This is a footnote to Ritual.
More coherent modes of language arise when the following perspectives are realized (at the very least):
1) We each see different parts of the proverbial elephant.
This suggests parallel truths. A multiverse. Each infinite and also limited.
2) We look with different levels of magnification. A microscopic vision of the elephant’s trunk at the cellular level is not more true than a macroscopic vision of the trunk as a whole. They are relevant to different contexts.
This makes it easy to suspend judgement.
3) The elephant is a moving target. The trunk we describe is already a different shape. Reality changes as we learn. I go into this a little more in Ritual, part II, in the section titled “The Simplifying Potential of Negative Language.”
This is a humbling perspective.
4) Wildest of all: The elephant we perceive is actually not the elephant itself. But I think a distinction needs to be made between actuality (the “holomovement,” the creativity of nature itself), and reality (the “things” we abstract from actuality as information, perceptions, theories or thoughts).
If we understand this in our bones, then there is no alienation. Then the world becomes sacred in the absence of religion.
A Closer Look at Number 4
Number 4 is the keystone.
This goes back to “nowhere is not nowhere.” God is not God. The elephant is not the elephant. Nowhere, God and the elephant are all theories or perceptions. But we tend to take our language literally.
If we could appreciate the beauty of theory then we might recognize when it’s in play, and not confuse thought with actuality. Not get stuck on dogmas.
This is what bothers me about the debate between evolution and creationism. Creationists criticize science as “mere theory.” And science usually stupidly responds by touting all the “facts” backing up evolution. It rarely says, “you’re damn right it’s “only” theory. Theory is what makes science great. We don’t settle on a dogma, on a literal interpretation, on a fixed position. We allow our perceptions to change with discovery. And we don’t believe in a final explanation because actuality exceeds every formulation. We can always learn more.”
So what is perception?
Thought usually dismisses and sometimes panics at the suggestion that it can never grasp actuality. Some have concluded that there is no such thing as actuality since it can’t be known through thought or words.
However, I feel there is the possibility of an immersive, almost proprioceptive relationship to the elephant (to actuality). But this relationship does not involve naming or picturing. The elephant we name and picture must be recognized as a theory, not as something literal. We can’t realize any non-imaginary perception (proprioception) until we recognize this old-fashioned fact — that we are painting the world in unconscious imagery. When we realize this a new kind of perception is born. But not until then. It can’t be rushed. Because what we rush is fake – is more imagery.
Krishnamurti: “Do you know that even when you look at a tree and say, `That is an oak tree’, or `that is a banyan tree’, the naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge, has so conditioned your mind that the word comes between you and actually seeing the tree? To come in contact with the tree you have to put your hand on it and the word will not help you to touch it.”
In one sense we’re always in contact with actuality because we’re inseparable from it. The actuality of the rough skin of the elephant, the strength of its limbs, the movement of its intelligence, is undeniable. What distracts us from this?
In German and many other languages a helpful distinction is made between knowing a living being (kennen) and knowing a thing (wissen). We can only be “acquainted” with beings, because they exceed our expectations. But we can come to fully grasp a utilitarian thing. Therefore it feels harsh to say you “know” (wissen) another being. Kennen suggests something more open-ended and ungraspable. A hint of uncertainty is allowed to hover around the word “kennen”. (Not that this one word saves the German-speaking world from the witchery of literalism, but it shows that in some contexts we already realize the relationship between uncertainty and heightened sensitivity).
The paradox is that uncertainty brings us into closer contact with the world. Uncertainty makes us sensitive to how actuality exceeds perception. A connection that is more “immersive” and “internal.” Not externally perceived.
I think those four elements of perception combine to convert dichotomy and argument over fixed positions into paradox and suspension within kaleidoscopic perspectives. It marks a shift from the external perception of reality (form) to the participatory perception of actuality (flow).