The wholeness of undivided, intimate attention – an awareing that has no boundaries, no sense of separation, where observer and observed are both obliterated in a single movement of observing – is the subject of one of Denise Levertov‘s last poems, First Love. The whole poem is sublime, but the final few lines speak so powerfully to me that I’m singling them out for this post.
It seems to me that one taste of that timelessness changes everything. This is not some cunning escape into yet another thought-bubble; not some desperate effort to transcend one’s mediocre little life. This is an experienced glimpse of another order of relationship. Haven’t we all had this glimpse? For me, it took hold of the steering wheel and has driven the trajectory of my life.
Through the entirety of your lifetime, what is it that you’ve deeply desired?
What has been – is – the Great Motivator of your days?
`Convolvulus,’ said my mother.
Pale shell-pink, a chalice
no wider across than a silver sixpence.
It looked at me, I looked
filled me as if
I, not the flower,
were a flower and were brimful of rain. And there was endlesness.
Perhaps through a lifetime what I’ve desired
has always been to return
to that endless giving and receiving, the wholeness
of that attention,
What would it be like to be fully, continually aware of all of our senses – and what’s more, to be aware of that very awareness? What might that full sensory awakening have to do with the irreversible realisation of Reality? Drawing from his personal experiences with Parmenides and Empedocles – foundational figures of Western civilization whose mystical dimensions have been forgotten or ignored – pre-Socratic philosopher Peter Kingsley maintains that to approach the changeless authentically, Western civilization must rediscover its own sacred origins and purpose. He asks, how can Western culture participate in the harmony of oneness if it has forgotten its own note?
In this post, which is a transcript of part of an interview made in connection with the Global Oneness Project, Kingsley outlines the sensory awakening at the root of Empedocles’ writings.
You have to find reality, ultimate reality, here, where you are, in this apparent body, surrounded by these apparent colors and movements, and shapes and forms and sounds and noises. And they (the ancient Greek mystics) gave the techniques. They gave the methods for using our senses to find oneness all around us.
Empedocles and Parmenides were very, very up front, as most great mystics are, and at the beginning of their teachings they say, “Everybody is living a totally wasted life.” Everybody’s life is a sham, everybody is living in a dream. We can think we are driving down the road, we can think we’re shopping, we can think we’re in a business meeting. We are asleep. We are never actually using our senses.
Sometimes there can be the brief moment when we look out at a tree, or we’re driving down the road, and just for a brief moment we can say, “Good Lord, I’m holding a steering wheel. I have my foot on the gas pedal!” Or, “Good Lord, I’m looking at a tree!”
Usually we’re just looking at a tree and thinking about something else. Or we’re driving down the road and thinking about the argument we just had with our partner. It’s very, very rare that we simply look and are aware that we are looking.
And that involves being aware of what we’re looking at, and being aware of ourselves looking at the same time. So right now, I can be aware that I’m moving my hand, and that I’m talking, and that you there are in front of me. But it’s actually not a very, very common state at all, to be aware like that.
Empedocles gave very, very specific directions for how to start to become conscious through your senses. How to look and be aware that you’re looking. How to feel your tongue inside your mouth, and be aware of it. Not just rub your tongue on the top of your mouth, but actually be aware that it’s happening. And how to do this with all of the senses at the same time.
And this last stage, about how to do it with all the senses at the same time, this is very, very powerful, it’s very, very esoteric, it is an extraordinarily elegant way of realizing God.
Not by leaving the senses behind, but by consciously using all of your senses at the same time. If you do that, if you actually do that, you start to become aware… there is your sense of sight, there is your sense of hearing, there is the sense of feeling what you feel, your backside on the chair, or you feel your shoes on the floor. The hearing, the seeing, the feeling, the tasting, the touching. And it’s difficult enough even to do one of those consciously, but if you do them all consciously, you become aware of this infinite blackness between them.
There is a void that connects the seeing to the hearing, to the tasting, to the touching.
And that’s ETERNITY.
And that eternity is totally unchanging, but that eternity is also what gives rise to the physical world. And it’s out of that experience of eternity that people like Empedocles or Parmenides, these ancient Greeks, were actually able to bring the germs of a new civilization.
Because that eternity – it never changes, but it contains the seeds of all change.
The complete interview – 19:02
A prominent mystic of our time and student of sufi path, Peter Kingsley’s groundbreaking work on the origin of Western spirituality, philosophy, and culture is recognized throughout the world. Through his writings as well as lectures he speaks straight to the heart, and has helped to transform many people’s understanding not only of the past but of who they are. The author of three books, including Reality and In the Dark Places of Wisdom, and recipient of numerous academic awards, he holds honorary positions at universities in England, Canada, the United States.
About the image:
Persephone, Greek Goddess of the Underworld; Museum of Ancient Sculpture, Cyrene, Libya.
In Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of the fertility goddess Demeter, was abducted to the underworld by Hades but was allowed to return for part of the year, when the earth became fruitful. She is often depicted, as here, drawing a veil across her face, indicating her time on earth is ending and she is returning to the underworld, when the earth once again becomes barren. Source
If, however, you read Peter Kingsley’s Reality, you will learn the true role Persephone played in guiding those who journeyed to the underworld – her domain – towards true reality.
And you’ll learn the real significance of the veil…
“… two and a half thousand years ago we were given a gift – and in our childishness we threw away the instructions for how to use it. We felt we knew what we were playing with. And, as a result, western civilisation may soon be nothing but an experiment that failed.”
– Peter Kingsley
Eckhart Tolle says, “This book is a journey back to the source
– not only of western civilisation but, more importantly, to the source within you.
Read it! To understand it is to be transformed.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Through a genuine experience of identifying with all beings, we may come to see our own interest served by conservation, through genuine self-love, love of a widened and deepened self, an ecological self.
When we plant a tree we are planting ourselves. Releasing dolphins back to the wild, we are ourselves returning home. Composting leftovers, we are being reborn as irises and apples. We can “think like a mountain,” in Aldo Leopold’s words, and we can discover ourselves to be everywhere and in everything, and we can know the activity of the world as not separate from who we are but rather of what we are. The practice of the “nonlocal self” means that when we work for the restoration of the rain forest, we are restoring our “extended self.”
Let’s not be freaked out by our bountiful nothingness.
It’s more a reality than the ones our selves have created.
Imagine what kind of existence we can have if we honor inevitable death of self,
appreciate the privilege of life
and marvel at what comes next.
Simple awareness is where it begins.
– Thandie Newton
Embracing otherness. When I first heard this theme, I thought, well, embracing otherness is embracing myself. And the journey to that place of understanding and acceptance has been an interesting one for me, and it’s given me an insight into the whole notion of self, which I think is worth sharing with you today.
We each have a self, but I don’t think that we’re born with one. You know how newborn babies – they’re not separate? Well that fundamental sense of oneness is lost on us very quickly. It’s like that initial stage is over — oneness: infancy, unformed, primitive. It’s no longer valid or real. What is real is separateness, and at some point in early babyhood, the idea of self starts to form. Our little portion of oneness is given a name, is told all kinds of things about itself, and these details, opinions and ideas become facts, which go towards building ourselves, our identity. And that self becomes the vehicle for navigating our social world. But the self is a projection based on other people’s projections. Is it who we really are? Or who we really want to be, or should be?
So this whole interaction with self and identity was a very difficult one for me growing up. The self that I attempted to take out into the world was rejected over and over again. And my panic at not having a self that fit, and the confusion that came from my self being rejected, created anxiety, shame and hopelessness, which kind of defined me for a long time. But in retrospect, the destruction of my self was so repetitive that I started to see a pattern. The self changed, got affected, broken, destroyed, but another one would evolve — sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all. The self was not constant. And how many times would my self have to die before I realised that it was never alive in the first place?
I grew up on the coast of England in the ’70s. My dad is white from Cornwall, and my mom is black from Zimbabwe. Even the idea of us as a family was challenging to most people. But nature had its wicked way, and brown babies were born. But from about the age of five, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black atheist kid in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly, and my self was rooting around for definition and trying to plug in. Because the self likes to fit, to see itself replicated, to belong. That confirms its existence and its importance. And it is important. It has an extremely important function. Without it, we literally can’t interface with others. We can’t hatch plans and climb that stairway of popularity, of success. But my skin color wasn’t right. My hair wasn’t right. My history wasn’t right. My self became defined by otherness, which meant that, in that social world, I didn’t really exist. And I was “other” before being anything else — even before being a girl. I was a noticeable nobody.
Another world was opening up around this time: performance and dancing. That nagging dread of self-hood didn’t exist when I was dancing. I’d literally lose myself. And I was a really good dancer. I would put all my emotional expression into my dancing. I could be in the movement in a way that I wasn’t able to be in my real life, in myself.
And at 16, I stumbled across another opportunity, and I earned my first acting role in a film. I can hardly find the words to describe the peace I felt when I was acting. My dysfunctional self could actually plug in to another self, not my own, and it felt so good. It was the first time that I existed inside a fully-functioning self — one that I controlled, that I steered, that I gave life to. But the shooting day would end, and I’d return to my gnarly, awkward self.
By 19, I was a fully-fledged movie actor, but still searching for definition. I applied to read anthropology at university. Dr. Phyllis Lee gave me my interview, and she asked me, “How would you define race?” Well, I thought I had the answer to that one, and I said, “Skin colour.” “So biology, genetics?” she said. “Because, Thandie, that’s not accurate. Because there’s actually more genetic difference between a black Kenyan and a black Ugandan than there is between a black Kenyan and, say, a white Norwegian. Because we all stem from Africa. So in Africa, there’s been more time to create genetic diversity.” In other words, race has no basis in biological or scientific fact. On the one hand, result. Right? On the other hand, my definition of self just lost a huge chunk of its credibility. But what was credible, what is biological and scientific fact, is that we all stem from Africa — in fact, from a woman called Mitochondrial Eve who lived 160,000 years ago. And race is an illegitimate concept which our selves have created based on fear and ignorance.
Strangely, these revelations didn’t cure my low self-esteem, that feeling of otherness. My desire to disappear was still very powerful. I had a degree from Cambridge; I had a thriving career, but my self was a car crash, and I wound up with bulimia and on a therapist’s couch. And of course I did. I still believed my self was all I was. I still valued self-worth above all other worth, and what was there to suggest otherwise? We’ve created entire value systems and a physical reality to support the worth of self. Look at the industry for self-image and the jobs it creates, the revenue it turns over. We’d be right in assuming that the self is an actual living thing. But it’s not. It’s a projection which our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death.
But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection — and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self’s struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it’s connected to its creator — to you and to me. And that can happen with awareness — awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood. For a start, we can think about all the times when we do lose ourselves. It happens when I dance, when I’m acting. I’m earthed in my essence, and my self is suspended. In those moments, I’m connected to everything — the ground, the air, the sounds, the energy from the audience. All my senses are alert and alive in much the same way as an infant might feel — that feeling of oneness.
And when I’m acting a role, I inhabit another self, and I give it life for awhile, because when the self is suspended so is divisiveness and judgment. And I’ve played everything from a vengeful ghost in the time of slavery to Secretary of State in 2004. And no matter how other these selves might be, they’re all related in me. And I honestly believe the key to my success as an actor and my progress as a person has been the very lack of self that used to make me feel so anxious and insecure. I always wondered why I could feel others’ pain so deeply, why I could recognise the somebody in the nobody. It’s because I didn’t have a self to get in the way. I thought I lacked substance, and the fact that I could feel others’ meant that I had nothing of myself to feel. The thing that was a source of shame was actually a source of enlightenment.
And when I realised and really understood that my self is a projection and that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I’ve become very familiar with its dysfunctional behaviour. But I’m not ashamed of my self. In fact, I respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I’ve tried to live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that, incredible things happen.
I was in Congo in February, dancing and celebrating with women who’ve survived the destruction of their selves in literally unthinkable ways — destroyed because other brutalized, psychopathic selves all over that beautiful land are fueling our selves’ addiction to iPods, Pads, and bling, which further disconnect ourselves from ever feeling their pain, their suffering, their death. Because, hey, if we’re all living in ourselves and mistaking it for life, then we’re devaluing and desensitizing life. And in that disconnected state, yeah, we can build factory farms with no windows, destroy marine life and use rape as a weapon of war. So here’s a note to self: The cracks have started to show in our constructed world, and oceans will continue to surge through the cracks, and oil and blood, rivers of it.
Crucially, we haven’t been figuring out how to live in oneness with the Earth and every other living thing. We’ve just been insanely trying to figure out how to live with each other — billions of each other. Only we’re not living with each other; our crazy selves are living with each other and perpetuating an epidemic of disconnection.
Let’s live with each other and take it a breath at a time. If we can get under that heavy self, light a torch of awareness, and find our essence, our connection to the infinite and every other living thing. We knew it from the day we were born. Let’s not be freaked out by our bountiful nothingness. It’s more a reality than the ones our selves have created. Imagine what kind of existence we can have if we honor inevitable death of self, appreciate the privilege of life and marvel at what comes next. Simple awareness is where it begins.
You are the light of awareness
embodied in time and space.
Embodied awareness brings forth
which is radiant light.
Bring your attention to the field of luminous awareness
that illuminates your experience right now.
Without this clear light of awareness
you would be without experience.
You cannot think or imagine your way
to this natural luminosity, although it
illuminates your thoughts and memories
and everything else in your experience,
as it is also illuminating itself.
Light illuminates light.
The primordial Shakti,
the Light of Manifestation,
is this self arising luminosity which permeates:
1~ the object of your awareness
2~ the one who is aware,
3~ and awareness itself.
Becoming aware of awareness
within yourself and others is
Sri Vidya, the realization of radiance.
In your embodiment practice you unclench
the fixation onto the appearances in the mind.
By recognizing and relaxing the automatic
mental and physical and emotional
reactivity towards your experiences,
the energetic knots in your body softens
and more Prana Shakti (breath and life force)
is allowed to flow through.
You open as a translucent and continuously unfolding
embodiment of luminous awareness
Lead me from opacity to clarity.
Lead me from the complicated to the simple.
Lead me from the obscure to the obvious.
Lead me from confrontation to wide openness. Lead me to the place I never left, Where there is peace, and peace.
Practice – the Realization of Radiance
Rest in an open focus of the radiant field of awareness,
hold that which you are experiencing
within the awareness field of light.
Experience the object that the
light of your awareness is illuminating,
and the field of illumination both at the same time.
Thinking and feeling, sensation and memory,
fantasy and desire are all of luminous nature
as is your own awareness.
Art (The Queen of Trust) and words by Chameli Ardagh at Awakening Women