“Nothing can doom man but the belief in doom, for this prevents the movement of return.”Martin Buber
Now, let’s take stock of where we are. (Or at least, I will; you are free to do the same in your place and time.) It is the 21st day of June in the year 2022 on the Gregorian calendar, and an energetic pattern that has been labeled “Waldo Noesta” is both writing this article and driving an 18-wheeler (voice-to-text, mind you), heading west on Interstate Highway 80 through the hill country of New Jersey. (It’s not as exciting as it sounds, I’ve done it almost every Tuesday afternoon for several years.)
At some point in the future — maybe after a thousand more passes down this roadway, maybe only one — this pattern will not repeat itself. Not because anything went wrong; the wave called Waldo Noesta will simply have reached its golden shore, or tapered out as the fans got tired of standing up and sitting down, and it will cease to exist.
But I will still exist in some form, or formlessness…I will have work to do. That’s what the dream told me.
Key question then: Am I saying that Waldo Noesta will survive the dissolution of his body and return in a different body?
No. That is what Cartesian dualism would have you think, but it is not what I mean.
Waldo is not a person but a personality. He is mortal, so his story will be told once and never again. That characteristically Western sense of the precious irreplaceability of every moment in every life is not lost on me and it is not foreign to this Perennialist theory. But this also means I’d better not be too attached to him, or I will be filled with the sense of doom that pervades human life in linear time.
A dilemma? Yes, and it will remain so until I grasp the idea that “I” simply do not die with Waldo. I exist to live again.
So who or what am “I?” Let’s have another peek behind the curtain…
The writer Wendell Berry is a naturalist and a Christian, and he is exceptionally gifted at articulating ideas in both languages. So it didn’t surprise me to find this passage in which he broke down the confusion imposed by dualism on nature’s inherent unity.
“Genesis 2:7…gives the process by which Adam was created: ‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.’ My mind, like most people’s, has been deeply influenced by dualism, and I can see how dualistic minds deal with this verse. They conclude that the formula for man-making is man = body + soul. But that conclusion cannot be derived, except by violence, from Genesis 2:7, which is not dualistic. The formula given in Genesis 2:7 is not man = body + soul; the formula there is soul = dust + breath. According to this verse, God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His breath into it, He made the dust live. The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. ‘Soul’ here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.”
If you are thrown by the theological language here, try not to be; hold your ground, and let me translate it for you.
The violent equation, according to Berry, is essentially “Waldo = Waldo’s body + Waldo’s soul.” This is what I would call the egocentric position of selfhood. It begins by presuming the appellative individuality of the subject, encoded by an identity with a name and comprised of various social roles, and attaches to that personality a visible body and an invisible soul. By equating the personality and the person, the egocentric self also contains both an anthropomorphic bias and, ironically, a disregard for the subjective experience that it can’t pinpoint on its materialist blueprint of the person. As bizarre as it sounds, egocentric individuality actually invalidates what makes us individuals, pitting the will against the ego in a battle for control of the person. The poorly deciphered equation behind it is such an unconscious assumption in the dualistic Western mind that an incalculable amount of bad religion can be attributed to this exact error, beginning with a literal reading of the Garden of Eden legend.
But Wendell’s non-dual reading of Genesis 2:7 produces an equation that should now sound familiar: soul (the wave, the energetic pattern we call “Waldo”) = dust (the physical aspect of self, the up-down vibration of atoms) + breath.
The latter term is something we’ve yet to define, but consider what is missing so far in our illustration of the wave dynamics that produce an energetic pattern: momentum. Something that moves the pattern this way or that way. Remember, we don’t have the external factors that work upon the ocean in the metaphorical model; everything is internal to this Ocean.
I’m going to suggest that “breath” in this passage is symbolic of the will. Not a will to anything in particular yet, just the noun without the infinitive form of a verb following it. Don’t concern yourself with whether the will is free or mechanistically moved by deterministic forces. For now, we are talking about the most basic level of motivation for the energetic pattern called Waldo. This is the will, the innermost layer of “I.”
The will, not the ego, is the central element of the self. We have tried for so long to make the will a mere aspect of the ego that the statement seems to make no sense at first. But such is the craftiness of our cult of personality, that as its ruse is uncovered it grabs the will and says, “If you kill me, I’m taking you with me!” But even those who see through the illusion of ego and see the world as the play of Maya still continue to breathe, still take food and water with the intention of living, and still entertain passing thoughts they do not own. The wave stills waves, in other words, and it waves because the will that powers it was always independent of the false master that tried to control it.
A little while ago, I had a watershed realization about the will, except I didn’t really know how significant it was until I started contemplating the outline for this essay. It was a ho-hum Facebook comment whose context I honestly don’t remember, I just know I was elaborating on the difference between the ego self and the natural self (or what, for the purposes of this thesis, I might rename “the will-driven self”). Winging it, I said the latter is what comes into being when the potential for something to be and the will for that thing to be converge. Pretty basic, didn’t need or receive any further explanation at the time.
But WOW, does it fit this equation with spooky precision.
Soul = dust + breath.
The energetic pattern that constitutes the visible, measurable essence of a being or thing = the potential to be + the will to be.
The up-down, yes-no, LightDark vibration by itself does not create a wave — there must be momentum, a sense of direction, which had to precede the wave in order for the wave to exist. We all know this on a primal level, but we were taught to pretend we don’t, that all notion of self is contained within the tamed ego and couldn’t be otherwise — probably because the will is so untameable. The empiricist too is befuddled by the will for it cannot be measured, but look into the eyes of any animal whose biosurvival is threatened, and tell me the will to be is based on an illusion.
There is a section of “The Peasant and the King” that I also wrote before fully understanding it, and it now seems very pertinent here. This is an internal monologue in which a character is confronting both the reality of death and the intuitive sense that something of itself persists beyond the death event. The religion of his people would tell him these were “body” and “soul” respectively — see if you can identify the revelation he has (note that a couple terms used in the book have been changed here to ease the translation across the two different contexts):
I am going to die.
Yes. There is a will that pulls together the elements that coalesce into one living body with a local mind. There is a will that sustains the body and mind by exchanging those elements with its surroundings. One day, that will is going cease sustaining it, and the elements will disperse into their surroundings. This is the death of the body.
The will feels like it belongs to the local mind…but how could it? How did it have the will to coalesce into itself if it didn’t exist?
The will for the body to exist pre-exists the body.
The will for anything to exist pre-exists all things. So will is not a property of a coalesced body. It has to be a function of all the elements in existence.
The Will for these elements to exist and coalesce and form living bodies pre-existed all the elements in existence. Will and God are one.
If I experience a will to sustain this temporal existence, it is an extension of the original Will that causes all elements to coalesce into living bodies….
Billions of cells die within this body every day [and billions more take their place, like the water molecules that form a wave]; nevertheless I live—though not I, but God lives as Me. So too shall I live when this body, one cell among billions in the universe, dies. I am here now and will never be again, and I will never stop being.
‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.’
Do you see it yet? “Breath” is a symbol for the momentum that defines sapient life — and it is not a product of the physical body. It comes from the source of all that exists, and it manifests as a soul by bringing together the elements it needs to become a physical body. The will to be precedes its own being. It is the original “I am.”
Just as the momentum which moves a wave is a property of the whole ocean and not just the wave itself, so too the will that moves the soul is a property of the eternal ground of being that we call God and not just the soul it becomes. “No man is an island” — that is, no soul nor will exists in isolation. But it should also be noted that a wave crashing on the shore of Okinawa in early July is not the same as one that laps the sands of Waikiki in late September. Nor is your soul the same as mine; they are different breaths of the same God, different wills harnessing distinct elemental sets of potential. While they exist, our souls are indeed individual energetic patterns, though emanations of the same source, moving within the same ground of being, returning to the source they never really left.
We must then accept the seeming paradox that each will, and each soul it becomes, is both universal and unique. Just as the ocean is both the source and destination of the individual wave, the eternal God is both the source and destination of the individual soul as it takes a trip through time.
And a straight timeline that begins and ends in the same place is not truly a line, but a cycle. The soul is the individual cycle; what precedes the soul and persists beyond its dissolution is the will, and you are that. Just as you willed yourself into temporary, conditioned existence for the sake of experience, you may choose to do so again.
I and I:
an Omniperennialist Theory of Reincarnation and Cyclical Time