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Experience of the subtle realms: Contents page

Chapter 13. Into the future

I was driving alone in a hired car from Auckland to Wellington in the north island of New Zealand.  It was in late August, approaching spring, and surprisingly warm.  I had taken a road somewhat to the west of the main route, and I was touring through small valleys, low hills and undulating farmland – well over half way on my journey.  The landscape combined English sensibility with  Polynesian mysticism: a hybrid ambience that intrigued my imagination.

The car drew to the top of an extended rise. I parked on the edge of the road and climbed into a field to bask in the late winter sun.  As I ranged my vision over those composite hills above the Mangawhero River, I became absorbed in a deep intellectual reverie about the kind of society in which I wished to live.  I realised I wanted to partic­ipate in a self-generating culture.

I was in New Zealand as a guest of the McKenzie Educational Foundation, running a series of courses and workshops for doctors and other members of the helping professions. With these alert, intelligent and committed persons, I explored a whole range of radical social and professional practices.

Beforehand, I had immersed myself for some weeks in the Agama-Hindu culture still extant and practised in Bali.  And between workshops in New Zealand, I took in what I could of the Polynesian culture of the Maoris, of which only vestigial fragments are still manifest today.

Sitting on a large stone , shielded by a hillock from Route 4, somewhere between Raetihi and Wanganui, all these elements of social order and cohesion, past and pre­sent, fed my reflections.  I became aware that I desired something entirely new: a mode of social life which had not hitherto existed on this planet – or so at least I surmised. And since my vision is still alive, I will present it now in the present tense.

1. Cultural forms, hierarchies of the second kind and archetypal power

I want to live with other persons in a society some, and only some, of whose cultural forms are as if they participate consciously in hierarchies of the second kind and have archetypal power.  What I mean by ‘cultural forms’ are rituals and social practices that find meaning in and give meaning to various aspects of the human condition. And what I mean by ‘archetypal power’ is the dynamic energy that streams from eidolon, ally and matrix in the other reality (see the opening paragraphs of Chapter 7).  Hierarchies of the second kind I discussed in Chapter 2: they involve relations be­ween social groups in this world and social groups in the other world.

This conscious involvement of human culture as if with presences and powers in the other world differs from the other-world preoccupation of ancient cultures which were frequently over-identified with their gods and ancestors. As a result, many of these so­cieties became elitist and oppressive politically; and dogmatic, superstitious and con­fused in their occult beliefs.  And their occultism was often corrupted with the gross ag­gression of war and human sacrifice.

By contrast, the as if perspective gives a healthy  separation and distance from the other world, while at the same time working creatively with it.  The result is a highly dis­criminating participation which has three prime features.

2. Politics, inquiry and art

Firstly, the human beings involved have a full working grasp of the political values of autonomy, parity and hierarchy – that is, of self-direction, of cooperation, and of direc­tion by others (in terms of both up- and down-hierarchies).  They have this mastery within their own society, interweaving these values in a whole variety of ways in its different forms of association. 

And they also have such competence between social groups in this world and social groups in the other world.  Thus some social groups in human society are au­tonomous; some are in co-operative relations with groups in the other world; and yet others are in hierarchies of the second kind.  In down-hierarchies, the human beings are passive; and in up-hierarchies, the human beings are active.

What this means, of course, is that the human beings have a fully developed political process working between the worlds, a process that fully acknowledges the autonomous rights and liberties of humans, as well as their duties and constraints, in a two (or more) worlds universe.  And this political process is one that the human beings them­selves have evolved – in the context of other world influence, but not by other world direction.  

Secondly, the human beings involved have a whole canon of inquiry appropriate to exploring the other world and the interface between the worlds. They need this because of the ambiguities of the whole business of living in two worlds at once, of differentiat­ing between what merely seems to be so, and what really is so. They need to inquire into the dynamics of interactions between the worlds; and into the channels of com­munication between them. They need to understand the technology of working in this world with the powers of the other world.  Here the as if perspective comes fully into its own.

Such inquiry includes the development of appropriate political process mentioned above, and indeed the generation of cultural forms generally, for many of these will themselves be ways of inquiring into the relations between the worlds.

Thirdly, the human beings have acquired the art of living in two worlds: some of their cultural forms are living theatre.  They have style, drama, and  expressive charge: they p­resent the two worlds experience with aesthetic power. There are two aspects to such art.  There is the art of enjoying diverse features of the two worlds condition.  And there is the art of suffering certain other experiences of it.

The politics, the inquiry and the art all support each other in some respects, and in other respects may well be in tension with each other.  They are rooted in the human self-determination of the as if perspective. Together they comprise the basic three di­mensions of a self-generating culture.

3.  A self-generating culture

To say that a culture is self-generating is to say that the people in it generate their own cultural forms out of political awareness, a spirit of inquiry and creative artistry.  They may do this as if in the context of creative passive hierarchies of the second kind.  But the forms of the culture do not proceed from the gods or ancestors, from the directions of the shaman, priest or guru, from ecclesiastical authority, from high status or high caste chiefs of protocol, or from statutory, approved authorities of any kind. 

The forms of the culture are generated and sanctioned by peer groups in this world, not by any hierarchical authority, whether in this world  or the next. On the one hand – at any rate so far as rituals are concerned – they can be construed as art forms that expres­sively symbolise the human condition as if in two worlds. On the other hand – whether rituals or social practices – they can be seen as forms of inquiry into this condition.

As forms of inquiry, they are in principle open to review and modification as part of a programme of action research.  The whole culture thus becomes a network of groups practising  co-operative inquiry into the human condition, as well as giving dramatic, aesthetic expression to it. And we now know enough about co-operative inquiry for such an approach to be feasible.

I have been involved in several pieces of research using this format, in which all those concerned are both co-researchers and co-subjects, who together move round the cycle from creative reflection to action, then back to a review of the action and more creative reflection, and so on.  Of course, not all networking groups in the culture would engage in formal and fully fledged co-operative inquiry: the model is likely to be used in a much more flexible and informal way.

Whether as art or research, do the forms of the culture confer meaning on the human condition, or reveal meaning inherent in it?  Are they symbolic constructs that reveal no more than the fruitfulness of human imagination; or do they resonate with archetypal significance and power from the universe beyond?  Or do they mix au­tonomous imagination and archetypal meaning in varying measure?

This polarity of significance – of meaning given or found, conferred or revealed, imag­ined only or archetypal also – provides a fruitful, creative tension at the heart of cul­tural forms both as art and as inquiry.  For there is always an open question, an ambigu­ity seeking resolution: Is meaning bestowed by the forms, or is it revealed by them, or a bit of both?  The endless openness and relevance of this question provides permanent protection against pseudo-archetypal dogmatism, conservatism and rigidity on the one hand, and unstable, shifting, arbitrary conventionalism on the other.

A self-generating culture is a step beyond personal growth – as it has been called by the many methods of body-mind development coming out of humanistic psychology.  Such growth deals with the liberation of human autonomy.  It enables a person to re­alise real degrees of freedom in choosing how to live.  The various methods used dis­mantle the debris of early interference and conditioning, so that the individual is no longer compulsively and unawarely acting out the pain and scripting of the past.  One result, as well as the affirmation of authentic autonomy in this world, is a greater openness to the other world, to wider reaches of awareness and altered states of con­sciousness.

But once a person has achieved a real measure of inner freedom in choosing how to live earthly life and to expand awareness into other domains of being, current society offers impoverished cultural forms for the celebration of that freedom, and for inquiry into its implications.  Our contemporary culture has lost its grasp on the great realities of the human condition.   It has no imaginal and archetypal sweep, style or range.

Its rituals are few in number, and either carry the limited sanction of outdated tradi­tionalism, or are bureaucratic formulae with minimal significance.  At some critical moments, such as being born and dying, there is no ritual of meaning at all, only tech­nical procedures that have no more than medical or ‘scientific’ relevance. By contrast, ancient societies showed an astonishing richness of cultural forms.

4.  Rituals

In any self-generating culture, a simple distinction must be made between two basic kinds of cultural form: rituals and social practices.  By a ritual I mean an agreed set of symbolic acts and interactions, occurring at an agreed time and place, to celebrate the meaning of some typically human event or some basic recurring feature of the human condition. In a ritual, human life is elaborated into expressive form to symbolise itself.

This celebration will be aesthetic/expressive, or inquiry oriented, or both. Such a ritual is imaginatively devised in relevant peer groups. It is open to review and modifi­cation; and to extempore improvisation in practice. It is used lightly and elegantly, not pon­derously and compulsively.  It is a piece of living theatre, highlighting the joy, the suf­fering, the comedy and the drama of existence.

In relation to the two worlds thesis, the ritual will mark the human condition in this world only, or as if in both worlds at once, or as if in passage either way between the worlds, or as if in bearing witness to the other world only. From the purely human point of view, here are some candidates for the application of ritual:

This world ritual occasions
Approaching death
Collective commitment, contract making
Coming of age, stages of the educational process, phases of development
Concluding projects
Ending relationships, partnerships
Ending the day
Farewell, departure, separation
Greeting, arrival, return
Initiating projects
Marking eclipses, passing comets
Marking the phases of the moon
Marking the seasons of the year, the solstices, the equinoxes
Moving into a home, moving out of a home
Music, song, dance, movement, poetry, drama
Relations with plants, animals, the environment
Relaxation, recreation, pleasure
Self-renewal, corporate renewal
Sharing food, hospitality
Soul intimacy, nurturing intimacy, sexual intimacy
Starting relationships, partnerships
Starting the day
Valediction and mourning

Table 13.1  This world ritual occasions

Any of the above can also, of course, be considered as if involving some interaction with the other world and so occurring in two worlds at once.The following candidates for the use of ritual deal quite explicitly with believ­ing as if there is another world

Two world ritual occasions
Communion with presences in the other world
Conjoint social planning in two worlds
Dialogue with presences in the other world
Healing and regeneration from the other world
Invocation and integration of powers from the other world
Journeys to the other world
Materialisation from the other world
Prayer, praise and worship in two worlds
Visions of the other world

Table 13.2  Two world ritual occasions

There is an important final point.  Too much ritual, whether a matter of art, inquiry or both together, would make a self-generating culture too affected, too overloaded with endless gestures of significance and meaning.  But too little ritual would make it im­poverished and unawakened, relapsing into relatively meaningless habit.  There is some proper balance between simply living human life – and symbolising the living of human life.  And this whether one is attending to the physical world only, or to both worlds at once.

5.  Social practices

In contrast to a ritual, a social practice is much more obviously functional: it is a proce­dure whereby people maintain and develop social effectiveness and cohesion.  It is a technique of human association and development.  It is part of the everyday process of social living, whether a ritual is applied to it or not.  It is the daily bread of life, whereas a ritual is the butter and the jam.  The concern is with social and organisa­tional skill, rather than with the expressive style of living theatre.  Nevertheless, the functionalism of a social practice in no way excludes the element of artistry both in its conception and in its execution.

Social practices are very much the stuff of action research and co-operative inquiry.  And as such they can also take into account the two worlds hypothesis, integrating into their form the possible influence of powers and presences in the other world.

They are more obviously dealing, in this world at any rate, with the political dimension of a self-generating culture: that is, with appropriate ways of balancing autonomy, co-op­eration and direction by others – in different social contexts.  Witness the following list of candidates.

Social practices
Child raising and the socialisation of children
Democracy, up-hierarchy and down-hierarchy
Forms for the social expression of gender
Forms of decision-making in groups
Forms of marriage and intimacy
Forms of organisational and political structure
Forms of urban planning and renewal
Methods for handling information and communication
Methods for the social control of crime
Methods of allocating the roles of owner, manager and worker
Methods of assessment and accreditation
Methods of conflict-resolution
Methods of discussion in groups
Methods of education and training
Methods of inquiry and research
Methods of ongoing professional development
Methods of professional practice
Methods of relating the economy, ecology and politics
Methods of work planning and work management
Styles of leadership

Table 13.3   Social practices

The distinction I have made between rituals and social practices is, of course, not abso­lute; for they can overlap and lead over into each other.  A ritual is symbolic, and a so­cial practice is functional.  But a symbolic activity can have a powerful impact on social functioning; and a functional arrangement can be charged with archetypal symbolism.

Again a ritual is more to do with the artistic dimension of cultural forms, a social prac­tice more to do with the political and moral dimension.  But there is nothing mutually exclusive about this emphasis.  And both rituals and social practices have elements of both dimensions.  Both, of course, can be fully subsumed within the method of co-op­erative inquiry.

6.  The genesis and development of cultural forms

In a self-generating culture, as I have suggested, the primary source of its cultural forms will be the imagination and resource of human peer groups in devising them; and also in revising them in the light of what is learnt through their use.  But of course there are other and important secondary sources.

Anthropology, ethnology and sociology are disciplines that have laid bare a mass of data about the rituals and social practices of diverse cultures in all epochs all over the world.  Such information can feed the imagination of those devising new cultural forms. Some of the old cultural forms were spiritually and politically corrupt, or en­shrined outmoded beliefs, norms and values. But others still have a powerful claim on those concerned with evolving a new world-view and a new social order.

The hugely varied cultural history of mankind is a sort of unconscious co-operative in­quiry by the human race as a whole into the human condition within a universe of many dimensions of being.  And there is a vast repository of learning still to be un­earthed from this enormous racial experiment in living.  A self-generating culture would want to dig away at this and build on it.

Again, there is the ambience provided by creative passive hierarchies of the second kind: the sort of inspiration fed into the autonomous deliberation of human beings by presences attentive in the other world.   Occasionally, there may be quite explicit pro­posals made by persons in the other world; although this kind of direct communication raises many issues of validity and reliability – apart from the moral, political and psy­chological issues involved.

A society of networking groups or communities concerned with the artistic, political and inquiry dimensions of their cultural forms comprises a social world of multiple re­alities.  Each community consists of co-creators – the citizens of that community – who generate a shared form of consciousness that interrelates the diverse parameters of the two-world universe in a unique way. There is no one account of the reality of this uni­verse. For how the members of a community choose to live together in the universe constitutes for them its reality. The traveller moving from one community to another, and staying long enough in each to participate fully in it, would in relative truth move from one reality to another.

Experience of the subtle realms: 

Contents page

Chapter 14