Every society has a cognitive structure of permissible knowledge that is managed by an elite and forbidden knowledge that is distributed in black or shadow markets by cognitive outlaws, heretics, revolutionaries, or just plain crazies
William Irwin Thompson
Our human concepts of truth are always partial, always fragmentary and incomplete, for they are reflections of our own imperfections and incompleteness. Every culture creates its cosmology, its coherent world picture, and thus invariably creates its own limitations too. And those thinking patterns or ideas that do not fit in with the social consensus are labelled as heretical. These are artificial distinctions – the boundaries, parameters, and perimeters – erected by the human mind. The mind makes the world as we see it. Each culture considers its worldview superior. Just as each culture teaches its own history based on biased history texts, so does each society layer the mind with biased thinking. The modern worldview has taken it upon itself to believe that its view is the world, rather than a particular view of the world. The distinction may appear slight, yet its consequences are far reaching.
Our own attempts at personal transformation beyond our social conditioning will always be opposed by the consensus assumptions held by our particular society. To break from engrained patterns and conditioned viewpoints will always get you labelled as a ‘heretic.’ A heretic of the conscious mind is not a bad heretic to be – the evolution of human civilization has always been dependent upon such heretics. We can choose what type of narrative we wish to use to frame our perspective on life and reality – yet to not choose any narrative at all is not only not an option, it is also not possible.
The world we choose to see is our map of the world; and it is largely a projection of our own state of consciousness. Yet this can be a trap for us as much as liberation. We can become trapped inside the parameters of our mind’s models if we are not open to flexibility and variation. Likewise, societies also display an unwillingness to being open to such flexibility; and so innovative ideas and visionary minds often experience intimidation at the outset. Such cultural conservatism can be seen as a philosophy of small minds which prefer the safety and security of serving the status quo. Yet they are in danger of forgetting that the imperative of life is to continually change and transcend.
Many of our culturally biased perceptions are formed in accordance to seeing reality in a selective way. When we enlarge our capacity for conscious reflection, we enlarge our perspective upon the cosmos. Our capacity of mind is a window of perception – we either view through a small aperture or a larger one; like looking out from a room through either a small or a larger window. Yet the current cult of scientific reason has led us to believe that physics and mathematics is the only way to ‘read’ the universe. In other words, that any relationship or understanding with the cosmos and/or with any form of cosmic intelligence is through the power of equations. The world, the universe – our sense of meaning – may be little else to many of us than a set of complex equations. Naturally, we may ask the question – What makes us think that our way of seeing the world today is the right one? Or is our current understanding any better than alternative perspectives? Each of us bets our life on some picture of reality. We should therefore ask ourselves of this picture – Does it feel deeply, intuitively ‘right’? And does it continue to feel right as times goes on?
Our modern worldview may appear coherent to us; yet on the contrary it is fragmented, artificial, and lacking any sense of communion. It also lacks any deep sympathy and appreciation. The modern dominant perception, largely inherited from western science, is one that is lacking in the understanding of correspondence. We have been positioned into a dualism of ‘objective vs. subjective,’ where it has to be one or the other, yet cannot be a correspondence – a participation – involving both. In truth, neither absolutes exist – there is never one or the other (black or white; objective or subjective). These distinctions are the inventions of human thought models and as such are representative of our state of thinking rather than anything else. If reality is a jigsaw, then our over-active rational minds have just deliberately jumbled the pieces of this jigsaw.
Each system of knowledge that we adhere to and support is only a specific form of articulation according to time and place. No one form, or specific articulation, is absolute. From our articulations (our speculations or assumptions) we form our perceptions of reality. As part of our human experience we render reality in specific ways. We do this through our cultures, systems of philosophy, and systems of beliefs. We interpret reality according to patterns, and these patterns represent our states of thinking. For most people, it is almost impossible to comprehend beyond one’s limits of comprehension.
These models of interpreted reality have formed our philosophies and cosmologies over past epochs – from the Greek mind to the Renaissance – and yet we continue to lack a cosmology that grasps the core creative dynamics of the cosmos in which we exist. Each epoch in human civilization demands a corresponding cosmology in which to frame it; and which also guides its ethos. We are at the stage now, and have been for several decades, where we need a new framework of reality that better serves us as not only a planetary civilization but also as a rudimentary space faring one. The inadequacy of our current models has led us to a period of disruption and general confusion, dissatisfaction, and uncertainty. And in the end everything comes back to consciousness. As Terence McKenna once said – ‘We need to truly explore the problem of consciousness, because as human beings gain power they are becoming the defining factor on the planet. The questions that loom are, “Is man good?” and then, if the answer is yes, “What is man good for?”’[i] We are in need of a new cosmology – a new worldview – if for nothing other than to find out what humanity is good for.
We are yet to fully acknowledge that the human path is one of creative transcendence through conscious evolution. The journey ahead is unfolding around us – we are in it – and so we have no choice but to go along with the ride. The world is already innately in energized connectivity; according to quantum science every molecule, atom, and quark is connected through a non-local energy field. Yet despite this scientific narrative we continue to maintain the worldview that sees life in separation; with isolation, concrete boundaries, and tangible thresholds. There can be no other way to see this other than as alienating the human soul. The question is not whether but when we will get around to transforming human consciousness in order to correspond to new perspectives. So the first question is – when are we going to literally change our minds?
A Change of Mind
God decided to come down to Earth for a quick look at how his creation was coming along.
He approached Earth and happened to look at a big tree full of howling monkeys. As He looked down, one of the monkeys happened to look up and saw him.
The monkey became excited and started to shout: ‘I see God…..I see God!’
None of the other monkeys paid any attention. Some thought the monkey was crazy or perhaps just a religious fanatic. They went on about their daily lives of collecting food, taking care of their young, fighting with each other, etc., etc. Not getting any attention, our monkey decided to try to get attention from God, and said:
‘God, Almighty, You are the Beneficent, the Merciful, please help me!’
In an instant, the monkey was transformed into a man living in his own human community. Everything changed, except for one thing: the monkey’s mind. The monkey immediately realized that could be a problem.
‘Well, thank you God, but what about my mind?’
‘That,’ said God, ‘you will have to change yourself.’
Historians have noted that for around five hundred years – the period between 500-1000 CE – the western human psyche showed almost no signs of interiority. There was little interest in probing into the mind itself within the incumbent socio-religious culture. However, monasticism, from around 1000 CE onwards, did show signs of interiority and its relation with morals and ethics. This, it is suggested, proved to be anathema to the orthodox religious institutions, especially the Catholic Church, as it gave rise to increased Gnostic experience. Around this time a number of religious sects emerged which had elements of Gnosticism and Manichaeism in their teachings and which were treated as being of the highest form of heresy. These included such sects as the Bogomils and the Cathars. From first-hand accounts that have survived it appears that the Gnostic aspect of these sects relied on deep states of interiority and vision which deeply worried the Orthodox Church. As a result, the Inquisition – a judicial system of the Roman Catholic Church – was established in the late 12th century to directly combat heresy. It has even been suggested that the Inquisition can be seen as the origin of the modern police state. That is, the masses are held in check by various forms of administrative violence posing as cultural institutions.
The mass mind of humanity has often reacted aggressively, sometimes bemusedly, when essential tendencies are repressed. These tendencies are often labelled as pagan, mystical, heretical, or even downright taboo; and such repressions often resurface in other ways, in other forms. Yet the real western heresy has been the suppression and denial of such sacred internal visionary tendencies and Gnostic elements in society. Archaic repressed energy has arisen in many varied forms over the centuries. The expression of inner psychic visions may be detrimental to the person if it is unleashed into a culture that sees no place for it. It is more often the case that our cultures socially ‘drug’ us into the consensus reality. The mind unleashed, according to a sacred path, has been the way of the perennial wisdom traditions. Until now it has been the road less travelled.
We live our lives with the knowledge that as human beings we are something inherently knowable; that we can research and discover ourselves. The anthropologists tell us about the development of the human being and human societies. The sociologists describe to us our social and cultural behaviour. The biologists study human organisms, including us; and archaeologists describe to us our human cultures and behaviour of the far past. And yet we have very little knowledge for how to explore the human becoming – how to understand and develop our internal states. It was only as recently as the twentieth century that, in the West, we were given socially validated tools for opening up, peering into, and exploring our minds. Through psychoanalysis, depth psychology, and then transpersonal psychology, we have finally been able to coax the deep mind into coming out. When we truly examine what lies within us we find that there exists an almost eternal, inner urge that strives toward some form of transcendence. Humanity has an in-built urge to transcend, to go toward something it is yet unable to articulate. As a species we have travelled into outer space, we have charted the depths of our great oceans, we have peered into the heart of the nuclear atom, and we have witnessed the flash of the Higgs Boson ‘god particle’ – yet we remain largely ignorant of the inner world of the human. This is the unscientific realm where consciousness meets soul, and where communion with the intangible cosmos is negotiated. The ‘monkey mind’ of old has kept us isolated from a living, sacred cosmos – as well as keeping us from ourselves. The monkey mind has been the true heresy in our midst. Now we are compelled to leave it behind as we venture into a new type of mind. Welcome to participatory consciousness.
Toward Participatory Consciousness
We cannot truly know our reality as it is because when we think of it we already transform it through our very act of observation. Another way to put this is that we are not part of an observer reality but a participatory one. That is, consciousness (and by inference our mind) is in everything we observe and comprehend. We are woven into the very fabric of our reality and of everything we perceive with our senses, and this includes the cosmos. What we can understand of the cosmos comes through our own unfolding consciousness. Nothing then can happen in ‘our reality’ without first and foremost our participation.
What this forces us to recognize is that what constitutes mind is not only ‘extended mind’ but also the awareness that interacts and participates with our surroundings. Connectedness and wholeness are aspects of participatory consciousness, which by its very nature is integral. That is why integral and ecological thinking is now more readily a part of our modern thinking patterns. The human psyche (our sense of self) seeks for wholeness, and it is this sense of separation from a meaningful reality which is a root cause of the dis-ease and fragmentation that exists in our world today. A world that cuts off the psyche, soul, and the unconscious is one that divorces the human self from its essential nature. The state of participatory consciousness may also be seen in poetic imagination – in the world of the Romantics – and in expressions of sympathetic identification with one’s environment.
Reclaiming the integral mind of participatory consciousness does not mean we need to abolish everything that we have achieved until now. It is about restoring an understanding – a particular wisdom – that can help us transcend a modern worldview that is no longer suitable, nor sustainable, for our future. A participatory cosmology and worldview is one where we have a different understanding of wholeness and interconnectedness. It can help us to finally understand that we never just ‘receive’ reality; rather we articulate it by participating within it, and in return our reality responds to us. We are in a relationship of mutual feedback and response with our reality; this makes our participation with reality a response-ability. Genuine participation is also a form of empathy, and we cannot truly participate in the world unless we take responsibility for it. To put it another way we can say that true reality does not reveal itself to the unprepared mind. The cosmos reveals itself only slightly to the observer; yet she shows many more of her secrets to the conscious participant. Non-participation with our reality – i.e., thinking of ourselves as unconnected separate objects – is one of the core causes of the sense of dislocation deep within us. It is as if we are estranged from our homeland.
We have entered a period of social history whereby many of our old thinking patterns and ways of looking at the world are beginning to be dismantled. This reconfiguration has the potential for incredible opportunity, as well as driving disruption and uncertainty. Perhaps that is why we are feeling so many insecurities now as our social and cultural institutions face the coming waves of disruptive change. Liberation of the mind from old ways can bring us freedom, as well as a fear of stepping away from the secure and the known. As the 13th century Persian poet Saadi said – ‘Deep in the sea are riches beyond compare. But if you seek safety, it is on the shore.’
Into the sea we must venture – as heretics of the new mind.
Heretics of the New Mind
The true history of human civilization on this planet is one of heresy, for these have always articulated the new forms of change and vision. Human development and social progress has come through the continual refinement of consciousness. In times of change it was often the heretics that spoke up for the sacred and essential truths within humanity. And when society burnt a heretic, it was because they feared that their own archaic orthodox structures were weak and vulnerable to collapse. The history of our various human cultures has been built upon the history of evolving heresies. As new interpretations emerge, the status quo usually absorbs them and carries on. When enough new heresies arise, the culture eventually responds to this by finally adopting the new understanding and thus evolves.
For centuries western civilization was the epicentre of a developmental energy that manifested in the phases of industrial and technological revolution. This developmental impulse has now gone planet-wide. The western civilization phase was a springboard to take humanity toward the cusp of a planetary civilization, with globally diverse cultures. Our current epoch is in transition towards a planetary civilization and this signals the opening up and access to great potentials of opportunity and wisdom. Yet it will not come about overnight, for cultural change requires time to assimilate new perspectives and understandings. It is a change that requires new generations to enter with their evolved thinking patterns. That is why right now more heretics are required – to come forth and engage with a participatory consciousness as waves of change enter into our societies and through our popular cultures.
The heretics and the heresies are all one. The sacred heresy of genuine revolution is a forceful yet loving and compassionate heresy. It is this essential stream of the sacred that many wisdom traditions refer to and seek to connect with. To go forward, each thing must learn to transcend itself. The sacred heresy is a dynamic force of transcendence. This sacred energy will never be absent from the world as long as human beings are alive, mystified by the wonders of the world and seeking for the meaning of their lives.
[i] McKenna, Terence (1991) The Archaic Revival. New York, HarperCollins, p165