Experience of the subtle realms: Contents
13. Into the future
driving alone in a hired car from Auckland to Wellington in the north island of
New Zealand. It was in late August,
approaching spring, and surprisingly warm.
I had taken a road somewhat to the west of the main route, and I was
touring through small valleys, low hills and undulating farmland - well over
half way on my journey. The
landscape combined English sensibility with
Polynesian mysticism: a hybrid ambience that intrigued my imagination.
car drew to the top of an extended rise. I parked on the edge of the road and
climbed into a field to bask in the late winter sun.
As I ranged my vision over those composite hills above the Mangawhero
River, I became absorbed in a deep intellectual reverie about the kind of
society in which I wished to live. I
realised I wanted to participate in a self-generating culture.
was in New Zealand as a guest of the McKenzie Educational Foundation, running a
series of courses and workshops for doctors and other members of the helping
professions. With these alert, intelligent and committed persons, I explored a
whole range of radical social and professional practices.
I had immersed myself for some weeks in the Agama-Hindu culture still extant and
practised in Bali. And between
workshops in New Zealand, I took in what I could of the Polynesian culture of
the Maoris, of which only vestigial fragments are still manifest today.
on a large stone , shielded by a hillock from Route 4, somewhere between Raetihi
and Wanganui, all these elements of social order and cohesion, past and present,
fed my reflections. I became aware
that I desired something entirely new: a mode of social life which had not
hitherto existed on this planet - or so at least I surmised. And since my vision
is still alive, I will present it now in the present tense.
want to live with other persons in a society some, and only some, of whose
cultural forms are as if they participate consciously in hierarchies of the second kind
and have archetypal power. What I
mean by 'cultural forms' are rituals and social practices that find meaning in
and give meaning to various aspects of the human condition. And what I mean by
'archetypal power' is the dynamic energy that streams from eidolon, ally and
matrix in the other reality (see the opening paragraphs of Chapter 7).
Hierarchies of the second kind I discussed in Chapter 2: they involve
relations beween social groups in this world and social groups in the other
conscious involvement of human culture as
if with presences and powers in the other world differs from the other-world
preoccupation of ancient cultures which were frequently over-identified with
their gods and ancestors. As a result, many of these societies became elitist
and oppressive politically; and dogmatic, superstitious and confused in their
occult beliefs. And their occultism
was often corrupted with the gross aggression of war and human sacrifice.
contrast, the as if perspective gives a healthy
separation and distance from the other world, while at the same time
working creatively with it. The
result is a highly discriminating participation which has three prime
the human beings involved have a full working grasp of the political values of
autonomy, parity and hierarchy - that is, of self-direction, of cooperation, and
of direction by others (in terms of both up- and down-hierarchies).
They have this mastery within their own society, interweaving these
values in a whole variety of ways in its different forms of association.
they also have such competence between social groups in this world and social
groups in the other world. Thus
some social groups in human society are autonomous; some are in co-operative
relations with groups in the other world; and yet others are in hierarchies of
the second kind. In down-hierarchies, the human beings are passive; and in
up-hierarchies, the human beings are active.
this means, of course, is that the human beings have a fully developed political
process working between the worlds, a process that fully acknowledges the
autonomous rights and liberties of humans, as well as their duties and
constraints, in a two (or more) worlds universe.
And this political process is one that the human beings themselves have
evolved - in the context of other world influence, but not by other world
the human beings involved have a whole canon of inquiry appropriate to exploring
the other world and the interface between the worlds. They need this because of
the ambiguities of the whole business of living in two worlds at once, of
differentiating between what merely seems to be so, and what really is so.
They need to inquire into the dynamics of interactions between the worlds; and
into the channels of communication between them. They need to understand the
technology of working in this world with the powers of the other world.
Here the as if perspective
comes fully into its own.
inquiry includes the development of appropriate political process mentioned
above, and indeed the generation of cultural forms generally, for many of these
will themselves be ways of inquiring into the relations between the worlds.
the human beings have acquired the art
of living in two worlds: some of their cultural forms are living theatre.
They have style, drama, and expressive
charge: they present the two worlds experience with aesthetic power. There are
two aspects to such art. There is the art of enjoying diverse features of the two
worlds condition. And there is the
art of suffering certain other experiences of it.
politics, the inquiry and the art all support each other in some respects, and
in other respects may well be in tension with each other.
They are rooted in the human self-determination of the as if perspective. Together they comprise the basic three dimensions
of a self-generating culture.
say that a culture is self-generating is to say that the people in it generate
their own cultural forms out of political awareness, a spirit of inquiry and
creative artistry. They may do this as if
in the context of creative passive hierarchies of the second kind.
But the forms of the culture do not proceed from the gods or ancestors,
from the directions of the shaman, priest or guru, from ecclesiastical
authority, from high status or high caste chiefs of protocol, or from statutory,
approved authorities of any kind.
forms of the culture are generated and sanctioned by peer groups in this world,
not by any hierarchical authority, whether in this world
or the next. On the one hand - at any rate so far as rituals are
concerned - they can be construed as art forms that expressively symbolise the
human condition as if in two worlds.
On the other hand - whether rituals or social practices - they can be seen as
forms of inquiry into this condition.
forms of inquiry, they are in principle open to review and modification as part
of a programme of action research. The
whole culture thus becomes a network of groups practising
co-operative inquiry into the human condition, as well as giving
dramatic, aesthetic expression to it. And we now know enough about co-operative
inquiry for such an approach to be feasible.
have been involved in several pieces of research using this format, in which all
those concerned are both co-researchers and co-subjects, who together move round
the cycle from creative reflection to action, then back to a review of the
action and more creative reflection, and so on.
Of course, not all networking groups in the culture would engage in
formal and fully fledged co-operative inquiry: the model is likely to be used in
a much more flexible and informal way.
as art or research, do the forms of the culture confer meaning on the human
condition, or reveal meaning inherent in it?
Are they symbolic constructs that reveal no more than the fruitfulness of
human imagination; or do they resonate with archetypal significance and power
from the universe beyond? Or do
they mix autonomous imagination and archetypal meaning in varying measure?
polarity of significance - of meaning given or found, conferred or revealed,
imagined only or archetypal also - provides a fruitful, creative tension at
the heart of cultural forms both as art and as inquiry.
For there is always an open question, an ambiguity seeking resolution:
Is meaning bestowed by the forms, or is it revealed by them, or a bit of both? The endless openness and relevance of this question provides
permanent protection against pseudo-archetypal dogmatism, conservatism and
rigidity on the one hand, and unstable, shifting, arbitrary conventionalism on
self-generating culture is a step beyond personal growth - as it has been called
by the many methods of body-mind development coming out of humanistic
psychology. Such growth deals with the liberation of human autonomy.
It enables a person to realise real degrees of freedom in choosing how
to live. The various methods used
dismantle the debris of early interference and conditioning, so that the
individual is no longer compulsively and unawarely acting out the pain and
scripting of the past. One result,
as well as the affirmation of authentic autonomy in this world, is a greater
openness to the other world, to wider reaches of awareness and altered states of
once a person has achieved a real measure of inner freedom in choosing how to
live earthly life and to expand awareness into other domains of being, current
society offers impoverished cultural forms for the celebration of that freedom,
and for inquiry into its implications. Our
contemporary culture has lost its grasp on the great realities of the human
condition. It has no imaginal
and archetypal sweep, style or range.
rituals are few in number, and either carry the limited sanction of outdated
traditionalism, or are bureaucratic formulae with minimal significance.
At some critical moments, such as being born and dying, there is no
ritual of meaning at all, only technical procedures that have no more than
medical or 'scientific' relevance. By contrast, ancient societies showed an
astonishing richness of cultural forms.
any self-generating culture, a simple distinction must be made between two basic
kinds of cultural form: rituals and social practices.
By a ritual I mean an agreed set of symbolic acts and interactions,
occurring at an agreed time and place, to celebrate the meaning of some
typically human event or some basic recurring feature of the human condition. In
a ritual, human life is elaborated into expressive form to symbolise itself.
celebration will be aesthetic/expressive, or inquiry oriented, or both. Such a
ritual is imaginatively devised in relevant peer groups. It is open to review
and modification; and to extempore improvisation in practice. It is used
lightly and elegantly, not ponderously and compulsively.
It is a piece of living theatre, highlighting the joy, the suffering,
the comedy and the drama of existence.
relation to the two worlds thesis, the ritual will mark the human condition in
this world only, or as if in both
worlds at once, or as if in passage
either way between the worlds, or as if
in bearing witness to the other world only. From the purely human point of view,
here are some candidates for the application of ritual:
This world ritual
commitment, contract making
of age, stages of the educational process, phases of development
eclipses, passing comets
the phases of the moon
the seasons of the year, the solstices, the equinoxes
into a home, moving out of a home
song, dance, movement, poetry, drama
with plants, animals, the environment
intimacy, nurturing intimacy, sexual intimacy
This world ritual occasions
of the above can also, of course, be considered as
if involving some interaction with the other world and so occurring in two
worlds at once.The following candidates for the use of ritual deal quite
explicitly with believing as if
there is another world
Two world ritual
with presences in the other world
social planning in two worlds
with presences in the other world
and regeneration from the other world
and integration of powers from the other world
to the other world
from the other world
praise and worship in two worlds
of the other world
Table 13.2 Two
world ritual occasions
is an important final point. Too
much ritual, whether a matter of art, inquiry or both together, would make a
self-generating culture too affected, too overloaded with endless gestures of
significance and meaning. But too
little ritual would make it impoverished and unawakened, relapsing into
relatively meaningless habit. There
is some proper balance between simply living human life - and symbolising the
living of human life. And this
whether one is attending to the physical world only, or to both worlds at once.
contrast to a ritual, a social practice is much more obviously functional: it is
a procedure whereby people maintain and develop social effectiveness and
cohesion. It is a technique of
human association and development. It
is part of the everyday process of social living, whether a ritual is applied to
it or not. It is the daily bread of life, whereas a ritual is the butter
and the jam. The concern is with
social and organisational skill, rather than with the expressive style of
living theatre. Nevertheless, the
functionalism of a social practice in no way excludes the element of artistry
both in its conception and in its execution.
practices are very much the stuff of action research and co-operative inquiry.
And as such they can also take into account the two worlds hypothesis,
integrating into their form the possible influence of powers and presences in
the other world.
are more obviously dealing, in this world at any rate, with the political
dimension of a self-generating culture: that is, with appropriate ways of
balancing autonomy, co-operation and direction by others - in different social
contexts. Witness the following
list of candidates.
raising and the socialisation of children
up-hierarchy and down-hierarchy
for the social expression of gender
of decision-making in groups
of marriage and intimacy
of organisational and political structure
of urban planning and renewal
for handling information and communication
for the social control of crime
of allocating the roles of owner, manager and worker
of assessment and accreditation
of discussion in groups
of education and training
of inquiry and research
of ongoing professional development
of professional practice
of relating the economy, ecology and politics
of work planning and work management
Table 13.3 Social
distinction I have made between rituals and social practices is, of course, not
absolute; for they can overlap and lead over into each other.
A ritual is symbolic, and a social practice is functional. But a symbolic activity can have a powerful impact on social
functioning; and a functional arrangement can be charged with archetypal
a ritual is more to do with the artistic dimension of cultural forms, a social
practice more to do with the political and moral dimension.
But there is nothing mutually exclusive about this emphasis. And both rituals and social practices have elements of both
dimensions. Both, of course, can be
fully subsumed within the method of co-operative inquiry.
a self-generating culture, as I have suggested, the primary source of its
cultural forms will be the imagination and resource of human peer groups in
devising them; and also in revising them in the light of what is learnt through
their use. But of course there are
other and important secondary sources.
ethnology and sociology are disciplines that have laid bare a mass of data about
the rituals and social practices of diverse cultures in all epochs all over the
world. Such information can feed
the imagination of those devising new cultural forms. Some of the old cultural
forms were spiritually and politically corrupt, or enshrined outmoded beliefs,
norms and values. But others still have a powerful claim on those concerned with
evolving a new world-view and a new social order.
hugely varied cultural history of mankind is a sort of unconscious co-operative
inquiry by the human race as a whole into the human condition within a
universe of many dimensions of being. And
there is a vast repository of learning still to be unearthed from this
enormous racial experiment in living. A
self-generating culture would want to dig away at this and build on it.
there is the ambience provided by creative passive hierarchies of the second
kind: the sort of inspiration fed into the autonomous deliberation of human
beings by presences attentive in the other world.
Occasionally, there may be quite explicit proposals made by persons in
the other world; although this kind of direct communication raises many issues
of validity and reliability - apart from the moral, political and psychological
society of networking groups or communities concerned with the artistic,
political and inquiry dimensions of their cultural forms comprises a social
world of multiple realities. Each
community consists of co-creators - the citizens of that community - who
generate a shared form of consciousness that interrelates the diverse parameters
of the two-world universe in a unique way. There is no one account of the
reality of this universe. For how the members of a community choose to live
together in the universe constitutes for them its reality. The traveller moving
from one community to another, and staying long enough in each to participate
fully in it, would in relative truth move from one reality to another.
Experience of the subtle realms: