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Posts Tagged ‘reality’

southport sunset

Resisting now this jagged mess of days,
Brings on the dark assassin’s migraine knives,
When even to tread the softer, slower ways,
Exhausts me long before the weekend has arrived.

Thwarted then, both inside myself and out,
Suspended, void of time and space and thought,
I ride an inky blackness of self doubt,
Until to cloying stillness am I brought.

The windows of my soul are growing old,
Long papered o’er by fools upon the make.
Their ragged posters many lies have told,
The perpetrators slippery as snakes.

Here then, shall I submit? Is it too late?
No wisdom in the wind, no maps extol
The seamless passage through that gateless gate,
Just a bloodied mess of thorns I’m fain to hold.

The season of the inner light grows dim.
And with it hope I’ll ever once more know,
That place of perfect harmony within,
The place I have for so long ached to go.

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daimonic realityFairies, flying saucers, angels, visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ghosts, crop circles and other assorted Forteana; it’s all fascinating stuff, even if you don’t believe in any of it, but as Patrick Harpur tells us in the opening of this book, these are not topics for respectable discussion. Intellectually they’re shunned, relegated to the idle conversations and the popular beliefs of “ordinary people”. Yet here too, we find certain of these things to be ‘in vogue’ while others are ‘out’.

Talk of the Faerie, for example, at least outside of the West of Ireland, might get you laughed at, while it’s odds on we all have a compelling ghost story or two to tell and will solicit from our listener a rapt attention, even if neither of us believes in ghosts. Strange that, don’t you think?

Me? I still have a fondness for the nostalgia of the Faerie, but I put that down to my Celtic ancestry. Then again belief in the objective reality of angels is widespread in the United States, but far less so in Europe. As for those poor old fairies, they seem antiquated now, replaced by talk of flying saucers and aliens which in turn seem suspiciously contemporaneous with our own development of space technology and powerful weaponry.

What this suggests is there’s a cultural dimension to anomalous phenomena, and it is to this that Patrick Harpur draws our attention. But rather than seeking to prove or disprove the existence of such things, he tells us such an obsession is to miss the point, that indeed to become embroiled with the ins and outs, say of flying saucers, or crop circles, is to follow a path of ever decreasing circles, one in which the daemonic will have a field day with your emotions, and even your sanity. Instead, he says, the importance lies at a deeper level, in the realms of  the collective psyche, and it’s only when we attain such a transcendent perspective do we see patterns emerging, that the bewildering multiplicity of the Forteana themselves are all expressions of the same thing, indicative of a breaking through of the ‘Daemonic’ into waking reality.

Harpur uses the term Daemonic here in the purely psychological sense, meaning a constellation of apparently autonomous psychical or ‘imaginative’ energy, and not to be confused with ‘Demonic’ in the more religious sense, meaning something entirely malevolent. In other words the Daemons and their associated Fortean manifestations are figments of the imagination, but this is not to dismiss them as unreal, because people are always reporting things they cannot explain. The problem, says Harpur, is our understanding of and our respect for the power of the human imagination.

We all possess an imagination, but this is built upon a foundation of the collective imagination of our culture, which is bounded and shaped by its traditions and by its myths. But, says Harpur, the myths themselves arise from a deeper layer still, one that has its own reality, independent of whether we can ‘imagine’ it or not, or believe in it or not, and it’s from this place the Forteana – the Daemons – arise to beguile and at times frighten us.

The idea of a ‘non-literal’, purely imaginary reality is a difficult one to grasp. The ego must reject it, for even if it were to exist, it would seem, from its reported manifestations, to be a very chaotic place, totally unhelpful to our rational and scientific enterprise, so we had better shun it, demonise it, or society will surely fall apart. But in the same way as when we suppress troublesome thoughts they come back at us as neuroses, so too shunning the Daemonic causes it to break through and disturb the smooth running of our rational lives. In this way the Daemons, manifesting as Forteana, can be viewed as a kind of collective neurosis.

In order to understand this better, Harpur takes us back to the lessons of Greek myth, which, in a nut-shell comes down to having a respect for the independent reality of an imaginary realm as described in stories of the interrelations between a pantheon of Daemonic deities and their various goings on, also of an ‘otherworld’, the place the soul journeys to after death, or nightly in dreams.

These realms exist, says Harpur, but not literally so, not objectively, yet if we deny them in ourselves, or collectively as a society, the Daemonic will find ways of challenging the smugness of our preconceptions regarding the true nature of that reality. Things will go bump in the night, we will see flying saucers, and the most extraordinary crop circles will come pepper our growing crops every summer, and we will fall out endlessly over whether it’s men with rollers doing it, or some other mysterious agency.

Contrary to popular belief, those most inclined to flights of imaginative fancy are least likely to be doorstepped by the supernatural. To exercise the imagination, for example in the pursuit of the creative arts, say writing or painting, seems sufficient to propitiate the Daemons and keep them on our side. On the other hand, it is the hard headed refuseniks with blunted imaginations the Daemons are more likely to tease by revealing themselves in whatever forms they can borrow from the collective psyche. A healthier approach then is for us to give such things some headroom, grant them the courtesy of a little respect, even if we do not entirely believe in them.

As with all Harpur’s books, I found this one a hugely enlightening read. It is a deeply thought, seminal thesis and lays the ground for his later and similarly themed “Philosopher’s Secret Fire – A History of the Imagination”. It has a foundation in Jungian psychology, Romanticism and Myth, all of which makes for fascinating reading, and for further reading if you’re so inclined. But if you’re hung up on any one topic of the supernatural in particular, seeking to winkle out concrete proof of its objective reality, the book is unlikely to satisfy you.

Indeed by telling you supernatural events are essentially imaginary, you may be so indignant you’ll miss the more profound message regarding the subtle reality of the imaginal realm itself. You’ll miss the core insight that the difference between the literal and the non-literal is at times not so easily discerned, that the one sometimes bleeds through into the other, and the proper place for a human being, psychologically speaking, is with our head in both camps, then we can tell the difference, discern perhaps a glimmer of meaning in it, and hopefully live as we should.

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cuchulain at the beach

Second Life, Linden Labs’ massive multiplayer online role playing game – the game that isn’t a game – has been around for a long time now. My “avatar”, Cuchulain Graves, is ten years old, which makes him positively geriatric, and, sadly, no wiser for his years. But his logins still work, his belongings and bank balance are intact. Everything is as it was since last time he briefly checked in, years ago. He’s not aged at all of course, looks about twenty five. As a timeless projection of my inner self, I’m fond of him, though it’s hard to say why.

But now I think I finally get it.

Cuchulain opened a few shops in the early days, stocked my novels, but nobody came because there’s no market for books in the virtual world. So he built a space-ship instead and blasted off into the upper layers of the multi-verse, a place free of scripts and server lag. Claim to fame? He was once interviewed for a pretentious three part blog-series on the life of an unknown scribe. The interviewer was a certain Eileanne Odisarke, a curious cross gendered alt, whose own adventures pretty much reflected Cuchulain’s.

Wandering aimlessly that early Second Life universe, they encountered many an eccentric soul: academics, psychologists, hippies, drunks and other cyber-utopians. But they’ve all gone now. The times in-world are spent alone these days, among vast shopping malls, entirely empty, or plodding roads that lead both to and from nowhere. It’s a lonely place, especially for one identifying as male – better to engross oneself in simply building stuff than to expect much by way of meaningful encounters, or perhaps Cuchulain is simply as misanthropic as his alter ego. Or is he mine? I forget.

Second life denizens take pleasure mostly in dressing up and dancing, also flirting and “cyber sex”. But it seems an isolated business. I mean, who are these people, really, sitting behind computer screens, and why aren’t they out dressing up, dancing, flirting and having sex,… for real? Why would one prefer the imagined over reality, unless any meaningful reality is denied them somehow? Or am I simply over thinking, and none of it means anything at all? That is the question!

It’s still interests me, psychologically, but no one else is seeing it in those terms any more, and I recognise my enduring fascination might well be pathological. After all, some people see fairies, but it’s better to consider first how much one has drunk before considering the fairies to be real.

That Second Life endures is perhaps the only interesting thing left to be said about it. And I suppose it will endure so long as its business model allows it to. Like anything else man-made, it’s dollars that make it happen, dollars that keep it alive. Unlike real life, where the entire universe was pre-formed without our involvement, everything we see in Second Life is the result of human thought, human imagination, and therein lies both the miracle and the weakness, the human mind being as self-destructive and defective in its thinking as it is endlessly creative.

It was touted as a place to meet others, to express oneself, but other forms of social media do it so much better now: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – all post-date Second-Life, and are better at facilitating mass discussion around topics of real-world concern, to the extent they are now, for good or ill, shaping real-world events.

If we want to get really existential about it, some secular versions of the afterlife describe an inter-dimensional realm formed by the collective imaginations of the disembodied entities dwelling there. This sounds a bit like the virtual reality of Second Life too, except an afterlife where motivation is derived from over-inflated self image, and virtual coinage doesn’t sound like much of a reward for our primary life’s labours – unless of course our purpose is to learn to outgrow such things.

As Cuchulain, my projected self, sits upon the virtual Second Life beach to watch the virtual sunset, it’s easy to see his existence has no reality, no illumination at all, without a greater self, me, to bear him witness and grant him the sense of all that he is feeling. Much harder to grasp is the realisation of the awareness bearing witness to my own self in this life, and without whom, or which, my own reality has no illumination either.

Though it may not have been intended, bringing one closer to such an awareness is, I think, however indirectly, and long in coming, the one important lesson Second Life can teach us,… and therein, perhaps, lies its meaning.

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standing stoneThe Ryoan-ji is an ancient rock garden in Japan, in the Zen tradition. It’s a so called dry garden, consisting of groups of large stones place upon a bed of smooth-worn and finely raked pebbles. I’ve studied Zen as an amateur student for years, but it’s an enigmatic subject, difficult to gain purchase and try as I might I still know virtually nothing about it. In a similar way I’m no doubt entirely ignorant of the deeper meaning of this garden. One of its intriguing and more talked about features however is that no matter what angle we view it from we can only ever count fourteen stones.

There are actually fifteen stones, but one of them is always hidden from view by the others, so we can never know for sure that there are fifteen, presumably without flying over the garden and viewing it from an elevated perspective. So, how many stones are there? Answer, obviously fifteen, but how many in our experience? How many from our every day perspective?

I’m not sure if this is an important Zen teaching, or if I’m creating a tangential one of my own, but it’s a useful concept none the less, that reality is always subjective and cannot help  but conceal both it’s true nature and, by inference, our own.

On a not unrelated subject, about twelve hours ago, I ate breakfast in the garden of a cottage overlooking the North Sea, a little to the north of Scarborough. I sipped coffee as I contemplated the changing shades of blue, and I tried to hold on to the scene, to imprint it in memory, both visually and emotionally, because I knew I would shortly be taking my leave of it and it would be a long time before I came this way again, indeed if ever.

Like that fifteenth stone the view is now hidden. I know it exists from some other perspective, but what I’m left with now, as I tap this out are the fourteen stones of a more mundane reality.

The ability to hold on to an awareness of the fifteenth stone is helped by having seen it in the first place. No amount of being told of its existence can substitute for the experience of seeing it. Merely being told it’s there requires faith and trust, when you cannot see it yourself.

Of course what I was looking at this morning was a reflection of my own self in a reality that was closer to the truth of who felt I am, of who we all are when not pummelled into a different shape by the repetitive and habitual lives that normally contain us. For a short time though, on holiday, we escape, we gain a different perspective, we view a different emotional landscape, we see and feel ourselves differently and wish upon wish we could be like that all the time. It is this transcendent essence that is contained for me in the symbolic meaning of the fifteenth stone.

But the truth is we have all seen it from time to time, and even though the evidence of our own eyes mostly denies its existence, we have only to shift our perspective slightly, do something, go somewhere a little out of the ordinary, to reveal its presence and realise it’s been there all along.

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mending clock 5I was walking along a corridor in a familiar office block, thinking to myself: what if I found some money on the floor? How would I reunite it with its owner? If I put up a note to say I had found ten pounds, anyone could come to me and say it was theirs, that they had lost ten pounds, and how would I know they were telling the truth? So I thought I could write a note instead saying I had found some money, without saying how much, and leave it to others to tell me what they thought they had lost. But this wouldn’t work either. Would anyone know exactly how much they had lost? And if they said they had lost fifteen pounds, would it be reasonable for me to say the ten pounds I had found was not at least some part of what they had lost? How would I best write that note?

This conundrum of hypothetically lost money and the note announcing it was a thing I pondered for no reason. I had not found any money. I had not lost any money. My mind had simply begun to ruminate on the problem spontaneously. There was nothing strange in this; I often ponder spurious things for no reason. I’m sure I’m not alone in doing so. And the punchline? Well, it was then I came to a notice pinned on the wall, and it said: Money found, please contact,…

To the rational mind, it was a coincidence, or I had perhaps seen the notice before, but registered its presence only subliminally, in other words without actually being conscious of seeing it. The latter explanation is more tenuous, but I admit it is plausible. To my own mind though, there is another explanation and has to do with the mysterious nature of time. It also requires a less rational approach and that we allow for the possibility we can sometimes be influenced by events that have yet to happen, that my pondering on the question of lost money was prompted by the as yet future sighting of the notice announcing lost money.

My anecdote hardly qualifies as evidence of déjà vu. All such occurrences are, by their nature, anecdotal and therefore inadmissible in the court of the scientistic pedant. And yes, I could have made my story up – I am a writer of stories after all. I suggest you have no choice then but to be sceptical, unless something similar has happened to you, for only then are the non-peer-reviewed anecdotes of time anomalies of any interest. And I bet most of you reading this have experienced something odd about time and the occasionally back to front sequencing of events.

It’s happened to me before. I find the dream a good place for encountering the influence of events that have yet to happen. I once dreamed repeatedly of a time – twenty past seven – then woke groggily from a deep sleep to hear my wife telling me I was going to be late, that it was already twenty past seven.

It doesn’t happen a lot – just now and then. I mean, I’m not a freak or anything. Moreover, you don’t have to believe in any of this. I’m not claiming a penetrating scientific insight, now will I be attempting an explanation. But if it’s happened to you, you may find such musings of interest.

For a time, between the world wars, the question of time anomalies, time slips and dream precognition were pondered openly and in all seriousness by intellectuals, by artists, writers, poets, and the general pre-soap opera public, all of them inspired by publication of a book called Experiment in Time, by J W Dunne (1927). Post war however, it was a fascination the popular world quickly grew out of. I don’t know what happened, but dreams, precognition, time anomalies and such were suddenly embarrassing topics of conversation to be having at parties. Instead we became ensnared in the theories of Freud, at least in so far as they pertained to advertising and trivial want, and we became docile consumers thereafter, with never questioning thought in our heads as regards the nature of time and reality. But the question has not gone away. And the anecdotes continue to mount. Can our thoughts be influenced by a future event? Can we visit the future in our heads before it happens?

I come back to Dunne and his book “Experiment with Time”. In it Dunne writes about time anomalies, and a kind of low level dream precognition. Then he presents a theory which attempts an explanation but which reads like a textbook exercise in geometry. I was always good at geometry, but try as I might Dunne’s lecture on it doesn’t make sense at all. Only the anecdotes stick. Thus Dunne manages to be both visionary and annoying at the same time.

Priestly (JB) writes of Dunne along similar lines in “Man and time” (1964), in which he too explores the time-haunted world, while wisely avoiding too much theorising and geometrical diagrams. Priestly had plenty of his own time-slip anecdotes, plus an archive of anecdotes sent to him by the public. Priestly is more content to rest in the philosophy and the mystery, that these things happen, and we don’t know how or why, only that it opens a door into the unknown through which many things become possible. We are wise I think, to follow his example.

But the critic will argue it’s absurd to claim we can see the future, because by seeing it we might then take steps to avoid it. But if we’ve seen it, how can we possibly avoid it? This attempt at paradox is rather a feeble one, however, presupposing as it does a single linear line in time. It does not allow for the idea of multiple lines, of the possibility that what we see of the future is only one possible version of it. We take our permission for such speculation from the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and by so doing also usher in a semi-scientific basis for our idle postulations, but without actually explaining anything. Quantum Mechanics is endlessly useful for us dreamers in this respect. We can use it to prove anything.

This is where the way becomes strange and all explanations equally valid. If these slips in time are real, and I have no choice but to accept they are, it points to something perhaps, to a future evolution of consciousness where the actual nature of time is revealed and becomes useful to us. Or it may be there’s just something a little frayed around the edges of the consciousness we posses, that it is only an imperfection that allows sporadic glimpses of a place outside of time, beyond the curtain so to speak, a place we do not belong and can never explain within the limited paradigm of which we are a part and spend our entire lives.

But if we are trapped for the most part, in a purely linear flow of time, while being capable of more, we must ask ourselves what purpose does it serve, this self imposed imprisonment, this pedestrian view? And what nightmares would it unleash, were we ever to break free and see the universe as it really is?

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chattertonUnlike a head-cold there’s no working with influenza. It’s not without irony my last post should have been on the health conscious practice of Qigong – more useless talk and insufficient action I’m afraid. And the next thing I know I’m sicker than I have been in years. The universe is not without a sense of humour, but neither is sickness without its purpose.

I’m conscious of viewing the world differently just now, not so much as a firm reality any more but as a half truth, one we can render malleable through the active medium of imagination. Or we can become passive while that truth is more shaped for us by external images beamed from myriad sources: TV, computer, phone. I can watch the national news, update myself hourly on a selected slice of the world as it is presented “now”, or I can allow a different kind of prejudice – my own – to choose a path through the plethora of alternate views on the video channels of the world wide web.

And viewed through the lens of my sickness, all of these images have taken on something of the grotesque, like a circus sideshow viewed at night, under the leaping glare of an unfamiliar light. And there is a sound, like the snort and bray of caged animals and their top-hatted masters. There are donkeys preening with two tails, giraffes with two heads, snakes with two tongues. The images compete, each for a slice of momentary meaning, but only in sickness and delirium does the mind allow safe passage for these chimera into consciousness – not as the truths they purport to tell, but more as the ravings of drunks and loons. Why only in sickness are we capable of seeing that the world is not that?

For the duration of my illness at least, the world is my bed, my pillow. It is the soft press of the covers upon my chest. And it is the sound of heavy rain, falling day after day. There are no other certainties. Any other story of reality is a flexible concept. And there is no end to the stories of the world I can choose to believe in. But are any of them even remotely true?

What is it safe to believe in any more? Our only guide is to ask this: What does not go away when we stop believing in it? What does not go away when we switch off the info-screens? This is the only safe guide to personal reality, that our reality is not concocted from the lies and the grotesqueries of others with a view only to power and self aggrandisement. The only sure reality then is intrinsically local. Distance from the centre will inevitably blur it.

My sickness fades, leaves me emptied of energy. And what doesn’t go away as I surface from these thoughts is only the world that butts up against my weary senses. There is no meaning to be found in anything beyond that. I have by now tired of the news, tired of You Tube. So many images, so many voices, so many versions of a possible reality. And there is something of the intellectual demand, too, that we keep up with current affairs. But current affairs are like soap opera. It does not matter if we watch or not, keep up or not, for there is no story, no vital plot twist that will leave us behind in the reality stakes, even if we close our eyes.

Part of this meditation may be that I no longer possess the energy to deal with the world that lies much beyond my bedroom window. The winter thus far has drawn a forbidding veil.

I take a deep bellied breath, let it out slow, feel for the stirring of the Dantien.

There is nothing.

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tree of life paintingAccording to the theory of parallel universes, every time we make a decision, our personal universe splits into however many possibilities we are presented with. Roll a dice, the universe splits into six, and six versions of ourselves are led off into each of them. Toss a coin, the universe splits into two – one for heads, one for tails. The universe becomes a multi-verse, one of infinite possibility, the result not only of our own decisions, but the way the decisions of others, and chance events in the manifest world, impact upon us. It’s a staggering idea, but one that is taken very seriously by physicists and cosmologists as they explore the twisty turney rabbit hole of Quantum Mechanics.

If this is the way things are, one of the most important rules we’re bound by is that once we’re committed to a particular universe, there can be no going back. We can’t buy a blue car one day, then wake up the next with a red one. Our timelines must be consistent with all previous events. Of course there’s considerable unease over the idea too, with critics telling us the theory is light on actual “theory” and top-heavy on universes. While this is true, I’m still open to the possibility, and why not? If the multi-verse is infinite, it can’t be filled, no matter how many universes you pour into it, but I have the advantage of being unconcerned with scientific rigour – just fictional plausibility.

If we think of our lives as inhabiting any number of potential universes, splitting off many times a day as we make even the most trivial decision, our multi-dimensional growth can be visualised as a tree in which every single possibility for our lives is realised within its ever-bifurcating branches. Some branches may not extend very far, with poor decisions or even just bad luck leading to our early demise. Other branches lead to long lines in time, and a grand old age, but these might be lives where chance and poor decisions have resulted in unhappiness. Other branches of course may trace lines through times of great hardship but lead eventually to the promised land of inner happiness and well being.

But humans are hard to satisfy, and no doubt you’ll soon be wondering if you’d be any happier than you are now if you’d only taken some other path. Without the ability to go back and remake those decisions though, there’s no point in reminiscing and lamenting the choices we’ve made. It’s a metaphysical dead end, and the idea of parallel universes becomes one of purely theoretical interest, one of making the sums add up, rather than helping to make any real sense of our lives. As story tellers though, if we can come up with plausible ways in which one might indeed set up lines of communication with our alternate selves, or indeed swap places with them, we can have lots of fun.

In my current work-in-progress, the protagonists have realised it’s the only way to avoid an asteroid on a collision course with the earth. There’s no need for Bruce Willis and a nuclear bomb – you just search the probabilities, find a timeline in which the asteroid’s course is slightly different, misses the earth completely, and Bob’s your uncle. There’s still a version of your self who dies in the impact, but it’s a self who’s no longer in the line of your newly-current conscious self. You’re not aware of your demise, so you don’t care – if you know what I mean.

But in the story – because it’s a story – there’s a price to pay, such as will the ideal partner you’ve just met, the woman you’re convinced is the one true love of your life, still be around in that other time line when you’ve jumped, and if not, is it better to live a longer life without her, or to experience love as you’ve never known it, knowing full well you’ve only got a week left to enjoy such a profound mutual awakening? Once I’ve solved that conundrum, I’ll have my conclusion and final chapter in the bag – and thank goodness for that because it’s making me dizzy and I’ve still got white rabbits running about all over the place.

But why stop there? You could search all the other timelines in which the asteroid misses the earth and in which you meet someone else who blows your mind even more. Then you could search for the timeline in which you were not only stoned out of your mind in love with this person, enjoying the best sex you’ve never had, but also all the scenarios where you’ve made the right investment decisions too, avoided the crash, and are living the life of Riley, retired at forty to a beach house with a sky-pool in the Bahamas. And if you didn’t like the idea of ageing, you could find a way of entering a timeline at any point, pick a nice long line that yields all the stuff of your dreams, trace it back and enter it in your twenties, just as the ride starts to pick up. But no life is perfect, so skip sideways for a bit to avoid that day when someone robs your house, then skip back later on, once the emotional hurt has healed. Heavens, you could become a time travelling, materialistic pleasure seeker, cherry picking the best bits of all the possible versions of your life!

I think you can see where is going.

by fall of night cover

coming soon

It would take great discipline for such a time traveller not to waste their multi dimensioned life, enjoying the rush of the best bits, because it’s the tough bits, the puzzles, the confusion of choice, the insults, the injury, the heartache, the bits we are most tested by that we learn the most from. But who would willingly submit themselves to the most unpleasant parts of their lives if they thought they could avoid it? This is the manure that makes the tree grow in all of its dimensions, and without it we might as well never have been born.

Perhaps I should be more grateful that my awareness is limited to this single line through time. It might not be perfect, but it is at least authentic. If there are other versions of myself, living out the lives I did not choose, I’d be better just letting them get on with it.

And if I’m not mistaken that’s my conclusion staring me right in the face.

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