Many thanks for your comment. Let me respond somewhat circuitously.
When the first presence moved across the surface of the waters, it is possible that even he/she/ it could not do more than dimly sense what was beneath. To learn more, this omnipotent presence would have to choose to become less. To exist in one place, it would have to withdraw itself from other places. To become more perfect, it would have to become flawed. To experience what it was, it would have to learn to enter into others, to let go of all previous concepts of its image. To return, with deeper knowledge, to the place from which it came, it would have to go, like Inanna, by the “way that does not turn back.” The challenge posed by the other is not only social, not only ethical or emotional or psychological; it is, I think, a mystery that precedes the existence of the world. To confront the other is to wrestle with a “koan.” It is to try to answer a question that is not meant to be answered; rather, the whole context of the question must be shifted, even as the questioner must be opened and transformed.
You write, “Knowing the whole is knowing not only self but the other: the other person beside you and then 'beyond us.' Inevitably, the other person is involved with our feeling disordered and broken. Recognition makes for healing. 'Beyond us' cannot be experienced before this in my opinion.” To me, empathy and generosity are among the most important virtues, signs that one may have reached some tactile sense of interconnectedness, some intuitive breadth of understanding. When a psychonaut or a writer or a teacher claims to have had a life-changing mystical experience, the first thing that I look for is generosity, for some evidence that this is a person who overflows. Beyond this, I would look to see if the person was willing to carry the world on his/her back, to suffer, whether physically or psychically, what the least fortunate of human beings must suffer. Sadly, I do not see this orientation nearly as often as I would like. Too many New Age teachers, for example, tend to view their own enlightenment as a marketing opportunity; they sell instead of give. At the same time, to think of openness to the other only in terms of other people and g-d may be to set limits on an exchange that is, by its very nature, unpredictable.
There are a great many ways to approach the mystery of the Other. There are many others, just as there are many ways that these others can be experienced and understood. There are mystics who do not like humans beings at all, who would prefer, let’s say, to celebrate the perfection of the five Platonic solids. There are others who would prefer to dwell in the depths of the unmanifest, to contemplate how formlessness is not different from form. An artist might define the other as his daimon, as the presence that hovers on the edge of his subconscious, who gives access to knowledge that would not be otherwise in reach. Some psychonauts may think of themselves primarily as cartographers, whose job is to map the presences that work and play in the subtle realms. There are mystics who are hermits and mystics who see their body as the body of the Earth. There are Nazi mystics, who believe that Hitler was an avatar of Vishnu. There are mystics who think that humans are far inferior to bees.
The challenge posed by the Other remains much as it was: It is a mystery to be entered, a question whose answer is more ambiguous than the question, a way of letting go of any fixed system of belief. As it was when the first presence became conscious of its breath, it is a call to explore beneath the surface of the waters. There, one must define oneself by all those things that one may instinctively be driven to reject, by those things that, in the end, will only become more familiar, not less strange.
In a Maori creation myth, we hear, “Darkness, become a light-possessing darkness. Light, become a darkness-possessing light.”
For many years now, I have done my best to rest my attention on the outer edge of awareness, in a liminal zone where the self and certain aspects of the other blur. I begin with the assumption that I do not know what I know. In this way, I have hoped to use my writing as a forum, as a place where contradictory forces can fight it out and/or play. Almost full access must be given to the other, and then to the other other, and then to the other after that. The tricky part is to be both open to suggestion and detached, to abandon oneself and to wield a sharp editorial pen, to take reckless chances and to keep one’s gyroscopic center, to be willing to be an idiot , and proud of it, while one industriously extracts the seeds of insight from one’s actions. One must be willing to admit that one is broken, a doll without a head, a pair of feet without a continent to stand on, a puzzle that is missing most of its parts, even as a voice, against all evidence, insists that one is somehow being led and reconfigured by the whole.
In 2009, I took part in a conversation prompted by Jasun Horsley’s “Owning the Apocalypse: The Up Side of Annihilation.” My comments eventually grew into an essay called “Transparency is the Only Shield Against Disaster.” One excerpt may be relevant to this exchange about wholeness. You wrote, “Maybe there will be an ascent? Maybe man will refine at the pace we are at. Refine so much that the flesh and blood existence won't be necessary.” That is certainly possible. Many people share this belief. Biologically, socially, technologically, and spiritually, it is difficult for us to set aside the idea that we are collectively evolving. Most in the ancient world thought differently; they thought in terms of the rising and falling of vast cycles, within which, at key moments, some individuals or small groups might be able to become more fully conscious of their roles. Radiant bodies were/are waiting for their inhabitants to put them on. The excerpt reads as follows:
“I would argue, based first and foremost on my own experience, that the Shadow, the Double, the Inner Teacher, and the Preexistent Guide are all aspects of one single presence. Its energy is explosive, and it has the power to obliterate or to transform what it touches.
“Contracted, this presence appears to be one’s enemy; expanded, it appears to be one’s friend. Quite strangely, it is neither of the above. If its agenda overlaps, in many ways and at certain times, with our own, it would nonetheless be a mistake, on this side of the experience of death, to jump to any conclusions about which side of the light/dark opposition we are on. Luck overtakes us, but perhaps we are being set up for the kill. Has the shadow become more user-friendly? No. Whether now or 2,000 or 10,000 years ago, the shared identity of the Shadow and the Guide has always presented itself in the form of an ultimatum, which we must torture our minds and bodies to interpret. ‘Abandon hope, all you who enter here.’ ‘Live free, and/ or die.’ ‘These, your relatives, are already dead, and so press on in the fight.’ True ecstasy necessitates the removal of one’s skin. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge have never been two different trees. Our Guardians lie; it is the Serpent who instructs us. What we hear, however, will determine the breadth and depth of our transport, as well as the effect of the fruit that we have eaten. To misinterpret a metaphor will be to contemplate mass murder.”
To my way of thinking, an experience of the whole is not something to be achieved; rather, it is something of which it is important to let go. An umbilicus connects us to the breath of the first presence, to some infinitely dense point of origin. There is no way to count the number of times it has been cut.
Illustration: Max Ernst, Surrealism and Painting