WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN?
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
“Until you extend the circle of compassion to include all living things, you will not find peace.” —Albert Schweitzer.
So here I am. I have completed one soul-ride, one full cycle of birth and death with a period of incarnation in between, or what we call “a life.” Now I am back where I was when the ride began, which is nowhere — that is, no particular place relative to another — and “nowhen” relative to another time. There is no amount of time that passed here while that energetic pattern ran its course through the stream of temporality.
But this was no frivolous joy ride. The “I am” that remains is not the same one that preceded its embarcation. The subjective experience of being Waldo Noesta has been gained, and this experience makes up some part of the self-awareness of “I am.”
What it doesn’t have yet, if my dream’s contribution to the theory holds, is a full sense of how Waldo Noesta’s ride affected other souls, how his actions affected their temporal, subjective life experiences.
This is the most plausible reason I can imagine for post-mortem me flipping through those snapshot moments of my soul-ride, and assimilating the feelings of those around me into my “circle of compassion.” The assimilation gives me a greater mosaic sense of self, extending beyond this local wave activity I have called “myself.”
This, of course, is also something I should be learning to do throughout the majority of the soul-ride. It is what spirituality, in various, marvelously diverse ways, trains us to do within the flow of time, as these experiences are being gathered. Every religion and ethical philosophy we as humans have either devised or learned to impart is a program of deploying a set of skillful means to “expand the circle” in some way, and eventually, to find an holistic revelation of the Self in some form.
It is also, let us not forget, a preparation for this timeless post-mortem moment when, having been plucked from the turbulence of that flow into a celestial “time out,” I will, inevitably, find myself at fault for a great many misdeeds and selfish motivations. I’m about to find out just how badly I failed at my one job as a human, just as I was designed to do.
There are several important reasons why my circle will certainly not be unbroken as I enter the post-mortem state. The journey through time is perilous, and the will must spend a great deal of its attention focused on the soul’s survival to further its journey. The gathering and processing of sensory input is of paramount importance, taking precedence over contemplation. Even after these basic needs on the hierarchy are met — or, perhaps, especially so — the human reliance on semantic concepts and verbal communication has isolating effects that hide the Ocean behind all the waves. The relativity of all forms of temporal knowledge, both personal and cultural and every level in between, makes it very difficult to know what information to trust, which leaves precious little attention to devote to learning absolute, universal truths.
The list of “worldly distractions” goes on and on, but it is crucial to note that none of them are accidental. Not a single aspect of my soul-ride through linear time was a “mistake,” an event that should have gone differently, or an attempt by powers and principalities to thwart my spiritual development. Every moment of that ride contained opportunities for that circle to grow, either in real time or by introspection after the fact.
And now, here I am, released from the need to battle for survival or in defense of my ego, free from the task of processing new sensory input and learning how to assimilate it with the intersecting subjective rides of billions of other souls. I can relax into the experience of communing with them through feeling what they felt as our paths crossed.
Perhaps you are picking up the two major theistic themes of this experience — judgement and forgiveness — and seeing how they get a second look from this perspective. Neither of them are very much like, nor completely divorced from, their traditional interpretations.
Clearly this would explain the monotheists’ instinct about a “judgement day,” for instance — except the only judge here is myself. There is no need for an external jurist watching over my shoulder now, for with my external sensory perception rendered null and void, the intelligence I am using here is pure intuition, a direct pipeline from God. Rumi alluded to this state when he wrote, “Don’t look for me, I am inside your looking,” only now in this “time out” experience it is plainly obvious and not a conjectural feeling, and there is no outer vision to be “inside.” This vision and God’s are one and the same, and I’m about to find out first hand how silly and naive and cringe-worthy a lot of my assumptions and decisions were when exposed to their full relational context.
Judgement? If I assumed God were something outside of my greater sense of self, if I were still attached to my egoic “I am” and looked outward at an external I AM threatening perdition instead of my own Uncreated Light shining from within, it would surely seem that way. From this perspective, it feels more like “assessment day.” For all that it lacks in eschatological flair, this connotes more of the qualities of mercy and guiding forbearance that those who claim God as a celestial father also profess.
Forgiveness as understood in Christian lore is also clearly evident here, but for an unexpected set of reasons. One, because no soul-ride could have gone differently than it did (echoes of Spinozan determinism here), any personal responsibility I might have rightfully assumed for my actions while living is understood as just that — something my deceased personality owned for the duration, and isn’t mine anymore. Two, as virtually no one is going to “complete their circle” while alive, (“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory,”) in my recognition of Waldo’s fragility, I am creating precisely the momentum of return, drawing the next out-breath that will follow this in-breath. Whether it is the desire to finish the job that Waldo could not, or simply to tie up ends that were left loose, or any number of other motivations, the catapult, so to speak, will be wound by the tension of some unfinished business here — but that business will not be pushed or pulled by the scrutiny of a perfectionist deity. If compassion is the sole prosecutor holding me accountable for my misdeeds and errant thoughts, it is also the defense attorney who sees to it that my karmic sentence is not a burden too heavy to carry. Forgiveness of sin means the opportunity to return as an experienced innocent, empty of knowledge but with a deeper cache of wisdom, bereft of memories but wiped clean and open for remembrance, and with a glowing desire to do more and be more.
To sin, of course, it should be clear in this context, is simply to take my ride and live in time, attached to my ego and its unique unfolding chain of experiences, playing a role as if an actor in a drama with almost complete forgetfulness of who I really am, where I came from, and where I am going. To do exactly what my soul-ride was intended to do, in other words. Why would I be punished for that? Why should I carry guilt for failing at a mission I wasn’t equipped to complete on my own?
Judgement of a “rogue wave” by the Ocean implies self-forgiveness; one makes no sense without the other. The brokenness of the individual human, and the incompleteness of one’s circle of compassion, highlights the insufficiency of a disconnected part, and this realization is the entropic call of the Whole to return to wholeness. The point is not to punish but to learn and empower, and it would all be an exercise in infinite vanity if not for the eternal recurrence of another wave, another out-breath to follow the in-breath of return to source.
Let this all be a lesson to you, I picture saying to myself in a state of calm remorse bathed in grace. There is more work to do.
I should now address the unanswered question that has probably been on your mind: Who or what am “I” in this scenario?
We have already ruled out the personality with a proper name that I called myself while alive, for that character was legion, and even the version of it to which I was an exclusive audience, my ego, was distorted by my isolated perspective and thus never really true.
We have used the term “soul” in a way that I could say it was temporarily me, but that time has passed. (This has some corroboration in the Judeo-Christian traditions. Despite some popular misconceptions, nowhere is it suggested in the canonical Bible that the soul is uncreated or immortal.)
We have called it “the will to be” that coalesces with the potential to be and becomes a soul for a duration. Truth, but the idea of will as an extant “thing” is foreign to us, so this probably isn’t a satisfying answer by itself.
Fortunately, I have a visual aid too.
This is another one of the scenes in “The Peasant and the King” that I wrote before fully understanding it, but now the imagery seems indispensable to the understory. This is the point where the King is about to take the peasant on a kind of metaphysical guided tour so he can experience the deeper meaning of the gospel with which he was raised:
The King reached out to embrace the peasant. As He did, His body sublimated into vapor and surrounded the peasant, imbuing him with absolute love—a love that somehow seemed to radiate from the peasant’s own cells. He soon felt all the weight disappear from his body, as if the law of gravity had been suspended and, seeking neither to fulfill nor defy the law, his body hovered just above the floor, a point in time and space, but not an object.
He looked at his hands, his arms, then down at his torso and legs, and suddenly realized that his body, his life, was also a vapor, a cloud of energy swirling around a central pinpoint of intense light, and that this point was all that he could call his own.
He also noticed that the energy of his body was a frolicking, gleeful swirl, and it sounded a soft, steady, joyous hum as it moved all around this light. How, what, and why it did this was entirely unclear, but it obviously loved to be doing what it was doing, and it made no effort to disperse when given no restraints.
The light commanded his full attention. It seemed to be the reason that the energy of his body was coalesced into something stable enough to appear solid, as though the light itself had a magnetic pull, drawing to itself the elements it needed to be something substantial, to be alive.
But it was not a blind pull, he thought as he observed the steady sheen of this brilliant point of light…it was a willful pull. No sooner had this thought registered in his mind than a memory arose, seemingly from nowhere. Eventually, with some concentration, he traced it to the words of the King, given to him on his first pilgrimage to the Palace ten years prior, speaking of the unmanifest Light that pre-existed all:
“It wanted something to be.”
Uncreated Light, we learn earlier in the book, is the antecedent state beyond time, the infinite field of potential in which the play of LightDark initiates dimensions of time and space. The light is uncreated in the dual sense that it was not caused by anything else, and that its potential has not manifested. In the model we are using here, Uncreated Light is the Ocean in a state of perfect stillness, and the play of LightDark is the internal disturbance of the Ocean that generates waves. Again from “Peasant:”
“Countless aeons before the first humans…before the earth came to be, or before even a sense of time to mark its coming, there was only Uncreated Light. It came from nowhere and it had no opposite, for it had no time nor place to either be or not be. Nothing existed for it to shine upon and illuminate, nor to make a shadow. In this Uncreated Light there was the potential for everything that will ever come into existence, but no things unto themselves. It was a knower without anything to be known, not even itself.
“…Before the Emergence there was no ‘I’ in existence, only the boundless potential of all that could be. It was like a child before it is conceived, a great mystery even to itself. But it had a will.” (Recall the passage quoted in Part Two: “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.”)
“In the moment that time began, that boundless potential became infinite space, and the Uncreated Light emerged and became LightDark…and in so doing the universe was created…This event, the emergence of the Self from infinite Uncreated Light, is the origin and root of all being and of all consciousness.”
It is crucial to note that Uncreated Light, which pre-exists Existence itself, is not omnisciently self-aware – “a knower without anything to be known, not even itself” – in the sense that God is thought to be, nor is it truly omnipresent — “for it had no time nor place to either be or not be” — but it has the will to create itself (or better yet, it is this will) and in so doing it creates the universe. Not two separate acts of creation, but one creative continuum which begins outside of time-space and ripples throughout it. This primordial will can be likened to an unconscious drive that directs conscious intention, the life force that sustains the homeostasis of a sleeping animal, or the unknown impetus of a dream producing recognizable experiences in the mind of a dreamer.
This will becomes manifest by creating a field of relativity, of polarized resistance within itself, thus the “Emergence” in which Uncreated Light becomes LightDark — a genesis with mythic significance that should need no elaboration. Whereas Uncreated Light is its own passive motivation to be, LightDark is active motivation, one infinite energetic pattern of up-down fluctuation, manifesting the inactive potential of Uncreated Light by creating fractalized patterns of itself with finite dimensions.
Uncreated Light made incarnate, in other words — that is the individuated will within all created things and beings. That is the true “I am.”
God’s will, you could say, is done by creating its own resistance movement. LightDark is ultimately a negentropic force that creates energetic patterns, then stands in defiance of the disorganization of those patterns and a concurrent return to the primordial stillness. Heaven, the everpresent foundation of stillness under all of this oceanic activity, is our source and destination, but the cosmos is formed to be our temporary barricade, creating space for the individuated will to live and move and have its being, a vast amusement park of soul-rides from which the individuated will may choose.
And it can’t be repeated often enough nor with adequate emphasis: none of this is by accident. If the cosmos itself is “the illusion of Maya,” then we are temporary Mayan citizens, or expatriates from Heaven holding dual citizenship. We are here because we willed ourselves to be, and the will to be persists until, for its own idiosyncratic reasons we aren’t expected to know, it doesn’t.
The creation of innumerable soul-rides is its own telos that needn’t have a greater goal. The idea of achieving a “return to source,” of the individuated will returning to its fulfillment in Uncreated Light, may be the telos of that will, but it is a fait accompli to that which sent it forth and draws it back to be sent forth again. Any decent metaphysical treatment of ultimate teleology (most definitely not Christian infernalism, for one) will express this assurance in very certain terms, leaving us free to practice widening the circle without existential angst gnawing at the will.
So what would it mean for this “central pinpoint of intense light” to be the actual manifestation of Uncreated Light in finite form that wills itself to become a soul? This is the type of question that confounds the analysts, the rationalists, and the empiricists as it forever evades a straight-forward answer. But the myth-makers of the world have understood it well and had a perennial field day with it.
What better way is there, for instance, to illustrate the meaning of “humanity was formed in God’s [formless] image?” Or the Quaker testimony to Inner Light and “that of God in everyone?” When the classical theist proffers the idea that we are sparks of the divine Fire, it should be easy to see how close this is to literal truth. (What the prophets of the ages missed, it seems, in their infatuation with the human mind and full subjectivity, is that this is by no means limited to humans or even animals.)
We can also see the basis for the realization that “Atman is Brahman:” that the infinitesimally small manifestation is exactly the same as the infinitely large. Macrocosmically speaking, Uncreated Light is “the Tao that cannot be named” nor seen, while LightDark is clearly its visible manifestation as yin-yang, a model we see arise again Spinozan pantheism in which God manifests as thought and extension. From Buddhism, we have a fabulous model in Indra’s Net, a multidimensional bejeweled network of interrelationship in which each jewel contains the reflection of all others. Don’t get your head in a twist trying to picture that in spatial-temporal terms — the image itself is designed to snap you out of that way of relating to the world, so that you can see the “reflection” comes from within you.
Uncreated Light is your “I am,” and it gathered together the potential of you to become you. What it becomes, of course, it “begoes” when that soul-ride ends, but the Uncreated Light remains and returns to become someone else. Shifting your identity from what the Light becomes and begoes to what always is, to the Light itself — this is the true underlying meaning of salvation or liberation in any tradition.
It shouldn’t be necessary to reiterate that you are always both the finite manifestation and the infinite source, both the incarnate peasant and the eternal King, for you couldn’t possibly be a peasant without first being the King — and you couldn’t know yourself as the King without having become a peasant! There is no contradiction when it is understood that the finite exists within the infinite, and that each place and time where-when a finite well taps the infinite groundwater of Spirit, there is a unique creation with properties of both. Soul equals clay plus breath.
But our language structure engenders dualistic thought, which makes it seem as though you, a self-aware being with a set of subjective experiences to which no other being is privy, can only be the finite manifestation. Furthermore, any desire to be more than this existential speck is either a delusion or, if one is a religious dualist, a hope that can only be bestowed by grace from on high. Don’t be fooled by it. Grace is the non-dual perception to see what you really are, and existential isolation is the real delusion. You are the infinitesimally small and the infinitely Whole, Atman and Brahman, the “I am” and the I AM.
There is an odd anthropocentric vanity that takes this realization and concludes that I AM (also known as “the Self” in some traditions) is dependent on a self-conscious species like Homo sapiens for its own self-knowledge. Even allowing for the likelihood of other self-conscious beings interspersed throughout the universe, this could hardly be further from the true premise of this theory. There isn’t room to do justice to the holistic concept of consciousness here (this article offers an introduction to it), but this highly refined and limited form of consciousness exhibited by humans (what I call “cognizance”) is but a skim of sea foam on the ocean of consciousness, which begins with the Emergence. In the parlance of “The Peasant and the King,” it begins with the mutual knowledge of the relationship between Light and Dark. In a sense, it is always just that simple awareness, replicating itself as energetic patterns within patterns, with each replication adding more and more complexity to the Self’s knowledge.
But the fractalization of divine will into localized, pinpoint manifestations of itself is the key image to retain here, for these patterns within patterns have their own trajectory and perspective even though they are extensions of Uncreated Light. Each one, whether an animate being or something lesser or greater, possesses some degree of subjectivity, some capacity to feel an “I am.”
The notion that all existent things and beings participate in a universal network of consciousness, with some degree of subjective perspective within it, is called panpsychism, and it is a central tenet of this theory. Every “hard problem of consciousness” is resolved by the realization that cognizance emerges from a field of consciousness that is universal and fundamental to existence itself, initiated by the play of LightDark. That’s well beyond our scope in this piece; the current important fact we are establishing is the reality of “I and I” as the supreme model for how we experience the Self.
When this trio of principles — reincarnation of the inner divine Being, cyclical time, and pansubjectivity — come to the table together, the result is a “transcendimmanent” divinity too intimate with creation for an “I and Thou” relationship. It can only be called “I and I.”
In short: You have never experienced an “object” in your life. Each thing you observe, whether animate or inanimate, is a living soul on a journey of self-discovery, on a cyclical ride of becoming and begoing and becoming again.
The “I” at the center of your being is not different than the “I” that is mine. Both are manifestations of Uncreated Light. But they become different energetic patterns, different soul-rides, for the sake of experience. Each one, therefore, is an incarnate “I am” at a different stage of development, with that central pinpoint of manifest Uncreated Light sustaining and guiding it from within. Inattention to this source of guidance is the cause of every human malady and maladaptive reaction, and of our remarkable capacity to feel lost and exiled from a place we never left; remembrance of it is how we learn to come home to where we’ve always been.
I and I:
an Omniperennialist Theory of Reincarnation and Cyclical Time