1. A Spiritual World View
We live at present in a time of trouble. Despite our dazzling technological achievements and our shrill claims of progress, affairs on “Spaceship Earth” are going very seriously wrong. Indeed, our problems have now assumed not local, not national, but planetary proportions. Perhaps there is some unknown factor we have forgotten. Perhaps there are certain basic questions which amid the proliferating complexity of modern life we find ourselves too busy or too harassed to ask. What our purpose might be on earth, for example? What life is about? Who we are? Why we are?
The present crisis should compel us to pause and consider, to re-evaluate. It is obvious that unless we do so, there may well be grave consequences, and the very structure of our society and our economy will be faced with collapse.
We may well be at the end of an epoch of history. We may well be witnessing the breakdown of a civilisation. After all, such things have occurred before, and it would be naive to presume ourselves immune to the mishaps that befell the cultures of the past. But the very gravity of our situation renders consideration of the possibilities of rebirth all the more worth our while.
Many of us are already considering such possibilities. A remarkable phenomenon is occurring in our intellectual climate, a phenomenon that amounts to nothing less than a spiritual awakening. It is as if a fresh tide were rising in our consciousness, an inner flooding from some secret fountainhead, bringing with it a surge of new optimism. Those who discern or feel this energy find themselves linked by a sense of serenity and joy, a conviction that a new age is imminent. Paradoxically, it is with us already, working in human hearts, leavening our thinking, penetrating and suffusing our understanding.
The emerging world view is essentially simple. Grasping it requires no great intellectual effort, only a flexibility of thought, a readiness to delight in change, a resilience and youthfulness of attitude, regardless of how many years we may have lived.
A materialistic culture like our own might be described as outward-looking. It is preoccupied with facts and things, with the getting of more facts and things, with desires and their satisfaction. One tacit assumption of such a culture is that matter is the primary reality if not, indeed, the only one. If there are spiritual values, these are not permitted to interfere with daily life. They are relegated to a safe periphery music, literature, painting, conventional religious attitudes. These things, it is assumed, are to be studied, but not to be lived. Living should be concerned with “getting and spending”, and with measurable quantities.
The spiritual world view stands in contrast to this position. It sees the world of Creative Spirit as primary a realm of Absolute Being and Creative Intelligence, from which matter and the phenomenal or material world are derived. Understanding, in a spiritual world view, involves the capacity to look inward and so through into spheres of ever-widening consciousness. William Blake, that seer of the New Age, wrote that his task as teacher, artist and poet was:
to open the Eternal Worlds, to open the Immortal Eyes of Man, inwards, into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity, ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.
(Jerusalem, Chapter I)
“Imagination”, in Blake’s definition of the word, is the faculty that opens in us the vision of the divinity in all living things and leads to higher knowledge and intuition. And it is imagination in this sense that is confirming in many minds today the reality of higher worlds, coalescing the vision and hope of a new society rising from our fragmented, chaotic and crumbling civilisation.
The spiritual world view is a vision of wholeness, an apprehension of the essential unity of all life. Increasingly, our minds and hearts are recoiling from the concept that the universe is a mere dead mechanism of gaseous bodies turning through infinite aeons, with life but a chance accident for a brief span on this tiny planet. In more and more minds today, there is a deepening conviction that the whole is alive and is the work of Mind, of some Intelligence. Behind all outwardly manifested form is a timeless realm of absolute consciousness. It is the great Oneness underlying all the diversity, all the myriad forms of nature. It may be called God, or may be deemed beyond all naming and therefore, as in the East, be called THAT. If one is of an agnostic turn of mind, one can refer to it as “creative intelligence”. But from it derive all archetypal ideas which manifest in the phenomenal world. For that world issues ultimately from spirit, and its forms might be conceived as frozen spirit. The quality of Being permeates everything, suffuses everything. Divinity is therefore inherent everywhere.
As Blake says, “Every rock is deluged with Deity”. Or Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”. Or Pope, “All are but parts of one stupendous whole / Whose body nature is and God the Soul”. Or Goethe, “All that is transitory is but a parable”. The world of nature, in short, is but a reflection of the eternal world of Creative Imagining the inner core of man, that which in each of us might be called spirit, is a droplet of the divine source. As such, it is imperishable and eternal, for life cannot be extinguished. The outer sheath in which it manifests can, of course, wear out and be discarded; but to speak of death in relation to the true being and spirit of man is irrelevant. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
The truly wise mourn neither the living nor the dead. There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be. Bodies are said to die, but that which possesses the body is eternal.
What then is the meaning of life upon the earth plane? We must recognise that there are many levels of being in which the soul of man may sojourn. The gravity field of earth is but the lowest plane, the darkest and densest theatre of the drama. The soul belongs properly to higher and purer spheres. It incarnates for the purpose of acquiring experience in the density of earth matter a necessary educational phase in its development. Such incarnation, of course, entails drastic limitation of a free spiritual being. Birth into a body is, in fact, more like the entry into a species of tomb. It is truly a kind of death, whereas release from the worn-out sheath of the body is a rebirth back into the subtler planes of wider consciousness from which we descend.
We must conceive of many levels of consciousness reaching back to the creative Godhead. “In my Father’s house are many mansions”, Jesus states in the New Testament. The Fall as it appears both in the Bible and in the myths of all races throughout the world may be regarded as symbolising a descent into matter, an experience of separation from God with its attendant developments of pride and self-consciousness. When, like the Prodigal Son, man “comes to himself” and says “I will go back to my Father”, the long return begins. He sets his pilgrim feet upon the path and, through the ages, must so cleanse his soul that it can move up to ever more refined planes of light.
Needless to say, I am using the word “soul” rather loosely to imply the imperishable entity in man. More precisely, we must recognise man as a threefold being of body, soul and spirit. The true individuality is spiritual in its nature. The immortal “I” is neither the soul nor the transient personality. In order to descend into the density of the phenomenal world, it must clothe itself, so to speak, in a protective sheath. Soul is the so-called “astral body” or “emotional body” which the eternal “I” draws about it, thus enabling it to experience one level of reality that of the “soul” or “astral” plane. In like manner, from the great pool of etheric forces, the eternal “I” draws together the “etheric body”, a network of vital forces which serve to hold together the particles and vortices of energy which comprise the physical body. These sheaths allow a spiritual being to function effectively on a given plane at a given time. But the personality, or lower ego, must not be identified with the eternal “I”. In one of his poems, T.S. Eliot writes, “I said to my soul, ‘Be still’”. This statement suggests the real distinction between the eternal “I” and the soul vehicle.
When we speak of “higher worlds”, we do not, of course, mean spatially distant. One should conceive rather of subtler planes interpenetrating denser ones. We all recognise that electromagnetic waves can pass through solid matter and remain invisible, unless we have instruments that can tune into them. In the same way, the higher worlds coexist with those we see around us. All levels interpenetrate, all levels are consubstantial. It is not a long journey in space to the higher worlds. On the contrary, the higher worlds have nothing to do with our conceptions of time and space. If one asks where the higher worlds are to be found, the only answer is: wherever the mind can direct itself to them. They are everywhere, but we must learn to tune in to a higher frequency-rate than that available to our five senses. Our senses are tuned to receive the vibrations of matter. They are thus the instruments by which we function in our earth-bodies. They may be conceived as filters which allow only a little of the life of the cosmos to penetrate the human consciousness. This is admirably expressed by Martin Armstrong’s poem, “The Cage”:
Man, afraid to be alive,
Shuts his soul in senses five
From fields of uncreated light
Into the crystal tower of sight
And from the roaring songs of space
Into the small flesh-carven place
Of the ear whose cave impounds
Only small and broken sounds,
And to his narrow sense of touch
From strength that held the stars in clutch,
And from the warm and ambrosial spice
Of flowers and fruits of paradise,
Into the frail and fitful power
Of scent and tasting, sweet and sour;
And toiling for a sordid wage
There in his self-created cage
Ah, how safely barred is he
From menace of Eternity.
To the filters of the five senses may be added the filter of conceptualisation, of logical rational thought. If the universe is suffused with the creative power of Divine Mind, puny man in his evolving consciousness needs a filter to insulate himself against an overwhelming inrush of too great a pressure from the living cosmos. As T.S. Eliot says, “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. The brain should thus be seen as an organ for reflecting and selecting ideas, enabling the intellect to function as an instrument within the limitations of matter.
The very convolutions of the brain may reflect, in fact, the convolutions of thought in the universe. In contrast, Mind implies that which can transcend brain-bound intellect and merge again with higher thought-worlds. As Rupert Brooke says, we are but “a pulse of the eternal mind”. It was the colossal achievement of Rudolf Steiner (of whom we will speak further later) to demonstrate at the beginning of this century that, by intensifying his thinking and developing his latent faculties, man can achieve “sense-free thinking”. This entails an elevation of thinking to merge with the “world process”, thus offering the possibility of direct and immediate apprehension of truth and reality.
For Steiner, in consequence, there were no grounds for claiming limits to knowledge. Indeed, Steiner’s whole life was a demonstration that thinking, as he conceived it, was an instrument for exploring the creative thought of the universe and doing so not only in full consciousness, but with a certainty comparable to that afforded by scientific method. In this way, Steiner established the foundations for a true spiritual science.
And his demonstration of “sense-free thinking” as well as those of other modern adepts destroys the primary argument against survival after physical death, namely that once the brain is gone there can be no individuality or consciousness. If man as a soul/spirit being is eternal, he is living in a different spiritual sphere when not incarnate in the body, and there a physical brain is obviously unnecessary. Thus it becomes apparent that consciousness widens when bodily limitations are transcended.
The concept of different levels of consciousness of which earth is the lowest and densest is basic to the world view we are considering. The spiritual being, Man, descends from a subtler plane to assume a body, the necessary sheath in which to live amid earth vibrations. This body is no more than a species of overcoat which may be discarded when worn out. We might also compare the body to a diving suit. If one wishes to explore the ocean floor, he may don a special suit which protects him from the immense pressure of the depths into which he will descend.
Thus clad, held down by leaden boots, he may stump along and peer out through his visor into the marvels of the deep. And he may become so absorbed by those marvels that he forgets, for a time, the two tubes which by providing him with oxygen keep him alive and link him with the world above. If we, like undersea divers, break the surface and remove our helmets, we will breathe deep of sunlit air and recognise the atmosphere in which we properly belong. And should we choose to return to the depths, our entire attitude will be changed though the significance and beauty of what lies below will in no way be diminished.
In short, then, there are subtler senses, undeveloped and often unrecognised faculties which can apprehend higher worlds. These can be perfected and trained through meditation and a variety of other techniques that serve to concentrate our energy and resources and distract us from distraction. Contact with the worlds of spiritual being is always possible and accessible if we can learn to overcome the sense of separation inevitably associated with incarnation, and if we can develop the dormant organs of perception. As Clarice Toyne says in The Testament of Truth, “Every cubic centimetre is shot through with all that is”.
Thus it is with the spiritual world. If in meditation or vision or true creative imagination we begin to experience its reality, we will know, with indubitable certainty, that it is the realm to which we properly belong, and that we are only sojourning in the world of gravity for a brief period of education and experience.
Once this recognition dawns, our whole attitude towards the body and the world will inevitably change. One will then see the soul as undergoing a form of allegorical pilgrimage, a journey of the kind so often symbolised in myth. It must submit to trials and ordeals, all of which are tests designed to train and strengthen it so that, when its course is run, it may return to the realms of light. And perhaps climb higher towards the Divine Source which was its origin and is its goal and ultimate home.
From this perspective, what occurs in life is not a sequence of chance mishaps, accidents and misfortunes, but a pattern that is, in some mysterious way, planned. From this perspective, it becomes apparent that our higher self has somehow chosen its own destiny, the destiny that we mistakenly ascribe to the transient personality. But this does not imply blind determination or predestination. The option of free choice is always available to the soul, but the flaws in personality the soul’s vestment will draw it into situations, contacts and circumstances in which temptations will have to be confronted again and again, until they are finally overcome.
The spiritual world view accommodates the certainty that we all have invisible guides, so to speak, who are lovingly watching over our progress, and that we have a higher self, a spiritual principle, towards which we must perpetually aspire. All our sufferings are designed to teach us to overcome our lower desires, so that each of us may reunite with his or her own higher self.
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published March 2012
Size: 229 x 152 mm