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Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 22: The Dragon)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

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From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

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Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

22. The Dragon

On the Western side of the island of Allandon the poet and his son journeyed deep into the forest until they came upon a hidden cave at the foot of the mountain.

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“This is the lair of the dragon of a thousand and one heads,” said the poet.

“Does it ever come out?” asked the son.

“Indeed. Each person on the island confronts it at some time. You will too.”

“What if I just leave it alone?” the son asked.

“Eventually it will come after you, heads screaming and breathing fire. The question is, what will you do when it does?”

“I will run away,” said the son.

“If you do, you will find that it will follow you until the end of your days, keeping you in fear and anxiety.”

“I understand,” the son said. “I must stand up to it and kill it.”

“You can try. You could wield a mighty sword high and slice off one of its fearsome heads. But you would see that where one head falls off, two heads grow in its place.”

“Then it is invincible!”

“In a way—but you should be happy about it. For killing the dragon would end your life also.”

“So what am I to do?” the boy asked.

“Your life is designed to teach you that,” said the poet.

The son looked into the blackness of the cave. “Has anyone ever tried to kill the dragon?” he asked.

The poet smiled. “How do you think it became the dragon of a thousand and one heads?”

They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem, being willing to face the truth. After many years of denial, I declare myself ready for healing. My name is Richard, and I am an egocentric. I would like to say reformed egocentric, but I know I have not fully kicked the habit. And thankfully, I am no longer putting myself under the gun to do so.

It was only after graduating from university that I came to a full awareness of what ego meant, and first made a semi-conscious effort to begin to walk a spiritual path. My early reading of ancient spiritual texts seemed to indicate that the ego was something that eventually needed to be killed off. After all, the literature suggested that the ego alienates us from other people, is the source of the attachments that lead us to misery, and at every turn prevents us from experiencing peace, love, and a permanent sense of belonging. I felt that all spiritual masters had been able to perpetrate their own ego death. So for me, following the spiritual path meant learning to smother the life out of any expressions of anger, prejudice, jealousy, and other ego-related vices.

At that time I may have already had the appearance of some kind of master to a few people: I seemed quite composed, rarely judged others, and could speak eloquently on matters of spirit. I thought I was moving down a spiritual path in leaps and bounds. In truth I wasn’t really going anywhere. I was still just a shy and serious kid with a tendency to think long and hard before speaking, a habit that was probably ingrained in me by my childhood fear of provoking my father’s anger. It was easy for me to censor most expressions of judgment and self-centeredness because I had been doing it all my life. And I continued doing it, only now with added pride because I felt I was banishing my spiritually improper inclinations.

However, trying to relieve ourselves of the burdens of the Ego Self with a well-placed magic bullet misses one important point. The desire to kill off anything, including the Ego Self, is inevitably sponsored by the Ego Self. So in trying to commit this act we are actually keeping the Ego Self in control. The unwanted desires and emotions simply get stuffed down inside of us and continue to be a force in our lives. And so not only do we maintain our ego-motivated behavior, but our habit of controlling, censoring, and suppressing our expression also causes us to lose touch with the practice of living freely, authentically and spontaneously.

In more recent years, I have begun to understand that the path to mastery of the Ego Self requires exactly the opposite of control—it requires surrender. There is such a skill and an art to surrendering that it has taken me an eternity just to grasp it, and I’m not sure that I’ve really been able to fully apply it yet. It’s like the lesson that keeps on teaching. The surrender of the Ego Self to the Dao Self is the quintessential act of courage, wisdom, and love. It is not a suicide but a succumbing. It is not a slaying of the dragon but a taming. It is not an excision of an unwanted part of ourselves but a healing.

While the Dao Self constantly bathes the Ego Self in love and acceptance, it is only when the Ego Self lets go of control that some of its hidden darkness can come into the light and, ultimately, be released. For the Dao Self all things are acceptable, even the desire of the Ego Self to lead and to control. The Dao Self will never impose itself since it has no ‘will’ as such, so what is required is for the Ego Self to will the Dao Self to be the leader and accept the designation of follower. Otherwise, we will by default be led by the Ego Self—which can only judge and condemn its own darkness and is incapable of healing it.

A spiritual master like Jesus was unwaveringly led by the Dao Self, which he called the Father. He was not without an Ego Self, for it was written that he could still feel the temptation of the Devil. But he never tried to destroy the source of this temptation, as he understood that the Ego Self—symbolized by the Devil—was an inextricable component of being human. Jesus had a choice, as we all do, and he consistently chose his Dao Self over his Ego Self. He had a clear vision that the larger plan for his life was more important than his pride, his safety, or any other ego-concern.

Like Jesus, we too have a larger plan for our lives. However, that does not mean we are all meant to live out the same plan as Jesus, nor can we be expected to follow our Dao Self as faithfully. There is no shame in seeing that Jesus was simply more conscious and more evolved than we are. That does not make him better. In fact he never thought he was better. He just was who he was. And very simply, that is all we need to do to follow our plan, and walk a spiritual path—be who we are.

This is not as easy as it sounds. This is because who we are as human beings is always in a state of becoming something greater. This means, paradoxically, that who we are is always in a state of moving away from aspects of who we are in any given moment. The way to see past this paradox is not to judge the parts of ourselves we are trying to move away from, for when we judge these parts of ourselves to be ‘wrong’ or ‘unacceptable’ they shrink back into the darkness and remain a part of us.

We all have darkness. But we are starting to find our way out of it. In the new conversation we have started to bridge the division of the spiritual and the material in our society. We no longer want to see spirituality as a separate domain of our lives, reserved for the hallowed halls of the church, the mosque, the synagogue, the monastery, the ashram. We also want it to encompass the office, the classroom, the sports arena, the restaurant, and any other place people get together in any human activity. Such a spirituality would not be about denial of ourselves and our selfish desires, and would not condemn the material focus of the Ego Self. Most importantly, it would not lead us into the seriousness of self-recrimination but out of it. It would help us all live according to a simple but fundamental idea: life is fun.

This is not possible if we continue to see ourselves as sinners needing redemption, compelled to pass the tests of an Almighty Judge in order to be worthy of Heaven, one who looks down upon us and is pleased when his rules are followed and offended when they are not. It is dawning on us that such a Judge cannot really be the One but is rather a projection of our own Ego Self.

We want to be allowed—nay, encouraged—to be our unique selves with all our flaws, to follow our inner voice of desire. The greatest times of our lives were not spent being obedient to the rules of others, but rather when we found a way to be who we are. In the new conversation we are encouraged to be who we love to be, not told to deny who we are afraid to be. As important as it is not to identify with the Ego Self, and not to let the Ego Self lead us in our lives, it is equally important to understand that the Ego Self is and will continue to be a part of who we are as individuals. Indeed it is the foundation of our uniqueness. One of the great triumphs of Western society has been the elevation of the individual and the blossoming of the expression of individual talents, gifts, and abilities.

Now we have to take the next step, and find a way to express our individuality while still moving together, hand in hand, towards unity. When we push for unity but ignore our individual needs, what some people would call a nobler path, we actually get farther from authenticity because we try to take a shortcut to unity. We suppress our dark side rather than honoring it and, perish forbid, let it be revealed to ourselves and the world. More often than not, this path of sacrifice and denial leads us to moral elitism and the sense that we are better than others who do not sacrifice as much or work as hard on being ‘spiritual’.

What we really need today is for the spiritual path and the material path to come together, and pave the way for truly feeling alive in the world. The main requirement is for us to be authentic. For some of us that’s exactly where the roadblock occurs. The proposition of being authentic itself is scary. We are tempted to act in a way that is more acceptable to others, that garners us some approval and status. But while choosing to act other than who we are may get us somewhere in the short term, it’s never where we’re actually going. It’s like rushing to get on the first bus that arrives at our stop, even though it isn’t the one that takes us home. No wonder we so often feel lost in our lives.

I always found it instructive to think very deeply about the following question: What is the worst thing that could happen by being authentic? Are we afraid of not fitting in, of being embarrassed, of being laughed at? So let’s look at being laughed at. If, like me, you are on a mission to be less serious, there may be no better experience to go through than allowing yourself to be laughed at for being who you are. And if you have the courage you can laugh at yourself as well. As Milton Berle said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself you’re probably missing the joke of the century.” Taking ourselves seriously keeps us in the domain of the Ego Self. If we are able to freely show to the world who we are and in the same spirit we are able to laugh at ourselves, then we give permission for others to live freely as well.

I believe the real spiritual masters understood this. They developed unlimited compassion for the egocentricities of others because they discovered how to have compassion for their own shortcomings. They are the ones whose facial wrinkles are forged by a peaceful smile, a sign of their constant amusement with their own fallibility and humanity.

When I started writing this book, I worked hard to make sure that people did not detect a hint of egocentricity when I spoke about it. After all, if I was going to present ideas about how to move away from one’s Ego Self, the least I could do is show that I’ve mastered it successfully in my life. But as I got further into the writing, and more deeply into self-examination, I realized that this was not completely honest. I was just being cautious. If I was to be authentic I would have to admit that I have not evolved beyond all self-centered desires when it came to this book. In some moments I was captured by the prospects of gaining some fame and recognition. Sometimes I got caught up in how much money I might be able to make. I cannot in all fairness assert that my motivation to get this book written has come purely from selflessness and unconditional love.

At the same time, I can say that I have learned a lot since I started writing. I have seen that when I come from a place of self-interest it is much more difficult to write, to get good ideas, to be in a flow with the process. I am more prone to feel fearful of failure, to be worried about how people will react to what I am saying and to be doubtful that I actually have something of value to say. On the other hand, when I have been able to get more centered on this book being a contribution to others, suddenly the words and ideas come more easily, the process is less burdensome. So certainly I have tangible experience of the value of trying to move into my Dao Self.

But an even more profound lesson, one that brings me great peace and happiness, was learning to accept myself when I am not coming from my Dao Self. This is my highest experience of authenticity. I can be who I am and speak about what is true for me in a given moment without worrying that I might sometimes not be seen as such an ‘evolved’ person. Trying to be conscious does not mean having to be cautious. I recognize that I need to live at my current level of spiritual understanding, rather than pretending to be more ‘holy’, more ‘spiritual’ than I actually am.

And so I believe even our egocentric desires are not without purpose. Sometimes even if people who are rich and famous have told us that money and recognition don’t bring happiness—and we believe them—we still feel the need to find out for ourselves. I recognize that I continue to be driven by the Ego Self from time to time, but then again so are most of us. To deny this is a subtle form of egocentricity itself. Let’s all cut ourselves a little slack. In a way, we could say that if we were never driven by the Ego Self we wouldn’t be driven at all. It’s time we all got together to create a space in which we are free to make mistakes, do the wrong thing, play the fool. Even if our ego-desires lead to dead ends, we want the opportunity to play them out without being judged. Given the chance to find out we don’t want what we thought we wanted, we get closer to knowing what our true desires are and living from our true selves.

In the West we have lived too long under the burning image of a spirituality that is divorced from the material. We walk away in sadness just like the rich man when Jesus told him to sell off all his possessions, saying to his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” We fear that spiritual mastery looks upon our materialistic strivings with disdain and disapproval. It seems that if we are to fully engage in spiritual practice, it requires forsaking our material desires. And if we are to follow our inner urges for material abundance, we must in those moments look away from our spiritual teachings. We try to make our lives work as best we can, but we tire of leaping back and forth across the chasm between our spiritual lives and our material lives. Our deep longing for a spiritual life is thwarted by a fear that we will have to give up too much. At the same time our enjoyment of our material life is tempered by a niggling guilt that we are not doing enough for those less fortunate. And so with all we have, and with all we can be, we are afraid to truly live either aspect of life with vigor and enthusiasm. We fear that trying to integrate our spiritual and material desires will make us hypocrites.

In truth Jesus never said that being rich was bad, nor that we have to abandon the material for the spiritual. He did imply that it would be a complex matter for someone rich to experience the treasures of a spiritual life. If we are to have a lot of money and not give material life any more of our focus than is needed, we are required to become complex characters ourselves, in order to avoid the traps the Ego Self lays in our fields of material abundance.

I believe we are ready for it. I believe this is the true challenge of our time, to bring forth a spirituality in harmony with our growing capacity for material wealth. We have started to ask ourselves: Why would our souls have been delivered into this wondrous world of the material if not to enjoy its fruits? All we need is some guidance, not away from the material, but onto that fine line that balances our material needs with our spiritual needs.

Of course this is not an easy path. This is why we need to be in conversation with one another, ready to accept each other’s help. Since our consciousness has evolved, we have started to become able to guide one another through the pitfalls of an integrated life. In the new conversation we can condone our Ego-Self desires without being driven by them. We are able to witness our own egocentricity in the space that is provided, when we are most ready to see it. The new conversation is in service of allowing us to stand in a place where the spiritual is not a denial of the material and our human desires, but rather the material and spiritual are balanced in a whole and vital life. If we guide each other carefully, I believe it will indeed become possible for us to put a camel through the eye of a needle—while riding shotgun.

Move on to Chapter 23…

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Consciousness

New Moon In Virgo: Efficiency & Practicality

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We are having a New Moon in Virgo on September 17th. This is initiating a 29.5 day lunar cycle and new wave of energy for the coming month; however, the astrological configurations mentioned in this article will be more prominent over the following two weeks. This cycle will include a Full Moon in Aries on October 1st/2nd.

Virgo season began on August 22nd/23rd, nearly a month prior to this Lunation, and will end on September 22nd/23rd when Libra season begins. However, his New Moon will still carry some of its Virgo themes into the first eight days of Libra season prior to the Full Moon.

This is a good period of working with and co-creating with the energies of this sign. Virgo is associated with productivity, duties, service, health, cleanliness, and purity. It is organized, adaptable, conscientious, skillful, orderly, punctual, diligent, efficient, analytical, detailed, discerning, precise, and practical.

Virgo is about problem solving, adjusting to changing conditions, and coming up with solutions. Negatively, this energy can be cynical, fussy, high strung, and perfectionistic. It can also be exorbitantly mentally oriented as well as overly critical and discriminating.

Mars began its retrograde a week prior to this New Moon which will last until mid-November. This energy is a significant part of the current astrological backdrop. Generally it is a time that can ultimately help to facilitate a change in how we apply ourselves in certain areas of life, however, the retrograde period itself can bring frustrations and challenges that help with that process. You can read more about this Mars Retrograde here.

New Moon Trine Saturn & Quincunx Mars Retrograde

This New Moon is in a tight trine with Saturn in Capricorn which is transitioning out of its retrograde at the end of the month. This can be a good period for operating in a responsible, cautious, orderly, productive, realistic and practical way. However, considering that Saturn is finishing up its backwards motion, these next couple of weeks are generally better for getting things sorted out and prepared as well as perhaps focusing on tasks that you have already been working on.

It is possible that in late September and in early October, we can experience some sort of shift, or change in gears, that can take things into a different direction. Saturn will be in a square with Mars Retrograde at that time, and we may have to contend with limitations and obstacles that can affect how certain things move forward.

This New Moon is also in a quincunx with Mars retrograde which can reflect annoyances, tension, or conflicts that may require adjustments and adaptability. Issues that come up may be at odds with our needs or the way we want to express ourselves. This energy is the strongest on the 19th/20th but can also be more noticeable on the day of the New Moon.

New Moon Square Lunar Nodes, Mercury Square Jupiter

This New Moon is also in a close square to the North Node in Gemini opposing the South Node in Sagittarius. We may be at odds between the past (South Node) and the future (North Node), beliefs (Sagittarius) and facts (Gemini), our immediate aspects of life (Gemini) and the world at large (Sagittarius).

However, the focal point should be the North Node in Gemini and expressions of the South Node in Sagittarius energy should be serving that focal point and not be the emphasis. The rulers of the Nodes, Mercury (Gemini) and Jupiter (Sagittarius) are also in a tight square with each other at the time of this New Moon. This can reflect tension between these two sides and potentially conflicts between ideas, viewpoints, and opinions.

Jupiter is in the limiting Saturnian sign of Capricorn while Mercury is better placed in Libra, the sign of diplomacy, seeking common ground, considering different needs/perspectives, and fairness. Mercury square Jupiter can be good for learning but it can also be excessive when it comes to information and we can more easily be mentally scattered.

Mercury Quincunx Neptune, Then Square Pluto, Saturn & Opposing Mars

Mercury is in a quincunx with Neptune which is strongest on the 18th/19th. This energy makes it harder to integrate or juggle our intuitive, creative, imaginative, compassionate or spiritual expression with our mind, communication, tasks, and thought process. Issues pertaining to lack of boundaries, flakiness, delusion, escapism, intoxication, may come up.

Mercury moves towards a square with Pluto which is strongest on the 20th/21st. Our thoughts and communications can be deep, powerful, penetrating, investigative, raw, real, and potentially intense. This can also reflect obsessive or compulsive behavior, suspicion, fears, anxiety, or conflicts pertaining to power or authority.

Mercury then moves to a square with Saturn (22nd/23rd) followed by an opposition to Mars retrograde (23rd/24th), creating a t-square formation in that time period with the separating Pluto energy (20th/21st, mentioned above) tied into it a bit. This can be a time of obstacles, delays, communication issues, pessimism, and conflicts while we can get more easily irritated or angered. Circumstances may come up that can be pushing us to be more cautious, realistic, or responsible.

This period is the beginning of Mercury’s pre-shadow period in which it will be returning to another square with Saturn. Some of the issues or developments that occur at this time may be connected to things that will play out during the retrograde (October 13th/14th until November 3rd/4th) and weeks surrounding that period. It will also be the Equinox and therefore this energy is imprinted into the following three months in which it can manifest in other ways/areas separate from this initial period.

Making Intentions & Things To Consider

What can you do to be more practical, productive, and efficient? Is there anything you can or should implement to improve your health and functionality? What have the circumstances, developments, or challenges over the last week (leading up to this New Moon) shown you in how you should be applying yourself? Do you need to implement stronger boundaries? Do you need to be more adaptable? Are you clinging to the past or are you willing to take steps to help you grow? What aspects or details of your immediate life, surroundings, or relationships do you need to focus on more and what excesses or broad aspects of your life are getting in the way of that?

These are just some examples of what to consider or focus your intentions on at this time. However, it is good to reflect on anything else that is coming up for you. It is generally best to make any intentions within the first 24 hours following a New Moon. The exact moment it will occur is 11:00am Universal Time on September 17th. You can click here to see what that is in your time zone.

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Consciousness

Why We Get Into Fights When Sharing Information

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We’re in a time when mainstream media and traditional conversations are failing to address a number of important topics within society, anything from current events to politics and so on, and this is birthing a great deal of ‘alternative conversation’ that often stems from alternative media.

But with this, comes to the common ‘fight’ between various ideas and ideologies that is much more avoidable than we often realize. I wanted to share a quick tid bit from a recent episode discussing how we can reflect to develop better communication and connection faculties that can make a big difference in how we communicate important ideas that are emerging without creating such huge divides ad tension.

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Consciousness

Thoughts On Life After Death – Does ‘Consciousness’ Survive When We Die?

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Some fascinating research has been conducted over the past several years that make the discussion of life after death quite interesting.

  • Reflect On:

    Ancient wisdom and teachings have been 'proven' right with regards to quantum physics, neuroscience and health in many different ways. Would the same apply to life after death? Can we ever really know?

With over 100 years of research into the nature of death and survival of consciousness, a more sophisticated way of looking at the evidence seems to be emerging. Based on a number of interviews and wide reading, Lance Butler outlines a new understanding based on science as well as spiritual experience.

Even Life after Death changes; like everything else, ideas about Survival have both a history and, if I can put it this way, a future. Some changes are modestly noticeable if one first looks back to the heyday of Spiritualism and the founding of the SPR in the late nineteenth century and then forward to the late twentieth century. In that time ouija boards, to put it schematically, were replaced by NDE research. But there is also a feeling of sameness, even latterly of stagnation, over the period.

During the last twenty or thirty years, too, things have moved forward slowly, but the feeling one still gets reading the main summarising or investigative texts in the field – say Gary Schwartz’s The Afterlife Experiments of 2003 or David Fontana’s Is There An Afterlife? of 2005 – is that the paradigm has remained unchanged. If we put together, for instance, recent examples of mediumship, the NDE material collected since Raymond Moody’s Life after Life of 1975, the ITC evidence (by definition modern), and Scole we find that although it constitutes more evidence, it is roughly the same kind of evidence as it was thirty-five or, in the case of mediumship, a hundred-and-thirty-five years ago.

Fontana, for instance, is able freely to cite nineteenth-century material, stories from the 1920s and 1940s, research from the 1960s, his own experience of poltergeists from the 1980s and the Scole material from around 2000. It all fits quite well; it all adds up to an interesting case for Survival; and it’s still there. One of the strongest arguments for Survival seems to be the fact that, in spite of modern scepticism and modern analytical and investigative techniques, Life after Death hasn’t simply gone away like Phlogiston theory or Geocentrism or Phrenology or bloodletting. Fontana’s evidence is not of a new nature, but it is increasingly solid.

The Need For A New Paradigm

And the evidence has continued to stack up, but it’s still apparent at the end of the first decade of the 21st century that the paradigm has not changed much. More veridical channelings, identifiable voices of the dead on untuned (sometimes even unplugged) radios, better NDEs, everything that happened at Scole – these are all useful grist to the Survival mill, but they do not seem to do have done much for a widening of scientific acceptance of any sort of afterlife. In particular we do not yet seem to have digested quantum physics properly, nor the recent thinking in consciousness studies.

In these circumstances I set out in 2009 to interview a handful of people, all well-known to the SMN, to find out ‘where they are now’ on the matter of Life after Death; I hoped thus to see if there are currently any developments of our Survival paradigm. The interviewees were Rupert Sheldrake, Bernard Carr, Peter Fenwick, David Lorimer, Iain McGilchrist, Matthew Manning and Pim van Lommel[1].

Van Lommel’s response to my opening question, which asked directly about the afterlife, was a little startling: ‘I never talk about life after death,’ he said. My heart sank a little. Had I got hold of the wrong Dutch cardiologist? But no, it appeared that what he meant is that ‘life after death’ may only temporarily resemble life as we know it here and now; more importantly the quantum ‘non-locality’ of the other side means that it is without time and can be considered to ‘contain’ past, present, and future simultaneously. It is ‘a space or dimension without place or time.’ The simultaneity of the Life Review during many NDEs is well known and that may give us a hint as to what the ‘infinite consciousness’ that apparently awaits us (while not of course really ‘awaiting’ anything) might be like.

Many people, van Lommel continued, have experienced non-duality, non-locality, greater or ‘cosmic’ consciousness. That is the ‘thing’ that is always there, timelessly; it is the incomprehensible greater ‘place’ with which we interface only at very special times. From the perspective of this quantum zone life and death are irrelevant concepts. ‘Life’ in this present world is a species of illusion that we go through, indeed that we actually create. Life ‘over there’ however is certainly not ‘life as we know it.’

Interestingly, van Lommel is quite happy to accept that NDE survivors cannot find the right language to describe their experiences adequately. Of course not. Our language is a tool for the here-and-now, for space and time. As is the case with quantum physics, we are able to mouth words about cosmic experiences, but the words have difficulty in demonstrating any significant content.

Beyond The Self?

I will return to van Lommel at the end of this but for now come with me to visit Peter Fenwick, who also managed to take the feet from under me when I questioned him; in his case the moment came after a good hour of explanation of his research into End-of-Life Experiences when he said, with the smaller of his two smiles, ‘But we do not have a personal self. We are embedded in the matrix of the universe which is our consciousness.’ Different words for pretty much what van Lommel was saying, then, and incidentally what Neale Donald Walsch says repeatedly in his Conversations with God series (‘There is only one of us’).

Fenwick suggests, following Alain Forget, that we can be ‘awakened’ here in this life (to moments of cosmic consciousness) and says that the ego ‘casts a pall over our consciousnesses.’ We are parts of a whole and need to ‘crystallise the light body’ as we do in dreams in similar states. The ‘limited ego’ is a ‘false self’ but even a glimpse of universal consciousness (‘available right now!’) shows us a bigger self.

In extreme NDE cases, Peter pointed out, people seem to go very far, ‘to the point where the illusion of separateness is about to collapse completely.’ In this life we merely make up our stories of life and death. When we recognise that the real is universal consciousness, questions of Survival become non-questions because there is really no birth and no death, just consciousness. Religions, seeking vainly to sift the saved from the non-saved, have lost their spiritual nature by not recognising this universality.

Bernard Carr filled in some of the detail of this radical and rather Buddhist conception of the afterlife. He suggested a ‘hierarchy of dimensions’ that may lead up to or end in ultimate consciousness (‘anatta’ – the empty centre of the onion) but meanwhile there are astral levels and reincarnation possibilities as we all head for what must, by definition, be the only possible goal. For Carr there are different levels of space to accommodate these dimensions and the mind creates the world both here and hereafter where a species of ‘dream-world’ awaits us.

New Metaphors

For Rupert Sheldrake, we already know what it will be like to be disembodied because we have the experience of possessing a ‘dream-body’ at night when we sleep. And, of course, for a physicist like Carr, everything comes down to energy, that is frequencies. Already for Sheldrake there are, famously, morphic fields in which the unknown energies, perhaps those of the ‘non-local’ quantum ‘world,’ operate. And all this, to go back to van Lommel’s opening remarks, is here as may become apparent after death when we may begin to ‘know the place for the first time.’

Sheldrake also observed, as many now would, that, for a while at least, we may get the Life after Death that we expect. We can move beyond our entrapment in desires and the unreal and come to expect something higher and more real, but then again we may not escape from our present lives all at once. He approves of imagination in the shape of myths, fairytales, and dreams, and points out that these are fields that are not based in material reality. They enact some of the possibilities contained in the infinite quantum field. Like Carr, Sheldrake is ‘not dualistic,’ ‘not a super-naturalist’; there is no separate realm into which we can ‘go.’

Mathew Manning, speaking from the deepest and widest experience of things psychic, spiritual, or, as I would now say, ‘non-local,’ stressed that knowledge of Life after Death is not ordinary knowledge. In his view we learn what we need to know in this life and then move on to less knowable realms. He is also more interested in energy than in ‘life’ as a metaphor for Survival. His famous psychic recreation of Durer’s drawings, and of many other works of art and texts in languages unknown to him, are not so much, he says, ‘Durer coming through’ (the older version of Life after Death perhaps) as a psychic picking-up of the energy of the original moment of artistic creation; it is less a matter of an individual’s survival and more a matter of energy circulating as the scientists tell us it does.

Personality & Beyond

By this time I felt that some sort of a pattern was building up. The new paradigm is perhaps only subtly different from the old one but it seemed to be emerging with some new and useful emphases. The claims now made about Survival are less personal than they used to be, for one thing, and the respect for the ideas of quantum-physics more solid. David Lorimer, for instance, told me that he sees Life after Death as ‘another state of consciousness’ in which it may be ‘a less distinctive personality that is you.’ He says he is less concerned now with the survival of his own personality as such. We may come to see that each ‘personality’ is ‘an expression of the universal.’ He quotes Betty Kovacs: ‘Birth is a coming into being of form (‘me’) and death a dissolution of form.’ Cosmic consciousness would be the ‘dissolution of all boundaries.’ We are like blocks of ice floating in the Arctic Ocean of universal consciousness; there is development, evolution, both here and hereafter, but we all belong to and return to the same sea in the end. This is not new, of course, it belongs in Hinduism and Buddhism where we become more ‘ourselves’ by becoming less our individual selves; it is also, according to Lorimer, the inevitable direction of consciousness studies as pursued since the founding of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1994.

The most ‘materialist’ person I interviewed was Iain McGilchrist. For him, ‘materiality is an important part of any kind of being we might have’; as he pointed out to me, ‘the universe has gone to an awful lot of trouble to produce this material world.’ Surely a useful corrective. If, to put it bluntly, cosmic consciousness is so terrific, why did it have to add us, messy as we are, not to mention the immense quantum charade of the universe, to what it already had? Why bother to Big Bang if you could just go on being perfect? I know that there are good answers to these questions but McGilchrist’s approach reminds us not to fall into the trap of treating spirituality as if our dinners, our doings, and our bodies didn’t matter at all.

But McGilchrist too is singing off the same page of our now-slightly-revised hymn book. As he put it, ‘the notion that one would be forever oneself is an appalling idea.’ For him consciousness ‘pre-exists us and isn’t created by our brains; our brains simply transmit or transduce it.’ But there is and always will be an ‘I’ – it is ‘God,’ we may come to see, who is the ‘Great I’ that is all of us.

New Directions

The publication in 2010 of Pim van Lommel’s Consciousness Beyond Life has been tremendously convenient for this small investigation. His book, subtitled accurately ‘The Science of the Near-Death Experience,’ seems to me to effect the shift in thinking that we have needed.  It is not a huge shift but it should now change the quality of the debate.

Encouragingly, the interviews which I conducted before Pim’s book had been translated into English fit very well with its proposals. After undertaking them and reading Pim’s book I begin to discern the outlines of the altered paradigm. Here are some of its main features:

  • We shouldn’t be naïve about any possible life after death. The appearance of deceased relatives at the death-bed or during NDEs or channeling, in particular, may not mean that Granny is continuing her old life more or less as before. Life in another ‘dimension’ may be more a matter of thought, of our wishes and, of precisely, appearance.
  • The hitherto rather weak connection between Quantum Physics and Survival looks as if it has gained a toe-hold in the intellectually-respectable world. ‘Non-locality,’ a term with origins found exclusively in QP, may be an appropriate replacement for the older term ‘spiritual.’ Physics too does not stop and will surely become less and less like its nineteenth-century avatar; in other words it will become weirder, looser, more improbable, more closely associated with consciousness, more ‘non-local,’ less simply ‘materialist.’
  • Life after Death is really not either ‘life’ as we know it nor ‘after’ our deaths, for the ‘non-local’ is always with us and underpins our world and our lives all the time; or perhaps I should use some unthinkable expression such as ‘all the non-time.’
  • NDEs do definitely occur during periods of negative brain activity. Whatever else they may mean they constitute clear evidence that the brain cannot be the whole story when it comes to explaining consciousness. Van Lommel’s research has changed things a little, and it is only the beginning of a long process whose end seems, at the very least, less and less likely to be straightforward materialism as we have known it.
  • In the matter of Survival we should expect both everything and not too much. By ‘everything’ I mean that Survival is connected with the universal or ‘infinite’ consciousness from the perspective of which all other things are apparently in some way illusory. By ‘not too much’ I mean that one of the main things one may see through, as consciousness is liberated from the material, is one’s ‘own’ personality.
  • ‘Energy’ is perhaps the metaphor that best connects the world of the non-local (or transpersonal or spiritual) with the world of physics. We do not yet know how energy can exist in the non-local where the energetic, involving movement by definition, should be absent because in that ‘dimension’ there is no time or space. But that there is some energy there – in Dark Matter or as Dark Energy perhaps – is evident from the fact that we are here at all; it was some sort of energy that brought about the Big Bang and before that there was no locality by definition.
  • Here, and hereafter, we seem to create our own worlds through our personal consciousnesses. The great or universal consciousness may be what creates the universe. We may do the smaller job of creating our own ‘worlds’ and ‘lives.’ Language makes all, but it cannot describe adequately the process by which it does this.
  • Buddhists, Hindus, and mystics of all stripes have the right approach. We need to read Angelus Silesius rather than too much academic philosophy. We, or parts of us, may be temporarily reincarnated. For a while after death we may perhaps need to ‘live’ in a place that we recognise (we won’t find that too hard to create presumably) but there would then be a moving on, into realms literally indescribable.
  • Body is particle and consciousness is wave. Our particles at death undergo what they have always undergone, change into something else. The waves of consciousness persist just as the scientists tell us all energy forms persist, forever. But we do not infinitely persist as the ‘us’ we currently think we are; ‘we’ will persist, if we do, as something endlessly ‘greater’.
  • This is all embarrassingly similar to the propositions of many religions. But it is not, in itself, religion at all.
  • Inverted commas are needed in this area passim. ‘Life’ ‘after’ ‘death?’ We do not, and cannot, really ‘know’ about all this. Not even with the sensible and modest knowledge of science. Especially not with that.

——————–

Written by Lance St John Butler, who is a Professor of British Literature in the University of Pau.

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