You are seated on a train facing a woman. She is quite old and looks to be alone. What thoughts come to mind as you look at her? Do you see perhaps a lonely widow whose days of glory have come and gone? Do you feel sorry for her? Are you somewhat put off by the wrinkled, saggy skin and the age spots on her hands? Do you avoid eye contact as you suspect that she is a crabby old curmudgeon whose daily routine now is taken up mostly by the maintenance of an old body through various medicines and doctor visits? Are you struck with an uneasy feeling, perhaps fear, as you see your own impending demise reflected in her face?
Or perhaps you are struck by the shimmering silver color of her hair or the hidden wisdom in her melancholy, deep-set eyes. Do you take the lines on her face to be a retelling of a marvelous story paradoxically laid out and yet hidden before all the world to see? Do you suddenly behold a constellation of stars, even an entire universe on her body in the form of moles, freckles, age spots and creases in her skin? Perhaps you see your own mother through those old, gleaming eyes. Do you wonder if she could have been an important person of sorts in her day? Maybe a beauty queen? Perhaps even a prostitute? Could she be a goddess from another realm who has chosen to sit in front of you at that moment, seemingly by chance, in order to impart some wisdom into your world?
All of these possibilities are viable, including the one about the goddess. Why not? It is a matter of perception. After all, we often forget that we live in a strange and psychedelic Universe. Caught up in our daily routine and personal concerns, we lose touch with the bizarre reality of our circumstance. But here we are, hurtling through space together on a strange multi-layered sphere of some sort spinning on its axis at a speed of about 1,000 miles per hour. We are also circling a glowing fireball we call our Sun, 93 million miles away, at an astonishing speed of 66,600 miles per hour. In turn, our solar system is rushing through our galaxy, which is also flying through space, all at mind-blowing speeds. But that's not all. The planet we live on also has some psychedelic qualities. If you bury a seed of certain plants or trees or flowers in the soil, within a period of time another plant or tree or flower will appear out of the ground in its place, with the help of water occasionally falling from the sky. Then we have the salty waters that cover the majority of the planet, inhabited by colorful and mythical-looking creatures. That is another world in itself. Next we have the human being who has the uncanny ability to reflect on his own consciousness. And while he recognizes that his body processes food and manages an array of functions, fluids and nutrients, he does not know how it all happens. Or at least he does not need to be a doctor or scientist to let the functions of his own body operate properly. Most bizarre of all is the fabric of all of these things: the cosmos, the sun, the earth, the trees, the plants, the soil, the animals and even us. They are all made of elements and gases that have been around for billions of years. And yet, try to break any of them down into their fundamental substances and they dissolve into thin air. You can't grab hold of anything substantial with your hands. As we keep slicing atoms into their subatomic "components", we find that they have no material substance, no parts. Rather, they are "composed" of waves and exist as matrices of potentialities or probabilities in certain places and at certain times. In other words, our world is not a world of things, objects or parts but of actions and relationships. Everything is whirling and spinning around everything else, made of patterns that, when observed with the most powerful microscopes, seem to be made up of still more intricate patterns. Reality and the Universe are like a kaleidoscope of infinite shapes and textures and colors and sounds that are constantly and endlessly unfolding. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Another strange feature of our physical Universe has to do with time. As startling as it may sound to some, our interactions with our environment and even our thoughts always occur in the past. That is to say that we never see people and things in the present moment for who or what they really are. Rather, we can only have in our minds an image of them, which is an outline or at best an approximation of the original. This is not some metaphysical truth but a scientific fact. Let me explain. Light, the fastest thing or phenomena known to us, travels at 186,282 miles per second. While that may be unimaginably fast, it is still finite. For example, it takes about 8 minutes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth. When scientists look through their telescopes at the cosmos, they are in fact peering back in time. Many of the stars that scientists are currently looking at and studying have died a long time ago. The distances are so vast that light takes hundreds, thousands or millions of years to reach the scientists' eyes. During the time that this light takes to travel, the state of those stars changes and some of them in that time frame will have already met their death. The point is that we never see events or things "live", as they happen. The information transmitted to us is always old, no matter what the proximity. We can apply this to two people looking at each other. While these two people may be only a few feet away from each other, their eyes are picking up information about each other that is not instantaneous. Although in this example, the distance is much smaller than something of cosmic proportions, there is still a very slight delay, no matter how small it may be, for the light to reach the eyes. We can even talk about minute distances that are within the brain itself. Even a thought is old by the time it has registered in the brain. That is to say, thoughts are generated through electrical impulses and neural networks in the brain. Though these impulses may travel at the speed of light, there will always be a gap of time between the origin of the thought, as an electrical impulse, and its recognition in the brain through the neural network. In this way thoughts are never in the present. They are always of the past. Therefore in the time that we think about or observe people or things, they have already changed in some way into a different state than the one we capture. Just like a camera, our brains only capture an image and can never see the original in its real present moment, at least not through our thoughts and physical senses. This is our dynamic reality.
We live our daily lives largely through images and concepts powered by our thoughts, a construct which we call the world. The human brain works well with concepts and images because they are static and a good approximation of the real thing; however, when we start to treat these approximations as the real thing, as a substitute for the original, and base certain aspects of our lives on that illusion or image, we get into trouble. The reality of our Universe that I described above doesn't fit with our daily collective experience. We don't feel the earth moving beneath our feet or sense the billions of cells flowing through our bodies. We have created an image of who we are, where we live and what our life is like based on static concepts and thoughts, which belong to the past. It is an illusion. We live in a mental bubble of sorts, which shields us or alienates us - depending on your perspective - from the awesome and dynamic reality of our circumstance. Among the many mental constructs that we have built, the idea of God is probably the most famous of all. While people and cultures all over the world define God differently, they all have a mental image of what God is like. Even if they say that God surpasses all images and dualities, that statement is still a thought or a concept of an unimaginable, omnipotent, omnipresent entity of sorts. While concepts and mental imagery are necessary for certain aspects of human life and survival, some such as the idea of God can overstep their bounds in certain areas of life and can in many ways bring on misery and cruelty. When people base their entire culture, politics and social order on an idea of God and are possessed by it, then the situation can become precarious. This concept of God can drive one person or culture to self-righteously dictate the rules of living to another person or group thus spreading oppression, violence, suffering and misery. History is awash with examples where the concept of God has spawned a host of philosophies and religions, oppressive and benign.
You will find religious people, philosophers and atheists constantly engaged in arguments for or against the existence of God. These arguments would be worthwhile if they led to a worldwide consensual agreement to allow people to freely practice a certain religion and to live without any oppression stemming from the religious beliefs of others. But that is very rare. They usually wrangle over definitions and philosophize to no end through mental and theological acrobatics to make a point that brings little or no consensus. But after they have put away their intellectual toys and retreated to their ideological corners, the question remains: Does it matter if, at the end of countless lines of reasoning and deductions, we all miraculously reach the resounding conclusion that God does (or does not) exist? Does a conclusive answer really change in practice the way we brush our teeth or wash our clothes or communicate with each other or even raise a family? Does proof of a concept such as God change the constitution of reality and the Universe? While religious people may think that the existence of God has everything to do with the way they live their lives, in practice they simply carry on through the programming or "tradition" in which they were raised. While some think that they are defending the honor of their god to the death, they are in fact defending an idea, a tradition that is inherent in their programming. Christians do it. Muslims do it. Jews do it and so on. They are all unconsciously following a pattern. They are vehicles for that pattern as I explored in my other article Your Life is a Myth. Religion is the veneer that covers up the programming. People, using the excuse of religion, can cause wars and suffering. Religion is certainly not necessary to commit an act of violence but it can be a tool or an enhancer or a crutch to protect an unconscious pattern by justifying the smiting of the unbelievers. The fact is that we all operate through some kind of pattern. We know that patterns in the form of DNA and genetics are the basis for physical life. Likewise, there are also psychological patterns that make up our mental framework. Science and psychology have only recently begun to approach this topic, sometimes called the study of memes. Carl Jung talked about some patterns as archetypes that determine different personalities and dispositions. In a roundabout way, religious believers such as Christians admit to being driven by patterns. While they celebrate Christ's offering of salvation and the cleansing of sins, they cannot claim that they have stopped sinning altogether. They attribute their occasional indulgence in sin to humanity's "fallen nature." The Christian is really saying that he or she is "trapped" by a pattern. And the more he or she fights that pattern and tries not to sin, the greater is the compulsion to do so. The fight against the pattern reinforces it. Rather, it may be wiser to accept the fact that we are driven by patterns and to see them as the door to great and profound insights. Patterns are an inescapable fact of life and the Universe.
While we have religious zealots on one extreme, there are those in the other corner, certain atheists and reductionist philosophers, who argue that mystical visions and authentic religious sensibilities are the result of chemical reactions in the brain signaling the presence of neurological disorders. And that may very well be true. But who's to say what a neurological disorder is? After all, aren't we all collectively living a neurological disorder of some sort by accepting and subscribing to a world that is so obviously insane, sick and violent? Our current collective paradigm operates on competition, consumerism, and wealth-building leading to poverty of all kinds, environmental disasters, wars and the exploitation of others. If the supposed neurological disorders of the mystic for example should lead to a more satisfied, peaceful and all-encompassing sense of living (assuming they do not drive one to inflict any kind of violence or abuse on others), then far be it from anyone to say that it is undesirable. There is no absolute perspective from which we can look at this topic and judge righteously for the whole. The ultimate truth is that our experience of it is subjective. Science is beginning to understand this through research in psychology and quantum physics. Schizophrenia and neuroticism used to be unequivocally thought of as mental illnesses that needed to be corrected or cured, but now there are studies to suggest that these are natural and healthy mental reactions to disturbing situations or environments such as the world we live in. In fact, some psychologists go so far to claim that those who are "well-adjusted" to society and the world are in fact the truly sick individuals.
If the Universe is a psychedelic place, then how do we know what is real? Who's really sick in the head? Whose reality is the "correct" one? The religious believer's? The atheist's? The scientist's? The mystic's? It may be that they are all simultaneously and paradoxically true and false. They are true insofar as they are based on a personal or subjective interpretation or perception of reality, which makes up the mental bubble in which each one lives. They are false in that they are always incomplete, operating on the past and based on images and ideas, which are always outdated and inconsistent with the dynamic present. Most importantly, the Universe reflects back to us or reinforces the perspective that we hold so that our personal reality - the people we meet, the job we have, the place we live, the mental and physical shape we're in - is molded by our own perspective. But there is no single view or perspective that reveals the ultimate truth, not necessarily because this truth does not exist but because any fixed perspective is incompatible with the dynamic nature of reality. Each of us, from our point of reference, may be looking at one dimension of a vast, multi-dimensional process or phenomenon that we call life. The religious believer interprets the world through a certain perception that is governed by a literal divine, all-seeing, all-knowing authority. The mystic may look at the world as a language of symbols and through that paradigm, he may see his life as mysteriously and intimately connected to the Universe. The atheist may look at it from another angle and describe his connection to the Universe through evolution, natural selection and the interaction of various chemical compositions. Evolution is an example of a viable way of looking at life on this planet and makes sense within the paradigm of physical forms in the same way as certain elements of a dream may fit perfectly together within the confines of the dream, no matter how preposterous or bizarre it may be. It is one coherent interpretation within the pattern or paradigm. All of these views however, may not be complete in that something greater may enfold all of them or at the least, each paradigm may be a part of a greater whole. Long ago, people generally held the view that the earth was a flat disc located at the center of the Universe. And just over a hundred years ago, scientists believed that the Universe operated through purely mechanistic means of cause and effect and that the basic building blocks of the Universe were of substantive material. Even the Universe itself, as we behold it with its galaxies and stars, may be one possible interpretation or perceived expression among many of that movement or whatever we are currently experiencing. The results of numerous studies of Quantum Physics go completely against the world view that was believed just over a hundred years ago. In the end, each individual perspective is filtered through specific, subjective standards for facts and truths, determined by the pattern operating in the individual at a given point in time. This pattern, however, lies outside the borders of his mental sphere.
But is it possible to peer outside of our mental sphere? Is it possible to behold the whole dynamic dance of patterns in the Universe? After all, what is real? We must understand that this conceptual question can only be answered with a conceptual response. Reality cannot be discussed or described in the same way that a mirror cannot see itself. But if I had to define it for the sake of mental play, I would say that reality is that which has the ability to impact my life through a change in the fundamental pattern by which I have been living. Nothing more. Everything else is an illusion of sorts. In other words, whatever is capable of effecting a shift from one pattern of life to another holds the key to apprehending the fundamental dynamic reality that lies outside of our conceptualizing, intellectual sphere. This is essentially the hidden meaning of alchemy. It is the transmutation or conversion of one substance or pattern into another. Turning water into wine by Jesus is a powerful alchemical symbol that goes to the heart of this discussion. It is a shift in the pattern of perception or awareness or consciousness that cannot come through intellectual reasoning or conceptualization. Indeed, there is a constant movement of sorts taking place where the collective patterns by which we live are shifting and perhaps evolving beyond our ability to perceive them with our conscious minds. This unified movement speaks through multiple expressions and perceptions. The source of this movement is a spontaneous intelligence of sorts - not to be confused with an intelligent designer or divine authority - that powers biological evolution, nature and the very processes that take place within the human body. This intelligence knows how to simultaneously process the food in our stomachs, divide the multitude of cells and produce enough antibodies in the bloodstream to fight infections. This intelligence moves the Earth on its axis, brings in the tides, powers the Sun and spins the galaxies in the Universe. This intelligence is the primordial rhythm to which all of Reality moves dynamically, outside the confines of our dividing, conceptualizing thoughts, transcendent of polarities such as fate and free will. The Universe is really a Uni-verse, unified, operating through relationships but giving the illusion of having different parts or components. Science has recently been exploring the idea of non-locality, which has been proven through various experiments (see Bell's Theorem). Non-locality basically says that everything in the Universe is connected as a whole beyond the space-time continuum. For example, two particles, which were once entangled but later are millions of miles apart, can affect each other instantaneously. This interaction happens faster than the maximum speed limit of the Universe, namely the speed of light. Somehow, the Universe out there and the subjective reality within move in accord with each other as one, beyond time and space, and intersect to paradoxically form that point of consciousness through which we view the world. The result is a vast array of different perspectives, expressed through time and space, through biology, through thoughts, through emotions, through dreams, etc.
We have a paradox here, which is precisely a fundamental characteristic of our fantastic Universe. On one hand, as we said, we are always dealing with the past. We never see things or people as they really are; rather, we only have a subjective image of them as individuals and fragments. On the other hand, science is telling us that the Universe operates as one whole movement through a fundamental, mysterious and inexplicable intelligence. And so it appears that this movement is constantly playing a game of hide and seek. It hides behind images and concepts and the illusion of fragments to create the world and the mental bubble we occupy. And yet, it reveals itself everywhere through the fantastic oneness in nature, baffling our minds to no end with open doors to its mystery. It is constantly expressing itself through polarities, the most powerful of which are birth and death. Our physical state, our thoughts and feelings and moods constantly undulate, ebb and flow between joy and sorrow, frustration and satisfaction, pain and pleasure, health and illness, etc. What is the purpose or meaning of all this? Again, we are dealing with concepts. But if there is an answer, it is in the resonance with the pattern of our life that lies beyond our mental sphere. It is so fantastic and primordial that it cannot be explicitly stated from any perspective, though it is ever-present in the intelligence that operates all of the patterns by which we live, including our own organism and the Universe around us. We cannot even imagine where this undulation of life is leading to, if it indeed has a direction of sorts; however, should it be represented by a symbol, it is that of birth. After all, birth is the beginning of our journey into this strange realm. Every animal on this planet along with every plant life and the multitude of other species and even all the stars and galaxies in our Universe repeat this process of birth again and again at every single moment. And even as they die, they are transformed and born as a different substance.
So what do you see on that train? An old woman who has very little life left in her, or a star-goddess from the heavens with silvery hair who is about to be born as a supernova? Do you see a frail human being who will soon turn to dust or a magical creature whose very body is the Universe, made from elements that have traveled millions of light years to sit before you? Regardless of what you see, it is all driven by the pattern that your life is following, which is outside of your mental sphere. While you may not be able to get past your "choice" to see the woman in a specific way, the very recognition of the fact that your life is tied to a certain pattern - in the same way that your body is a result of your genes - paradoxically sets you free. In that authentic recognition there is a sense of awareness or awakening that strips away psychological time, that barrier that does not allow you to see things as they are in the present. In accepting your life and taking responsibility for it as it is now - rather than always looking to time and the future when you will be the person you wish to be - there is a resonance that removes any limiting, oppressive and judgmental tendencies and makes the pattern of your life transparent to the dynamic mystery of life. In meeting your limits, even through suffering, you come to know the limitless. It is this liberation that allows you to catch a glimpse of the Universe in its actual present state, expressed locally as that woman seated in front of you, and to be utterly awestruck and speechless in this marvelous game of hide and seek.