Experience of the subtle realms: Contents page
Chapter 11. Extraordinary times
This chapter is partly experiential, partly conceptual – as with many of the earlier chapters prior to Chapter 10 – but the conceptual component is rather more pronounced. In and among, I report some unusual experiences that seem to go beyond our ordinary notion of time.
Our culture has one primary concept of causation, that of efficient causation, in which one event earlier in time causes the occurrence of another event later on. Not only does the cause precede its effect, but it is also linked to it by some detectable transmission of physical energy through physical space.
Now there are certain experiences where it is as if this is not the case, where it seems that the effect precedes its cause, and that there is no physical transmission from cause to effect. In the next two sections, I give some examples – from the arena of creativity.
Several years ago, I rented a studio over a barber’s shop, just opposite King’s Cross Station in London. I spent two or three days a week there doing oil paintings. The canvasses I bought from a firm in the Old Kent Road: they were made up from awnings left over from stands that had lined the coronation procession route through London in 1951. On this material that had witnessed a royal event I did much creative work.
Standing before the easle, with the rumble of traffic outside, and faint echoes of conversation from the barber’s shop below, I would get this unmistakable sense of creative foreboding, although not of anything sinister. Rather it was the presentiment of a painting, the detail and content of which I could not grasp – but I knew that it was already complete. All I had to do was let my hand and heart and arm follow the creative dictates of the premonition – and there would emerge before me a total painting, integrated in form and colour, striking, surprising and satisfying.
It reminded me of the old Aristotelian notion of entelechy. This is the idea that a seed, for example, contains its end state of a flowering plant as a dynamic potential within it, and that this causes the seed to develop into the plant. I thought, too, of how Driesch revived the idea of entelechy in twentieth century biology to explain the development of form in organisms. But it was a bit more than this.
It was as if the painting was already done, and I was copying its future form. I was busy peering at my own achievement in time to come, in order to copy it in the present. I was encountering myself later on in order to realise myself now. I was engaged in a sort of creative precognition.
I wondered whether it would develop into a full-blown doppelganger effect. This is the experience, sometimes called autoscopy, in which a person encounters their double. Many creative writers have reported this event. Goethe met himself on the road riding a horse. Shelley was approached by a hooded figure who pulled back the hood to reveal himself. Dostoievsky encountered himself, so too de Maupassant, and several others. I wondered whether such writers are so busy with creative precognition, with reproducing their future achievements, that they create a mental set suddenly to meet themselves.
You may say that my having a creative presentiment of a painting is scarcely the same as my copying now my painting in the future. But this germinal state was not like ordinary planning, or like thinking out a design, or like visualising an effect to be achieved. It was like knowing where things – lines, colours, spaces – are to go because they are already there in time to come. The art of painting became closely aligned to precognitive skill.
Time became circular, curling back on itself, as if the future created the present. You may then ask how the painting that already exists in the future was painted: was it copied too? But this misses the point. There can be no infinite regress here. It is not the case that the future painting is a copy of itself further in the future, and so on.
There is only one act of painting. But this creative act extends the specious present, enlarges my grasp of matrix time, so that I apprehend the whole sequence of events from conceiving the painting to completing it, and this while going through the sequence. In this state of mind, I am aware of the actual end state while I am busy realising it. And so I can depict what will be.
I refer the reader back to sections 3 and 17 in Chapter 9 where I introduced the idea of matrix time. This is the time in which a whole sequence in clock time co-exists. What is serial in clock time becomes concurrent in matrix time, but it is a concurrence in which we can still distinguish between before and after. In other words, in matrix time we know what is earlier and what is later in serial time, but we apprehend them in the same matrix moment.
Matrix time is rather like a well from which you can draw up buckets of clock time. To use another metaphor, it is womb-like, generative. It gives birth to whole sequences, and to batches of sequences.
I was staying in the city of Munster in West Germany. It was late August and I was lying in bed in the early morning, examining three chakras. The abdominal chakra yielded spontaneous dream-like imagery, the spleen chakra was for formal projection and reception, and from the brow chakra visions of inner space unfolded.
Quite unexpectedly, in the area of the spleen chakra, I received the word ‘Vega’. I knew it was the name of a star, but I didn’t know to which constellation it belonged. At the end of the day, when I went back to bed, I focussed my mind on the star Vega wondering what its name is: the name it gives itself, or is given to it by those close to it. I felt the quality of energy of a luminous orb and fell into a deep sleep.
The next few days I was busy with other inquiries, mostly out in the woods, but a lingering curiosity about Vega haunted me, like a phantom pregnancy of the mind. After five days I felt I must take some practical initiative. I went to the local reference library and looked up everything that included the name Vega.
There was, of course, the star – in the constellation of Lyra, the lyre. There were some Spanish poets; and two towns in Puerto Rica. The Spanish poets intrigued me; and the trail took me to lyric poetry and the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ of Coleridge and Wordsworth. There I let the matter rest – and returned again to the woods.
But after another three days, I had come to full term with my Vega pregnancy. I had to give birth. I started to write poetry. It poured out, as from an inner well whose hidden waters were rising up to burble over the rim. The welling up continued throughout the whole of a second day and into a third. By the time the well had emptied itself, I had written forty four poems.
It was a curious mixture, much of it lyric verse of many different styles. Some stanzas had compelling, original force. Some were like pastiches of Blake, Swinburne, Housman, Osbert Sitwell, and others. Whether pastiches or not, some were good and others not so good. Some were slight and some were silly. But the whole batch as a batch impressed me with its power and its delivery.
In the act of writing words and lines were ‘coming’ from inner space, on my right side, quite close. But more fundamentally, I was suspended between clock time and matrix time. I was at the mouth of the womb of inner time which had already creatively spawned its batch of poems, and I was recording myself having recorded them. A sort of autoscopy, to be sure.
Several of the poems were about Apollo, sun-god of the Greeks and Romans, the patron of poetry and music, who said at his birth ‘Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow’. Here is one of them, which appealed to me:
Apollo again, again,
thundering words across chasms
of righteous disorder,
with the cleavage of aspirated vowels,
ravaging the mind
with the howl of nouns
gone mad with their first birth
What forms arise,
what empires and sepulchres
of images deranged,
disoriented in the extremes
of shouting from the poles.
Hail, madman of the word,
ravage the heart
with your sweet pronunciation.
It is interesting, too, that many of the poems were about the destiny of the soul, the drama of its sequence in physical time.
It was the summer of 1971. I was attending the annual conference of the British Association of Social Psychiatry in Oxford. It was the second year of the arrival of the human potential movement in England. This conference had boldly decided to provide a forum for several of the movement’s American practitioners. As well as more formal presentations, there were a number of experiential groups in the programme, several of them improvised on the spot.
On evening I participated in one of these impromptu groups. It was to be about encounter, or body work, or psychodrama, or some mixture of all these – I forget precisely what. What I do most vividly recall was finding myself, as a result of one of the group exercises, suddenly precipitated into deep regression. I was reliving and releasing a profound fear, pain and horror of my infancy, with trembling and screaming and much agitation of the body.
I also recall that while this deep distress was radically shaking its way out of my system, part of my attention was poised in a luminous zone in subtle space a little above and forward of my cathartic release in physical space. Poised in that subtle light, I was also in matrix time, comprehending the whole sequence from birth to that moment and beyond. This comprehension was both a total temporal grasp of the sequence, and also a bundle of insights into it.
As the catharsis subsided and I came back into present physical time from the regression, a deep layer of my attention was still centred in matrix time. I went out alone into the quadrangle of the Oxford college where the conference was based – to rejoice in this temporal emancipation, this insightful grasp of past, present and future, this unitive delight in the configuration of my personal destiny.
I remember, too, that while this inner rejoicing was afoot, there was a slight uneasiness in the lower reaches of my awareness that I would sooner or later slip out of matrix time – and back into the anxious seriality of clock time. And this indeed did happen. The claims of succession, of before and after, are inescapable.
Primal events – that is, regression to very early traumatic experiences – often open up awareness of matrix time, and in interesting sorts of ways. Once at a Co-counselling International workshop based in the Royal Veterinary College north of London, just before disappearing under pile of cushions to re-run my birth tapes, my awareness suddenly opened up to embrace the temporal form of my life as a whole, and this before it had begun. It was as if I was poised at an entry point into clock time just before my conception, and my plunge into incarnation.
So there are peculiar interrelations of physical time and matrix time. You may comprehend matrix time from different nodal points in clock time. To use a visual and spatial metaphor, your matrix perspective on a whole temporal sequence in everyday time can be from this or that particular viewpoint in the sequence. In the experience just mentioned, I saw my life ahead of me from a quite precise vantage point in clock time before I had been conceived – and this with the whole emotional tone of that moment included. Access to matrix time can be heterogeneous, selective. You can cut into it in many different chunky ways.
On another occasion, this time of LSD-induced regression, I was spread-eagled on the king-sized waterbed which I had in those days in my flat in Hampstead, London. The undulations of the water in the bed threw me back into the primal mode. My arms, legs and head spontaneously reproduced neo-natal, followed by pre-natal movements and postures. I then went back beyond conception, before physical incarnation. In this regression, there were three quite distinct matrix time vistas.
One matrix-time view of my life-sequence was from the standpoint of the moment of birth, with its critical question – which was ‘Can I trust you to care?’ So here again, there was a highly selective grasp of the sequence from a nodal point within it. The sequence was taken in and understood from the standpoint of the birth query.
The next comprehension of my life-sequence was altogether different. It was as if from a point in another order of time: a point at which it was as if I became separated from beings in some other spatial dimension, beings with whom I had and have a profound affinity. My life-sequence was now grasped and understood from the standpoint of what was involved in this separation.
Now you could say that this transcendental separation also occurred in everyday time, that is, at some time before my physical conception. And in a limited sense this is correct. But in a wider sense it misses the point. You cannot make any obvious one-to-one correlation between happenings in transcendental time, and succession in ordinary time. For it seemed that the moment of separation in transcendental time coincided with the whole of my life in clock time. I really can’t get much clearer about it than that.
The third experience of my life-sequence was as if from a point in transcendental time when my physical life was over. In the company of those beings I knew so well, I was in a remarkable state of exultation and uninhibited celebration, contemplating the completion of my life. Yet this vantage point in transcendental time was also somehow concurrent with the unfolding of my life in everyday time.
Matrix time grasp can occur, then, either from a point in clock time, or from a ‘point’ in transcendental time. But now I think a little speculative clarification is appropriate – in order to sort these three concepts out. So the next three sections try to make sense of what seemed to be implicit in my understanding of the above sorts of experience as they occurred.
Physical time is clock time, which as I said in section 17 of Chapter 9, is based on the period of the earth’s rotation, and is used to measure our perception of the succession of physical events. Matrix time is the time in which we grasp whole sequences – temporal forms – in clock time. It is also generative: the time of entelechy, morphogenesis and human creativity. It formulates the destiny that is spread out in clock time. Transcendental time is the time-framework for the perception of events in subtle domains.
Our grasp of matrix time is tacit – in ordinary states of consciousness. But in order to grasp temporal succession in clock time, we need some of our awareness extended into matrix time. Usually this extension is only sufficient to give us a modest grasp of the form of successive events in clock time.
In altered states of consciousness, we can extend our awareness of matrix time and get a larger grasp of it, not just the immediate pattern of events around the present physical moment. And we can apprehend all-at-once these larger temporal forms from the ‘perspective’ of any one of a great number of different clock-time points within them. And this ‘perspective’ is not only a perspective of apprehension or perception, it is also a perspective of comprehension – we understand the temporal form from a certain interpretative viewpoint (as when I grasp my life-sequence construed from the viewpoint of the birth-query, as described above).
We can also grasp matrix time, whole sequences in clock time, from different vantage points in the transcendental time of subtle domains. And this gives another kind of comprehension of temporal forms in clock time: we understand them at a different level of destiny, in terms of a different order of values, norms and ‘facts’.
What this all brings out is that there is no one proper or objective account of the matrix grasp of a temporal form, a sequence in clock time. There are innumerable, heterogeneous accounts, from different points in clock time or in transcendental time, each viewpoint yielding a different understanding of the sequence as a whole. Each person has no single destiny, but innumerable destinies. Destiny – the pattern of one’s life as a whole – is not a single line. It is a concatenated web. It is an anastomosis of veins of understanding: a whole network of interacting themes in different temporal dimensions.
And some of these themes may stand in startling and dramatic contrast to each other. Thus the theme of my life from the clock time vantage point of the birth-moment and the birth-query – with its uncertainty, insecurity and lack of trust – is very different from the theme of my life from the exultant transcendental vantage point overarching the completion of my earthly existence. The mystery and drama of personal destiny derives from its multi-levelled and multi-stranded nature.
This means also that any notion of unilateral predestination is a total distortion and misrepresentation of the richness of our immersion in the manifold of interacting times. There is only multilateral, heterogeneous predestination. There are many predestinations for each person’s life, each one the pattern of a different theme. And since there can be an endless number of themes of varied content, it scarcely makes sense to talk of predestination at all.
In an important sense, there is not just one set or series of successive events in a person’s life. For there is no such thing as a single occasion. Each daily episode – such as my getting up this morning – is embedded in the manifold of interacting times. It is in clock time, in matrix time and within transcendental time. It is itself a collective and multitudinous happening, in which its status as an episode is a function of innumerable different possible temporal perspectives. Hence my life as a whole is a multitudinous bundle of sets of successive events.
Another way of saying all this is that an event is a temporal meaning. And a temporal meaning is a function of a temporal perspective. Once our consciousness launches itself into the manifold of interacting times, we realise the heterogeneity of temporal perspectives. There is no one meaning to any one occasion. Rather each happening is defined in terms of a family of overlapping meanings arising from overlapping temporal perspectives.
You may say that surely there is just one destiny for a person: the composite destiny of all the themes of their life taken together. And that surely just as I can grasp the matrix space of the room as a whole – with a four-dimensional grasp of its total three-dimensional reality – so too I can grasp the temporal form of the day (or my life) as a whole, without that grasp being from the vantage point of a particular time within it, before it, after it (or beyond it in transcendental time).
I don’t think this is so, and because of a fundamental difference between space and time. Time fills space with content and meaning. It is always telling a story. And a story always has a line, a perspective of meaning, whether it is unfolded serially in clock time; or grasped all at once in matrix time. So when I grasp the complex story of the multiple themes of my life, I will still do so from some selected combination of vantage points. As such it will only be one version of the complex story.
When you go to the theatre to see a play, you can get a four dimensional grasp on the matrix shape of the stage as a whole; but you grasp of the temporal form of the play as a whole will consist of overlapping perspectives from various nodal points within it. Time, in matrix mode, will always tell a story: whose meaning is articulated and spread out from critical incidents within it, and is therefore always relative to the selection of those incidents. Space, in matrix mode, can be apprehended in undifferentiated unities of shape, which are absolute in themselves and relative only to the logical parameters that define the space as a whole. Time is inherently and selectively dramatic, space not so.
Once an architect has drawn up plans for a theatre, there is only one shape in which it can appear, whoever builds it. Once a dramatist has written a play, there are innumerable ways of presenting and acting it. The womb of matrix time spawns a protean abundance of alternative scenarios.
Another way of putting all this, albeit somewhat crudely, is to say that space is the home of consciousness, ultimately universal consciousness; while time is the home of the soul, the individual centre of reference, always distinct, idiosyncratic. Through space we enter the generality of cosmic awareness; through time the particularity and polymorphous relativity of personal destiny, both individual and corporate.
And while the soul may transcend the illusory state of separateness of being, and enter unitive reality, this does not mean loss of distinctness and uniqueness of being – a point the Buddhist doctrine of anatta fails to grasp. There is a better metaphor than that of the dewdrop disappearing into the shining sea. It is that of the individual note whose resonance is enhanced by the harmony within an orchestrated whole.
A traditional argument about responsibility and freedom goes something like this. I am not responsible for my actions and cannot properly be held accountable for them unless they are the product of my freedom of choice. And I only have real freedom if, on any occasion of exercising it, I could have chosen other than I did: to be truly free to choose, I must have genuine options, genuine alternative futures ahead of me. So if the universe is such that it is in principle possible for me to have precognition, before I choose, of what I will have chosen, then I am not really a free or responsible being.
This argument is based on a strong allegiance to the serial experience of time time as the succession of present moments which become past and which can determine what the future will be. But we could have an alternative view of responsibility and freedom, derived from an allegiance to matrix time awareness in which the expanded present includes past and future in its encompassing simultaneity.
On this view, choice itself is born out of matrix time. When I freely choose to do something, it is always in the context of some minimal matrix grasp of the past-present-future sequence of events in relation to which the choice is made. And I experience the greatest freedom of choice when I choose on the basis of a tacit precognition of what I will have chosen. The freedom is not so much in the act of choice but in the experience of being chosen, as it were, by my own ends.
My ends come out of deeper, more archetypal levels of being, and I apprehend what they will have been – by the tacit entry of my awareness into matrix time. Such apprehension is my guide to choice in physical time. My freedom is my election by my ends. My responsibility is the claim such election has upon me. A bizarre doctrine, to be sure.
Another approach to freedom is to say that any occasion which occurs through my choice is itself a multitudinous happening: it can be construed in terms of many different temporal perspectives, as I proposed in the previous section. And although when I chose it, I did so in terms of only one such perspective, my freedom consists in the fact that I could have chosen it in the light of a different perspective. Therefore, I am responsible for construing it the way I did. On this view, freedom and responsibility are to do with the options I have in organising my consciousness within the manifold of interacting times – the manifold that makes any event of choice itself a variegated collective.
Transcendental time and matrix time come together. It is similar to being tacitly in five-dimensional space as soon as you enter the four-dimensional matrix of a three-dimensional object. So when, in matrix time, I am grasping a sequence in physical time as a whole, I am also tacitly laid back in transcendental time.
I defined transcendental time in an earlier section in this chapter, as the time-framework within which events in subtle domains are perceived. It provides those temporal properties of the other world, which, along with its spatial and energetic properties, entitle us to say that it is a world.
Now you can talk of subtle space in terms of interpenetrating planes in contrast to the mutual exclusivity of point-centred objects in physical space. In the same way you can bring out a polar contrast between transcendental or subtle time, and physical or clock time. So here follows a highly speculative model.
The archetypal forms of time are succession, duration and simultaneity. Succession is to do with events coming before and after each other. Duration is to do with how long an event lasts before the next event comes after it. And simultaneity is to do with events – whether before, now or after – occurring at the same time, alongside each other, as it were.
In physical time, succession is primary. But is not just that events are permanently linked by the relation of before and after. We are also in the serial flux of change: what was after is continually absorbed by the present and becomes before. The future comes into the present and leaves it as the past. Duration is next in significance: we are inescapably pre-occupied with how much time there is for this or that, how long we have got, how long an occasion will last before the flux of change throws up another occasion. Simultaneity, in physical time, seems only a necessary buttress to succession and duration. It provides, so to speak, the lateral spread of events that makes it possible to experience the first two dimensions of time.
In transcendental time, by contrast, simultaneity is primary. We are in a total pattern of occasions occurring at the same time. And within this whole configuration we can distinguish differences of duration among events, and differences of before and after. Such differences of before and after simply help, in an ancillary way, to make sense of differences of duration within the total simultaneous pattern. Both sets of differences, in transcendental time, are aspects of the same time. They are distinct yet interpenetrate co-temporaneously.
Before and after, in subtle time, constitute a pattern of meaning apprehended simultaneously – not a sucession or series grasped at different times. When we understand a whole drama – say Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ – before and after within that drama are elements of a temporal pattern in our understanding which we realise all at once. They are not serial mental events. This analogy affords some insight into my model of subtle time.
Figure 11.1 Transcendental time, matrix time and physical time
In physical time, the time now is reduced to a point moving from the past through the present to the future, in relation to the two dimensions of succession and duration. In transcendental time, the time Now is comprehensively expansive, including all realtions of succession and duration, which are thus different kinds of meaningful experience within the total field of simultaneous occasions. Matrix time is a half-way house, in which larger or smaller sequences in physical time can be grasped as a concurrent whole. Figure 11.1 illustrates these three sorts of time.
But just as, in physical time, with its primary dimension of succession, there is an experience of the specious present – the sense that the present already includes bits of the past and of the future adjacent to it – so in subtle time, with its primary dimension of simultaneity, there is an experience of specious succession, which is the sense that the field of simultaneity has contracted to exclude some before occasions and some after occasions. Rather than calling these two complementary experiences ‘the specious present’ and ‘specious succession’, it is better perhaps to call them, respectively, ‘the expanded now’ and ‘the contracted Now’, where ‘now’ with a small ‘n’ is the present moment of ordinary consciousness, and ‘Now’ with the big ‘N’ is the field of simultaneity in transcendental time.
And just as a human person immersed in the serial flow of physical time can learn to extend their awareness into matrix time beyond the ordinary narrow limits of the everyday ‘expanded now’, so a subtle being in the simultaneous spread of transcendental time may be able further to contract their awareness into a prolonged serial flow of events, beyond what may be only a brief serial flow in their normal ‘contracted Now’.
When a subtle domain is co-located with, interpenetrating in a fixed mode (in the sense defined in the previous chapter), a physical area, then presumably its time framework is also interrelated to the physical time involved. The presences in that domain have many options for temporal experience.
(1) They may choose to experience their own subtle domain in its fundamental temporal format of a simultaneous spread that includes before-and-after and duration as dimensions of its meaning, and with only a brief serial flow in their ‘contracted Now’. But this will always be done from one or more nodal simultaneous events within the total spread. So it will always be an interpretation, a perspective of meaning on the drama of their destiny in their domain. Since there is no limit to the number of possible perspectives of meaning, there is no limit to the ever-present ways in which the subtle beings can have temporal experience of their world. An extraordinary kind of life.
(2) They may decide to contract their normal ‘contracted Now’ even further and experience their own subtle domain in terms of whatever duration of serial temporal flow they choose. So they could opt to live in a subtle domain with the kind of temporal experience of succession that we have in the physical world.
(3) They could choose to live in their world in terms of a point to point correlation between their chosen serial flow of subtle events and our serial flow of physical events. Perhaps these correlations could be made in all sorts of different ways, with the subtle flow fitted, or staggered or geared. to the physical flow of time in many configurations, each with different dynamic effects.
(4) They could choose to experience physical events in our world either serially as we do, or in matrix mode, with varying degrees of simultaneous spread over past, present and future, from different standpoints and levels.
In a world of simultaneous events, causation is synchronous – a kind of mutuality of resonance. Various metaphors can be invoked here: events echo within each other, shine off each other, enhance each other’s declaration of intent – and so on. It is the mutual impact of tone upon tone in a harmony, colour upon colour in a painting, gaze upon gaze in a moment of personal intimacy.
Such synchronous or resonant causation is the primary kind of causation in the other world. It is a matter of affinity: it is something to do with similarity of form. Differences of resonance, I surmise, are due to differences of form.
In a world of serial events, causation is efficient, mechanical, as we know it in this world. The cause precedes its effect in time, and produces its effect by some energetic transmission through space.
And for human beings, who live in both worlds at once, there is an intermediate and third kind of causation: formal causation – making ends actual by choice and action. Or perhaps we should say: ends making themselves actual through choice and action.
The fourth kind of causation is formative causation: whereby physical organisms develop, sustain and regenerate their physical forms. In my view, such causation operates into the physical body from its subtle matrix. Formative causation is closely connected with rhythm, with periodicity.
An organism is a whole interdependent set of oscillations, frequencies, rhythmic patterns – from the vibrating structure of the molecule, through the periodicities of cellular function, the rhythmic contractions of involuntary muscle, the heartbeat, breathing, eating and defaecating, sleeping and waking.
A human being is at the cross-over point of these four causes, integrating and interrelating them all in the process of living. It is my own view that synchronous causation, as yet little understood in our culture, can have a profound effect on mechanical causation, an effect which constitutes a whole new technology. Similarly formal causation – the impact of human intention – can have a profound effect on formative causation, thus inaugurating a whole new science of self-healing in medicine.
Experience of the subtle realms: