Thursday, December 15, 2016

Two metaphors for the Material and Non-material Realms

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Those who have read my 2014 book The Undying Stars know that there are many names and descriptions by which the "Other Realm" has been known in many different cultures and eras.

Some of these include the Invisible Realm, the Infinite Realm,  the Spirit World, the realm of the gods, the Dreamtime, and "the seed world."

In each case, the descriptions imply that in the Other Realm, there is infinite potentiality -- infinite possibility -- but those possibilities have not necessarily manifested or taken form (because when they do so, they no longer remain infinite but take on finitude or "finity").

This is why the Infinite Realm is also called the Invisible Realm -- because in the Infinite Realm, the possibilities have not yet taken on finitude or manifestation and thus cannot be seen with ordinary sight.

It is also why this Other Realm is described in some cultures as the "seed realm" -- because it is the realm in which potentiality exists in a kind of "seed form," ready to manifest but not yet manifested, and thus still infinite in terms of potentiality. 

When you pick up an acorn, how many branches does the oak tree which might grow from that acorn have? The answer is, "infinite possible variations," because the oak tree at that point is "still in the seed world." Once it turns into a tree, then it will manifest some finite number of branches -- but when it is still in the seed realm, the oak tree is still "pure potential."

This understanding also helps us to perceive the truth in the description of the Other World given by the Lakota holy man Black Elk, when he called that realm: "the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world." This visible world somehow proceeds from, or flows from, or unfolds out of that other realm -- that realm of pure potentiality.

If you listen to podcasts (and I would very much urge you to do so as often as it is practical, such as when driving long distances or riding on the bus or on the train), and if you listen to the excellent podcast hosted by Greg Carlwood called The Higherside Chats (and again I would strongly urge subscribing to it and listening to the full episodes if at all possible), then you may have heard the excellent interview with guest Laird Scranton from the month of October 2016, in which Laird Scranton provided an excellent and memorable metaphor for helping us to think about the difference between this ordinary visible realm and that other realm of pure potentiality.

I would advise listening to the entire interview, because Mr. Scranton is an insightful researcher and an articulate explainer of the many deep concepts that he explores in his work. 

I myself have some reservations about some of the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky that form some of the focus of that particular interview, although I  certainly agree that there is tremendous evidence on earth and in the solar system to support the idea of a cataclysm or cataclysms in our ancient past. That said, I believe it is always worthwhile to listen to the possible explanations put forth by different analysts and to consider their merits in light of the evidence. 

Additionally, much more was covered in that interview, including the important sacred traditions of the Dogon (which have been mentioned in some previous posts on this blog several years back, such as here and here), and of course there is Laird Scranton's extremely helpful discussion of the realm of potentiality, which goes (in part) like this:
Now, as we talk about the concept of there being two universes -- universes forming in pairs -- the Dogon actually say that they know of seven pairs of universes. There are actually fourteen universes. And that there's a sort of "sibling relationship" between a non-material and a material universe in every case. 
Now, from the perspective of the archaic philosophies that describe this stuff, the non-material universe has perfect knowledge -- but an inability to act. The material universe has imperfect knowledge, but full ability to act.
Now, one way of understanding why that might be true, is -- we have to go back to Einstein. Einstein says that, if you had a team of astronauts who were traveling much closer to the speed of light than we're traveling, that their timeframe would change. Their timeframe would get slower. And the time that it took them to, say, lift a cup of coffee and take a sip might be the same amount of time that it takes us to go through an entire day or an entire week. That, there's a difference in timeframe -- time slows down as acceleration increases, or as mass increases. 
So, when you're talking about a non-material universe -- a non-material universe -- that Einstein's outlook implies that a non-material universe exists in a timeframe that's much, much more quick than ours is -- much, much quicker than ours is. So quick that -- things essentially happen instantaneously. Things that we think of as taking time happen instantaneously.  
Imagine, standing at the top of the Empire State Building with a camera, and filming traffic going by -- and then you bring your video back to your computer, and you speed it up: video. It'll reach a point where things that begin as individual vehicles traveling on a street look like waves. And the reason they look like waves isn't because they're waves, it's because they seem to be moving so quickly that they look like waves to someone who's not moving that quickly.
Well, that's sort of what's happening here -- and if you imagine that the non-material side exists in an infinitely quick timeframe, there's no opportunity to do something: there's no moment to do something. You don't have an interval of time long enough to actually accomplish something. 
Now, one of the symbols of the non-material side, because of that wave effect, is a serpent. A serpent moves in waves -- in the form of waves. So the serpent becomes symbolic on one level of the energy of the non-material universe. [48:00 through 51:00 in the "Plus" version of the recorded interview].
This seems to me to be a very helpful mental picture for understanding the difference between the realm of pure potential and the manifest realm of the visible, material realm through which we are traveling during this incarnate life.

It also helps to shed some light on some of the assertions of made by Alvin Boyd Kuhn in some of his insightful discussion of the world's ancient myths and scriptures. 

For one thing, Alvin Boyd Kuhn argues that (contrary to the perspective of most literalist Christians, and also contrary to most conventional teaching about the mythology and focus of ancient civilizations such as that of ancient Egypt) the real focus of most sacred myth and sacred tradition is not upon our existence "after death" or "in between incarnations" but rather upon our existence during the incredibly important period in which we ourselves have taken on flesh and manifested in this Visible Realm.

In Lost Light, for example, Kuhn writes:
The collapse of true religion is ever marked by its turning for its real experience from earth to mystical heavens.
Scholars have not sufficiently nor capably reflected on the significant fact that ancient sacred books or Bibles have been largely Books of the Dead. The obvious glaring peculiarity of this fact has never seemed to occur to students. It should from the first have provoked wonder and curiosity that the sages of antiquity would have indited their great tomes of wisdom is such form as to serve as manuals in the life to come, and not as guides for the life lived in the sphere in which the books were available! Only the heavy tradition that religion was a preparation for a life to come, instead of a way of life here, could have stifled this natural reaction to a situation that is odd enough in all conscience. [. . .] It had been ponderously assumed by scholarship that the ancient sages were more concerned with the hereafter and the next world than with life down here. How the march of history would have swung into different highways had the world known that we living men were those "dead" for whom the sagas were inscribed by the masters of knowledge! And what must be the sobering realization for present reflection of the fact that the primeval revelation given to early races for the guidance and instruction of all humanity has missed entirely the world for which it was intended!
The scene of critical spiritual transactions is not "over there" in spirit land, but here in the inner arena of man's consciousness. 196, italics in the original.
Elsewhere in the same volume, Alvin Boyd Kuhn reflects upon the reason we come down to this material realm and provides an extremely helpful metaphor of his own, when he says:
Any man yearning to rise from sedentary occupation and brain work to experience the "feel" of muscular activity outdoors, is a sufficient analogue. The opposition, tension and zest for the game are provided by the playing forces of the two teams of matter and spirit. The game or battle will yield him adequate thrills, since in it he will find coming to function still unevolved latencies of his own measureless being. Each act will enhance his sense of power and glory. That he may live again and enjoy a new joust with matter he must plunge his nucleated units of consciousness into a state of "death" and burial in material inertia [i.e., material incarnation]. 340.
As I have said before, I am certain Kuhn does not intend to exclude women when he uses the term "men" or the masculine singular pronoun "he" -- Kuhn was writing in 1940, and conventions were different then. Elsewhere in the book, he makes very clear that he is describing both men and women, such as in one passage in which he describes the mythical phoenix as emblematic of our multiple cyclings down into incarnate form (see for instance the last paragraph of page 551). 

But note here the parallels with the picture that Laird Scranton's analysis paints of the non-material realm: there in the non-material state, Laird Scranton argues, there is perfect knowledge, but inability to act. It is like seeing all the cars in a video or time-lapse photograph, stretched into long lines or waves: you can see the entire timeline of the journey all at once, but you cannot interact with the car at any specific point, because the moments have all been sped-up into a single wave. Thus, in the immaterial condition, there is only contemplation.

In his own metaphor, Alvin Boyd Kuhn says that this is like "sedentary occupation and brain work" -- there is perfect knowledge, and there can be pure contemplation. But we are compelled to come down to the material realm because it is only in this realm that we can act and interact, and in doing so we can develop and unfold characteristics which, until manifested, exist only as potentialities (or as "unevolved latencies," as Kuhn calls them). They exist only in "seed form" until then.

Kuhn describes our need to plunge down into the incarnate realm in the analogy of the desire to "rise from sedentary occupation and brain work" and experience muscular activity outdoors.

However, we should not misinterpret these helpful metaphors as saying that the Invisible Realm is not important -- far from it. As we have already seen, the sacred traditions explain that this Visible Realm depends upon and proceeds from that Other Realm. This is why awareness of -- and even contact with  -- the Other Realm, even while we are traveling through this incarnate life in the material realm, can be so important. 

For one thing, there is knowledge that can only be obtained through contact with the Other Realm, and no other way. Laird Scranton's metaphor explains that, at least in one sense, in the non-material realm there is perfect knowledge, because it has a very different relationship to the domain of time within which we are operating when we come down into incarnate life. Elsewhere in the same interview, Laird Scranton makes the intriguing point that premonitions and synchronicities may be ways in which the Invisible Realm tries to get messages to us here in this Visible Realm.

Also, as Laird Scranton explains at the beginning of the quoted passage above, the ancient traditions of cultures that have preserved their historic ways (such as the traditions of the Dogon culture) emphasize that the material universe and the non-material universe are paired, like siblings. What happens in one can and does impact the other. This means that there may be situations in the material realm that can only be repaired or remedied through some sort of travel to, or contact with, the Infinite Realm. 

All of the above discussion appears to be part of the worldview that permeates all of the ancient  myths, scriptures and sacred traditions of humanity -- a worldview which can be generally labeled a "shamanic worldview" (with the caveat that, of course, that term can be used in a more specific as well as in more general sense, and that the term "shamanic" can also be misused). It is a worldview which includes an understanding of the existence of the Invisible Realm, and an understanding of its importance in our lives at all times.

And, as the above metaphors also help us to see, it is also a worldview which places tremendous importance upon our experience and our actions here in this incarnate life, where we are plunged into the interplay of matter and spirit, the great Battle of Kurukshetra described in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita (with parallels in many other myths around the globe).

Because here, we have imperfect knowledge, but the ability to act. 

We should be grateful to Laird Scranton for that metaphor (and to Greg Carlwood for the excellent interview which brought out that part of the discussion). I hope that these metaphors will be helpful to you in some way.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).