Experience of the subtle realms: Contents page
Chapter 5. Transfigurations
In this class of unusual experiences, physical perceptions temporarily and radically change their form, as if another reality is disclosing itself through the change. They are often highly ambiguous.
I look with my physical eyes at another person’s face for a long time, and it is as if the other’s face slowly dissolves into a subtle mist. This appears as a cloud of fine grey-white energy that vibrates at a high frequency. Sometimes the physical image completely disappears for a second or two. Sometimes one eye, or part of the brow or a cheek, is still visible through the cloudy light.
It is as though I have quietly shifted my level of awareness into the subtle domain immediately within and around the physical world: a domain which, it seems, provides the generative matrix of the physical world. And it is as if any residual bit of the physical image that I can see is both suspended in and emerging out of this matrix. But it is the temporary dissolution of the physical image – into what appears as its originating energy – that is the most striking feature of the immediate experience.
The application of Occam’s razor here would insist that there is nothing more at work than retinal fatigue and projected retinal lights or after-images. The perceived face disappears because the nerves in the retina give up the ghost for a bit through overuse. But they are still firing enough to yield unpatterned physical vision and to generate retinal light which is projected out so I seem to see it as a mist over there where the face was.
Heron’s beard is not necessarily shaved off by this application of Occam’s razor. For the combination of retinal fatigue and projected retinal light could be the mechanism whereby the brain suddenly has access to register subtle energy in the matrix domain. Psi could be released by the retinal fade. When ordinary seeing wanes, clairvoyance may wax.
Indeed, when we talk about retinal lights and after-images, what exactly are we talking about? Close your eyes and look at them (a curious instruction in itself). They have spatial properties but are clearly not in physical space. They have elegant, ethereal colours that echo but do not exactly replicate physical colours. They are critically related in some way to the working of the eyes, but you do not see them with your eyes, because they are not out there in the natural world to be seen. As experiential entities they are very much in a world of their own.
Well perhaps they are psi phenomena in inner space: psi lights in the subtle field around and within the physical space of the cortex – witnessed by the most rudimentary clairvoyance where the subtle matrix of the physical body interacts closely with the neural mechanisms of eyes and brain. And as such perhaps they can become vehicles for wider kinds of clairvoyance, like windows which normally reflect back processes in the brain, but can, if you choose, open out further into non-physical domains. This idea is portrayed in Figure 5.1, and developed in subsequent sections.
However much lights around my brain may or may not be the mediators, it is still as if, in this experience, my clairvoyance opens up to see the free energy of the subtle matrix of the other person’s face. I seem to see the undifferentiated life-stuff within and behind the differentiated form: as the latter fades to ordinary vision, the former is revealed to subtle vision.
Figure 5.1 Idioretinal lights as potential clairvoyant windows
This experience is really an extension of the previous one, taking it on a stage further. But whereas the previous experience has been quite common in my life, the one I now report is altogether more rare. For the extension is dramatic.
I remember being seated with a close friend in a ground floor flat in Fulham in London. It was a warm summer evening, still light, just after sunset. There was a third person present, known to both of us, but not intimately. The topic of conversation hinged lightly around human potential and its development.
As I gazed steadily at my friend, her form dissolved into the fine grey-white mist. Her physical image had almost totally disappeared from my perceptual field. For a long time there was nothing but akasha, as the Hindus call the subtle and pre-physical state of matter. Only fragments – a hand, a fold of the dress, an eyebrow – briefly re-appeared, soon to be obscured by the milky cloud.
Gradually, the whole of her emerged again into my view, but in a way which I had never experienced before. Her form was slightly blurred, seemingly porous, translucent, letting through the light of its originating field. It was as if she was buoyant in and emanating from a haze of subtle energy. She no longer appeared exclusively physical, anchored by gravity to the chair. She came forth in her levitational mode – held in suspension by, and emerging out of, the luminous, subtle, potent akashic matrix.
This transfiguration of my perception lasted for some time. I remember feeling a great sense of release from the illusion of the seemingly exclusive materiality of this world. I remember wondering how on earth my ordinary perception could get so locked in that illusion. And I remember realising that my whole perceptual frame of reference had undergone a major transformation. But how? And how could I sustain it? Or recover it when it was lost?
I was beholding her continuous, elegant coming into being from the living subtley of a space within and beyond her. It was awesome, refreshing and liberating. And now I became immersed in my own coming into being, and that of the third person in the room. This corporate emergence moved me deeply. Our conversation was as if conducted on the footstool of a luminous creation reaching far and away behind us, yet intimate to every motion of a hand, flicker of an eyelid and re-arrangement of a thigh.
Gradually the visionary shift waned and was gone. My perceptions then felt like bric-a-brac washed up on the beach of ordinary seeing. I was disconsolate, deprived of the warmth of the luminous ocean. Like a stranded whale, the victim of my own gravity, I did not know how to get back to swim in the waters of continuous creation.
After dark, I wandered along the Fulham Road. The self-sufficiency of nocturnal London, lit up in its own mode on a warm evening, was re-assuring. Ordinary perception re-asserted its bizarre charm: its limits like gentle strokes for an insecure child.
In this experience, after prolonged gazing at the eyes and face of another person, the physical image of the other’s face does not disappear but starts to change. The physiognomy alters, mobility of form overtakes the normally fixed features; and it is as if other faces start to appear – in and through the physical face. They seem to emerge out of it and then merge back into it; or flicker briefly over it like a super-imposed image.
Sometimes just one other face hovers in view for a while. Sometimes there is a succession of two or three different faces. There is the curious sense of double perception, of physical seeing and clairvoyance going on together, in temporary tandem of awareness. It is difficult to get the right metaphor: the patterns of ordinary vision become malleable by, or permeable to, or perforated by the patterns of extrasensory perception.
It is also as if the faces that appear are the faces of persons in the other world who are somehow intimately associated historically and/or psychologically with the human being in front of me. The faces thus appearing out of their own world seem to be in present time, and also to echo with the ambience of past times and maybe distant places in this world. It is as if they are ancestors, not in any literal genetic sense, but in terms of some wider notion of psychic or spiritual affinity.
What is interesting here is the apparently seamless fusion of physical perception and clairvoyance. They merge into each other, without either losing their content, for the physical image does not totally change its form. There is an ambiguous double identity before me. And I can shift my awareness rapidly between the two overlapping faces, the physical one and the subtle one, noticing how they are similar and how they are different, both in form and soul.
Thus superimposed over a wide-eyed fresh white youthful face sitting before me in Guildford, Surrey, England, I have seen the shrewd hooded eyes of a tanned and wrinkled face like that of an Andean shepherd. And this has yielded to a fleeting but stern visage with the commercial grasp of a seventeenth century Dutch burgher. Then a hint of dark eyes simmering with unrequited passion.
And it is not only the eyes, cheekbones and brow that flicker with shifts of form. For as these features change, soo too the lines of the mouth curl round different attributes of soul. Yet throughout the kaleidoscopic changes, there is a remarkable continuity of being, an unmistakable affinity. These are souls doing the collective business of their destiny in a state of deep rapport.
It is as though the young Englishman in front of me stands in a historical gallery full of echoes from the past. But the past figures with whom he resonates are also present now in their own mode and domain. And they seem to be intimately involved in the fluctuating dynamics of his psyche, as if a composite historical tale is being summated and taken forward by his own growth and development.
Now Occam’s razor would argue for a more economic explanation: in terms of retinal fatigue and subjective imagination. When my eyes get tired with sustained gazing at the same face, then my imagination fills in the retinal gaps with interesting variations on the other person’s features. But all that is going on is my own projected phantasy – perhaps charged also with some of my own emotional material.
Well, it is the subtle sense of perceiving on two different levels at once which, when it is strong, defies this reduction to the purely imaginary. But again, the explanations are not mutually exclusive, for one process may lead over into the other. Thus retinal fatigue may let my subjective imagination loose, but this in turn may lead over into objective clairvoyance.
This sort of progression takes us into the heart of ambiguous experience. And it is where Heron’s beard truly comes into its own. For I may look at the face of another person, and at first be fascinated by shifts in their features which are entirely the product of my own imagination. But because I continue to attend to, and to elaborate, this imaginative process – rather than sceptically dismiss it – it turns into clairvoyance of a whole web of interpersonal relations between the worlds, and between the present and the past.
If you use the principle of Heron’s beard, you will often find that imagination has been the chrysalis, in an ordinary state of consciousness, of fully-fledged and radiant clairvoyance in an altered state of consciousness.
There is also a small practical tip. I have sometimes found that if I tilt my head backwards, narrow my eyes to a small aperture, and peer with great intensity into the eyes and face of the other person, then this greatly facilitates the occurrence of the dual mode of seeing.
Sometimes in sustained and silent mutual gazing with another person, there is a very subtle transfiguration: the eyes of the other become windows that open onto vistas of inner space. It is as if I can see through the other’s eyes into subtle domains.
When two human beings open themselves to mutual gazing, they can enter a timeless zone of spacing out. But first, of course, they have to let go of all the emotional agitation and embarrassment that can obscure the gaze. Once this is done, and a pathway is cleared for inner and outer vision to interfuse, then the result is so deep and enthralling, it sometimes difficult to know how to come out of it – as if to disengage into ordinary consciousess is an affront to cosmic togetherness.
The Stoics, in the third century B.C., regarded themselves as citizens of cosmopolis – the cosmic state – and in mutual gazing the cosmopolitan status of every human being can be seen and acknowledged. Our participation in the one society of the subtle, formative universe is revealed.
The human gaze itself is not a physical phenomenon. It is supervenient upon the eyes, but is not the same as the eyes. It is a highly personal psi beam mediated by the eyes, like a ray of presence. The light of the gaze is the energy of consciousness. If I attend to this light in the other’s gaze, and trace it to its origins, then I enter the vastness of inner space indeed.
For the other’s consciousness is not just his or hers. It is continuous with universal consciousness, which – as the Hindu Vedanta affirms – is everywhere at one with the subtle space of akasha. So through the gaze-light of the other you can roam the inner universe at large.
I remember being seated opposite a man of my own age in a workshop I was running at the University of Surrey. The workshop was on transpersonal psychology, and the exercise we were busy with was this exploration of mutual gazing. As I journeyed backwards along his gaze-light to its remote inward origins, I wheeled among galaxies and contemplated the genesis of stars.
His eyes were like monitor screens in a space-ship that journeyed beyond the material universe to that inward space-consciousness-energy that is full of archetypal creative power. I emerged from the experience drenched with transcendence.
Now there is a rather more mundane way of entering this sort of experience, to do with the areas of the brain ordinary states of consciousness do not use. I look into the eyes of the other person, rather than contemplate their gaze-light. And in my imagination, I set their eyes into reverse vision.
Normally, for the other person, images of the outer world register through their eyes on their brain. That is their Janus-brain facing outwards. But I seek out their Janus-brain facing inwards. I look for images of the inner worlds registering through their brain into their eyes. Or to put it another way, it is as if through their eyes I can access the way in which the inner universe is coded in their brain. I can engage with their status as a Janus-brain, whether they are aware of this status or not.
I look into the eyes of the other and imagine I am scanning the parts of the brain their normal perception and thought processes do not reach. I then picture this area of their brain as a screen revealing vistas on subtle space. It is not clear to me whether this is simply an imaginative device for opening up my own clairvoyance. In which case, I am really setting my own brain into reverse vision, under the guise of a procedure in the other person. Or whether I am traversing an actual psi route in the brain matrix of the other, which opens up a similar route in me. Whichever it is, the impact can be quite liberating, yielding a noticeable shift of consciousness, with glimmerings of extrasensory perception.
We can say of a Janus-brain that the subtle universe is coded and enfolded in unused parts of the brain. And we can say that there are unused parts of the brain that can be awakened and trained to register impacts from the subtle universe. The two statements are compatible: it is those parts of the cortex that carry the subtle code that can be awakened to decipher akashic reality.
Well, is all this windows-in-the-eyes talk just an account of poetic inter-personal imagination at work? It is the potent shift of consciousness into a liberated, inward and intensive spatial mode that makes me reject the idea that it is nothing but subjective phantasy. Yet again, what starts out as private imagination may, with the application of Heron’s beard, transcend itself in the continuous creation of cosmic imagination.
There is one simple, basic and very accessible type of ambiguous experience that is available to anyone who cares to devote a few minutes to it. It is to sit with the eyes closed and attend fully, without distraction, to what appears before them. The art of the exercise is to be calm, to watch and to continue to watch in an unhurried way whatever it is that shows up. Just keep giving attention to the subtle inner light and colour, and to slight blurred configurations that may emerge and shift and change.
At the level of ordinary, and readily accessible, experience, there appear to be at least four kinds of phenomena. First, assuming the exercise is done during the day, there is the diffuse, unpatterned daylight penetrating through the eyelids, and coloured in part at any rate by their flesh and blood. Second, there are some small greyish blurred blobs that move and drift around, and are to do with the liquids of the eye. Third, there will initially be after-images, coloured negatives of the physical shapes you have been looking at – and they undergo various metamorphoses of colour and form as you attend to them. And fourth, after the after-images fade away, you will notice idio-retinal configurations and colours which appear to be involved in the spontaneous activity of the neural structures of physical vision.
It is these idio-retinal lights that interest me the most. So I sit here in front of the window and close my eyes. For a time I watch the brilliant, ethereal colours of the after-images of the window-panes and cross-bars glow and fluctuate – until eventually they fade away. Then I just attend to the orange coloured diffuse light. There now appears in the middle of this a blurred yellowish disk with a darker hole in the middle of it. This disk with the hole I take to be related in some way to the retina or optic nerve or visual centres in the brain.
As I gently feed my attention into the hole in the disk, nurture it with my consciousness, a transfiguration occurs. The hole turns into the form of an eye. As I attend to the eye it comes more into focus, into relief. Then spontaneously the perspective changes, and I get a view of the eye from the side, in profile.
I am not in any sense imagining this eye. As I focus my awareness on the hole in the disk, the eye reveals itself to my inspection. I am looking at it: certainly not with my physical eyes, for they are closed. And it is not the after-image of an eye: there has been no eye of another person around for some hours. Nor have I recently been looking in a mirror.
This transfiguration of a small dark circle or hole in the middle of the closed-eyes coloured field into an eye is quite a common experience, whenever I spend long enough gently attending in an unhurried way to this field. And up this point there is nothing ambiguous about the experience. There is no doubt about it, I am simply looking with inner vision at an eye. It is not as if I am looking at an eye. I am looking at an eye.
There are two versions of this eye, and it is at this stage that some ambiguity enters in. Sometimes it is as if the eye is the eye of a person in subtle space near me, and I catch a glimpse of both eyes and something of the person’s face although never quite all of it and never for very long. At other times it is as if the eye is, well, just an organ of inner vision: if I focus my attention on it, and direct my awareness into it, then it opens up and dissolves into vistas of subtle landscapes, buildings, and so on. I look out through it into the other world.
There is another quite common kind of transfiguration that occurs when I notice what goes on with my eyes closed. After a while the darker patch or circle in the middle of the coloured field appears – and this, as I say, I take to be some image associated with the nervous system. If I attend to it very fully, it starts to develop form and to change in scale and sense of direction.
It is as if I am looking up a quite wide cylindrical opening into subtle space, like a dry well about fifteen feet across. Not far above me the circular top of the well opens out into some subtle domain. And all around the top I can just make out indistinct forms of figures standing round the edge and peering down at me. Sometimes they appear to be leaning over a circular parapet looking into the well.
On some occasions, this whole picture, although I am clearly ‘seeing’ it and not just conjuring it up in my imagination, will be quite indistinct and will fade back into the idio-retinal disk before I can do any business with it. The transfiguring effect is lost. What was starting to be an altered state of consciousness reverts to an ordinary state. This is because I lack, or cannot sustain, a subtle and very intense focus of attention on the developing image – a focus that honours what I am starting to see without in any way seeking to interfere with it.
At other times, I can focus with sustained attention on just one portion of the rim of the well, where it leads over and out into the subtle domain, and as I do so I start to see details of the rim more clearly and to rise up toward it, my inner vision eventually going up and over it, spreading out to take in extended vistas of buildings and/or landscapes. I rarely see figures once my inner sight is over the rim.
This kind of clairvoyance of subtle domains is often highly metamorphic. Buildings and features of landscapes change their shapes, with great mobility and plasticity, as I look at them. On the one hand it is as if my consciousness is a creative cornocupia, generating an abundance of forms in inner space. On the other hand, it is as if there is a subtle world out there pouring innumerable views of itself into my awareness. It seems as though both these processes are at work; and that the rapidly fluctuating, almost chaotic profusion of psi percepts is something to do with the untrained, unskilled nature of my seeing.
This abundant kind of psi is greatly facilitated, I find, if I am out of doors on a hot day of bright sunlight. I sit in the shade, lying back relaxed in some kind of reclining chair on which the back of the head, too, can rest. With eyes closed, sooner or later the darker central disk appears, and the transfiguration I have just described commences, often with great clarity, subtle vigour and brilliance. The relaxation, the heat, the reflection of sunlight onto the shaded and closed eyes: all this seems to be conducive to the release of inner vision.
Thus I remember sitting in the shade of a parasol beside a swimming pool in the grounds of the Mission Inn near Uxmal in Yucatan, Mexico. It was December and very hot. The Maya pyramids of Uxmal emerged from the low-lying scrub in the middle distance. I lay back and closed my eyes. That day I was the only guest in the hotel.
Nurtured by the heat, my closed-eye field resplendent with the luminous energy of reflected sunlight, the transfiguration of the ordinary disc into the image of a well occurred. My inner vision flowered. It spread over the rim of the well, and was cast into a world of immense creative brilliance.
Buildings of impressive scale loomed before me. As I ranged my vision up their great height of arches, parapets, deep recesses and towering ornament, they reformed their perspective to yield new reaches of proportion and design. This subtle architectural regeneration and change of structure was a shocking delight to my clairvoyance – which yet participated so intimately in it.
Now there was an elevation of cathedral status. It rose up from one dimension of inner space to another, unfurling its forms vertically into more refined states of extension and awareness. It lifted my vision up with it to behold immense vistas of high-raised akasha. It was an extraordinary combination of great architecture and great exaltation.
These visions, of course, are very like psychedelic visions – but without the use of psychedelic drugs. I have taken mescalin and LSD a few times: they seem to have the effect of unfurling the subtle world code locked up in the nervous system, as if deep parts of the cortex spin out an abundance of psi visions enfolded in them.
The difference between LSD-induced visions and those that occur out of doors in the shade on a sunny, hot day, is subtle. It seems as though the former are being spun out of the deep recesses of the brain. The latter have more the sense of pouring all over the nervous system from another dimension. But each also partakes of something of the nature of the other. For in both there may be an interaction between code and impact, the difference being only one of emphasis and focus.
The sceptic, wielding Occam’s razor, can make an important point about this claim to clairvoyance. He cannot of course explain away the visions as such. A vision is a vision is a vision. But he can resist the explanation in terms of perception of another world. He can insist there is nothing at work but unfettered mental imagery; and that this does not involve perception of anything. The visions are no more than elaborate day-dreams, sustained hallucinations.
Well, in relation to ordinary perception, there is no proof that I know of that establishes beyond doubt the existence of an external world. In this matter, some philosophers have made an appeal to common sense. So they simply avow that it is internal to our common sense that in everyday perception we encounter a world. There is an analogous, even more potent, appeal that can be made in relation to psi capacity. The akashic worlds make a very strong claim indeed on the common sense of all true seers. The reality of these worlds is in the relation of encounter with them. A world is what we meet, engage in dialogue with – and embrace with our subjectivity only to find that it is intriguingly other.
Finally, there is the status of so-called retinal lights to consider. I suggested earlier in this chapter that they are psi lights, seen clairvoyantly where the subtle matrix informs the optic nerve and visual centres of the brain. And that they can, with appropriate attention, open out into wider forms of clairvoyance. The experiences set forth in this section confirm such a view.
The claim that this experience makes is, from the ordinary point of view, so implausible that Occam’s razor strikes out with great impatience. Let me give an example. A friend of mine was walking in the country and was all of a sudden greatly surprised to find himself looking at a peacock perching high up in the branches of a tree. He did a double take, looked again, and saw nothing but a plastic bag that the wind had blown into the tree, and that was now suspended on the twigs.
He reported the experience as if it was not just ordinary misperception, but rather a startling glimpse of something from another reality suddenly breaking through the veil of physical phenomena. What led him to this account was the sheer impact of the experience, and the great disparity of form between the peacock that he ‘saw’, and the paper bag that he next saw. It was as if an ambiguous physical percept became for a moment clairvoyantly transfigured.
Now of course all our everyday seeing is seeing-as: we see this physical image as a cup, or a cow, or a cupid. We interpret, we fit a concept to the percept. And sometimes the image is so ambiguous at first take that we fit the wrong concept, and only closer inspection shows that we need to reclassify the image under a different concept.
Most times there is nothing remotely clairvoyant about such misperception. Sometimes, however, it may be that the conceptual gap, the confusion at the level of seeing-as, permits the striking appearance of an other-worldly image in the middle of the everyday perceptual field. But such an image is very transient and only endures for a brief moment until the conceptual gap is closed and a correct identification of the physical percept is established.
Now we do know that concepts can radically affect percepts. Thus the native islanders could not see the first white man’s ship anchored in the bay because they did not have the concept for such a thing. The limited conceptual framework that came with the use of their language made them unable to see a sailing ship.
Similarly, the limited conceptual framework that comes with our modern use of language may make us unable to ‘see’ in the psi mode. It may contract our awareness around purely physical modes of perceiving so that we simply do not notice what is going on in the great subtle matrix out of which the material world appears. And it is only very occasionally when this framework loses its tight hold – such as moments of misperception – that we can receive impacts from the subtle domain.
Misperception as clairvoyance may also occur at the very edge of the ordinary visual field. I am in the kitchen looking at the kettle. I suddenly become aware of something like a cat moving swiftly for a split second over by the broom-cupboard, which is on the extreme periphery of my field of vision. Yet I know that there is no physical cat in the kitchen, for I do not have a cat. I then re-classify my percept and realise it was the shadow of a bird flying past the kitchen window.
Now maybe it was both. Maybe it really was the shadow of a bird flying past the window. But until I grasped this, the unclassified percept created an opening for brief clairvoyance of a subtle cat – a creature for whom the ancient Egyptians would have had some respect. Of course, I have no idea why it was flitting around my kitchen. Was it seeking out the broom in the broom-cupboard, or in foolish pursuit of the shadow of a bird, or bestowing power on the culinary arts?
Misperception as clairvoyance may occur, too, in dimly lit physical environments. I am lying awake in bed at midnight, with the curtains a little open. A faint light from the night sky penetrates the room. The dark space becomes ambiguous with bulging forms. They are not the forms of things in the room, for I know the exact shape of each item of furniture and where it is.
They are some kind of retinal response to minimal light. But because I am busy perceiving nothing as vague masses which I cannot classify, they yield to sudden and impromptu clairvoyance of subtle shapes – but only for fractions of a second. And since I never succeed in classifying the masses – for they are pure perceptual illusion and there is nothing there to classify – I keep oscillating in and out of fractional moments of clairvoyance. It is no wonder some children are afraid of the dark if they are subject to these visionary oscillations, with no guidance as to what they are and how to cope with them.
As I have already said, many misperceptions are nothing to do with clairvoyance. I simply misidentify something, apply the wrong concept to it and imagine it to be something it is not. This can apply in the dark too: my imagination can run riot with vague masses, and there is no psi vision involved at all. The art of the Janus-brain is to discriminate between this purely subjective kind of misperception, and the kind of misperception that yields brief but authentic episodes of psi encounter with the subtle world.
I refer here to a very common experience of looking at a relatively formless physical pattern – the configuration of a cloud, of stains on an old wall, of the grain of polished wood, of tea leaves at the bottom of a cup, of glowing embers in the hearth – and seeing it as if it has some determinate shape, such as the shape of a human face, an animal, a building, or a household object. Now the transfiguration here is purely conceptual and subjective. The physical pattern does not change. It is only what I see it as that changes. But is this always true?
I have looked into a low burning fire and seen a face, but the face has a form that is more extensive than the form of that part of the fire out of which it emerges. So it is as if I see a face that has more pattern in it than the associated bit of the fire has: the change is not only conceptual, but also perceptual. And sometimes it is as if the perceptual change has a psi shift on it, as if there is a clairvoyant image within the physical perceptual field.
There are multiple ambiguities here. Firstly, the physical pattern is ambiguous: it can be seen as bearing this, that or the other determinate image. Secondly, is the transfiguration purely conceptual, only a matter of seeing-as, or is it also perceptual, to do with the actual pattern itself? And thirdly, if the transfiguration is both conceptual and perceptual, is it just a hallucinatory distortion of ordinary perception, or is it clairvoyance of an actual subtle entity through a briefly open window in the everyday visual field? Only rigorous noticing, with the growth of Heron’s beard, can resolve the last two questions.
Perception is a cultural phenomenon. We perceive the world our culture believes in. As children, we learn to see things in terms of the concepts and categories that come with the mastery of language. And these in turn are organised by the belief-systems that prevail in the culture of which we are a part.
So animists in ancient and so-called primitive societies perceived a different world to those living in mediaeval times. The former saw a world suffused with supernatural fluid, occult powers and ancestral presences. The latter saw a world that was the lowest realm, the footstool, of a theocratic universe, with god in his heaven beyond the sphere of the stars. The beliefs, we may surmise, were part of the way of perceiving.
And today, seeing the world is not separate from having beliefs about it. For there is a restrictive belief-system built into the very process of perception. In our culture, we perceive a world that is mechanistic, materialistic, and atheistic. When we see things, we see them as incorporating that sort of world-view. It is the 400 year old heritage of our modern culture, which possesses our childhood brains as we learn to talk and act socially.
Indeed, the cultural belief-system that is deeply embedded in the structure of everyday perception, may be at odds with ideologies acquired later in life through education, experience and reflection. Thus a person may inwardly have come to believe in a systems view of the world, in other non-physical levels of being, in a divine presence – and yet still sees the garden, the high street, the living room, the surrounding hills, in Cartesian-Newtonian terms as purely physical entities subject to mechanical laws operating in empty space.
There is a way of countering all this. It is to construe actively while looking. To rethink the world in the very act of seeing it. To restructure the belief-system that is built into the process of perceiving.
This belief-system that possesses perception is not just abstract in nature. It is fuelled by imaginative, creative power. It is an active, dynamic shaping of the meaning and impact of the world by the mind. And so to rethink the world in the act of seeing it means putting out a deep re-appraisal of what we see. Then we start to experience the world as being different.
We have to rethink the world with the whole of the nervous system, with our nervous centres in the belly as well as, if not more so than, in the cortex. I find that the presence of trees is a teacher in this matter. So if I walk in the woods, in the ambience provided by stately trees, I become more and more able imaginatively to re-appraise the being of the world in the very act of perceiving it. The belief-systems impregnated into perception by the culture lose their hold.
I think-perceive the world anew. And it is as if the trees themselves generate the creative thoughts that reconstruct the world within my eyes. Of course my mind provides the unspoken words implicit in the thoughts, but the trees assist with the underlying conceptual pattern.
I found a wood near Nutteln in Emmsland in West Germany. I walked through it for two hours or more on many days in the middle of a sun-clad September. The trees were great teachers, like members of a distinguished philosophical arboretum. I relay here their teaching in terms of my perceptions.
I see the physical world as porous, as open everywhere to the energy fields in the matrix space that sustains it. There is the immediate matrix space of the earth and the solar system. And there is the vast matrix space of the galaxy, a space that is deeply inward, extensive, subtle, potent; and out of which the physical galaxy emerges.
I see the earth as an energy structure floating in the matrix space of the galaxy, interpenetrated by the subtler energies of that immense inner space. I am also aware that the earth is a conceptual artefact; and that I am participating in creating this artefact as I see it. I do not quite know how I am doing this, but I do know that I am doing it.
And as I see, I hear creation singing its own song. Cast into English, the refrain becomes something like: ‘I perceive as I think as I choose to exist’. There is an act of being. This act, this ecstatic choice, is a choice of being. And what is chosen is the value of being, its joy. I realise that, as part of creation, I too choose to exist, choose my belief-systems and choose my perceptual frameworks.
Looking again at the earth suspended in, porous with, inner space, light and power, I start to notice the more specific energy structures in and around things: trees, stones, crops in the field beside the wood, a tractor and a man working on it, farmhouses on the other side of the field. Also persons or presences in the other world related to the energy structures of the houses in particular.
I came out of the woods and realised what had been happening. As I transfigured the concepts that were built into the very process of perceiving the world, the process itself became extended and inclusive. It started to integrate physical perception and clairvoyance into one seamless whole: I saw the two worlds interacting in a total system – both on the grand scale, and in the bush beside the path.
I found it curious that when I had finished my walk, drove off in my car and re-entered the city where I was staying, I reverted to my ordinary, culture-bound way of perceiving the world. But then a modern city is very Cartesian-Newtonian in concept. Perhaps it is better to think-perceive it that way. It is no good being too porous in New York, London, or any other metropolis. The conventional perceptual framework is good armour in the alien world it creates.
Now there is another way of transfiguring ordinary perception of the world, and that is by exercising and developing the tacit clairvoyance that is normally in servitude to it. This done through a grasp of the geometry of vision in two worlds, and a realisation of the archetypal spatial powers of point, line and plane. This is dealt with in sections 4 and 13 of Chapter 7 – on the doctrine of powers.
Human beings can undergo quite remarkable transfigurations of appearance, so much so that in the realm of interpersonal perception, one doubts the validity of any real separation between physical perception and clairvoyance. Let me explain what I mean.
The same person’s face can at one time appear confused, mean, shrunk, vacuous and stupid. Yet at another time it can appear luminous, potent, full of intelligent authority and generosity. Do we just physically perceive changes in the shape of their face, and then mentally infer corresponding changes in their state of soul? I hardly think so.
Suppose each person has a physical body, a subtle body, and a soul undergoing varying changes of state, mental and emotional. Suppose too that the subtle body in its most dense mode is a matrix for the form and processes of the physical body. And that in its least dense mode it mediates states of soul and shapes their physical appearance in facial expression, gesture and posture. Of course, such a view is hardly new. It is a bit like Aristotle’s doctrine of pneuma: a subtle, active, near-material principle that acts as an intermediary between body and soul. And pneuma is analogous to his aether which I mentioned at the start of chapter 1.
Suppose now that when I physically perceive the physical form of the person’s face, at one and the same time I clairvoyantly perceive the subtle configuration of the person’s state of soul. I don’t properly notice this is going on, because the culture does not provide me with the concepts. The belief-system culturally induced into my perception of people cuts short my full awareness of what I am about. And nature obscures it too with the demanding impact of physical vision. The clairvoyance is tacit, underdeveloped.
If you doubt this, take up another person’s gaze. Now the gaze, as I said earlier in this chapter, is not the same as the physical eyes. It is one thing to look at someone’s eyes as purely physical objects; and quite another to take up the gaze that is mediated by those eyes. It is as if the gaze is the subtle light of a person’s consciousness, supervenient upon and shining through the physical eyes. And the gaze itself can have many different meanings or qualities: intelligent, loving, spiritual, commanding, erotic.
Nor does it seem to me that I infer the gaze and its meanings. Rather I directly apprehend it: not by physical perception, for it is not part of the physical eyes of the other person; but by clairvoyant perception. I am seeing the other’s eyes in physical space, and I am ‘seeing’ the other’s gaze in subtle space, simultaneously. There is a dual perception going on, in two worlds, in two spaces, at once.
Of course, mental and emotional states of soul are not just manifest through the gaze, but also by the whole facial expression, by gesture, posture and movement. Here, too, in my experience, facial expression is a psychic configuration revealed in physical features. I see the physical shapes of the face, and I ‘see’ the psi-delineated mood. In the days when I painted portraits, it seemed to me that I painted the sitter’s face as much out of subtle perception as out of physical perception.
On this sort of view, we always interact with others in a state of dual incarnation and dual perception. The culture would have us believe that it is somehow all taking place in terms of the physical dimension only. And nature supports this cultural error. For physical perception of other persons has a strong claim on our attention and hypnotises us into not noticing the subtle perception that always accompanies it. This visual claim is reinforced by the emotional pre-occupations that so often engage us as we relate to another person.
There is a common experience in favour of the dual incarnation thesis. You cover up your real mood by arranging your physical features and posture to portray a quite different one. But along comes a perceptive observer who notices immediately the disparity between the physical appearance and the hidden feeling. This observer does not – in this instance at any rate – guess, or infer, or hypothesise your real emotional state. Rather she or he perceives your external face and posture, and all at the same time directly senses your mood. This direct sensing, I suggest, is tacit clairvoyance – a knowing by psi of your real emotional form in subtle space.
Where there is a loving bond between two people this tacit clairvoyance often works with great ease and fluency. Perception of physical cues and direct sensing of state go hand in hand. This dual intimacy of access to the being of another is one of the primary fascinations of a close relationship. It is usually wrecked when anxiety, fear and suspicion arise.
Tacit clairvoyance yields psi to psi knowledge of the other’s mental and emotional states of soul. I say it is going on all the time in interpersonal interaction. But because it is tacit – not fully identified, exercised and developed – there are often ambiguities afoot in our reading of other people, especially where the relationship is not close. Am I sensing his state, or just seeing his face?
So far I have only spoken of changes of external appearance revealing different mental and emotional states. And I have suggested that these are transfigurations of physical form by subtle configurations of soul; and as such involve, in the person perceiving them, both explicit physical vision and tacit clairvoyance. But there is something more. This is the phenomenon of presence.
We say that a peson has great physical presence; or that an actor has stage presence; or that the speaker on the podium has presence. What do we mean by the word ‘presence’ used in this kind of context?
Consider the Bolshoi ballet company in Moscow. The principal male dancer in, say, Spartacus, has remarkable presence. On stage he has formidable impact, whether he is immobile in dramatic posture, or bounding through space. Part of it is to do with bearing: how he is spreading his chest broad, commanding physical space with his head, neck and shoulders – and with the flourish of his arms and hands. Part of it is to do with conscious intent and commitment of soul: he seeks to infuse the role with passion of being. Part of it is to do with sheer charisma: a subtle energy that strikes the audience directly at a subliminal level, a powerful effect in subtle space.
These three things – commitment of soul, charisma and bearing – all go together to make up presence. The result is a transfiguration of human expression in this world by potency in another world. It is as if the person is living, breathing, being and moving in two worlds at once; is in conscious command of their expression in physical space and in subtle space at the same time. Hence the sense of a visitor, an entrant from the other world into this.
Presence is the most potent form of personal expression. You can cultivate this kind of transfiguration by practising conscious use of the physical body in all its expressive modes simultaneously, and by doing this through command of the subtle body.
So you integrate your posture, gesture, movement, facial expression, use of eyes, tone and use of voice, in one comprehensive act of conscious bearing. And this alert unity of bearing in physical space emerges out of subtle-body command in subtle space. It is this command that generates the unmistakable impact of charismatic energy upon those around. And within it all is the soul’s commitment and intention to manifest in the fulness of being.
This, of course, is analogous to the Aikido practice of moving the physical body through command of chi energy from the hara chakra. The temporary transfigurations that can be attained in Aikido are remarkable, as skilled devotees will attest. Physical movements in physical space become extraordinaily deft, with great charismatic impact, because they are supercharged with chi energy in subtle space. Your opponents are thrown when you have greater command of chi than they do. And though the formal exercises in Aikido are restricted to the domain of a martial art, there is a widespread effect on the bearing of practitioners in other aspects of their daily life.
Similarly, when actors and actresses have stage presence it is as if they command the whole subtle space within the physical space of the auditorium. They have acquired the knack of managing their physical bearing and expression in this world out of the immanent energies of the other world. Hence they rivet the attention of the spectators: by arousing their inner alertness, enthralling their tacit clairvoyance. And this ability – through charismatic bearing – to attract attention may continue even when they stand silently on the edge of the stage out of the action of the immediate scene.
When someone with presence walks into a room, heads turn as if there is an immediate impact on the subtle bodies of those already in the room. It seems that command of subtle energy in physical bearing also dominates subtle space at a distance.
Similarly, the gaze is a psi phenomenon that can turn heads at a distance. It is a common experience to find you have unwittingly turned round in response to an intense gaze focussed upon you by another person. This also, I believe, is primarily an effect from one subtle body to another.
You may say that actors and others who in certain circumstances have presence have no knowledge of psi. But I believe you can acquire the knack of being doubly incarnated, of directing the physical out of command of the subtle, without necessarily having the concepts. As with many other skills, you know how to do it without quite knowing what it is you are doing. What the knowledge adds, is increased depth and range of command.
The thesis of double incarnation is an important one. It propounds that a person is manifesting simultaneously in a subtle vehicle and a physical body. And that the subtle form is the first, most intimate and potent mode of personal expression, and mediates between a person’s intentions and their physical embodiment. In our culture the subtle body is not acknowledged, even where its intimate potency is most evident, as in mutual gazing, transfigurations of appearance and apprehension of personal presence.
The result of this lack of acknowledgment is the persistent delusion of physicality. At its most crude, this delusion consists of the belief that when we move about, one bit of the body, the brain, is moving other bits of the body such as the limbs. Less crudely, it is the belief that the mind through the brain is somehow moving the limbs around.
Either way round, we get leaden living: people thinking they are shunting heavy parcels of animated matter around – their bodies. Hence the zombie like aspect of people walking along the streets of any town or city: they collude with gravity at the expense of the inherent levity of their subtle power – which is held in check, grossly underused, by the restricted beliefs which dominate their minds. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how people will move around on the surface of the earth, when they realise that it is through the levity of the other world that they move the physical body in the domain of gravity.
Meanwhile the realisation is kept alive by ballet dancers – who celebrate the command of gravity by levity – by practitioners of other expressive arts, and by devotees of some of the martial arts.
I remember once driving through Holland from west to east. It was in the late autumn, just after sunset. The window beside me was open an inch or two. The noise made by the forward movement of the car assailed my ears. It was mainly wind noise, with an addition of noise from the tyres on the road.
I suddenly noticed that this noise had become transfigured by barely audible sounds. It was as if, supervenient upon the physical noise, I could hear ethereal voices in concert. The more I opened my imagination to this sound, the more sustained the choral revelation became – a rarefied, elevated, potent, extremely subtle kind of singing from a large number of voices at a great distance.
I also noticed I could switch this subtle singing off and on, attending at one moment only to the physical noise as such, then letting it open up to carry the transcendental sound. The rarified choir was carried by the physical noise, as though the former were transforming and transfiguring the overtones of the latter.
The use of my imagination aided the process of opening up to the choir of voices from inner space, but clearly did not generate it. My imagination was the listening organ of clairaudience. Occam’s razor, of course, must insist that auditory phantasy is the sole explanation of such celestial sounds. Heron’s beard, by contrast, uses imagination to aid the process of inquiry into their status.
I had a similar kind of experience sitting in the back of a large car being driven by friends through the state of Connecticut in the USA. This was in the middle of spring, but also just after sunset. On this occasion, however, I had previously smoked some cannabis at the home of a leading TV character actor.
Again, the wind and tyre noise of the car became the carrier for inner sounds: this time extraordinarily subtle music. It was a vastly more sophisticated version of the music played by a band of the time, Pink Floyd. But this time, partly because of the derivative nature of the music, partly because I knew it was cannabis induced, I was more prone to regard the sound as the product of my own imagination, chemically liberated into refined creativity.
But a doubt remained. Did the cannabis release my imagination to tap in to the music of subtle domains? The music was unbidden and exhilarating, my state passive and appreciative. Was I a chemically awakened psi listener, rather than a chemically liberated musical phantasist? The beard sprouts despite the razor.
Now the obvious sceptical thesis about all this is that I am simply sensitive to purely physical overtones of physical sounds, and these overtones get worked up by my imagination into ‘music’ I am ‘hearing’. But this is not what it seems like. It is much more as if my auditory imagination is the bridge between physical overtones and a genuine clairaudience of the sound of subtle voices or subtle music. But the experience is still only ‘as if’ – and so a haunting ambiguity remains.
One way to explore the clairaudient transfiguration of overtones, is for a group of people to become proficient in overtone chanting. This consists in producing a basic somewhat nasal chant resonating in the bones of the face, then arranging the tongue and/or lips in such a way as to release overtones sounding out over the basic chant.
Once a group has learned the skill and can generate overtones readily, it can start a co-operative experiential inquiry into the possibility of clairaudient transfiguration. As the overtones produced by the group merge and mingle, do they for any significant number of people become carriers of subtle sounds that transcend them? And if so, how do the different accounts of these subtle sounds compare with each other? What criteria do people use to differentiate between the products of auditory imagination and clairaudience? How can you tell when one leads over into the other?
When I was 16 years old, I attended at Rugby School a concert by Kathleen Ferrier, the extraordinary contralto. It was when she let loose the remarkable timbre of her voice in Orpheus’ lament for Eurydice, by Gluck, that I became utterly alert. Her vocal power was transfigured by a numinous quality of tone. In that sound, the two worlds fused: the deeply human, and the profoundly sacramental. I shall never forget sitting on the edge of my chair suffused by a cascade of glory. My physical listening was entirely subsumed within my clairaudient listening to I knew not what resonances from the universe beyond.
But there is a much more hum-drum ‘transfiguration’ going on all the time at the heart of everyday conversation. For just as in mutual gazing, clairvoyance of the other’s gaze is tacit within physical perception of the other’s eyes, so when I listen to anyone speaking, my clairaudience of their emotional tone of voice is tacit within my physical listening to the timbre or physical quality of their voice.
And just as the physical eyes are not the same as the gaze they carry, so too the physical tone of a person’s voice is not the same as the emotional or personal tone which that physical tone carries. I listen to the physical tone, and at the same time I ‘listen’ directly (but do not infer) the emotional tone. This emotional tone is psi or subtle tone.
And so, too, just as the eyes are intrinsically transfigured, when open, by the subtle gaze, the physical tone of voice is intrinsically transfigured by the subtle tone. The transfiguring in each case may be low level, and not up to much in the way of quality and impact, but transfiguring it nevertheless is.
The subtle power of the physical voice can be stepped up a lot. You can enhance its frequency and impact. But this is not the same as simply improving the resonance and range of the physical voice. An actor can develop physical voice, yet its subtle power may remain relatively unused. Richard Burton, at his early Shakespearean best, had developed subtle tone as well as physical voice. Even in the later decay of the Hollywood years, he never quite lost the resonance of a priest manque.
You can practice intensifying subtle power of voice by chanting or by reciting poetry in sonorous tones: that is, tones that resonate from within the soul. You can feel in this exercise the totality of double incarnation, especially if you have that sense of a deep commitment to the fulness of being. For you are are at one and the same time dealing with both physical tone and subtle resonance: they become deeply interfused. This charged voice has a powerful effect on inner space and its subtle energies. Hence the importance of invocation in esoteric ritual.
The human voice is one of the most intimate and flexible zones for manifold transfigurations by inner power. Charismatic speakers have developed the knack of talking fully out of an inward domain of potency, that rivets the inner listener, commanding attention of soul. Mastery of language is not a necessary condition for such charismatic speech, which can manifest through the simplest statements. But it can greatly enhance the effect. For imaginative command of the choice, the meaning and the sound of words, putting them together in combinations of magical persuasion, already seems born out of another domain.
But it is time to bring out Occam’s razor. The sceptic might well say: ‘All this talk of a subtle tone that is somehow another kind of reality interwoven with the physical tone of the voice, is nonsense. Consider a famous violinist who can make his violin sing with remarkably soulful tone. Are you going to say that the violin strings produce a subtle tone as well as a physical tone? Surely not. The violin is producing a purely physical sound that affects us emotionally. Similarly, there is no extra tone above and beyond the purely physical tone of the human voice.’
On the two worlds view, the answer to this objection is simple. For a physical violin, just as the human voice box, is embedded in the subtle matrix, the subtle universe. And the violinist can so manage fingers and bow upon the violin strings as to produce physical tones and overtones that reveal subtle tones in and through them. The finest human music creates through its physical sound an auditory opening for the subtle music of inner space, and calls forth an attentive clairaudience at the very centre of physical listening.
So we enter a basic domain of magic, the magic of musical transfiguration, in which the ‘shape’ of physical sound produced by one or more instruments is transfigured by subtle sound from an inner world. The musical instrument is an inert piece of matter until the musician makes it and/or the air in and around it vibrate. The art and magic of musicianship is to generate a physical vibration that is transformed for the attuned listener by the psi frequencies that it invokes.
Of course, the structure of the music, the pattern of the sound, helps to generate the appropriate quality of the sound. When a great performer plays the work of a great composer, and quality and pattern of sound enhance each other, there is a musical aperture into another world, and we are listening to two kinds of music at once.
Once again we find what for our culture is this unacknowledged duality of perception and awareness. We do not fully grasp that we are simultaneously hearing in two different modes and in two different worlds, that are both interfused and also distinct. Yet tacit clairaudience, I believe, is indispensable to musical appreciation.
Experience of the subtle realms: