The focus of this article is to explore the changing relationships between human beings and the natural world.
…transcendent beinghood was relegated to religion and knowledge of physical forces became the domain of science, opening a void in the soul between mysticism and empiricism.
In earlier times human beings experienced the forces of nature as acts of volition of powerful transcendent beings. Nature religions were formed for the purpose of relinking (religio) with these transcendent beings. At that time science and religion were integral paths to the Divine. Modalities of ritual and magic provided vehicles for interacting with transcendent beings that yielded insight into forces active in the physical world. With the rise of empirical science, the experience of the beinghood of the forces of nature was replaced with the cognitive separation of transcendent beings and physical forces through empirical experimental methods. With this separation, transcendent beinghood was relegated to religion and knowledge of physical forces became the domain of science, opening a void in the soul between mysticism and empiricism. The cognitive split created a scientific ethos that distrusted imaginative experience as a valid means for conducting research into nature, pushing imagination into the shadow of scepticism.
Technologists, Mystics, & Cosmology
For the purposes of this article this split will be characterized as two polar tendencies in humans. One is the empirical scientific urge to solve the mysteries of life through the power of abstract reasoning. The other, more religious impulse, is to reveal the mysteries of life through personal experience of the Divine. The former researchers are the technologists and the latter are the mystics.
Abstract science that advances technical knowledge needs to include personal experience of world phenomena as part of the proofing process in order to keep the human being in contact with nature in an ethical way. Abstract science that excludes personal experience eventually leads to the pursuit of power over nature resulting in the aggressive use of earth’s resources without moral implications.
What both are lacking is an imagination where a spiritually potent cosmological relationship exists between human beings and nature.
The opposite path of mystical experience provides cosmological models for moral development when linked to objective reasoning processes. When reasoning or cognition is excluded, the mystical path leads to narrow fundamentalist perspectives that isolate people on the basis of dogmatic beliefs. The esoteric task is to create conditions where both paths can be balanced. To do this requires a different approach to science than abstraction and a different approach to religious experience than fundamentalism. What both are lacking is an imagination where a spiritually potent cosmological relationship exists between human beings and nature. Without an evolutionarily progressive cosmology, human beings find social problems related to nature difficult of solution. This is evidenced in the debate on climate change with mindsets that don’t recognize the cosmological importance of human evolution in the context of the evolution of the earth. Without a cosmology, humans resort to computational, data driven solutions for problems in the natural world. No matter how compelling the computational data, it will fail to inspire the intention to change in the business-as-usual mindset of contemporary politicians and their constituencies. How did this isolationist mindset move away from the cosmological experiences found in nature religion?
Mathematical Reasoning Affects Cosmology
The scientific / mathematical revolution that started with Bacon, Galileo and Newton has evolved into a condition where computational cause and effect reasoning makes it difficult for human beings to relate morally to their common destiny with the Earth. In past times when science, art and religion were closer in their intent, there were two poles in the way that humans related to nature through mathematics.
Ancient astronomy is a cultural watermark pointing to consciousness that goes beyond hunting and gathering. The Babylonians developed place value arithmetic that resulted in accurate astronomical tables resulting in calendars that could predict eclipses but their geometry was undeveloped. Through their abstract mathematics they became the formost mercantile civilization of the ancient world.
The Egyptians, by contrast, used sophisticated geometry to design the pyramids but they only had rudimentary computational arithmetic. The Egyptian world view was highly symbolic and theocratic.
The differences between these two civilizations reveal fundamental polarities in the process of mathematical scientific inquiry, those being arithmetical and geometrical. An arithmetic world view creates abstractions based on cause and effect relationships produced by separating the phenomena of the sense world into discrete integer values. Geometry requires a symbolic and pictorially synthetic thinking process involving feelings of wholeness and connectedness. Today the arithmetic computational world view has become the only way to do science.
The imaginal realm is the middle way between dogmatic belief and abstract scepticism…
The middle way between abstract discursiveness and mystical synthesis is found in phenomenological science.The phenomenological approach requires that researchers consciously participate in what the poet Goethe called the “becomings” of phenomena. To do this a scientist would need to “participate” inwardly with a phenomenon in such a way that their own will impulses become what constitutes a sense organ for the spirit. This will organ is known esoterically as imagination. Normally, will is the most unconscious, least cognitive faculty. Cognitive will requires training to cognize unconscious will impulses that arise in the soul as inner pictures when under the influence of a sense impression. This allows a person to enter the imaginal realm of archetypal beings, a realm that holds the keys to human cosmological significance. A disciplined imagination allows a researcher to enter into what the scholar Henri Corbin called the imaginal realm. The imaginal realm is the middle way between dogmatic belief and abstract scepticism constituting a domain of consciousness where multiple meanings for a single symbol are the norm. To work in the imaginal requires great flexibility of soul and a disciplined command of the ability to form and dissolve an inner picture at will allowing a human being to interact with archetypal consciousness.
The poet Goethe had direct experience of “archetypes”. An archetypal experience is teleological. That is, one is directly aware that there is a being transcendent to the phenomenon who is initiating and ordering the phenomenon. If this direct experience is not present then the phenomenology polarizes and becomes either abstract method or mystical belief. To prevent this splitting it is necessary to school the senses. This is a critical demand of our time due to the central challenge to human imaginative capacities in the form of contemporary media.
Contemporary Life & Menu Consciousness
Contemporary life floods the senses with many images that are specifically designed to be self referential. Self referential images limit the consciousness to specific non-negotiable modes of thinking. Self referential images create strong dependencies in the observer since they restrict the maps needed to enter into an imaginal, dynamic relationship with the image. In the technical world the ability of a set of instructions to enable a person to operate a device is known as mapping. In mapping the actual form of the device or the interface should ideally give clear reference to it’s usage. In the language of the software industry this is known as an intuitive interface. If mapping is successful no instructions are necessary to intuitively operate the device. However effective for the use of devices, the level of intuition in intuitive interface has a hidden shadow.
In the physical world of forces, the form of a hammer is an intuitive picture of its usage. A child needs little instruction on how to swing a hammer. By contrast, self referential programming sequences for devices leave little in the actual form of the device for intuitive mapping. A person using the device needs to know beforehand what to do with it or there is a complete loss of interaction because the device is already programmed to operate only in one way. Forced adherence to programmed mapping creates in humans what could be called menu consciousness. The consciousness that designs the device decides the menu for operating it. Nothing in the form of the device reveals the consciousness of the menu designer even if the interface is “intuitive”. A glance at the multitude of black boxes in the advertisement section of the newspaper can confirm that the iconic form of “device” is the proverbial “black box”. In the world of black boxes, if information is not programmed into the menu it doesn’t exist. In black boxes there are no imaginal experiences available.
From an esoteric point of view images that are unmappable and are also moving are the most dangerous.
Menu consciousness is ubiquitous. However menu consciousness reaches a peak in computer generated images designed specifically to have the observer give up trying to exercise imaginal faculties. From an esoteric point of view images that are unmappable and are also moving are the most dangerous. In a moving unmappable image the mind cannot participate in the experience of the fundamental meaning of an image. This causes a profound disturbance in the imaginal capacity of the observer.
Archetypes make an initial demand on the imagination due to their inherent ambiguity. However through a deeper will investment on the part of the contemplative worker, initial ambiguity resolves into a sense of wholeness within the cosmological evolution of the archetype that is accompanied by an expansion of consciousnessin the human. Insights gained from such experiences are the foundation of flexible moral judgement. Without flexible moral judgement morally challenged humans rely on menus of judgemental attitudes shared with others. In these shared judgements there can be no real basis for moral development. True morality needs to issue from each individual soul as a result of an intuitively flexible or imaginal perception of the cosmological reality of human existence. When morality is a shared judgement rather than an immediate experience in the soul, no sense of freedom is present and the door to mass mind lies open. Free souls are nurtured by images that can be mapped and cognized independent of any outside source. When a person is forced to continually make choices from a menu as the basis for action, deeper creative and altruistic soul forces are compromised.
To develop flexible, disciplined imagination the most effective path is to work with inner images of forms moving or transforming through time. Sequences of forms moving through time are the field marks of an archetype. The growth of a plant from leaf to leaf reveals this hallmark in rich variation. Goethe recognized this health giving force and devoted many years to the phenomenological study of the metamorphosis of plants.
Human beings who engage in conscious perception of the simultaneous events flowing through the archetypal world bring to the archetypes the potential for contact with space and time thus insuring their recognition and evolution through the power of human perception.
We could ask what is the soul looking for when it is working with an archetype? The classic esoteric answer is that it is looking for meaning. To an esotericist the Higher Ego or the True Self is the faculty of the human being that endows the world with meaning. We could also ask what is an archetype looking for in the world? We could say that the archetype seeks to be cognized in the mind of a human in order to evolve. To an esotericist the world is an imaginal unfolding of simultaneous archetypal events not linked to each other causally. The flowing imaginal world is given meaning through the perceptions of human beings. Human beings who engage in conscious perception of the simultaneous events flowing through the archetypal world bring to the archetypes the potential for contact with space and time thus insuring their recognition and evolution through the power of human perception. This idea can be the root of a new approach to science.
New Approach to Science
…where the exoteric scientist sees the only the laws and forces of nature the esoteric scientist must learn to distinguish the activity of beings.
Scientific exploration of archetypal domains is the task of the modern esoteric researcher. “Scientific” means that the cognitive element must be included in experiments that go beyond accepted physical laws. Like the exoteric scientist the esoteric scientist must also enter into the study of the laws of nature. However, where the exoteric scientist sees the only the laws and forces of nature the esoteric scientist must learn to distinguish the activity of beings. The discrimination needed to accomplish this is just as rigorous as the requirements of natural science. In practice, more robust “proofing” is needed for an esoteric fact to be established since researching being requires that the researcher use disciplined imagination as the tool of choice rather than relying on causal relationships found only in the sense world.
Imaginative research into archetypal being requires that inner pictures of phenomena are not simply arranged into abstract schemas. Inner pictures must arise out of rhythmical meditative interaction with the archetypes that stand behind the phenomena being researched. Repeated meditative contact with an archetype instigates a self correcting process towards insight. Goethe was a pioneer in this type of imaginative perception in science through the technique of polarity. Polarity is a mathematical concept in which forces in systems must alternate between opposite states as they move along a path of development. Polarity is an effective meditative method to rigorously check phenomenological observations.
For Goethe there were three levels of polarity; polarity of opposites, polarity of complements, and polarity of reciprocation. Forces in a system move from fundamental opposition through dynamic relationships in stages finally reaching reciprocation where the differences become more integrated. In the initial stage oscillatory interactions of opposing differences gradually become complementary. In the second stage complements are led to a point of no-return when there is a flipping of the forces into reciprocal conditions. This third level of reciprocation is the state in which the polarities have become so extremely enhanced that the opposites turn into each other. Carl Jung calls this enantiadromia. That is the tendency for polarities to turn into each other via the arising of a centric insight. Enantiadromia, for Jung, was the most critical part of therapy.
In imaginal research protocols the first level of polarity of opposites is found in the appearance of the phenomenon itself. The second or complementary level is found in conscious repetition of imagery related to formal motifs seen in the mind’s eye. Gradually this practice reaches reciprocation where insight arises. The insight is a co-operative event involving the intention of the researcher to simultaneously enter into a mystical union with the archetype while maintaining contact with the stabilizing forces of cognition in the soul. A key to understanding how this can be accomplished is found in the concept of form.
“Form” as Guide
Plato and Aristotle had very different translations of the idea of form. For Plato form was like a verb and for Aristotle form was like a noun. In Plato a Holy Idea or Eidos was the archetypal source of the manifestations in nature. The Holy Idea made appearances or Phainomen in nature but was not exhausted by the act of manifestation since the Holy Idea itself never incarnated. For Plato both Eidos and Phainomen were representative of form as an archetypal or transcendent creative being. They could appear both as dynamic forms in nature or as images in the minds of humans but only as shadows of their true existence beyond time and space.
Aristotle also had two polarities of form. His more transcendent level he called “Hyle” which literally means wood. For him the transcendent was like a piece of wood that had yet to be shaped into something. It was a matrix or field of potential. This potential was realized in the manifest level of form he termed “Morphe” or body. The body was the actual shape or pattern of the thing itself. For Aristotle Eidos was a condition of non-being. In other words the Archetypal Being of the idea was not a being but a condition of non-existence. Hyle as a representative of unmanifest potential had a distinct materialistic flavor in his choice of the term wood. For Plato, rather than considering Eidos as non-being, Eidos was the very essence of Being even though it was a condition of the unmanifest. His choice of phainomen for the manifest state points to the condition where the idea manifests in the mind of the thinker as an appearance or image but not as a physical body. These distinctions point to a critical difference in the line of thought of these two thinkers. Together these ideas span the creative forces of nature from transcendent being down to the wrought works of the natural world through the concept of form.
These ideas can be seen in an esoteric practice that Goethe called higher beholding. As a first step higher beholding involves the formation of an inner picture of a phenomenon in nature (morphe). The next step is to move the picture inwardly like a little movie such as imagining a sequence of leaves on a plant. This practice allows the contemplative mind to enter the “becoming” of the phenomenon. At this level the image is still connected to the manifest phenomenon. The inner state of transcendence is not present but the potential for transcendence (hyle) is in the mind. To reach the transcendent step involves dissolving the hyle image into silence. This pregnant silence is the equivalent of Plato’s Phainomen in that the revelation of the transcendent being is active in the mind but the contemplative is unable to bring the experience to cognition without returning again to the phenomenon. Through repetition a researcher can eventually come into contact inwardly with an insight into the wholeness that exists transcendentally to the Phainomen. At this stage the Being that is active behind the revelation of the phenomenon endows the contemplative with insights into how the archetype links to other archetypes in nature. This is Plato’s Eidos.
The conscious repetition of such a practice eventually develops an organ of perception for the laws of the imaginal world. With this organ of perception it is possible to bring to consciousness the simultaneous experience of the sense experience of the finished form and how the form of the sense object is influencing the soul of the observer. This union is the enantiadromia state where the equating of the archetype and the mind results in an experience of “proof”. This is the equating of the archetype and the mind of the researcher, the Platonic phase of the work.
To guard against inflation or projection it is useful for the contemporary researcher to then substantiate that inner proof by referencing cognitive analysis avilable in general science as well as recording more outer sense observations. This is the Aristotelian phase of the work. All of these levels of meaning are present in human perception of a phenomenon. With a more complete phenomenology spanning from the manifest to the ideal there is a greater potential for monitoring the inner soul experience that arises when perceiving a phenomenon in nature. Control of the inner picture forming process has been part of mystery training since the most ancient times.
Esoterically this issue centers on the human faculty of intent. Intent or intention is the awareness of the mind regarding that to which it is directed. Intention implies a fundamental distinction between the mind of the human being and what could be called otherness. Two fundamental sources of otherness are the manifest or ponderable and the unmanifest or imponderable. The Higher Self lives between these two polarities and is free to determine the direction of the contemplation through control of intention.
Without intent, an experience of the imponderable results in personal mystical experience. Likewise, without intent, experience of the ponderable results in reductionist science devoid of spirit. Spiritual research that is focused on intent can demystify mysticism and expand the sceptical horizons of reductionist science. It is through becoming aware of intention that the human being creates a dynamic linkage between the corpse of the manifest world and the dynamism of archetypes.
For a human to be conscious of intent completes a cosmological circuit of creative activity that was the foundation for religious experience since ancient times. Shamans, healers, saints, seers, alchemists and many others have understood that human beings have the creative potential to co-create with the beings that guide the processes of nature, provided that the human has the correct intent.
Repeated practice of higher beholding enhances intent until the archetype resonates with intention and the contemplative, as an act of grace, receives a deeper insight into the relationship between the world and the human being. This signals a mystical union with the archetype that is accessible to cognition when the contemplative brings the insight out of the imponderable and finds evidence of it in the ponderable world. This rhythm links the inner soul process once again to the manifest world. When the experiments are performed and the inner work is continued a circulation develops between the soul and the cosmos using the world of nature as a template for soul development. This process meets the challenge given by Rudolf Steiner to humans to “give nature back to the Gods”.
Co-Creation Through Intent
When developed as a meditative practice the forming and dissolving of pictorial motifs from nature can provide deep insights into the cosmological meaning of the relationship between the human being and the natural world. This co-creation is a hidden element not revealed to humans through either mysticism or the methods of abstract science alone. Co-creation through intent is the central touchstone of the new mystery wisdom. The contemplative provides the link between the natural world and the supernatural world allowing each to be completed in the other. This practice makes available a spiritual reality that can go far in solving the spiritual malaise present in the world today as a result of human alienation from the spiritual dimensions of the natural world whose images can serve as a source of evolutionary cosmology.