The title to Peter Kingsley’s Reality is about one word short in my opinion—that word being “Check”—but is otherwise perfect on all sorts of levels. It is at once ambiguous, provocative, presumptive, tantalizing, engaging, slippery, and so-simple-it-stuns, much like the work itself and the classical Greek philosopher-shaman-necromancers whose timeless wisdom Kingsley brings to light therein. My favorite aspect of the title is that its simultaneous ambiguity and depth act together as a self-limiting rhetorical throttle. This isn’t a title to drop into a five minute conversation with an acquaintance. This is a title that, every time you wind up the gears to say aloud, perhaps with a small measure of pride as regards your current reading list, you realize is going to land you in a rhetorical pit of vipers. Quite simply, it’s a title no one can explain—an entrée into a conversation no one can finish. And yet it’s entirely accurate.
It’s just a book though, right?
I mean… right?!?
(I just read it so I need a little grounding…)
Well, of course it is. Same as this is just a world all around us. Same as I’m just a person and you’re just a person and that’s about the sum of what we need to know to get the logistics sorted out. There’s one book and two beings. We’ll just take turns. Easy. Hand clap, cheek cluck, waddle waddle, foot-stomp. What do we need to know that isn’t obvious? That isn’t staring us in the face with its tongue out, or winking to us through the window while we’re enduring the socially normalized opprobrium—lecture format—due any being who fails to properly paginate their prêcis? Don’t we pay attention to what we’re doing!?
Indeed, attention may well be the heart of it. Ninja attention. Metîs. This is the word I learned that traveled from the spring, to the river, to the ocean, to the sky, to the earth—into me, through me, up one side and down the other, then vanished. Metîs is the mojo you need in order to disbelieve what’s right in front of you, to see through the light show that has bamboozled billions of beings, (there’s only One of us), and then at the very last, just before dismissing the whole of it as an illusion, to chuckle and shake your finger at the Double Agent we call Life.
I know that this…
this foaming sea of color and light…
is not me…
not me at all…
the most remarkable plumage of Being is on display…
something seems to be Happening here…
and where was I thinking of going again…?
At first I was slightly underwhelmed by Peter’s dramatic prose, by the way scholarship and research are pitched as acts of salvation, moments of elucidation snatched from the jaws of ignorance, and hungry jaws at that—jaws that have consumed lesser and more conventional scholars for the better part of three millennium. He suggests that if we wish to understand Parmenides we had better be ready to leave everything else we thought we knew behind, or face the alternative of wandering deaf and blind through a few more shimmering turns of the cosmic wheel. That part rang true, though, you see, and in the end Peter’s prose grew on me steadily as the book unfolded. He tells a delicious story, and looking back there could not have been a sturdier vessel than story itself to bear us across the seas of time and drowsy witlessness that have divided us from our remarkable inheritance.
The masterful aspects of Peter’s writing were evident in the way I continuously found myself on the brink of revelation. Then, when I put the book down and tried to look back upon the terrain I had just covered—to take in the majestic view, to tell it to myself so I wouldn’t forget it—all my words just scattered. In one instant my mind was a herd of deer from every angle, the next moment a vacant glade. A single acorn. A man hunkered atop a stone wall, listening to the wind. A heart tumbling into the sea. I was the awareness of an entire meadow, the effortless, simultaneous comprehension of every flower, but by the time I turned from the text to take a closer look at the scenery through which I was traveling, it was gone. It’s a good thing in the end that you have a tangible book to hold in your hand—a nice, heavy, well-formulated distraction to wrestle with while making the journey—so you don’t believe too much of what you see as you make your way to the Underworld.
I’ve had this experience before, encounters with a sublime understanding both obvious and intangible. It was this feeling of recognition that made reading this book so enjoyable. While Peter portrays the teachings of Parmenides and Empedocles as buried treasure, wisdom that has been lost for ages and passed through mind of scholar after scholar unnoticed like a sealed baton, it is nevertheless a treasure that is all around us. What struck me most reading Reality was the connections that formed naturally with other moments of recognition sprinkled along my walk. If it weren’t this way, if the book weren’t in the end stating the obvious, the teachings of the Greek shaman-necromancers revealed inside its pages would be proven false. It is the fact that the treasure Peter unearths is so rich, so fleeting, so ephemeral and yet so clarion and unmistakable that suggests we are dealing with genuine power.
The genuine power of who we are.
I couldn’t help but notice the many obvious parallels to A Course of Love—the recognition of immortality through the window of this mortal frame, the injunction to return to the world from the places of purest being in order that we might live what we have discovered, the manner in which the illusory nature of our daily experience is transcended through inner witnessing of reality’s singular core, to name a few. I could see plainly in the teachings of Parmenides and Empedocles the insights of the genius Walter Russell and his teaching that all motion is born of stillness, such stillness being the Universal Fulcrum from which all form derives its power of expression. I suspect others would find countless similar threads and connections.
Like all good revelations, one leads to another until all the hands are joined and the circle is complete, until all existence is bound together both in and by the same hoop. That sacred hoop is all around us. All it takes is a little ninja attention to see it and make it real—to see through walls, to see through hatred, to see through disease, to see through time, to see Unity flowering in every moment.
And for a delightful joke to close this all out, click here… Make your way past the advertisement, but please, my friends. Please read with metîs…
“what do we need to know that isn’t obvious…”
(well…) that we don’t pay attention to our thoughts. ask my grandson. 😉
Who am I dealing with here? Action Pants, or the Little Lotus? I’m presuming the former… 🙂
He’s got me on that one. I meant everything but that. After that, it’s all down hill.
Anagram of ‘reality’: try a lie
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Yes, please. You have set a trap for me, I know, but the bait was delicious… 🙂
And I’m going to aim for brevity, I promise. No more than three paragraphs… Oh, boy…
I think there is the swear word ‘reality’, like when someone says in a dream-squashing, memory-bashing riposte, “That’s just not reality.” This type of reality is one that is presumed to be obvious to the speaker, and obvious to anyone with a bit of common sense. These aren’t realities at all, just perceptions kicked around and defended. These are all lies we try out for a time… They make us big and others small. They make us miniscule and others big. They make us fight and argue. They are meaningless.
Then I really do think there’s the big R ‘Reality’. But it’s all in how we define it. Which I wholly confess I cannot do. I can’t really explain what this Reality is, but I do believe I can know its presence within myself. I know it can be found in any circumstance, any being, any moment, any success or difficulty. It’s everywhere you look and nothing you could point to. I know it holds all things, the way stillness carries motion.
I really like the opening salvo from A Course in Miracles that says, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Therein lies the peace of God.” Let’s drop the God bit, and just say therein lies the peace on which authentic identity resides. This ‘Reality’ is found within us in those moments when we touch the place that is beyond threat or circumstance. This Reality can neither be described nor debated nor bounded or framed. Either we wink at one another and know what we’re talking about or we don’t… 🙂
And either way, Reality happened… 🙂
Dammit Michael; I can’t argue with any of that. 😥 Maybe I can spin it a bit, though with the same meaning, and perhaps even equal you in the brevity stakes, leaving others room to give their takes if they wish. There is no trap here by the way, as sadly, I am neither devious nor clever enough, just an invitation to discuss following the book review which was handy as it’s been on my ‘to buy’ list – it’s damned expensive here in England though. Three paragraphs then, including this one.
The ‘opening salvo’ in ACIM, in asserting ‘Nothing unreal exists.’, whilst doing away with the notion of ‘reality’ at a stroke (logic dictates), calls into question the meaning of ‘existence’ – both the concept and what it is to participate in. This, to me, seems synonymous with ‘being’ and our knowledge of it. And what is that? It is just ‘this’ – as some unhelpfully, though with good intention, say. If it were something else, than as that does not exist (ACIM – only the real exists), then it (the non-existent unknown), cannot be real.
Still, that seems altogether too simple, so I will ignore ‘this’ and imagine the unreality (ignorance), of my unenlightened existence and take the same as being reality. After all, ‘this’ can’t be represented by my brain and senses; it can’t be stored and recalled as a memory. And besides, I have been told I am ignorant, that I must pray and meditate, read the religious canons or the great dead philosophers, become familiar with what was really only ever known by the ancients. So off I trot, in search of reality, looking everywhere whilst insisting at every turn that it does not yet exist.
Yours, lost in the wilderness, Hariod.
The type of trap I perceived is the one an innocent child delights falling into, time after time, shouting, “Again, again!”
Yes, the book is kind of expensive here, too, which is why I managed to convince my local library to have it sent over from the University on a loan. But the downside was I had to write the review after returning the book to the system, so quotes were scarce… 🙂
I much enjoyed your two paragraphs of spin. In particular I like your phrase “being and our knowledge of it” and the way they travel together in your writing. They cause a heart flutter every time I read them, the heart being the one sense on which I rely for navigating non-existence. Could it be that we are starting to carve out a bit of common ground!?
Say it ain’t so!
Actually, one potential thorn… Let’s not leap to conclusions. I sometimes explain my heart flutter sixth sense navigational technique as being an experience of of “recognition”. If you ask recognition of what, I’ll say recognition of “being and the knowledge of being” to use your phrase in which I so delight. But still, I sense there is a recognition, or a memory, or an inner resonance with this capital R Reality… Not a memory of the senses. A memory of ‘this’… Maybe it’s not a memory, but a knowing of who we are that can never quite be lost.
I suggest this not to be contrarian in any way, but because it really does feel like a type of memory, this recognition. Thoughts?
‘Maybe it’s not a memory, but a knowing of who we are that can never quite be lost.
I can’t really tell of course, though you may be referencing what I call ‘the sway of contentedness’. [TSOC Ch. 14] If so, then you’re right, it’s not a memory as such, it’s not an object stored and perceived in the mind by means of recall. Still, it has a feeling of reminiscence about it, some sort of (re)cognition, or as you say ‘resonance’.
Despite your kind invitation, I’m not from here going to slide into discussing whether or not this is synonymous with your capital R ‘Reality’, as I’ve already declined the offer to entertain any such notion, feeling the distinction to be redundant. I also had deduced from your opening comment that ACIM, in asserting ‘Nothing unreal exists.’, also had. Is the capitalisation some sort of qualifier as to a level of reality, and how does that make sense to the dreary constraints of logic? [Rhetorical, you answered this at 8.22 on the 12th.] Perhaps illusion is just an illusion?
‘Could it be that we are starting to carve out a bit of common ground!?’
Absolutely not! I’m not having that! 😡 Seriously though, it’s great to engage perspectives; all of course, through the prism of our good old ape brains (am I allowed to say that, to speak on your behalf too?). I once knew an abbot of a monastery who said to me that I should dare to approach Truth (aghh! those capitals again), directly, and not by means of metaphor and symbol. This is what’s known as the ‘dry insight’ method as you may know. So it’s fascinating for me to read about another way, such as both you and Amanda write about with such eloquence and erudition, as I am new to and naïve about, all these ideas.
Hariod My Friend and Most Noble Practitioner of the Dry Insight,
The one thought I meant to convey just flew away.
Soaking wet I suppose, 🙂
Anagram of ‘Reality for wets’: Wise or flattery?
In case I haven’t told you lately, your playfulness is such a beautiful gift. It really makes my heart sing that even in reviewing Greek philosophy you seem like a little kid playing in puddles. I just love it. You’re really beautiful.
“The masterful aspects of Peter’s writing were evident in the way I continuously found myself on the brink of revelation. Then, when I put the book down and tried to look back upon the terrain I had just covered—to take in the majestic view, to tell it to myself so I wouldn’t forget it—all my words just scattered.”
Is that not Love?? Too big, too bright, too incredible – too much to pin down, just glimpsing it is…..
Yes, that is Love I think. Leaning over naively to peer down the barrel of Everything before you realize it’s loaded, and Hafiz is this evening’s trigger man. It’s too late to flinch, so you just have to smile as yesterday’s falsehoods are blown clean off… There is a tiny moment before the shockwave hits when you realize, the one thing I’ll be able to hang onto… is forever…
“But still, I sense there is a recognition, or a memory, or an inner resonance with this capital R Reality… Not a memory of the senses. A memory of ‘this’… Maybe it’s not a memory, but a knowing of who we are”
This was my experience as well. As I read, I kept having these moments similar to how it feels when I catch a tiny glimpse of last night’s dream but then it slips away, somewhat frustratingly. Or some sort of amnesia that for a split second I slip out of, like a moment of lucidity in a dream….and then…..damn, it’s gone.
Hopefully this points to a few layers of the proverbial onion sluicing off and dropping away forever…..hopefully, hopefully……
Thanks for chiming in, S and sharing your experience. Your description of it being like a dream you can’t quite catch hold of before it slips off into never-never-land is perfect. I’m so delighted I came across this over at M’s domain and took the time to read it.
One really intriguing thing I found in this book is that for all its revelatory prowess and wisdom, there’s not really a “path” here. There’s nothing to engage and turn into effort. It’s just a beautiful pointing to ‘this’, and that’s it…
One aspect that surprised me was that Peter never, even at the end, published his full translation of the poems he used as scaffolding for the work. I kept thinking he was going to have a closing chapter with the full poem, or what remains of the ones he spent most time on.
Anyway, thank you… I was greatly enriched by this thread…
I think some of the poem is lost and he works with what remains….not sure…..
I am reading In the Dark Places of Wisdom. Reality is the “sequel” to this work. Also extremely compelling…..an excerpt:
Our longing hardly adds up to anything. It’s enough to take us lunging from one desire to another; that’s all. We scatter it everywhere in wanting this or that: satisfy our desires and never satisfy ourselves. And we never can be satisfied. Our longing is so deep, so immense that nothing in this world of appearances can ever hold it or contain it. So we break it up instead, keep throwing it away-want this, then that, until we’re old and exhausted.
It seems easy; everyone does it. But it’s so hard to have to keep running from the hollowness we all feel inside, such a heroic task to have to keep finding substitutes to fill the void.
The other way’s so easy, but it seems so hard. It’s just a matter of knowing how to turn and face our own longing without interfering with it or doing anything at all. And that goes against the grain of everything we’re used to, because we’ve been taught in so many ways to escape from ourselves-find a thousand good reasons for avoiding our longing.
Sometimes it appears as depression, calling us away from everything we think we want, pulling us into the darkness of ourselves. The voice is so familiar that we run from it in every way we can; the more powerful the call the further we run. It has the power to make us mad, and yet it’s so innocent: the voice of ourselves calling to ourselves. The strange thing is that the negativity isn’t in the depression- it’s in the running from the depression. And what we’re afraid of really isn’t what we’re afraid of at all.
Always we want to learn from outside, from absorbing other people’s knowledge. It’s safer that way. The trouble is that it’s always other people’s knowledge. We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. The longing is what turns us inside out until we find the sun and the moon and the stars inside.
I did forget that longing yesterday for a bit as I paddled a kayak along side about 40 dolphins for 2 hours in the Gulf of Mexico in bathtub warm, clear as glass water……..
Thanks for the beautiful quote, S. Peter’s work is all the more intriguing for what he pieces together from snippets and incomplete renditions of the past. It makes me wonder, did Parmenides write a thousand poems, and we just have these few grains, but those are enough? If someone found just one or two posts on this blog of nearly two years, would they be able to reconstruct its essence? I think it is the universality in Peter’s interpretation and the depth of his research that make the results so palpable and alluring.
I can relate to this quote about longing. In A Course of Love, which I find to echo many of the sentiments Peter describes in Reality, there is discussion of desire, which I think is used in a similar manner to the way Peter uses longing above. The sentiment is offered that our illnesses, our episodes of defeat, our impatience, our drama– all of these are expressions of the desire to come home to what lies within us. They arise to nudge us in that direction, to implore us to accept what we have yet to really fathom as true within ourselves. I think only very recently have I been able to actually begin to trust my own experience. The meantime has been a lot of longing and seeking, and wobbly rides on training wheels.
The dolphins sound wonderful. I had a friend in college who had a beach house on the Gulf, and I remember an afternoon of being on the boat with a dolphin for a race partner. Forty sounds like just the right number… 🙂
I am so Full of Stars, full of stars on the inside, and all of you are my most wonderful dream creations which are internal in this cathedral of me! There is no you outside of my spacious church – I am fine with staying here – or going off to hospital for some mental rest as you may begin suggesting to me, the stars can’t be lost! – I am reading and losing whole chunks of ‘Reality” as I go along these days. I thought I might have something to add that made some sense, but no, not me, not now. Thank you so much M for your clucking and stomping. Just perfect. And S and her dolphin life. It will take me another week to finish book; I’m enjoying it like a box of dark chocolates in the freezer. Looking forward to catching up on this playground – looks like some new sand castles and much more! xo! m
Marga, what a joy to see your Buddhacon (don’t read anything into that… Buddha-emoticon? WP call sign?) flash across the screen. You are offering the sanest type of thoughts, and seeing with the purest vision, for there is nowhere else to dwell but within the cathedral of Self. I was reflecting on just this feeling the other night, sitting quietly, having little thumb wars with the feeling that something could be wrong, letting the feelings of doubt and spaciousness alternately splash across the whole sky. In glimpses, we see it. The crickets and night breezes are holding the door open. We peek around the corner. Everyone’s in there. We keep turning to peek further around the corner and find there are no divisions, no boundaries… Just a bunch of clucking and stomping! 🙂