The conservative’s belief that “our symbols—our monuments, our books, our thoughts and principles—are our guide and shield,” and that without them “we will be no better than ignorant armies of psychopaths riding pickup trucks with genocidal zeal through the endless dust,” is egregiously and hideously mistaken.
Losing our frame of reference in traditions and monuments is not what unleashes the evil in the human unconscious, or in this jaded worldview, in human nature. The foundation of culture and civilization in symbols and myths has eroded irreparably, and no longer applies to the world as it is and has become.
So-called mystical experiences are impossible to be certain of, yet without experiencing something beyond the human mind life becomes what the world is—a barren desert. Communion with the numinous is the wellspring of insight, though it gives rise to more questions than answers.
An experience that occurred years ago while walking along the edge of the Pacific has come to mind recently, perhaps because I have been feeling pessimistic about the human prospect.
The day began with a friend and I questioning intensely together, and sharing some profound insights. I don’t recall what we talked about, or what the insights were, but on the spur of the moment we decided to drive over to the coast. The beaches of Santa Cruz were less than an hour away, it was a weekday, and the weather was sunny and mild.
From the moment we arrived, it was one of those exquisitely beautiful days by the sea in which time stands still. The nearly empty beaches stretched for miles beyond our bare feet. We found ourselves walking silently apart, alone and together at the same time. Shorebirds scurried in and out on the surf, life linked inseparably to the primeval rhythm of the ocean. Seagulls swooped in low, cawing and crying in a symphony of being.
Without intention or idea, an intense meditative state ensued. The symbol-generating brain had ceased its chatter and ruminations. The mind stopped, allowing the earth to be new within the heart again. There was that ineffable quality of the eternal present.
One experienced the state the ancient Greeks called ‘aesthetic stasis,’ in which the beauty of the earth becomes so overwhelming that the body becomes immobile. That completely unpredictable phenomenon had happened a few times before. Though it brings a temporary paralysis, there is no fear or incapacity when it occurs.
Suddenly there was a second shift in consciousness, bringing something completely new. Without duality, there was a feeling of being a small person in a very tall body. That is, the personality that normally inhabited the body and calls it his own became a small entity inside a much larger one. At the time I didn’t understand the phenomenon at all. It wasn’t imaginary, much less hallucinogenic, since the mind had fallen completely quiet, and I wasn’t on any drug.
Though I’m skeptical about the existence of gods, masters or angels, I couldn’t shake the feeling in the following days that a temporary incarnation of some higher being had occurred, over which I had absolutely no control.
Walking on, there was another spontaneous shift, a rupture in time itself. It didn’t feel like a glimpse into the future, more like one was actually there. Everything looked and appeared different. It wasn’t a perfect world, but humanity lived in harmony with nature, and with itself. Awakened human beings were the rule, not the exception as they are now. Things were more felt than seen, but I recall glimpsing buildings over the bay as if through a San Francisco fog, buildings that fit into the landscape in a way few now do.
Incredibly, there was one more shift in consciousness. This time one felt the presence of many other beings, fully awakened but not in corporeal form. It seemed as though the separation between heaven and earth had completely dissolved.
Was it that the gods, who were once human beings that had once walked the earth, were in harmony with humanity and the awakened human beings on the earth? That fits, because one felt a longing by these beings in another dimension to again feel the earth with the senses. They yearned, without desire, to smell the sea, feel the breeze on the skin, hear the birds and surf, and see the sun glint off the curling waves.
Contrary to what I had been taught as a child, the highest state of being is not some incorporeal heaven, but having the fullest capacity of our senses in the flowering of awareness on earth. For that to occur, thought, which is based on symbol and memory, has to fall completely quiet.