(Another of these texts I never posted when I wrote it. Finishing things is not my strong side. I blame mr Dog, he distracts me! Today he feels ill again. And here I sit, bored.)
I’ve told this story before: when I was a teenager, I was once in a foreign city, and while walking in the streets one afternoon, the world turned dark; I could no longer see clearly, I could barely see at all. It was like the moment before dusk turns to night, only it remained like that for an hour or two, when time ceased to matter; it was like in dreams, when time and the passing of time is a mystery not to be grasped. I was meeting up with a friend later, and I had to figure it before that; I had to reconnect with time, had to regain my ability to see. Gradually it happened. I felt funny for a while after.
Yet, it wasn’t a big drama. It was nothing like that. The wolves and the crocodiles, with their blooded teeth, linger in the dark – but they hide in daylight as well; this was not much different. What was different, perhaps, was a sense that the world withdraw from my gaze, in contrast to me withdrawing from the world. What a way for life on earth itself to tell you: you don’t belong here! In that sense the experience was almost prescient. At that point in time I was still unsure; perhaps I would manage to find myself a place here, perhaps I would master the facade, to be one in a crowd, just like anybody, different from nobody. But – in a mutual agreement (to which I couldn’t say no) – the world would withdraw. (Was it – is it – the opposite to the experience of melting with or being in unity with the world? Possibly. But you can feel estranged from the world and yet at home in and as one with universe. So I don’t know. You figure it out.)
We had dinner, and drinks I presume, a kind of ordinariness returned. I asked my friend, was there something weird about the light this afternoon, did it not get very dark? There was not, it did not. This didn’t come as much of a surprise; I knew the usual life of city streets had continued around me; I’d seen it, dimly.
I’m afraid this is quite a banal incident. It’s boring, it’s simple. Its sole benefit is being an experience that can be told fairly easily. It doesn’t evade description, which such experiences so often do. There are words with which to tell it. And another thing: I already told it. I’ll make no new mess by recycling it.
I would not pretend, of course, that my experiences – this or any other – are in any way of the same dignity and importance as those of our awe-inspiring intiates of higher truths, or even of ordinary spiritual people or anthroposophists who make no special claims for themselves but trust in those who claim to have seen the higher spheres. They’re all far ahead of me, and would moan about my lack of humility, were I not to acknowledge their superiority. Thus, I’d better do that. In a serious tone, or not. I am a mere ‘materialist’, after all, whatever that means in my case. Such people have not thought about things properly. They’re afraid, I’ve heard.
Then there are the aura readers, the spirit seers, the karma researchers, the clairvoyants, the apocalyptics, the astrologers, the bestselling authors who’ve been to (physical, they say) death and back – there’s the whole myriad of occult travel guides, all full of claims made by people who have seen things that can’t be seen with our physical eyes. In some cases they’ve seen absurd things or mutually incompatible things. I need only mention the amusing example of middle-aged ladies who through their spiritual research have come to the conclusion that they are the present incarnation of Rudolf Steiner. It should be something for the entertainment industry rather than for serious consideration.
But they all want us to believe not just in the spiritual world or eternal life (or some other idea) as such but to trust in the truth of their individual experiences of it; in fact, replacing our own judgement with theirs. It sounds like a new kind of alchemy to me: transforming the personal and isolated narrative into a higher truth, a pocess in which belief in the story’s literal truth is the transformative power. It is a closed entity, a product ready for consumption – it’s not the path, but the goal, with its revelation offering the reader a kind of release, supposedly. It’s the end, not the beginning.
Fiction seems truer to me, more open, than these stories that are promising truth and reality.
The great asset of the personal story, from the viewpoint of spiritual discourse (and virtually every other, in these times!), is that it cannot be questioned; well, it can, but that would be considered rude or even abusive. As a courtesy, you’re not to doubt someone who claims something from his or her own experience. It’s the rule, and people are very sensitive about it. Skeptics too, actually. Thus I train myself to shut up, to keep my doubt to myself, whether the claims from experience are spiritual or secular. I fail.
Now, my story, the one I began with, failed too. The way I used it failed. In the past it failed because certain a anthroposophist assumed I was admitting to being of an unsound mind (that might be true, mr Dog would agree in any case, but wasn’t actually the argument). For various reasons, it must have seemed useful as a tool. Multiple layers of irony, for those with eyes to see with. There’s no point in saying more about that. The second failing was more recent. I thought my experience could serve as an example of scepticism when encountering something mildly out of the ordinary, as it were, in ones personal life.
However, that assumption turned out to be mistaken! Instead this objection came rather out of the blue: that it is tragic that I don’t believe in my own experiences. As if there weren’t an inherent difference between believing in one’s experiences and believing that one’s experiences always reflect what is happening in the world outside of oneself. (I assume, for this argument, a difference between the world and oneself in an everyday sense, and that the world exists apart from my perception of it.) I believe in the experience all right; also in the transformed memory of it. But it would make my life quite peculiar, I’d say, if I went around believing in the literal truth of things experienced in various transient states. I dare to say I wouldn’t be of a very sound mind. It would be a muddle. Perhaps one ought to strive to live absurdly. If that’s the argument, fine, but it wasn’t.
More than not believing it myself, I would never expect anyone else to believe that the world (in fact!) turned dark that time because I experienced it that way. Taken in itself, it is exactly the kind of phenomenon I hinted at above: it’s an endpoint, something finished. A dead end. Why would it matter whether someone believed it – whether it be as a literal event or as an experience? Most of all, I very much doubt any of the open-minded spiritual people are truly that open-minded. They too distrust and reject, they just make other choices (perhaps they don’t see it?).
I don’t want people to say: ”of course, I believe you! If you say the world turned dark, then it must be true!” (or, worse: ”it must be true… for you!”). I find the proposition absurd. The physical world around me didn’t change. That’s a fact about the world. Knowing the world as it is, in its physical representation, is a wonderful thing, especially when crossing a road in traffic. I believe in questioning oneself, one’s own experiences, thought processes, interpretations… I don’t succeed all the time (or even most of the time), but I believe in it as a tool – for anything, change most of all.
It’s the same whether it is an insignificant event (like mine, that of a mere materialist!) or a significant one (say, the experience of a great initiate!). The first question is always: what did happen, in fact, in this world, the physical world? The second question is: what reasonable interpretation is there? Mind you, not which interpretation we prefer, but which one is more likely to be true. We never get past question one if we are to believe every experience or claim as a literal truth about the physical world. We’ll be stuck eternally wading through millions of personal ‘reality-based’ stories, all finished products, all equally pointless.
In one obscure lecture by Steiner that I read one morning with my coffee, I came across the amusing notion that the materialist believes in the spiritual in man, too; he has no choice, Steiner says, and – oddly – the materialist doesn’t really deny this. I think he hints at similar things elsewhere, but not so bluntly. Mind, he does not claim that the materialist believes in a spiritual world (or any other specific proposition) – he says the materialist can’t effectively deny the spiritual in man. I’m not sure why I say this, except for the fun. Anthroposophists can go on (and on) about materialists denying everything spiritual (we’ve seent it on the blog, in its distant and wild past), and then, when asked what spiritual means, say, oh, that’s like… thinking. Well, obviously, there’s a little more to it than that – in anthroposophy.
If I have a point, it’s this: whether we talk about my silly little experience or the magnificent journey of the return traveller to death, we’re talking about two things: the event or experience itself, and the interpretation of it. It’s quite possible, say, to make the experience up, that is, to invent it. One should never underestimate the human hunger for importance, and as Steiner points out, in a lucid moment, this extends to others around us: we want them to mirror us; an important person doesn’t surround himself with mere mortals. As for the second, the interpretation, there’s also endless potential for fantasy, illusion and invention – for vanity to play out. The lust for significance is there; it’s Lucifer, and all that comes with him. To imagine that this doesn’t happen, that self-enhancement through worldly and occult means doesn’t take place, is an illusion of a magnitude surpassing the original smaller illusions; it’s like a meta-illusion…
So we have these stories about ourselves, building a narrative of our life. And then we have the stories that others provide. We have no choice but to make judgments, to evaluate, to create something we can begin something with. If we are to be weary of Ahriman, then surely, we ought to be as weary of Lucifer! (Steiner has some practical advice: don’t drink too much tea.)
Perhaps the exciting stuff begins only when we get to interpretations. To use (and abuse) my foolish little story again, or any other story (it doesn’t matter which one!), there are plenty of possibilities. The only things we can be certain of: that we (you) don’t know if I’m lying about it, and that we (yes, we) do know that the physical world did not darken, it remained the same. Yet, the memory of the experience is there, of course. If we want to be moved, and we do want to be moved, we want things to feel alive, and to feel alive ourselves, do we go with the synapses and brain fluids (whatever where they up to?) or the occult forces, unseen, unmeasurable, physically undetectable? To stick to the explanations of worldviews we know, there are the firing synapses and the substances of the brain on the one side or on the other the invisible bodies that relate to each other (and the physical body and the world), they loosen, move, escape to the heavens, different states of consciousness having their specific explanation, their origin. Which one should one prefer? Which one ultimately has more meaning?
I always had this feeling of walking a tightrope, blindfolded. A consciousness that I could plunge into the abyss at any moment. Glimpsing the depths, as though through gaps, often tiny, sometimes wider, but never knowing them truly – it is perhaps as well, come to think of it… There’s some comfort in the conviction that solid ground is one characteristic of the material world.