‘Arrogance and habitual patterns are obstacles to experiencing drala. In order to discover magic in the world, we have to overcome the individual neurosis and self-centered attitudes that prevent us from experiencing the greater vision beyond ourselves.’
– Chogyam Trungpa, from Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior
Description of the world
It is striking how people often behave in ways that are contradictory to the truths they proclaim to believe in. Of course, we easily notice this in everyone else, but rarely see how we do it ourselves. But this simply illustrates how much of what we do and say are ripples emanating from realms we are not aware of. Buddhist teachings tell us that inside us is an incessant ‘talking to ourselves’ going on – they say we are constantly telling ourselves what the worlds inside and outside us are. We do this to try keep our world intact, to ‘hold things together.’ Shamanic teachings echo this when they say we constantly describe the world to ourselves. We don’t do this only by thinking in words; we do it just as much by blindly flowing inside the tracks carved out
by past habit – how we react to and feed the emotions, images and ideas that rise inside us. Archetypal Psychology says that our stories live us. More often than not, we are entrapped by these stories, which prevents us from living more authentically; that is, we are possessed by stories that aren’t authentic to our beings and so obstruct us from living our destinies.
It is not necessarily our fate to live our destiny. Carl Jung said that ultimately we only have one choice to make in life; that every single choice we make really comes down to this one choice: whether we surrender to our destiny or continue to work against it. Carlos Castaneda said there comes a point when we have to leave our personal history behind. Our personal history often is the source of stories that imprison us. To even glimpse what it means to follow our destiny – which is the same as following our path – we have to let go both of our description of the world and our habit of continuously describing the world. This involves what Castaneda called, ‘stopping the world’. Yet we compulsively continue to describe the world to ourselves and anyone who would listen – in fact, often we can only feel friendship for those who echo our description of the world. Which means we are not open to relate to ‘otherness’, whereas teachings from our sources tell us clearly that true relationship is only possible when one can befriend ‘otherness’. Letting go our description of the world is central to transforming any part of our lives. The problem is that when we start to let go of stories that imprison us, we come face to face with powerful fear and resistance. Our habit of constantly describing the world to ourselves is a key part of what depth psychology calls ‘neurosis’, and as Jung told us, we secretly treasure our neuroses.
Separating out from the herd
A substantial part of our description of the world derives from consensus reality. For anyone to surrender to their destiny, they have to free themselves from remaining captive to the values and culture of ‘their herd’. In Jungian language, there is no ‘becoming an individual’ unless one has separated out from collective consciousness and the values it embodies. Almost everyone in our world today, imagines their relationship to the world and calculates their movements and their manipulations of the world and others, through mechanical and materialistic fantasies of the world. We imagine ourselves, as subject ‘I’, separated from all objects in space. Inherent to this way of seeing the world, is always thinking in terms of cause and effect. ‘I move the queen across the chessboard.’ ‘She opens the fridge.’ Subject acting on object. We think in terms of ‘things’. We have lost our sense of 'being on the inside' of experience. Hidden in this perspective is a sense of being separated from all else in the world, with a constant mood-tone, deep down, of utter cold aloneness in a soulless and godless universe.
We use concepts to navigate our way through this cold world, and come up with mechanical ideas of how to alleviate and fill up the inner emptiness. ‘I need to do this in order to achieve that.’ So, we are still utterly stuck in Newtonian engagement of the world, despite the fact that quantum physics long ago illustrated how illusory this perspective really is. (Actually, it is ironic that it took science two-thousand five-hundred years ‘to prove’ what Heraclitus, Plato, Siddharta Gautama and Lao Tzu already said back then.) More importantly, living like this drains us of energy. And a major difficulty is that when everyone around us perceives and engages the world like this, it has a powerful influence on us to simply flow along these 'already existing' channels for social interaction and practical navigation in the world. It is very hard to open, be involved and function effectively from a different perspective of the world, when one’s very way of seeing ‘speaks a different language’ to nearly everyone else one encounters. But there have been others who were able to do just this, and we should take heart from their example. One thing these others consistently teach, is that the forces working against our shifting how we live are so powerful that it is necessary to nourish ourselves with study, the company of others who cherish the same ideals, and to learn from those who have gone before.
Rite of passage
It is so ironic when we encounter someone who clearly lives inside the mechanical perspective, saying something like, ‘yes, but you know, everything is inter-related’. Consensus culture often assimilate deep truths in its ‘marketing strategy,’ employing them for surface reasons like ‘how to achieve success,’ and so eroding their true power. It is ironic, because if the idea of inter-relatedness is sincerely followed to its deepest conclusions, it has the power to cut through materialistic, mechanical thinking all the way to the point of completely dissolving one’s perceptions of oneself and the world. And this in fact, happens inevitably if we truly let go of our description of the world; we find ourselves pretty lost – we feel we no longer have anything to hold onto. In Jungian language, ‘we are in danger of being overwhelmed by the unconscious.’ But dissolution of ego cannot happen without this experience, and, being in it for some time.
This being said, it is also true that this part of the journey, this ‘passage’, is in fact very dangerous. It not only often completely paralyses us from being functional in the world, but it sometimes brings us to the brink of insanity. Yet, if we are to be set free from any restrictive culture or story that has become suffocating to us, this passage is essential. As Pema Chodron puts it, ‘you do not change your perspectives or prejudices without some significant shaking up, and this is very uncomfortable.’ There can be no true psychological shift without initiation. We don’t simply change our ideas and then find ourselves changed.
All of this point to the necessity of embodied change. Soul is similar in nature to the body: just as cultivating some change in the body, like losing weight, cannot occur without hard work over a significant period of time, our imaginal changes are not embodied unless some process imprints on our beings deeply enough over a sufficient period of time. And so, when soul brings one’s journey to the point where this passage becomes necessary, it is advisable to find guidance from someone who has already made the journey. As the I Ching says, ‘Whoever hunts deer without the forester, only loses [their] way in the forest.’π
A separate reality
There are other perspectives from where to navigate our world. In the sixties, Carlos Castaneda managed to touch something in the imagination of millions of westerners that woke some up to the possibility of viewing the world from a very different perspective. The world-view he described is many centuries old, and was really shared by all ancient shamanic cultures in one form or another. In Castaneda’s version, our world is made up of 48 great clusters of 'energy-bands', each band being a world in itself. He pointed out that the world as seen, heard, sensed and experienced by almost everyone in the western world, consists of only two of these bands of energy, and that of the 48 energy-bands or ‘worlds’, human beings are ultimately able to perceive seven. He calls the five worlds that exist beyond the perception of normal consciousness ‘the unknown,’ the 41 completely beyond our reach ‘the unknowable,’ and these two together he calls the nagual. The way we perceive the world, the stories we tell ourselves, prevent us from sensing the nagual. In other words, it restricts our experience of and participation in our world, which is the same as saying it separates us from God. Eckhart Tolle really points to the same truth when he tells us that ‘being identified with mind’ is an illness and the primary obstruction to living from a direct experience of being. An open mind is not seen in 'liberal' ideas; it is the quality of a mind that has been opened so that one becomes able to receive parts of existence almost everyone does not experience.
The fundamental significance of this shamanic vision is that it perceives the world as energy. The word ‘perception’ is pertinent here, for both perception and thinking are modes of mind, but thinking does not allow access to experience the nagual. One cannot open to the unknown through reason or rationality. In fact, our night-time dreams are closer in tone and nature to the kind of awareness that may allow access to it. We can never perceive energy by thinking about it, but only by experiencing it; that is, by opening to it, sensing it and ‘dancing’ with it. The shamanic vision also tells us that we ourselves are fields of energy. To open up to this perspective, we have to surrender our story of objects in space manipulating ‘things’ in order to achieve ‘results’. This sacrificeπ is necessary. It buys us our ticket to the Magic Theatre. As our bodies and beings too are energy, we are naturally open to experience many depths and layers of existence that simply are inherent to the nature of what is. But, the extent to which the field of energy that is ‘me’ is capable of experiencing ‘what is’ depends on how I imagine or describe this world to myself. As long as we continue to relate to our world as consisting of subjects and objects, we will remain unaware of the energies swirling around and communicating other dimensions and layers of existence. Dimensions and layers, which if we could open to them, and if we could consistently contain our experience of them without going insane, would fill our awareness with such immense riches, the experience of which most people are unable to even conceive of.