This post continues on the theme of the previous post, The Illusion of Separateness.
We begin before the beginning, outside of time and space, with the Nameless, Faceless, Indescribable One that is the Source and Ground of All, which we simply refer to now as…
2. Duality within Unity
In some way that defies our complete understanding, ‘within’ the Transcendent Unity we call ‘God,’ there is an ‘intention’ for the freedom of otherness to be. Some of our creation myths try to explain why this happens, yet others leave it as a mystery. The story of Genesis, for example, does not explain why God wills creation; we are only given a beginning of space-time in which God creates the distinction of heaven and earth. From this basic duality, of Godself and other, arises all the diversity of creation in response to God’s will, and all of it is declared “good,” which is to say that, at least so far, things are as they should be.
Note: In this context, ‘other’ refers not only to other persons, but anything considered to be ‘not me.’ This is an important point to keep in mind as further points refer to ‘others.’
The Fall and the Spiral of Illusions
3. The Illusion of Separateness
Despite the multiplicity of forms in creation, careful reading of scripture reveals that it is all actually one. Everything and everyone lives, moves, and has its being in God. There is nowhere that God is not. Yet we can become intoxicated by duality and thus fail to perceive our unity with the All and the One. This is the symbolism of being tempted by the serpent, eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and ejection from Eden. The self-other binary of duality has become a veil on unity, a distraction from it, and is thus distorted into the illusion of separateness. It is not a fall from grace, but a fall from the intimate awareness of grace.
4. The Illusion of Lacking
Our delusion of separation is at odds with our latent memory, or intuitive knowledge, of unity; it is a dissonance, an incongruity, felt by us as incompleteness. It is the root of all uneasiness, all discomfort, with self and others. In Genesis, this uncomfortable feeling of lacking and need is revealed in Adam’s lonely desire for a mate, and later in the couple’s shame about their nakedness. Out of our deep knowing of unity as truth, a desire emerges to eliminate the discomfort that accompanies the illusion of lacking and need. Yet that desire can conflate with a desire to expand self, because self is perceived as the most immediate thing, and thus least illusory, within the illusion of separateness. In such confusion, we believe others must be drawn into self in order to rebuild wholeness and thus relieve our existential discomfort. Desire is thereby revealed as more fundamental than need in our existence. Everything perceived as a need is actually something we desire in order to maintain or undo the illusions of separateness. Even the need to survive disappears if one no longer desires to live.
5. The Illusion of Acquiring/Possessing
Acting in response to the illusion of need and the desire to expand self, self attempts to relieve discomfort through acquiring/possessing others (people, things, ideas, experiences, etc.), and thus ironically defends, perpetuates, and compounds the illusion of self’s separateness.
6. The Illusion of Strengths/Weaknesses
In the processes of acquiring and possessing, we perceive patterns within a binaries of (a) ease versus difficulty and (b) ability versus inability. We compare and contrast self and others in these ways, conceptualizing different kinds of talent, skill, and knowledge, and judging each other according to competence in acquiring and possessing.
7. The Illusion of Conflict with Others
We experience that others acting to acquire and possess can interfere with our acquiring and possessing, even completely preventing or undoing our own acquiring and possessing. We therefore conclude that some others must be outperformed, if not eliminated, in order for self to acquire and possess as easily and freely as possible.
8. The Illusion of Winners/Losers
We perceive a success-failure binary in the competition to acquire and possess. Winners are judged as good because they model the illusory ideal of defending, perpetuating, and expanding self.
9. The Illusion of Self-Improvement/Self-Diminishment
We perceive a progress-regress binary in winning and losing, and thus in developing and maintaining (acquiring and possessing) self-efficacy, which is our sense of ability to achieve success in drawing others into self.
Notice how every step reinforces and compounds the previous steps, and thus our energies spiral out into an ever larger, more complex, and more unmanageable illusory existence. Yet, every step also offers the possibility of awakening to these illusions.
What are we to do about all of this?
Some spiritual traditions seem to insist that the whole phenomenon of otherness is either a cosmic mistake or a flaw in the spirit of humanity. The fact of duality, of the self-other binary that is at the very heart of creation, is judged as the fundamental evil that makes all of creation corrupt. This way of thinking often leads to re-assessing self as the most immediate falsehood rather than the most immediate reality, and thus to the conclusion that the only way out of illusion is to utterly destroy self. A similar but more extroverted reaction is the quest for an idealized world in which all distinctions of otherness, and thus all differences, are eliminated. It is, in effect, an attempt to eliminate diversity and establish universal conformity to some imagined state of perfection.
Unless we take the view that the Adonai of Genesis is a false god, a deluded and megalomaniacal demiurge bent on making a cosmic mistake, then we cannot conclude from our myth that creation, with its dualism, is an evil to be undone. Instead, our creation myth suggests that the primary problem is the illusion of separation, and Jesus promises that it is possible to overcome, or be delivered from, this problem. It might seem paradoxical, but he calls us to return to awareness of unity while still participating in duality. As we shall see, such a call only seems paradoxical when viewed from a position still fully immersed in the illusion of separateness.
As frequent readers of this blog are likely to know, lucid dreaming is my favorite analogy for a state of being in which one has awareness of unity while still participating in duality; in lucid dreaming, one clearly knows he or she is dreaming while the dream is happening. It is a state less enmeshed in the illusions of separateness between self and the various ‘others’ experienced in the dream, and yet the dream and one’s presence in it continues to manifest. Anyone who experiences lucidity knows what a liberating moment it can be. What may have, only seconds before, seemed like an unbearable nightmare can suddenly be experienced with a light heart, even a sense of humor, not unlike a Halloween house of horrors. More pleasant dreams can have their beauty magnified as the wonder and awe of their artistry is more deeply appreciated. Imagine what it is like to realize that the mind you call your own is somehow mysteriously creating and sustaining an entire world around you, and with incredible detail and vibrancy. If you have had this experience, then you may also know what it is like to begin working with the dream as a piece of art, shaping and crafting it according to your own wishes. A nightmare can be completely transformed into an experience of peace and joy. A monotonous repetition of typical events can be seized as an opportunity to break the laws of physics and fly in the air or breathe underwater. Almost anything is possible, and no ugliness seems quite as genuinely threatening to you or any ‘other’ in the dream.
Mystical insight, enlightenment, revelation, or whatever you want to call it, can impart a similar liberation with regard to our presence in the so-called ‘waking world.’ According to some mystics, philosophers, and physicists, our ‘waking world’ is like a shared dream in which all of our seemingly individual minds are participating with a consensus, both conscious and unconscious, about how things should work. Individuals who become lucid in this world attain some measure of liberation from the ‘rules,’ and thus greater freedom and power to consciously shape the world. Furthermore, just as one can fade in and out of lucidity within a dream, we can do so in the waking world. One moment we can remember unity and enjoy our freedom in greater measure, and the very next moment again fall into the sleep of illusory separateness. Therefore, the mechanisms of lucidity are, to some extent, obviously beyond our conscious control, at least for most of us. On the other hand, the desire to experience lucidity, and the intention to maintain it, do seem to make a significant difference. If the great sages and seers of history have spoken truthfully, then there is not only a Spiral of Illusions, but also a Spiral of Lucidity that we can engage.
Why… does God do this? …are we here? …seek lucidity? This takes us full-circle back to the beginning. Genesis doesn’t say why God creates, only that God does, and that God considers it good. We can therefore conclude that it is not an evil to be destroyed, a mistake to be undone, or a prison to be escaped. The Genesis myth further suggests that we are created to be God’s partners in creation, tending to God’s garden while directly aware of God’s presence; we have the innate potential to be conscious participants in manifesting the All’s infinite possibilities. In addition, we learn that we are endowed with freedom, for without it we would be severely limited in our ability to intentionally transform things from one state into something new and different, yet that freedom also makes it possible for us to forget and ignore the unity of the One and All. These observations lead me to believe that when we ask the why questions, what we are really seeking is some understanding of what we should do with our existence and freedom, as if that answer lies external to our own hearts’ desires. If we are indeed created to be free co-creators, then the more meaningful question is this: What do you want to do with your existence and freedom?
There are many more questions and implications we could continue to explore, such as what this model suggests about our perceptions of good and evil, sin and morality, heaven and hell, grace, salvation, and every other aspect of our lives, religious and otherwise. But, in closing, you are especially welcomed to reflect upon how these possibilities might relate to our understandings of love – what it is, why it is the Greatest Commandment to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves, and the ways we can do so.