views from the mountains
Thoughts, comments, and explorations about our life and being, from a distance, by a wanderer in a rough, lucid, and boundless world that is immensely intriguing.
As I climb higher, I see the essentially unchanging landscape from ever new perspectives. Slowly drifting clouds. Fog swallows part of the landscape, occasionally myself, releases us again. The light changes, at times swiftly. Occasionally, I encounter a fellow soul on the path, for a short chat, for just a nod. Situations, perceptions, understanding, they all change on the way, the landscape remains. The ephemeral and the rock solid.
From a distance, I perceive the large valleys, the mountain ranges, and I recognize their order. The rivers that shape the landscape, I see those nearby but not those farther away. Neither do I see the wide roads and big cites. I just know that there is more, much more, and different from what I see. But I do see the Sun.
Such are also these texts: Recurrent themes, surging, exhibiting ever new facets, evoking ever more comprehensive yet never complete imaginations of a reality that may be, beyond, and that unfolds and shapes itself. The last views stay on, memories, gently fading, until they are updated with a new vision, or not. It is these last views that are collected here. No journal, no thread, no blog, just views as last perceived, in the mountains.
Disclaimer: Many of the thoughts and concepts laid out here can be found at other places, explored deeper and worked out more carefully. However, I want to walk through the mountains myself, not just look at images, listen to stories. I invite you to do so, too.
Our World is ONE, bigger and different from what any scientific, cultural, or spiritual line postulates. How do we know that? Touching lightly on our limited perception, esotericism, and secret teachings.
Images – from nature to science to spirituality and back
Cross-fertilizing between lines that appear to have nothing in common: can we?
Man – a very complicated being
Humans are very complicated beings with a hierarchy of tightly interconnected layers that reach from the biomolecular machinery all the way to the divine sphere.
first: May 12, 2019, last: May 26, 2019 leave a comment
We directly perceive and understand only a minute part of our World. Larger parts – the knowledge of their very existence, their integration into our current understanding, and concepts about their functioning – become accessible only through learning. Such learning comes along perspectives, often organized in schools through which it is handed down and developed, from generation to generation.
Old mystics offer one such perspective on our World. This spawned the diverse religions. Natural sciences offer another and much younger perspective. This spawned technology. Both perspectives are largely consistent within, and both have been elaborated by generations of outstanding and deep personalities. Yet, they are clearly different, often contradictory, and so are the schools, cultures, and approaches to the World that emanate from them.
I cannot imagine this World as many, however, I can only imagine it as ONE, beyond our dualities of science and spirituality, of good and bad, of black and white, beyond all our further categories, yet encompassing them all. All our perspectives on the World are thus fundamentally incomplete. The World is larger. With all the learning of all humanity so far, we apparently grasp only rather isolated aspects of the World. Naturally, we have no idea how big that part is, what may be lying just beyond our perception, and what may be farther away still.
This ONE is the ultimate mystical cloud.
This ONE – the World at large and our attempts to comprehend it with our hearts and minds, ourselves being part of that very World – is the ultimate mystical cloud. Following our current scientific understanding as well as old learning, I envisage this ONE as having emerged, out of Emptiness, and as continuing to unfold, with humankind as a forerunner, probably just a local one, and just for some time, our time.
Envisaging an unfolding World necessarily goes with recognizing the origin, the transition from nothing to something, the mystery of all mysteries. I cannot other than leave it as such.
It is the continuing unfolding of our world that we can observe directly and it is our time that opened the door to a deeper appreciation of this marvel. Recognizing this unfolding – its nature and our role in it – brings the inkling that understanding ONE may well remain an eternal longing. Not because it is too big, which it is, but more fundamentally because it is unfolding right in front of us, the forerunners, and right because we are, because life is. And yet it is fundamentally beyond, untouchable, because we can only see and comprehend what already has unfolded. Journey into the Unformed, into the Void, eventually just a stage on this road, maybe a stepping stone.
If the above about our limited perception und understanding sounds strange, just project yourself a few hundred years back, contemplate the then fashionable perspectives on the World, and on this basis answer: How did those mountains rise? How did my people appear? What was that flash of light followed by a loud thunder? What is it with my stomach hurting so badly? Where did last night’s dream come from, what does it mean? Where did my father go when he died?
Some of the questions we readily answer today, because we now have a deeper understanding of our world’s functioning. But beware – put aside the natural arrogance that we today are not as dumb as they were back then – and recognize the signs. And then, there are the questions we still ask, still yearning for answers.
not esoteric, or is it?
“Esoteric” refers to something that can only be understood by a small group of initiated people. As such, almost all the knowledge of our culture is esoteric. Or would you know how to build a car, maybe just its front window for that matter, and could you explain the basics of quantum mechanics, of the biomolecular machinery that underlies all life on Earth, of the biochemical basis of our mind?
However, “esoteric” is also often understood as esotericism, which refers to a wide field of concepts that are largely outside of both, science and orthodox religion. Many of these concepts have deep roots in our culture and strong ties with both science and orthodox religions. This is exemplified by the work of C. G. Jung – Psychology and Religion or Psychology and Alchemy – and of many others.
In contrast, some popular parts of esotericism are of a very recent origin, with claims and projections alluding to old roots but going far beyond and, naturally, lacking the test of time. The World as an undivided whole is for instance an old concept and it would appear to be readily acceptable. In contrast, one of its extensions – that this whole is self-conscious, has existed unchanged for all times, and will continue to do so for eternity – does not go down easily with all.
It appears prudent to abstain from exotic extensions and to rely either on deep-rooted concepts that have been well-tested by generations of sincere searchers or, conversely, on the lightning of immediate understanding. Specifically, the ONE we envisage and attempt to approach here does follow the old concept of an undivided whole. It is not an eternally unchanging and self-conscious World, however, but it emerged, and it continues to unfold.
At times, a romantic notion of secret teachings is entertained, particularly with lighter forms of esotericism. Supposedly, such teachings, once discovered, will turn a knob and I will be able to do wondrous things. Such secret teaching does not exist and there is nothing actually hidden, apart from the recipe to brew Coca Cola.
Still, there apparently is knowledge that is not widely available and corresponding teachings that are not readily accessible. They are not hidden per se, however, but by the long and arduous path it takes to reach them from ordinary life. This path may include learning of a language – mathematics, music, meditation,… – to communicate about the realities of interest, often also to access them.
In our ordinary life, we learned some languages already, our spoken natural language or our culturally determined body language. At the lowest level, these are directly linked to material manifestations – objects and actions between objects –, and we just tag them with words, with the elements of the respective language.
In situations that are too complicated to be pointed at with a finger, an ecosystem for instance, or that are not accessible to our senses, tagging is no longer easy because words have no inherent meaning. Associating them with meaning is that long and arduous path to the “hidden” knowledge.
from nature to science to spirituality and back
first: May 11, 2019, last: May 22, 2019 leave a comment
Science developed a number of powerful concepts and theories for explaining phenomena in our physical world. Once established, after a number of scrutinizing tests, they have precise meaning and fit consistently into an entire network of further theories and experiments. An example is the still enigmatic quantum mechanics, which describes a range of experimental phenomena with extraordinary accuracy, while at the same time escaping our everyday intuition.
Scientific theories and the tools they develop and employ are esoteric, however, i.e., inaccessible to most and deeply understood by only a minute fraction of scientists from the respective field. On the other hand, there is a strange beauty to their formalisms that turns them into art. Finally, and most importantly, there is their demonstrated power to do in our physical reality, to recognize, predict, or build some thing. Inaccessibility, beauty, and power make such theories immensely attractive for our imagination. They are indeed sometimes hijacked to “explain”, even “prove”, concepts that are completely foreign to their nature.
Short of their illegitimate invocation in foreign territory, the fascination of scientific theories, and of their tools, may indeed be employed to fire up our imagination and to widen our perspectives on completely unrelated topics. Such transfers – images – may be powerful aids, even though they almost never represent the reality of the current focus. They often function like filters that highlight coincident structures, or like projectors that deepen or extend the current focus. The nature of the filters and projectors in their proper world – for instance in quantum mechanics – is thereby immaterial and indeed not used at all. It is the structures that matter, and guide.
Transferring images of some reality to a completely foreign situation can open new perspectives but it also comes with dangers. One of them is over-interpretation, all the way to projecting complete rubbish. Another one is partial or even complete blindness for more fitting views. Relentless scrutiny helps and so does the understanding that the dream must not be mistaken for the real thing.
He who wants to find gold must test it in fire…
A transfer of images akin to that from science to other realms also occurs from nature to other realms, again as inspirational filters and projectors. Yet another and more delicate transfer arises between material and immaterial realms, like between science and nature on the one hand and our psychological, mental, and spiritual worlds on the other. Testing in fire is more delicate here, however, and it needs an easier hand, for fear of burning the house instead of just the idol.
…but beware of burning the house instead of just the idol.
a very complicated being
first: June 22, 2019, last: July 7, 2019 leave a comment
Evolution led to the unfolding of structures that may be seen as a vertical hierarchy of layers, each building and closely interlinking with those below. These layers are the same for all life, from bacteria to the pinnacle of evolution on Earth so far, human beings. Naturally, not all species contain the full gamut of these structures.
That hierarchy may be divided into spheres, each consisting of several layers. For a human being we may distinguish four spheres: the physical, our body, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual.
Before digging deeper: such division into spheres and layers is but for our simplifying understanding of the complicated human being. Reality is much more intricate. One aspect is that the different layers are co-located as they operate in the same space albeit on different scales. This is at least the case for the physical body. Another aspect is that the transition between layers, even between spheres, is by no means sharp and well-defined but is often smooth with aspects of one reaching deep into or even across its neighbors. Still, as a first structuring attempt, layers and spheres are useful.
the physical sphere
For our physical body, we may roughly distinguish five layers: (i) The biomolecular machinery translates genetic information from DNA through RNA to proteins, which in turn build and operate our body. This machinery operates in all complete cells. (ii) The individual cells with their diverse form and function constitute the intermediary building blocks for the higher layers. (iii) Then there are diverse organs like the heart, the lungs, and the brain, and other large constructs like the skeleton and the vascular system. These are formed by a very large number of cooperating and often highly specialized cells. (iv) Finally, there is the entire traditional body, the orchestrated whole of all the deeper layer. This body is the first unit that is envisaged to be viable on its own, which is not quite true, however. (v) The last layer of the purely physical body is its microbiome, a diverse, deeply integrated, and highly dynamic population of microorganisms. It supports and often enables important functions like digestion of food or protection against illnesses of all sorts. A human body without its microbiome is indeed not viable outside of an intensive care system. We share this property with all sufficiently complicated life, animals and plants. This microbiome indeed is no small thing. In a healthy human body, it outnumbers the traditional body’s cells by ten to one and when it come to genetic information it is a hundred to one.
the higher spheres
Beyond the sphere of the body are the non-physical spheres, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual, with the latter eventually reaching into the divine. Various schools distinguish a number of different layers within each of these higher spheres.
There is considerable controversy, however, already on the very existence in particular of the highest spheres, naturally also on their distinctions and finally on the naming. Since these are hardly touchable by current natural sciences – our platform for objective knowledge – no consensus has emerged, neither is one in sight. The progress of our common understanding of those spheres is thus slow, if there is any at all.
Natural sciences are about to make significant inroads into the lower of these spheres, however, into the emotional and the mental. Their biochemical roots indeed become ever more apparent and for an ever larger number of states and processes. With this, the previous non-physical spheres are increasingly recognized as manifestations of the body’s physical sphere, which explicitly also includes its microbiome. Indications of such rooting goes quite far already. It includes for instance out-of-body and near-death experiences. Similarly, there is a wealth of studies that show the relation between deep meditation and neurological states of the brain, even indications of long-term meditations modifying the brain’s physical compositions.
a very complicated machine
With natural sciences offering an ever more comprehensive explanation of our higher spheres, rooting them in the physical, the notion emerges that man is a machine, a most complicated one, to be sure, but still a machine. This comes as a shocking proposition for many, a misguided simplification by little educated scientists. The truth is, however, that man as a very complicated automaton is a rather old teaching and indeed predates natural sciences. What is about to change now is that such understanding becomes precise and testable, hence objective. And it slowly oozes into common views and thereby dissolves widespread concepts of what a human being is, of how fundamentally different we are, from a cow, for instance. We are different, strongly and undeniably, but probably much less so than what we would like to believe.
More important than the dissolution of comforting misconceptions is our emerging appreciation of how deep, complicated, capable, and at the same time delicate this machine of ours is. As a starter, it can easily accommodate within its degrees of freedom everything we typically summarize under the tag “free will”. There are also severe imposed limitations, of course. On the trivial end, we will never fly like an eagle. We got used to that. On the more complicated end, we constantly feel the limits of our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual capabilities. They carry us just so far in recognizing what is, just so deep in our love. As Farid ud-Din Attar put it, the author of the incomparable Conference of the Birds, “All you have ever known or learned is not even the beginning of what you must know.” It is that limitation we weep for, that limited reach into the heavens. It is not whether there is a physical machinery at our base or whether it is some more mystical thing.
carriage – horse – coachman – passenger – country
Inspired by an old oriental parable that describes the layers of a human being and the relations between them:
The carriage consists of many different parts, made of different materials. These are finely tuned to allow for a smooth ride also across rough terrain. They require regular and knowledgable maintenance, new tuning as they age and wear, sometimes repair. The carriage, my physical body.
The horse, a wild beast that had to be tamed before it would pull the carriage. It has to be harnessed to the carriage, tightly but carefully, such that neither the carriage hurts the horse, nor the horse damages the carriage. At times the horse’s wild nature breaks through, when it gets frightened, when it is beaten, when it gets excited. As the carriage itself, the horse needs knowledgable care, water, food, cleaning, caressing, rest. And at times, it needs its full wild freedom. The horse, my emotions.
The coachman knows them well, both the carriage and the horse, with their capabilities and limitations. He maintains them, cares for them, orchestrates them, and knows how to guide them also through rough terrain. He himself needs care for his body and mind – food, inspiration, love – and he also knows these well, his body and mind. He is guided and supported by a deep sense of being, and of purpose. At times, though, he gets sleepy and inattentive, or he is carried away by that beautiful person they just passed, or his sense of purpose slips away and he has to get drunk to drown it all. The coachman, my mental small being.
The chance passenger is the occasional person who happens to come by and hire the entire team for some short voyage, to just enjoy a ride, to explore the countryside, to transport some goods. After a time, she gets off and pays the coachman. She is done with what she wanted to do, off to another undertaking, and the coachman waits for the next passenger, waits to earn his life. The chance passenger, my normal existence.
The noble passenger is the person who owns the carriage and gives home and support to the horse and to the coachman. She knows them well, all three of them, and she understands their needs, capabilities, and limitations. She cares for them passionately, lovingly, but also purposefully as she needs them for her work, for her life, for her purpose. And she needs them to work well. The noble passenger, my spiritual higher being, my self.
The country is what the noble person explores with her team. Here she works, guides others in their work to produce all the wood, the metal, and the food to build and maintain the carriages, horses, coachmen, people, and noble persons. They build gardens into the endless countryside, construct thin winding roads through barren land, open ways to new worlds. They create new worlds, watching the Sun and the stars overhead. The country, the divine.
The purpose? The Simurgh who lost one of its feathers, far away, far back in China.