Have you ever wondered how intelligent theists can claim that God is omnipresent and eternal, yet still exhibits the limitations of specific personal attributes? Maybe you’ve read the famous words of William Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour,” and wondered what the Heaven and Hell he could be talking about?
I have. There’s no shame in admitting it. Mythopoetic language —the junction of intangible spiritual insight and the tangible skill of crafting words and iconography meant to invoke it— was something that eluded me as a philosopher and artist for many years.
As far back as I remember, I have been a highly left-brained word nerd with exceptional writing ability and almost no other artistic skills. As a young adult, I developed a strong proclivity toward mystic spirituality that had been dormant in childhood. Later, after being mostly baffled for years by my own thoughts, a breakthrough in non-dual logic helped make sense of what intuition had been telling me. But at no point was I ever inclined to believe in things unseen, nor did I have a vibrant feel for the aesthetics of written poetry. In that way I fit the prototype of the modern pantheist, yearning for connection with something greater than the temporal self but unable to either put a finger on it, or create a finger to point at it.
That began to change a little over two years ago when, not entirely certain what I was doing, I began writing about panpsychism as a necessary component of pantheism. As a quick and dirty summary of why: where there is a material entity, there is relationship between that entity and its environment, and that relationship is what is meant by “mind.” If that seems fuzzy at first, contemplate it. In what way can we claim to know anything other than by our relationship to it? Concurrently, what does that knowledge consist of other than relationship itself? What we mean by mind, then, is a web of relationship between knower and all things known. If the universe is thus understood as a field of materiality, it is also encompassed by a field of mentality, or universal Mind.
This, I’ve gathered, is still very much a minority opinion. One of the contemporary luminaries in pantheist circles, the astronomer and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson, famously wrote,
“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”
All true, but this by itself does not go far enough. A pantheism based solely on physicality is ignoring half of Spinoza’s metaphysics —the “thought” or mentality that complements “extension.”
Though it still rules the day in our atheistic modern era, strict materialism is a non-starter as a basis for any coherent and complete naturalistic cosmology, and Spinoza was not unclear on that. But pantheism also ought to be careful not to fall back into a mind-matter dualism, lest we end up right back where we Descarted (nyuk nyuk), having accomplished nothing toward an holistic spiritual philosophy.
If pantheism is the synthesis of the dialectic between theism and atheism, then it shares more than an etymological root with both concepts. There is something huge and essential in the antiquated notions of God that is missing in the modern iteration of the philosophy. It is something we consciously ignore, surely without the perils of damnation from above, but at the cost of a broader understanding of ourselves and a richer view of the interior landscape.
In short, the mind matters, and it isn’t reducible to brain activity, any more than music is reducible to the mechanics of a radio.
It was around this point in time that I shifted the emphasis of my studies from pantheism back to Perennialism (or the study of “collaborative religion” as a single recurrent message from the Divine –or, some would say, our subconscious– in different forms). This was the field of theological inquiry that had led me to the pantheist notion of spiritual and physical non-duality.
It seemed increasingly clear that we sell our philosophy short by jumping to a pantheist conclusion straight from the platform of atheism, without also cultivating a proper understanding of theism as the Perennial expression of authentic interior phenomena of the mind. This conclusion doesn’t merely put the monist cart before the horse of spiritual contemplation, but also locates it at the end of a journey only the horse can make. It is the mythic elements of spirituality that deliver us unto this interior world, not a rational grasp of theology nor mastery of questionable arcana that keep our attention focused on the exterior.
I coined the fusion term “pan-Perennialism” for my belief system, to indicate that the two ideas –pantheism to explore the connectivity of the exterior world, Perennialism do the same with the interior– are truly inseparable and need each other to make sense.
Then I dug out a writing project that had been on the shelf for almost ten years, a Perennialist-influenced novel called “The Peasant and the King,” the story of an estranged God-seeker who leaves his religious community and learns that what he is seeking is seeking him. In a matter of months, the manuscript was rewritten to include almost all of the mythopoetic elements it contains now, such as the character of Duo and the precise identity of the envoy who leads the peasant to the King. Myth was no longer fiction to be resisted or refined into one narrow version of the truth. It was a medium for the expression of a life experienced from the inside out, not unlike music or paint or clay.
In setting this expression of interior reality into words, I remembered something my first sojourns into spirituality had taught me and I’d managed to forget: Spiritual literature doesn’t derive its potency from logic or reason or historical accuracy or scientific veracity. It is powered by personal authenticity. It creates an alchemical blend of fact and fantasy to activate that gnostic engine of Self-remembrance, access deeper levels of our consciousness than we generally see and utilize in a world demanding sharp sensory attentiveness, and achieve the harmonic convergence of heart and brain that only the individual soul can feel and know has occurred.
This kind of spiritual literature (or as I call it in a key section of this article, smriti, a Hindu term meaning “remembered text,” the human translation of Divine wisdom) is the expression in symbolic form of the intuitive truth known by a person or a people that, like other forms of poetry, will not consent to direct, full frontal examination of its meaning. Its success as an art form is measured by how well it acquaints the reader with the process of plumbing her own depth and finding infinity and eternity therein, in whatever form(s) she can learn from and utilize.
Our diverse mythic stories contain the same basic elements because the wellspring of them all, the subconscious awareness of Divine omnipresence (aka the Mind, as the rest of this essay will illustrate), is one and the same in all beings. It is at the topical level of human consciousness, where these elements take the tangible, symbolic form of gods, avatars, and other iconographic images, that our mythos is shaped by the cultural influences handed down to us from previous mythmakers. This is the primary reason we tend to see the interior landscape most clearly through the cultural apparatus in which we were raised, not because one is more “correct” than all others.
We can thus sum up the pan-Perennialist position on the question of truth and falsehood of mythopoetic literature: It is true to the extent that it points one toward the wordless innermost Truth of Divine omnipresence and the experience of Self-remembrance; it is false whenever held up as the literal embodiment of that Truth. Pantheism doesn’t respect jealous gods. It embraces the deity in everything except that which is deified.
Having established this vast gray area between the black of “true” and the white of “false” for mythopoetic language to serve its purpose, it should be evident that this doesn’t apply only to fiction. Any use of indirect verbal or symbolic meaning to fine tune the metaphorical lever reaching into the subconscious is a means to the same end, and needn’t be overtly spiritual nor take the form of fiction. Epistles, essays, and various forms of metaphysical thesis statements have been employed just as effectively, so long as they meet the same criteria of personal authenticity. My breakthrough with non-dual logic, for instance, came while reading Alan Watts’ novel-length essay “The Supreme Identity,” essentially a primer for using Eastern metaphysics to explore the depths of individuality and find there the Western concept of God.
In light of all this, I thought I should try writing about the metatheological model that created the headspace to finish “Pez King,” and catalyzed most of the recent Not Two material. There is no source material to cite. All I can say about its origin is that it appears a lifetime of perhaps mildly OCD-like ruminations about numbers has finally paid off with something useful.
I’m not exactly sure what to call this. I don’t think it is what you’d call a mathematical model, since it isn’t about quantities or measurement or manipulating numbers to reach arithmetic conclusions. (It would be a pretty lame model if I did try such a thing, as I stalled after second level algebra almost thirty years ago.) It is definitely not numerology either; no hidden esoteric meanings to decode here.
This is really just an examination of numbers themselves –what they are and how they relate to each other. The idea is to take a very simple communication tool that we use every day, probably with such mundane repetition that any notion of profundity and poetry is long since dulled into oblivion, and find the hidden boundless world within it, the heaven our eyes miss for looking too straight and hard. Just like every other part of our lives, in other words.
But this part is easy. Even eggheads like us can get it.
So, what’s in a number? Let’s go find out…
GOD BETWEEN THE NUMBERS