later when it’s quite impossible for them to have done so by any “ordinary” means? A generation ago country people would have just smiled and muttered something about the “wee folk”, but these days we’re inclined to put it down to personal mental aberrations, or family members playing tricks and telling lies about it, etc. But sometimes none of those explanations quite fit. Of course it would be nice and comforting if there were a simple and obvious explanation, but sometimes there isn’t.


When I moved house just over a year ago, I spent a few days going back to our old house to clean up for the new owners. One afternoon I was finishing up for the day when I noticed the mud and shoe-rubber marks on the wall by the front door where the shoe rack had been. I decided to clean that off before I left and fetched the scouring cream from the bathroom, squeezed some out onto a damp sponge, and made pretty quick work of it. I wiped off the wall, washed out the sponge and cloth, left the scouring cream by the kitchen sink, and left. The next day I came back to carry on. The scouring cream was just where I left it by the sink. Except it wasn’t scouring cream. It was washing-up liquid. Same brand, same container, very similar label, but washing-up liquid – clear translucent washing-up liquid, not white creamy scouring cream. Also a broom I’d left in the hall wasn’t there any more. My first thought was that my ex-partner had been in, though his post was still there which seemed a bit strange if he had. I phoned him. He hadn’t been near the place. Nobody else had a key.

I searched the house all over (pretty easy: it was empty) and no scouring cream came to light. For a brief moment I doubted my sanity and wondered if I could possibly have used washing up liquid on the wall (even though I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing so because it wouldn’t have removed those rubber marks, and even though I’d known it was scouring cream from squeezing it out on the sponge), but running a finger over the wall I found scouring cream residue that I hadn’t completely wiped away.

The next day I brought some more scouring cream from my new house along with some other cleaning materials in a bucket and left it in the kitchen while I cleaned up elsewhere. When I came back into the room about an hour later it had disappeared, though this time it wasn’t replaced by anything. The dustpan and brush that I’d left on the kitchen floor had also vanished. I looked all around the area I’d left it, but nothing. By this time I was quite incredulous and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I walked into the centre of the house and called out to whatever mischief-makers were within earshot could I please have my dustpan and brush, broom and scouring cream back.

I went off to do something else then came back into the kitchen. There was the dustpan and brush, just where I’d left it before. I went out into the hall and there was the broom, just where it had been 2 days earlier. No scouring cream. But later, when I went back to my new house, there was the scouring cream under the bathroom sink where it belonged. The washing-up liquid never changed back into scouring cream though. I still have it. Just in case one day …

The way all this happened left me no option but to conclude (short of diagnosing myself barking mad, which you’re at liberty to do of course!) that “reality” is not quite what we take it to be.

There’d been other instances while we lived in that house, like the time we’d all gone out with the children and their grandparents on a chilly April day to a local indoor adventure playground and my coat had gone missing from the pile by our table. When we got home it was hanging up on its usual peg. Going out on a chilly April day in Scotland without a coat is not an option. It’s just something I’d never do. Ever. And I knew I’d taken it off and put it in the pile with everyone else’s. But on that occasion, since nobody else could remember whether I’d been wearing it or not, there didn’t seem any choice but to succumb to the logic implied by the coat on the peg.

Wee folk

It seemed like all the shenanigans with the cleaning materials happened just as we were leaving to tell me that I hadn’t been mistaken after all. And since talking about it to other people, it’s amazing how many have come out with similar incidences, equally or even more improbable and unexplainable. Whether it’s mischievous “gremlins” or wee folk, or cracks in reality’s façade, who knows? All I know is that all is not as it seems. And I do like its sense of humour.

(For more thoughts on Borges’ assertions, see the essay Holed in One.)

Hall of mirrors

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Carl Gustav Jung

Someone wrote to me puzzled about yesterday’s quote from Fred Alan Wolf in the movie What the #$BLEEP*! Do We Know!?, “There is no out there out there!” and asked if there’s no “out there”, what’s really happening?

“Reality” only exists “out there” by virtue of consensus co-creation. The more you subscribe to that consensus co-creation, the more solid it appears. (Ever notice how linear time has a tendency to kick in most noticeably when we have to interact with others holding that idea of it? For more on conception of time, see the present Article of the Moment.) The waking world is no more real than the one we dream. It’s just that waking mind has a lot more definite ideas about things! The Buddhists and other Eastern metaphysical perspectives have recognised this for a long time, as have the more esoteric branches of some of the Western traditions. Now physics is reaching the same conclusions.

This is how “out there” has an uncanny habit of reflecting back to us the issues we have “in here”, because ultimately “out there” is just a Hall of Mirrors. This is how affirmations and visualisations can change what happens for us, though in using those techniques we’re just taking our very first halting unsteady baby steps into the world of conscious creation. This is how the real masters in the Eastern traditions manage to do things like walk through solid walls. They’ve broken through the illusions of waking mind and can consequently relate to the material fabric of existence at a more “realistic” level.

It’s difficult to grasp because waking worldy mind is so puny and limited. We exist in the delusion that waking worldly mind is what determines everything in our lives and is pretty much all there is to us, when really it’s just a distraction, a small side-show to the main event. It can be a pretty noisy side-show at times though and when it starts to interfere with the main event, then the whole show can start to fall apart (= sickness and dis-ease).

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard