Choice and Consequence Part 3: Reality vs Image

comments 30
Course Ideas / Reflections

Part 2 of the series is here.

When I was a child my parents had a painting that fascinated me. It depicted a dinner table with countless guests on either side that tapered to a point and disappeared into infinity. My parents were Roman Catholic at the time and I believe it was a metaphorical image of heaven. I remember asking, “How far does it go?” and being told, “Forever.” Which is all well and good until you actually do the math, and divide by zero, and try with the whole of your being to understand the idea of “forever.” If you do it right, this sort of thing can produce the visceral sensation of wonder—a certain flutter in the body.

This is a glimpse of truly abstract awareness, an awareness unbounded by particularity. We glimpse it after the fact, just as the effort to comprehend infinity cashes out into the palpable feeling of curiosity, mystery, and awe. What was that?

Years later I was driving home from college one afternoon and for whatever reason contemplating what it might be like to awaken from a field of absolutely nothing. First I tried to imagine nothing at all, which is a supreme challenge itself. No time. No space. And then a speck of awareness emerges from this nothing and realizes, I am. It’s another case where words cannot really convey the profundity. But if you spend time in contemplation on this, I think it is possible to experience that little heart-flutter of wonder that comes with the realization, I am real.

Imagine now this mote of awareness realizes it is all that is or will ever be. It is not isolated, or alone, or in one place and not another, because that would be to suggest there is something outside of it. And there’s not. This awareness is it, the beginning and the end, the content of everything. It is the whole. It has no needs, no lacks, no deficiencies. There is nothing, in fact, it could do to change the nature of what it is, a truth both astonishing and good. It is unassailable, unchanging, unaffected. It is nothing and everything. Just being—albeit with ever-deepening layers of self-discovery, for there’s quite a bit packed into everything and nothing.

These thought experiments are not intended to be decisive in any way. The primordial state of being is not one any of us can wholly grasp, parse intellectually, or come remotely close to experiencing in its fullness. But we are “of this” Source. We are extensions of the only existence there is. The pure potential of being, a reality that can never change or be changed or threatened, is the identity we ultimately partake of and share.

Next, imagine this pure field of existence one day becoming more of itself by giving and receiving itself. There are so many things that cannot be explained in mechanistic terms that I won’t try. But suppose the pure field of being discovered it could “recreate the experience” of discovering itself by becoming more of itself. This is not to be taken literally as these ideas can only be spoken of in a sort of mythical form, but we might imagine the primordial state of being could, for instance, have a child. This child would be a new sort of fullness within the whole. The primordial state of being is the child, of course. But also, the child is new, a new mind in perfect union with the whole and yet capable of its own thoughts, experiences, etc. There is paradox here that cannot be explained. There is relationship without division. This child is not the whole, but it is not separate from it either.

Each and every such “child” exists in perfect union with the whole of being. If you ask it who it is, it will reply that it is the primordial state of being, of course, for what else is there to be? There is nothing, for instance, this child keeps secret from the whole, nothing it knows or partakes of the whole does not, nothing held apart, and though there is a uniqueness to this child’s being, a “here” to another child’s “there,” these exist in a way of absolutely undiminished mutual knowing. And the whole experiences all of it simultaneously.

Something like this is the nature of reality, I believe. There is nothing yet for us to call “physical” and nothing with a particular “form.” Just a given and received mutuality of being that regenerates and expands the basic and utterly joyful moment of self-discovery: the moment when we discover the wild truth that existence exists, and we’re it.

So when I say consciousness is fundamental, I mean that some infinitely realized form of being holds every aspect of existence in and as itself. This purely abstract beingness extends perpetually into every aspect of existence and receives unto itself every aspect of existence in return. It is not susceptible to change, to threat, to cessation, to fatigue, or to any limit. And when I say that the starting point of our thought system is either reality or image, it is reality if the living presence of the one primordial state of being is felt and known to us as the beginning and end of who we are.

Turning now to the possibility of image, we have to look at the container of experience in which we find ourselves—this world and these bodies—and consider how it may have come to be. The basic change that took place somehow, somewhere along the way, was the movement of being into form. The Buddha, in his brilliance, elected not to speak of these things, largely because of how easily we become bogged down in digressions and mechanisms and hypothetical vehicles of experience when, really, none of this will ease our suffering. But I wish to continue with the story for one simple reason: the story may inspire an appreciation for what is possible. Things can be different than they are, in truly good and beneficent ways.

A few things are obvious about this movement into form. The first is that something went wrong. It helps to be honest about this. A lot of things going on are not so great and haven’t been for quite some time. It’s helpful to know that what causes us suffering is reversible, though, and also, that the reason suffering persists in the meanwhile is, paradoxically, a form of our protection, and one that will disappear the instant it is no longer required to protect us. (It’s hard to fathom that in a benign universe certain conditions conducive to our suffering might be allowed to subsist, as a form of protection, but this is so and will be the next post in the series I think.)

There’s a lot to unpack there and I probably got ahead of myself, but I want to explain “what happened” in two ways I believe are equally valid. The first is that moving from a formless, timeless, free-flowing primordial state of being into a concretized, constructed format of experience with rules and limitations was overwhelming. Imagine a virtual reality scenario where this effortless, never-before-threatened awareness achieves full immersion into a reality in which suddenly it seems there is the possibility of loss. If this awareness forgets to breathe it dies. If it scrapes its leg and gets an infection, it dies. Others die. It’s all-consuming to just stay warm, gather food, learn to communicate, wash, rest, etc., etc. This is an over-simplification, but the point is that somewhere along the way the virtual reality became so predominate the original reality was forgotten. It was dimmed. A shift occurred from identification with the primordial state of being to identification, by each “one” of us, with a particular biological form. And this changed everything.

We can consider this transformation through another lens: our choice to experience what it would be like to be “on our own.” Imagine you have Aladdin’s lamp, and you have the power to have any wish imaginable granted, and you said, “This primordial state of being is all I’ve known; I wonder what it would be like to be separate from it!?” And poof! The wish is granted. (The experience is given but not the reality of it). From our current vantage, we have near-zero concept of the power of our creative decision-making at the time of this choice, or of the intensity of the consequences. To go from a perfect and unassailable fluidity of being to a realm in which the unlimited communication with all existence that we’ve always and only ever known is just GONE, is a blow. It hurts. It’s very difficult to comprehend this sort of loss–just as hard as it is to see the perfection of this response to the request.

Let me circle back to something profoundly important: the experience of being separate was granted, but this did not change the nature of reality. It couldn’t because the heart of reality, the primordial state of being, is simply unchangeable. There is nothing that can arise outside of it, and nothing that can stand apart from it. So there is only one way to experience what is not real: it must be imagined.

Whether we consider it an innocent sensory overload that led to this, or a profoundly powerful (and innocent) choice that was instantly granted—both of which I think are right in a sense—we lost communication with the primordial state of being and found ourselves in an unprecedented situation: the virtual reality was all that appeared to exist. We were able to experience life apart, even if we could never truly be apart. But also . . . we inadvertently wandered into a room without an exit.

To be separate is to have no power but one’s own. You take Humpy-Dumpty and shatter him, and which piece is the one that gets to say, “Nah, let’s go back”? There isn’t one. The power of the original choice came from unity, and is not present in a mind that believes in the experience of separation. The choice to experience separateness comes with the consequence that the very power that made such a choice possible must be unavailable. If it was available, we wouldn’t be experiencing separateness! So it’s the original catch-22. To have an image at the root of one’s thought system is to believe in the experience one is having of what it’s like to be separate from the primordial state of reality.

The way out is to choose anew, of course, but this requires releasing our beliefs in the world we have made: this virtual reality we are experiencing. You see, this world is the product of our choice, and we’ve always believed in what we’ve made. We never had reason to do otherwise because prior to this experiment with form all that we felt or offered or gave was the timeless content of the primordial state of being. It was all there was. There were no perpetually changing forms, no dance of maya. The profound difficulty we face is that we must concede the world we’ve made isn’t the one we truly want, and that a return to awareness of our union with the primordial state of being offers all that has been lost.

But it’s a harrowing choice because from the near side it looks like the choice to be nothing. It looks like giving up the only life we know. That’s not what it is, however, and when I talk next time about the protections that have been extended to us, I’ll touch also on the transformation of form. Because what’s before us is not the choice to go back or not, but the choice to experience form in a new way—no longer as the vehicle of our choice for separation, but as the means of creating new avenues for the expression of the one reality we have always been and forever will be.


  1. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Bravo Michael!!! The narrative that you have created is an excellent venue to convey your experiences. There are many many statements in your essay that I could quote here and then finish with an exclamation point; WELL DONE!

    You are courageous, ingenious and talented; keep sharing my friend and all of the best.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lee! I really appreciate it. Your words mean a lot to me. I was wondering how you’d perceive this madness and I guess you’re tracking with some of the major assertions here. Good to know… Anyone who can read all this is equally courageous, ingenious and talented I’d say. Be well, my friend.



      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        Ha, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m onboard with everything you wrote Michael. The “Great Mystery” is called that for a reason and any schema that attempts to add specificity to that mystery is fundamentally flawed. But I think that you already know this so I won’t elaborate any further.

        It’s a story that is worth telling so keep it coming my friend…..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well it makes your comments all the more gracious, Lee. This is the kind of thing that, if you look at it too closely, will crumble and slip through your fingers. So yes, agreed the specifics are flawed. It’s attempting to use words where words cannot always go and so all you can do is try and suggest the essence of something. I think it’s fascinating we agree something can be inherently flawed like this–can never be literally correct–and yet somehow share an understanding of what it might point to…


          • Lee Roetcisoender says

            Fascinating indeed!!! Call it an intersection or a convergent consensus point, because it is at this crossroads where the unification of which you speak occurs. It is not something one can literally achieve through meditation or prayer as an act of pure volition relying upon rational thought; transformation is something that is done to an individual in-spite of one’s ability to resist. The part the individual plays in that dynamic is grounded in the “act of forsaking”. It is not natural nor is it rational to forsake everything that one believes to be true or real not knowing in advance what one will get in return.

            Return on investment is a self-preservation sort of thing built into every physical system in the known universe. As a product of this evolutionary process, the transformation of which you speak is the first time this cycle of self-preservation is broken because it’s like you stated: “it is reality if the living presence of the one primordial state of being is felt and known to us as the beginning and end of who we are.” It is this understanding or being at one with this fundamental reality which encompasses not only the beginning and the end of who we are, but every other living system in the known universe.

            It’s these acute insights which make me seriously consider the role of determinism in our universe; but I’ll leave that topic up to you….


            Liked by 1 person

            • You do have a way with words, Lee! I’m tracking with everything here, and you’ve said it really well. The one thing is I’m not sure yet if my thoughts on determinism and freedom will synchronize completely with yours or not. I think so… There is some paradox here, in my thinking, as unity and freedom can be, in some sense, the faces of a single coin… It’s not something we can embrace or parse very well without the vantage of unity to assist… More to follow!


  2. Hi Michael,
    Your focus on unity in discussions a while back now makes a lot more sense. I hope you don’t mind questions from someone who most people would label an atheist or agnostic.

    What leads you to conclude that awareness, particularly self awareness, was the initial reality? It seems like a very complicated thing to be the first, with a lot of information and entropy already in it. The way you describe it is as a sort of self awareness. But that implies a self and a model of that self. Of course, you might mean something completely different by “awareness”, but I’m imagining something compatible with that first thought, “I am.”

    Is there any point is cosmic history that you see correlated with the separation, such as the big bang or cosmic inflation? Or is this something we each go through as our mind develops?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mike,

      First off, of course I don’t mind the questions! I hope people with different views will feel completely welcome here and have a chance to gain insight into a way of perceiving things that I enjoy, but also in a forum that is based on curiosity and respect primarily. I know we’re both passionate about how we think of things! In that sense your questions are great–astute and difficult.

      I say difficult because I don’t have a pat answer for why I conclude the initial reality, as you described it, is awareness. And I don’t want to make it seem as though this conclusion is perfectly obvious, such that if someone sees it differently they’re not paying attention or something. In truth it’s complicated for me to try and give a clear answer. I’ve thought about it though and some things inform the questions I frame and the answers I thus discover.

      One starting point that has always been important to me is understanding how those who are born in different cultures, or different times, or different ages even, have perceived things. It’s a desire based on inclusivity I suppose. I find it difficult to dismiss the experiences and perceptions of others and will often work hard intellectually and emotionally to ask if what is understood and espoused by people of different viewpoints and vocabularies cannot, in fact, be understood in ways that are valid without discounting new knowledge we’ve gained. To give an analogy, it’s a little bit like searching for that theory of gravity that is more than Newton’s view, but doesn’t abolish Newton’s discoveries either. And I have related to this a persistent openness and wonder about experiences not my own.

      So this has led me to try and think-feel-perceive in various ways. The notion that the embodied awareness of organisms is the product of physical matter alone, and the way in some circles this requires a dismissal-by-axiom of the experiences of so many people and cultures throughout time, for instance, is a step I’m reluctant to make. By the same token, it’s important to me not to dismiss the ideas and views of those who do see the world in this way (physical matter is the ultimate reality). So that’s part of it. I don’t think either view is wrong per se. Each view, as I’ve tried to say here, is available to those who seek it.

      Another thing is that I’m interested in what is verifiable in out current time. So, through whatever combination of desire, chance and circumstance this came to be, I was able to experience a sustained glimpse over nearly a decade of traditional Native American ceremony. This was quite scary at first. To really open oneself to something new is profoundly difficult. But I was sincerely interested in how people could view things so differently, and I should say, I was sincere in general. It wasn’t an anthropological study for me or something; it was difficulty in my personal life that was part of the nexus of factors that led to this, and I was first and foremost a humble participant. Not an outside observer let’s say. I needed help, and this was a form it took for a period of time. But at the end of the day I discovered a variety of experiences firsthand that were consistent with all that was being discussed in that community, including the centrality of an order to the universe that is “aware” for lack of a better term. A Great Mystery as they say.

      There are also works I’ve been drawn to in our current time that I would say are inspired texts. One is A Course in Miracles and the other is A Course of Love, both of which I’ve written about here quite a bit at various times. Interestingly enough, ACIM arrived in my life as a resource that I discovered through my experiences with the Native American community. I think, really, this was information I needed but in a format most valuable/appropriate to my intellectual leanings. It’s sort of remarkable that A led to B, as they’re not really related on the surface, but this is how it happens sometimes. Anyway, ACIM is a book that was “received” by a Columbia University psychologist who I understood was an atheist. I’ve said there’s really nothing new in this series, and there’s not really. Much of what I’ve written is based on my personal integration of ideas in ACIM and ACOL, with a variety of other influences.

      Okay, so to wrap this up, I slowly over time formed a view of the world that had a few basic elements: it was consistent with both ancient and modern ideas and able to accommodate them both without tension; it didn’t require me to dismiss the brilliance of any scientific theories or the brilliance of those with a powerful spiritual path confirmed by centuries of cultural development; and also it allowed me to resolve difficulties in my own life. This last is important and might be understood as allowing for the fullness of my heart and my mind to work in tandem. Without this latter, it would just be ideas, but the ability to discover a viewpoint that freed the heart to feel the depths it contains, and the mind to imagine and think to the limits of its capability, each with relative abandon in a sense, was crucial. I needed a view that was not dogmatic essentially.

      As to awareness involving information and entropy and the like, I can only say that embodied consciousness is undoubtedly related to the capabilities of the physical organism, and in the context of our world of form these physical limitations certainly come into play. But I don’t think what I’ve described as the primordial state of being is as yet in any way constrained in this way, and I don’t think this purely abstract form of awareness requires any structure or what we think of as energy per se to exist. It gets back to that fundamental idea at the root of a thought system: in my view this awareness is what existence is, and a construct of matter and form eventually follows. So it simply isn’t constrained by the physics we know today, in its original form. But as it gives rise to matter and the world we behold, then yes, there is absolutely some sort of coupling or relationship or constraining that occurs as existence maps onto physically embodied systems.

      You asked if I see any point in history that might be associated with the separation, and I really don’t know. As a human consciousness I tend to be constrained to linear thought, and so I don’t really know if physical form began the instant the pure nothingness discovered I am or not. I’ve told a story because I tend to perceive this primordial awareness as the root of existence, as existence itself, but to say whether the chicken or the egg came first is not something I really know. Separation could have been an evolving response that occurred much, much later than the Big Bang, for instance. Or it could certainly be the case that the Big Bang (assuming that notion holds up) is indeed associated with a movement away from the awareness of unity. And there could be multi-verses and all sorts of stuff.

      One point that has always been interesting to me is that A Course in Miracles suggests time began with the onset of separation, and also that the separation took eons and eons of time to occur. In this view, the end of time is the healing of the separation. Time is essentially the “container” for the virtual reality of form that “overwhelmed” the experience of unity. The experience of unity, and the primordial state of being, exist in absolute not relative terms, in what we might call “eternity.” But this isn’t unlimited time, it is not in time at all. This notion of time coming into being with the separation could go all sorts of places as well. Meaning, perhaps what we call time is just a particular “solidified” version of universal dynamics that produces the sort of causality we experience and observe today, and that without separation, form may continue but with different “modes” of causality that are not as constrained.

      I wanted to talk next time about the protective functions that arose with the separated state, and I think the constraints of linear time and the sort of causality we see, including the “locality” we’re always talking about in physics, are in fact conditions “given” (by wholeness, or the primordial state of being) in response to the choice for separation. These conditions arose because they are optimal for learning, and learning the consequences of our choices is necessary for the healing (choosing anew) that is required to relieve the conditions we’ve fostered. But that’s another essay!

      Thanks for the great questions, Mike!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Michael. Grateful for your openness. My questions aren’t intentionally meant to be difficult, although they arise from my own difficulties and questions that arise when pondering your view. But I think you’re like me, seeing questions (or even objections) as an opportunity to clarify and elaborate on what you outlined in the post, which is great!

        I can see where you’re coming from in assessing the views of other cultures. We often forget just how powerful the effects of culture are on our perception of the world and ourselves. A lot more of our world is both a subjective and intersubjective creation than most of us want to admit. And I agree that many of the traditional frameworks held by cultures work for the people in that culture in their lives, and we should remember that when assessing the precepts of that culture in relation to science.

        On the other hand, I’m not quite as generous as you. It does seem to me that some cultures work better than others, and a good portion of how well they work seems to involve their relation to this overall thing we agree to call reality. Granted, we can’t view reality except through the lens of our own cultural milieu, but it seems uncontroversial that the laws of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and other areas transcend those cultures, and are in fact a collaboration from many cultures. There’s a consistent core there, which every culture then adds layers to. One of the jobs of science is to peel away those cultural, and even species level, filters.

        But anyway, it’s good to know the lineage of your ideas. I remember your personal experience with Native American culture. Thanks!

        On the timeline of the separation, and the end of time being the reunification, that seems like it has resonance with the idea of the Omega Point. I’m not familiar with the details, but it envisions a far future where there’s a final point of unification. The idea has received attention in recent decades from Frank Tipler and David Deutsch (although Deutsch stipulates that he doesn’t buy into the theological aspects). Anthony Garner told me that Deutsch has a write up on it in one of his books, which I’ve been meaning to return to and finish. Although Tipler’s ideas have been criticized pretty harshly by other scientists.

        Looking forward to the rest of the series!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your contributions here. And acknowledge there are some things that are difficult for you and I to bridge. I loved your observation that, yes, questions are an opportunity to refine and explore one’s own position. That’s what makes them valuable in a sense. I think we’re much alike in this regard.

          One thing I want to say about cultures is that we can think of them in many ways. For instance, Navajo culture is not the same as Lakota culture, just as French culture is not the same as Spanish culture. But there are some common elements that various “groupings” of cultures possess. I try to hold my love for science in a posture that allows for science and some of the cosmological observations of these other “groupings” to share the same taxi without breaking into fisticuffs.

          I want to tread carefully here, but let me try this out: I think physicalism could be construed as a shared element of a modern “grouping” of cultures. Meaning, the Spanish and the German and the Japanese cultures of our time, while each unique, may possess (to greater or lesser degree) this element. A wide grouping of other cultures–Navajo, Lakota, Huichol, etc.–are very much unique, but also common in that they do not possess this notion. But if science is broadly defined as the act of hypothesizing ideas about reality and performing experiments to verify them, then I would say there is a level at which the Navajo, the Lakota, and the Huichol were scientific. That may not strike the appropriate note with you, which I appreciate, so let me say it another way: they were of the same intelligence as you and I, and they proposed and tested ideas about reality. They just had a different starting point–which has been an emphasis for me throughout–and so they asked different questions, generated different experiences and realizations, and developed different relationships with reality, etc.

          The counter-argument might be that it really doesn’t matter what a person thinks, anyone anywhere in the Universe could verify the energy levels of electrons in a hydrogen atom if they had sufficient background knowledge and the technology to make the measurement. And this is true. Science is truly profound in this regard! I mean… objective reality and the power of exploring it is not in question (for me). But it’s also true that portions of reality shared and explored by other “groupings” of cultures are not–(for me)–unreal. They are (I believe) just as reproducible as the predictions of science when the conditions that foster their arising are met.

          A corollary here is the notion of power. Let’s say that the cultural tables were reversed in some way, and the indigenous cultures of North America had sweeping control of the intellectual and cultural conditions of the world, and insisted neutrons do not exist because they don’t arise in their ceremonies. Not in the Lakota, the Huichol, the Hopi, etc. The obvious answer (and here you and I would agree I think) would be: of course you don’t observe neutrons because you’re not even remotely close to creating conditions in which the observation of a neutron could arise. And this would be true! In the modern moment, we simply live in the inverse of this: a physicalist science is not remotely configured to plumb those elements of reality other cultural “groupings” have contacted.

          It’s not my intent here to suggest one or the other doesn’t hold water, and that’s the part of my intuitive inclusivity. I see validity in them both… It’s kind of challenging to do so, but I find each of the viewpoints of these two major cultural “groupings” I’ve used in this comment to be valid. I think one could form another large grouping of Buddhist cultures, which are in many ways unique but also share common fundamental elements.

          Anyway… Mike: thanks for being here and sharing in this back and forth.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hi Michael,
            An interesting idea that physicalism is specific to a group of cultures. I think when considering that proposition, it’s worth thinking about the history of the concept of physicalism. The word “physics” is Greek in origin, with an etymology referring to knowledge of nature.

            Ancient Eurasian cultures had no concept of the supernatural. They didn’t need it. There seemed to be enough unexplainable occurrences in the world to leave plenty of room for volition in the skys, rivers, earth, pestilences, etc. Originally discovering the rules and principles by which these things operated was a type of theology. We call them the “laws” of nature because they were originally thought of as divine engineering.

            But as the rules and principles of more and more of nature were discovered, it became increasingly evident that a lot of what was attributed to divine power didn’t seem to follow them. So the concept of the supernatural was developed, of phenomena outside the rules that had been discovered. It was a late-medieval concept. Physicalism, the idea that there are no such phenomena, was developed in reaction to the supernatural concept, and is itself a modern idea.

            So, to me, it isn’t surprising that Native Americans didn’t have that concept. They didn’t have the history for it. The question is, if they had been left to their own devices for long enough, would they have converged on the same ideas? I can’t see why they wouldn’t have. Native American cultures independently invented farming and writing. (So on the Navajo and Lakota doing science, definitely.) The Eurasian cultures just happened to stumble on them first and got a head start, possibly due to Guns, Germs, and Steel type factors.

            It is interesting to think about another timeline where the Native Americans beat the Europeans to the “Age of Discovery”. Our overall world culture would undoubtedly be very different, but I think it would still include the natural sciences, although some social sciences might be pretty different. Related to another discussion we were having, not having Greek atomism as a legacy might have kept us more open to some quantum concepts. But I suspect we would have different hangups.

            Liked by 2 people

            • I appreciate the logic you’ve given on how a unified view of the “natural” gave way to the greater explanatory power of empirical descriptions of natural phenomena, and alongside of that a “supernatural” component to the world. And how that further evolved from this duality into the physicalist description where the supernatural is eventually left by the wayside.

              Interestingly enough, in a way this is something of an obvious microcosm or fractal of the separation, though with some caveats. We could frame this as a form of naturalism in which the dimensionless “unity” and “form” are in a sense interwoven, to one in which they are separated from one another, and then the connection to one component of the fundamental union is lost or set aside. This isn’t the “ultimate” choice for separation I was writing about, but an imitation of it in our world. One thing I’ll get to soon is that a great many things true of the “separated reality” are imitations of the state of unity.

              So I agree with the notion that the natural sciences would develop in most any scenario we can imagine. I also think it is quite possible to have the wonder of the natural sciences included in any worldview in which unity lives at the root. To return to you progression, I think there’s a fourth stage to the progression you describe, which is a higher octave, if you will, of the original unified view of naturalism, in which the insights of the natural sciences are reunited with the awareness of unity at the heart of reality. These are not, for me, mutually exclusive.

              I’m no expert on Native American communities by any stretch. But I know that the pressures of modernity have changed many things. I believe there is a spectrum of orientations within these communities that range from those who are very much traditional to those who have adopted Western religions to those who may not put much stock in the “old ways” or the ceremonies at all. There are many interesting things that could be said, but a month or so ago I read Louise Erdrich’s latest novel The Night Watchman, (which was really good), and noticed a line on the back cover that read A story of resilience… in which magic and harsh realities collide in a breathtaking but ultimately satisfying way. Now I don’t know Louise, but I suspect that what the reviewer may have opted to describe as “magic” is not magical at all from Louise’s perspective, but an accurate accounting of very real things that have transpired and continue to transpire to this day.

              I guess that’s just to say that even in communities that have modernized there are strong connections to threads of “reality” that are unique to their culture. Erdrich portrays this pretty well I think. Long and short, I don’t see any reason natural sciences wouldn’t make sense in just about any culture, but at the same time I don’t see why it would preclude other comprehensions or realizations about the nature of the world or one’s relationship to the Great Mystery that are also derived from centuries if not millennia of practice.

              Liked by 1 person

            • I love the idea of an alternative science fiction series based on the indigenous peoples of the Americas rising to world prominence the way the Europeans did. I agree very much there is a “there but for the grace of history” component. That said, their worldviews were different, so who knows. The Europeans were… acquisitive and possessive.

              Liked by 2 people

            • It might be that imperialism self selects for acquisitive and possessive societies. It’s hard to imagine societies at peace with nature engaging in that endeavor. Or being particularly prepared to defend against societies that do.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Val Boyko says

    Thank you Michael for continuing to unravel and reveal the underlying reality that we are a part of, but most of us feel apart from. Your words and thinking are interesting and inspiring. This is Grand work to be able to describe the indescribable and delve deeper. I look forward to more illumination and thought provoking posts. 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Val. I really appreciate your response here. I feel in some sense I’m exploring a bit more intellectual side of myself in these posts, trying to paint a picture in a slightly new way. Though I’ve done more of this in recent years for sure. It’s interesting how the muse shifts around… but I greatly appreciate those who’ve witnessed the spectrum with me!

      Blessings, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love how you are allowing and evolving. This is for all of us in different ways. Thank you for sharing your explorations.Feeling the connection and feeling uplifted by you 🕊

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Use the Surprised crayon to color me; I did not realize this was going to be about religion. In retrospect, I think I see hints you were signaling this in the first two posts, but you caught me a bit off-guard. 🙂

    As religions go, I commend you for going with an honorable and beneficent one with ancient roots. There is much to respect in the views and customs of the American indigenous cultures (the myriad from the far north to the far south). Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police novels are among my favorites because of how rich they are in (as far as I can tell) very authentic information about Navajo ways of life (good and bad).

    I join Lee in applauding your writing and storytelling here, but I also have to join him in not being much onboard with it other than than as a personal take, a wonderful mythology that expresses your worldview. Bravo, indeed! However, I join Lee yet again in seeing the ineffable as ineffable. I agree with the Jewish view that God is too far above our paygrade to understand.

    Something self-aware that knows about, in fact supposedly created, everything from quarks to quasars, and who has a 14-billion year business plan, is not something that any story we tell will truly fit. We’re parts of a much, much bigger whole; the speck cannot conceive or explain the whole.

    It makes me wary of the specificity of any account. It’s why I believe in God and have an apparent relationship with His ineffable nature but aggressively belong to no religion nor adhere to any preacher (and fully appreciate I may be deceiving myself with an “imaginary friend” — the problem for any atheist is that it might be true, but the problem for any believer is that it might be false). We can never know our picture of things is right; none of us in in possession of ultimate truth.

    Bottom line, though, I applaud more than the writing; I applaud the seeking. There are many paths up the mountain. The important thing is the climb (or at least seeing that the mountain exists). Keep climbing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Wyrd, for reading and responding! So, I think there much here we would agree about. I do agree with Lee, for instance, that the ineffable is ineffable. And yet we are left, at some level, with the absurd attraction to the attempt–the effort to share at least a resonance of what seems to be the very heart of one’s own being. As communicating some sliver or glimpse of this ineffability is, at some level, what creation is all about!

      I hadn’t intended this as a religious post per se. I mentioned my encounter with Native American wisdom in my reply to Mike, in an effort to give a little broader view into why I think and feel a particular way, but most of the metaphysics of the post itself are reconcilable with and/or derived from A Course in Miracles and various forms of Buddhism and even certain ideas inherent in theistic views. But I myself do not belong to a particular religion, and A Course in Miracles is intended first and foremost as a self study course.

      So the above said, while this is a story at the end of the day, I do think certain ideas are universal and true. One of them is the notion of reality or illusion being at the root of a thought system. I believe this to be true. But let me qualify this by saying the actual words don’t matter. So, certain sects of Buddhists might not take to my terminology here, and even disagree on the basis of the words, but what matter is our hearts and whether we abide in communion and communication with the authenticity of unity. It can come under just about any costume. And to your own point and Lee’s, defies any dogmatic rigidity or the shackles of any particular format. And yet it is so. Unity/reality and separation/image are, I think, a profound truth common across religions and cultures.

      We can, I think, achieve a profound form of knowing of what is true for us, though here–to Lee’s point–reason alone is insufficient. But this will have to follow. It’s a point I do wish to explore: how can we know what we know, and how does this separation I have described obtain in a fractal or holographic form in each one of us? That will be a future post!

      Thanks again, Wyrd, for the reading and ultimately the encouragement. I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do think it’s basic human nature to share our minds. That’s why stories, jokes, music, art, and so on. (And blogs!) We want to rave about what excites and impresses us (or rant about the opposite). We especially want to share things that had a big impact on our lives. From what you said to Mike, it sounds that some of this filled a desperate need, so naturally it’s a gospel you’d want to share!

        FWIW, I take a broad view of “religion” — basically any specific metaphysics. (By “metaphysics” I mean just about any view of reality that is both dual and teleological.) The text you cite, being dictated to Helen Schucman by her inner voice of Jesus Christ, seems quite religious to me. (The book’s title kinda gave it away. 😁)

        One thing I do perceive as universal about religion and spirituality is the cut between monist and dualist views plus the dualism has a component of teleology. They all contain the notion that what we do in life matters for reasons beyond ourselves. That we are part of something larger. The details vary, but the notion seems universal in human cultures old and new. I’ve long taken that to mean one of two things: Human brains are just wired for it; it’s an artifact of survival and community. Or we all perceive a hint of something ineffable but real.

        For me, the fundamental choice is between a monistic view versus a dualist view with a teleological aspect, I think choosing a dualist view leads to very personal territory. Some with similar views form community to share lives; others make more solitary choices. All ways up the same mountain.

        My concern, the Yin to the Yang, is that unprovable beliefs, matters of faith, taken too gnostically can lead to conflict with other beliefs. Getting back to intellect versus emotion, passionate beliefs can lead to passionate conflict. Atheists enjoy pointing out religion is one of the larger causes of murder in human history. (Point out in return WWII killed way more than the Crusades (in far shorter time), and now we have COVID.) Love is a wonderful thing, but its opposite number, hate, kills.

        One of my favorite movies is Kevin Smith’s Dogma (with Alanis Morissette as God). Chris Rock (the 13th Disciple, Rufus — excluded from the Bible because he’s Black) has what I think is a brilliant speech about the important difference between ideas and beliefs: “I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it.” (Which gives the atheists something to point out.)

        Thomas Aquinas (and others) have talked about how one surrenders to faith. As you say, it’s not something possible with logic. Aquinas also referred to that surrender as a deliberately irrational act — the proverbial “leap of faith.” Not everyone can make it nor think it worth taking. Some don’t see a mountain to climb.

        Liked by 1 person

        • A couple replies, Wyrd. First I should clarify what I mean by religion as I use the word differently than you do. For me a religion is a human organization. It is a power structure with various central dogmas that all members are more or less obligated to accept, defend, promote, etc. Spirituality is a personal relationship with the unknown, which could take countless forms. It requires (as I think Lee is intimating) the courage to explore uncharted territory. For me, too often the conventions and precepts of organized religions actually work against the very truths they often espouse.

          A Course in Miracles does use Christian terminology, but most Christians object to one or more fundamental elements of its content, as well as its very existence. In particular there is objection to the idea that there could be something new and modern that is truly divine. And this is where religions breakdown again for me: they calcify as a result of the political machinations involved with consolidating authority and power. (In contrast, in the Native American communities of which I’m aware, there is continuous change in the practices, and also no one “in charge.” There are simply people practicing within their cultural syntax in ways that work for them, and practices vary even within a particular tribal group. Sitting Bull decided to go to Canada.)

          You wrote, My concern, the Yin to the Yang, is that unprovable beliefs, matters of faith, taken too gnostically can lead to conflict with other beliefs. I think this is very true for minds in the condition of separation, and I completely agree with the concern. We are faced with a dilemma: how can we know a thing is true or real? This will be a future topic for sure because I have thoughts on this one. But placement of the idea that the primordial state of being is conscious at the cornerstone of one’s thought system is not the cause of violence. The cause is more related, in my opinion. to ramifications of the fearful states of mind that cannot be resolved in the separated state. The fear that we’re not chosen for instance, so to prove we’re chosen we must vanquish so and so… It’s crazy. And it’s not the result of authentic gnosis, but the key is: how do you know? How does one know one is being irrational?

          it’s a truly important question and I believe our modern society fails to answer this well.

          As to movies, I meant to tell you I watched L.A. Story this weekend. Loved it!

          Thanks for the discussion, Wyrd!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Many, I suspect, use “religion” more as you do, to refer to well-structured human organizations, and those certainly are the epitome of a “religion.” Atheists often refer to a religion as an “organized system of thought” — which would seem to include science as a religion (too much of a metaphysical commitment to science is scientism, which is, indeed, a faith). In the end it seems, for most, to be a code word for either “what I proudly belong to” or “what I want no part of”.

            Spirituality, yeah, in contrast, religious people are (or ought to be) spiritual, but not all spiritual people are religious as either of us define the term. (Our lines just differ such that, for me, you fall on, or very close to, the religious side.) I do see spirituality as a more inclusive category — I’d say it’s any metaphysical commitment, but not necessarily a teleological one.

            I feel a need to draw a firewall around ACIM (or ACOL). You may or not have noticed that I’ve never joined one of your posts focusing on those. I don’t, as you mentioned, object to the former (though, as the son of a Lutheran pastor and nephew of a Lutheran theologian/teacher, I can see why Christians might), but it’s definitely not for me.

            “We are faced with a dilemma: how can we know a thing is true or real?”

            Totally. Other than our own existence, it’s our first and most fundamental dilemma. I’ve posted about this, but briefly, my approach is: [1] I exist; do (generic) you? You seem to, and unless I agree you exist, I’m stuck in a solipsist dreamtime, so, step one, I accept you exist. [2] Since (generic) you report experiencing a reality very similar to what I experience, it appears that either {A} we’re all experiencing the same hallucination or {B} the reality we experience and measure actually exists. [3] What can I know about this existence of a world containing others? What’s True? Recorded human experience shows it’s a very tough question. One place to start is to ask: What’s repeatable? What actions and results, causes and effects, repeat in both time and space?

            What things are without exception the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? What things are without exception the same for you, me, and they? Those things that do appear to be the closest things we can call True.

            This is ground religion, and even spirituality, can’t claim. They are never Universal Truth, because one path up the mountain is True for some climbers, but not others. Yet those others still climb their own True path. Which is all part of Ineffable Mountain. (Let history record I just named it here! 🗻) The only Universal Truth here is the mountain itself. No one path has such a claim.

            “How does one know one is being irrational?”

            Firstly, as I mentioned, being irrational isn’t necessarily a bad thing (but it can be). Loving someone (or something) is, on many counts, pretty irrational. 💖💘💔💝 As I said, surrendering to faith is a deliberately irrational act. I say that as someone with, except for a brief detour through hard-core atheism in rejection of my Lutheran background, a life-long spirituality, if not a faith. And as someone who loves passionately. Irrational can be great!

            That said, I feel one has to know when one chooses that Yang over the Spock-like Yin. One must be self-aware and intentional about it. You may recall I define sanity as how well our mental model of reality corresponds to the real thing (in terms of repeatability as per above). To be irrational is to act in (perhaps agreeable) discord with that (hopefully) accurate model. We spend a lifetime ever refining that model, correcting it as we learn, and our goal, I feel, should be to make it as accurate as possible. We do that through repeatability and knowledge. But all work and no play, is Yin with no Yang. Being whole requires both. Climb Ineffable Mountain however you will!

            On a far lighter note, I’m delighted you enjoyed L.A. Story! Steve Martin is one of my all-time favorites, and that film is such a gem (and what a cast). That grave-digger scene, aping the one from Hamlet, is a particular delight (and the beauty of that child-like moment, the shoes, the grass, gets me every time). I’ve heard he spent eight years tuning the script. I consider it one of those rare perfect films.


            • Good stuff, Wyrd. A few replies noted here…

              You wrote, In the end it seems, for most, to be a code word for either “what I proudly belong to” or “what I want no part of”.

              And I’d say the bottom line is religions can be divisive. I think this because many I’ve experienced directly, or at least the practitioners thereof, include as part of their thought system the view that they’re right, and others wrong; or they’re chosen and others aren’t; or some brand of this. I find this aspect of religious pretty much intolerable… One think I certainly strive to avoid is any thinking that suggests this sort of malarkey…

              On ACIM and ACOL, the firewall is noted. I have no need to discuss or debate it directly per se, and while it is my desire to share how I think, it is not my desire to push it on others. I’m more interested in dialogue than debate, in a sense. But as I’m strongly influenced by the ideas there, it’s not something I can avoid weaving into my thoughts. Let me note a couple things about this: I view these as books of ideas, and not as dogmatic texts, first of all. Both books are inclusive and say overtly there is no need for anyone to adopt their terminology or conform to their ideas. Neither book suggests any penalty whatsoever to choosing another path. They also don’t propose that anyone in the universe is more or less eligible than anyone else. I don’t report to anyone in my understanding of them, and with regards to ACIM I am one whose interpretation of the work is actually not orthodox, if that makes any sense. I guess I just want to say that I have no real attachment to any reader here going on to read ACIM or ACOL. That said, I think there are some universal truths contained in them, and this particular form of those universal truths spoke to me. The same ideas can be found elsewhere.

              You wrote, This is ground religion, and even spirituality, can’t claim.

              This notion that religious and/or spiritual experience is not reproducible is a good one. I’ll come to this at some point in the near future I think but I want to first say this notion of repeatability in time and space, as I think you meant it, is not one I equate with truth. Let me use an example: you and I have a relationship I have with no one else. I am not exactly the same with you as I am with anyone else, and vice versa. But there are probably some generalizations about me that all the various people I relate with could agree upon. Spiritual experience is about relationship for me, and each of us possesses a unique relationship to the whole. You’ve said as much I think, but I’m not trying to put words in your mouth. I just think you’ve acknowledge the personal nature of some of this. And the fact that experiences are unique is okay with me. Also there are generalizations across great and vast swathes of personal experiences that are also true and valid.

              But this returns to my first post. Experiences are very similar for those with a similar thought system. That has really been my core contention here. So when you write, [1] I exist; do (generic) you? there is already an implication of what this thought system is based upon. It just is what it is. There is already an answer contained in this question. And everyone with this starting point will have a similar experiential foundation on which to construct their thought system.


              Liked by 1 person

            • I think we’re good here. I’m looking forward to future installments!

              “…this notion of repeatability in time and space, as I think you meant it, is not one I equate with truth. Let me use an example:…”

              You go on to speak of personal truths, which are a different matter. I was talking about what I can accept as fundamentally true facts about reality. Two very different categories! I quite agree, personal truth is malleable on all axes.

              “Also there are generalizations across great and vast swathes of personal experiences that are also true and valid.”

              Total agreement! Note, however, that “great and vast” is not “all without exception.” 🙂

              “Experiences are very similar for those with a similar thought system.”

              Total agreement squared! I recently read Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind”, which is about hallucinogens and their effects on our minds. One of my big take-aways was once again an appreciation for the power of the human mind to create its own reality. The placebo effect is far richer and more significant than we realize.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Commenting on some of the comments: Although I find the all too often narrow world views of religion and physics to be mutually exclusive, I do not find spiritualism to be mutually exclusive with the physical sciences. This is because spiritualism is not religion, spiritualism is courage. Whether one is religious or secular, it takes courage to leave the door open to possible explanations of the natural world that are not a part of the standard model of either physics or religion. So in this context, I find it very productive to have these type of open discussions and I applaud Michael for providing a non-threatening venue in which these things can be examined.

    You probably never saw yourself as a moderator of sorts Michael, but here you are….😎 Looking forward to future installments.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lee. It takes courage on all sides to propose that convention–whether scientific or religious–is incomplete. It’s one thing to say a physical theory isn’t the best explanation for the data, or to assert a religious doctrine is in conflict with another and should be replaced, etc. These conversations often take place within a particular paradigm, or overarching set of assumptions. Spirituality breaks conventions on both sides of this dichotomy, and so it often has the outcome of placing you off on your own!

      But it’s not bad out here… Rumi said once, (or something like it, via Coleman Barks), there’s a field way out there, beyond right and wrong… See you there…


  6. As a vaguely related tangent, have you seen the Hulu series Reservation Dogs? If not, I highly recommend it; it’s good (and funny). As its Wiki page says, ” It is a notable first in that it features all Indigenous writers and directors, along with an almost entirely Indigenous North American cast and production team.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Choice and Consequence Part 4: Benevolence – Embracing Forever

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.