The first commandment of this approach to deep meaning in human life is the simple advice to “pay attention.” But in my system commandments and advice are ruled out -- the need to pay attention should and will arise inside you. The most basic assumption is immanence, that life unfolds by itself without tricks, drugs, instruments -- because that is the definition of life. All the rest is captured and exploited by imposed terms describing someone’s idea of transcendence. This is not a bad thing unless it is used to oppress, but then it can kill.
It turns out that there are far more then five senses. The brain alone has maybe 200 kinds of neurons, each specializing in some kind of perception of the world outside the creature’s skin. One of the most recently investigated was a little locus behind the top of one’s nose that tells you how fast you are going. It remains to figure out what electrochemical signals it is using and whether it is accurately and actually reporting the real speed you are going, or just the speed you THINK you are going.
It turns out that what you THINK far too easily (from my stubborn point of view) overwhelms what actually is being reported via electrochemical signals to the sub-sorter cluster of neurons, which edits before sending to the brain where it is edited some more. I do not like the idea of neurology being organized by dropping out information to preserve earlier heuristics -- giving clarity more importance than reality -- but what alternative do we have?
Brains are limited because there’s only so much space inside a skull. That’s why the originating sense-cells are all over the body -- but there’s only so much space in a body, either. The skin limits a creature, even a dinosaur, who didn’t allot much energy to thinking anyway. If the skin weren’t limited, we would simple dissolve into the energy needs of the environment and its other creatures. We are only borrowed from the world because of our skins making the boundary between oneself and everything else. This way of thinking is biological, practical, operative.
Is this about food?
But what we think of as psychological also has a boundary, which is not perceptible but built (immanent) from the interaction of the neurons trying to understand what’s going on and therefore forming concepts which is a way of creating divisions, boundaries, categories. They are heuristic: “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods; also : of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance.”
This is in sharp contrast to supernaturally-based institutional religions, whose “magic” is believed to be inalterable, unvarying, and the only real interpretation. The claim is that unnatural things of another realm can be known by only one source -- person, book, god -- which demands obedience. A ring, a token, a crown, a throne, are understood as the button that controls power. If you argue with that, it is justification to confine or destroy you as a danger.
Perceiving the world outside one’s skin in a way that respects immanence, the being of something simply as itself, gives one’s inner life many ways to connect and create, which are the third step after sorting and recording what is perceived. Then one can connect with others (fourth step) and feel the simple obvious fact of being embedded in the universe, separated only by one’s skin and one’s assumptions (fifth step).
This might not be pleasant. Suffering, awareness of death, rage, sadness, and loss are real. To look for a supernatural (rather than metaphorical and symbolic) escape is an overwhelming temptation and can successfully fend off despair. It is those who have no way of interpreting the world who are dangerous. It is a death and some deaths want to be shared, maybe with a gun.
But interpretation is the second step. The first is only feeling.
But interpretation is the second step. The first is only feeling.
Some geneticists are asking whether one’s ability to create inner categories that are based on peace have anything to do with human wiring as it results from particular helical molecular constructs. Our skills and knowledge are too primitive to know. It has been heuristically suggested that the Euro-personality might be operating off inherited Neanderthal hunter/gatherer traits, emphasized by the need to fend off a wave of evolved African people. And that the Asian genome, after millennia of agriculture, had become peaceful. This doesn’t allow for the dynamic horse-based people who galloped down from the Asian steppes to spread Genghis Khan’s genes all over Europe. Obviously it must be over-generalizing.
“Mongols were highly tolerant of most religions during the early Mongol Empire, and typically sponsored several at the same time. At the time of Genghis Khan in the 13th century, virtually every religion had found converts, from Buddhism to Christianity and Manichaeanism to Islam.” The anonymous expert in Wikipedia includes only one Asian system and three from the complex of choices in the Middle-East. All are the systems that Karen Armstrong (and Karl Jaspers) explicitly felt were “Axial”, foundations of today’s major institutional religions. These are transcendence-based systems, claiming supernatural sources as authorization.
Alexander Nevsky among the Shamans
The foundational religion of Genghis Kahn was shamanic which is an immanent system. Its super-powers are rooted in reality, like bears or cranes or mountains which should be taken as symbols with meaning rather than imitation humans. The religious systems of Europe before the “Axial” religions were shamanic and so were those in the Americas and Africa. Institutions are creatures of settlement and wealth. Kings and armies.
The 13th century in Europe is described by some historians as “high,” which is not about altitude but about prestige and power. Maybe it comes from the practice of putting powerful people up on a platform where people could see them. “High” table, “high” church, and so on. These are all institutionally ascribed, but also we associate “high” with the sky, whether angels or bomber planes, images of power, though we don’t recognize bombs as religious unless we call them “demonic” -- which means they should be connected to underground, like landmines and terrorists. Immanence is considered “grounded”, an eruption like Pluto bursting up in his chariot to seize the innocent Persephone, which deranges the order of the seasons. The earth is "low," meaning vulgar, uncivilized, dirty, and probably sexy. Maybe childlike.
So does that mean that the intended “high” civilization of skyscrapers, space stations, and church spires has deranged the world into famine and rising oceans? Maybe. Or maybe our categories are just wrong. Are the Bioneers verging into institutional hubris? Is the media now a hegemony imposing its own worldview from broadcasting satellites?
I would argue that the immanence of pure perception and a willingness to break down boundaries through empathy and compassion are the true Sacred strategies. How to do that is hidden behind dark glass. We should be cautious: it may be protective.