persephone and aphrodite

We Find Meaning Where We Want To, Don’t We?

Blog, The Great Work

ParmenidesPeter Kingsley’s name comes up a good bit around these parts and on the TaSTA podcast too. I’m just finishing up his book Reality, it’s the first edition, I only mention that because there’s a fairly recent second edition and I’m curious as to what’s been added or amended. I had another dream about Peter again last weekend, a more previous one involved him and Rupert Spira renting pedal boots at a lake and then Peter trying to sell me drugs. I was awful disappointed. Anyway, I had another over the weekend but we’ll get to it. In this article I want to jump into where we get meaning from.

Reality is our first port of call. Please turn to pages 288/9 of Kingsley’s book, where we’re told the following…it’s pretty grim, well, it is but it also isn’t. Because it’s Parmenides and he’s always pulling a fast one. Big mêtis head on him, the cullián:

Really to understand that we are trapped, held fast in bonds, that there is nowhere else to go, no possibility of transcen­dence, is devastating. It knocks the bottom out of everything we once thought we knew.

All of a sudden we are faced, inescapably, with the horrifying reality of what before might have seemed such an attractive ideal— the terrors of complete­ness. For in the experience of completeness there is nothing to become. There is nothing else to look forward to. The endless searching is over.

The greatest single trick of existence is to make us forget we are trapped, because then we are hopelessly trapped. When we keep believing we are free, that’s bondage. And paradoxi­cally the greatest freedom of all lies in knowing without the smallest room for doubt that one is trapped, because then the struggling and pretending stops.

ParmenidesThis is all sounding pretty grim isn’t it. If I’d read that as a suicidal teenager I might have been tempted to end it all there and then. What’s the point of going on? There’s literally nothing else and it doesn’t get any better, well, it does but only when you see through the ‘illusion’ that there is an alternative and that when do you see that you just have to accept it. You can, of course, choose to opt out if you so wish. I’d recommend though that you don’t. You’re a long time dead and it sounds pretty boring from anyone that’s come back. Anyway, back to uncle Pete…

And yet all we need to do is to turn our awareness back, at every moment, to its source.

It only takes the slightest shift in consciousness, the sub­tlest movement of awareness, and instead of being bound and helpless we are binding the binder. We have completed the circle, inside and outside ourselves. Then the bonds and boundaries of existence are not in some far-off place any more, at the illusory edges of the cosmos.

They are wherever we happen to be. And we are absolutely free — not because we are free from something but because we contain everything, every perception and thought, inside our­selves.
This is the experience of utter stillness: more exquisite, more full, than anything under the sun.
And so Parmenides leaves us just where we found him, right in the middle of our very ordinary life. Or so it seems. For if you have understood anything at all in what he says, you will have realized that there is no leaving.
There are no comings, or goings; no goodbyes. And there most definitely is no death.

Oh well, thank God for that. What Parmy is really trying to tell us about is samadhi, awakening, enlightenment etc. Being-ness and Is-ness is all there is and I’ve written about that before and probably will again too. Thankfully though Parmy has shown us the truth though, it looked like he was telling us to find the nearest high bridge and get it all over and done with. Noel Gallagher

Sorry that the quote is so long but I just want to show here that we tend to find meaning and attach meaning to the things that we already kind of identify with. You see, Kingsley is going to go with the depressing stuff first, he always does but it’s in that depression that he finds hope. And I really like that about him. Oasis’ Noel Gallagher used to do the same thing in his Oasis songs, kick off with something depressing and sad but find the kernel of hope. Peter Kingsley then is Noel Gallagher. Oasis were the guitar band for people who didn’t normally like guitar music; Kingsley is the philosopher for people who don’t normally read philosophy. 

persephone and aphroditeNo, come on now, I’m being facetious, mean and not very nice. Well, yes, I am but there’s also truth to it. Look, there’s no getting around that Kingsley’s knowledge is pretty fantastic regarding Parmy, although, equating Persephone with Aphrodite in a kind of erotic Yin-Yang, death-vs-sex, all-girl, all-goddess-duality is a bit of a stretch, seeing as Aphrodite was her aunt/great aunt, depending on certain myths and/or also, a rival in love for Adonis. Indeed it was Aphrodite who made Hades fall in love with Persephone in the first place and it all went sour for the poor girl after that. Didn’t Zeus bone her too? He took the guise of a serpent and did, they had a child; Zagreus and then Hera, Zeus’ main squeeze killed the poor kid. Greek myths are seriously messed up.

Anyway, look, what I’m getting at here is that I’m not quite convinced that we don’t add our own meanings onto what we interact with. OK, let’s apply mêtis, dispel the ‘illusion’ and see through reality to ‘really’ see what’s there but you’re still going to hear/read/see, or understand, a song/poem/film as how you interpret them. You simply cannot be objective, and indeed, according to Kingsley’s understanding of Parmy, knowing that you cannot be is the best outcome. Engage your senses, all of them and see reality for what it is. And while you can bask in the is-ness of existence you’re still going to pass a judgement on whether an ice-cream tastes good or not. Knowingly engaging with existence is the key to applying mêtis.

Just to add, with music, when you add music video into the equation a song meaning is forever changed from what you might have thought it was. Last weekend, that great 1993 song Runaway Train from Soul Asylum came on a televisionSoul Asylum station we were watching. I have very little time for music videos, I listen to music, I don’t watch it thank you very much. That’s not the idea of music but anyway, I’d never seen it before. I had always thought the song was about ‘running away’ from a bad girlfriend. Simple enough. Turns out the song, according to the video anyway, is all about abused children that have ran away from home because of the terrible situations they lived under and now the song is ruined. And it really was, turns out thanks to the milk cartons featuring the missing kids in the video some, not all, were found. It’s properly tragic. Now, I’ve ruined it for you. But you’ve probably seen it. Probably.

As teased in the intro I had yet another Peter Kingsley dream over the weekend. He had a wheel type of thing and inside the wheel was a smaller wheel that was geared to the larger one. The smaller one was powering the bigger one. He enlisted me for moral support and we hit up the Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He was going around from university department to university department trying, in vain, to convince professors he had reinvented the wheel and this was going to revolutionize the world. All the professors just told him to do one saying things like, ‘look, we already have that/that was invented yonks ago/what are ya at, ya plank, we’ve had wheels and gears for years, this doesn’t help anything’ Poor Peter was distraught, it’s one thing to be rejected over an email or in text, it’s another to get it to your face. So we went to the pub, had a few local ciders, are ciders local to Cambridge or Oxford? Are they even close to each other? Nobody knows. Well, they do know. English people do. I don’t. I’ll look it up. Oh, they’re like 140km apart. Which is ages away. Anyway, a few pints and I consoled Peter and that was that.

BeksinskiWe don’t need to go into what the dream means, it’s not exactly like trying to decipher a Beksiński painting but ask yourself; is the meaning you’re giving it based on my attitude to Peter Kingsley, is it based on your attitude to my attitude towards Peter Kingsley, is it based on your attitude towards Peter Kingsley, is it based on your attitude towards me?

Surely then we can agree that we give everything our own meaning? Sometimes though, we are given something. Kingsley argues in Reality and in In the Dark Places of Wisdom that Parmenides was given his teaching by Persephone and who am I to argue that he wasn’t? He says that Parmenides didn’t put any of his own spin on it and just delivered it as he received it. Even though Persephone does play a few tricks along the way. I’m convinced that Kingsley has the meaning of the poem spot on for what it is but let’s remember that what remains are something like 160-ish lines of a 600+ line poem and the 160 lines that did survive were recorded by someone else much later.

A week or so after I had my K&C with herself, the synchronicities were still popping but slowing down. One morning I heard a voice whisper ‘Amon Tobin’. If you don’t know Amon Tobin, he’s a Brazilian music producer living somewhere in England. Think Fourtet, RJD2, Moderrat…I call it shoegaze dance music. I’ve seen him live at least once, maybe more, I’ve been to an awful amount of festivals and can’t remember everyone I’ve seen but for sure I’ve seem him at least once, so I knew the name when I heard it. I spent most of that day researching him, trying to find out what the HGA was telling me. As I worked I listened to everything he had on Spotify, reading up on him as much as I could and was getting nothing. Just frustration. Which is slightly more than nothing yes but all I could think was, what am I missing here?

As night came I threw in the towel and gave up, which is the same thing but with added effect. Or so I thought I had. I was on YouTube looking at a few things and decided I’d check out his YT channel, below was the first video that came up. Something weird about it was the fact that it was uploaded on what is one of the most significant days of the year for me. It was too much of a synch to dismiss. On watching the video, the meaning was clear. Oh, it’s a NSFW video too, there’s a big, floppy dong in it.

The meaning of the video is quite obvious; take the leap of faith. But dear reader, my questions to you then are; was I given this or is that just the meaning I’ve put on it? And, for you, how many things have you been given to understand?

Sunyata

…And God is Empty, Just Like Me

Blog, Philosophy

Eckhart von Hochheim has become a big hit within these four walls I call home. Meister Eckhart was a great man for, well, you could just put a full stop there couldn’t you? What I meant to write was he was a great man for putting his thoughts about God into action. Of course, he’s one of the most well-known Christian mystics but rather than just writing down his ideas, in German rather than Latin to reach more people, he would also give lengthy sermons about what his thoughts were and the more you read up on him the more you will notice than he didn’t just stand on the shoulders of other Christian mystics that came before him, he also delved into Eastern and Ancient philosophies.  

Meister EckhartIn his own words “I have read many writings both of heathen philosophers and sages, of the Old and New Testaments, and I have earnestly and with all diligence sought the best and the highest virtue whereby man may come most closely to God…” (source)

Now, unlike most Christian preachers he would quite often use his sermons as what we’d call ‘thought experiments’ and challenge his congregations and audiences to ponder upon the being-ness and is-ness of both themselves and God. There are numerous occasions where we can read than in his sermons he would say things like, ‘I’ve never said this before,’ or, ‘the thought has just occurred to me,’ thus inviting those listening to engage with the same thoughts. There’s an often overlooked characteristic which most of the best teachers, gurus, yogis, whatever term you prefer to use, all share. They all wanted their students to think for themselves and to find God, being-ness, unity, again, whatever you want to call it, by themselves. They were more than happy to teach but ultimately it was up to the listener to do the work. It would appear that many, many people fall into the trap of following exactly what certain spiritual teachers say and end up idolising the teacher over the teachings. 

Is-ness and Being-ness

There’s two passages in particular I’d like to quote here:

Being is God…God and being are the same – or God has being from another and thus himself is not God…Everything that is has the fact of its being through being and from being. Therefore, if being is something different from God, a thing has its being from something other than God. Besides, there is nothing prior to being, because that which confers being creates and is a creator. To create is to give being out of nothing.

What is Life? God’s being is my life, but if it is so, then what is God’s must be mine and what is mine God’s. God’s is-ness is my is-ness, and neither more nor less. The just live eternally with God, on a par with God, neither deeper nor higher. All their work is done by God and God’s by them. (source for both).

Let’s have a gander at these quotes. In the first one Eckhart is saying that being is the same as God because anything that came into being not created by God wouldn’t be God and therefore just wouldn’t exist. How could something exist in God’s creation if God hasn’t created it? It couldn’t. This is Neoplatonism 101 here lads. I also like the final sentence and I think it’s something artists/writers/musicians/builders, those of us lucky enough to have a job/hobby where we create things should remember; to create is to give existence to something and to really think on that for a while can give some appreciation for how profound it can really be. For example, even just to write a song for a lover that you might only even ever play once for her is a thing of incredible, and heartfelt, beauty. To think of all the little things that had to happen for both you and her to share such tenderness and love to be inspired to write a song about that love and then to let it go out into the aether, back into the nothingness it came from. That’s just majestically mind-blowing.

The second quote then addresses that age-old question of why are we here? If God is life then we’re here living life because the being-ness of living is God itself. It’s almost too simple and yet too deep to really fathom isn’t it? But like Eckhart explains, God’s existence and our existence is the same, it is existence, so they must be one and the same. Our being-ness and is-ness is the same then as the Big Cheese’s. God, Twitter

But Being-ness and Is-ness, well, it’s not exactly tangible is it? OK, I can smack myself in the face and I’ll feel it thus proving I’m alive, to myself anyway, but if we sit down and meditate and really investigate the bejaysus out of is-ness and being-ness it’s not a thing that’s touchable, like my pretty face is anyway. But it’s still there, there’s still an is-ness or a being-ness to that being-ness. And indeed, it self-reflects because it knows that it’s there. We’ll come back to this self-reflecting later, for now let’s look more at emptiness.

Of course when you dip your tootsies into Buddhism the idea of ’emptiness’ is going to come up a fair amount. And it seems to be something that Westerners in particular seem to have a problem with. Even back in Eckhart’s stomping days, the late 13th and early 14th centuries, he wouldn’t have termed what the Buddhists call ’emptiness’ as that. For the most part he used terms like ‘silence,’ ‘stillness,’ and even ‘desert’ for example. If the argument that the Western mind is ‘more logical/rational’ then trying to rationalise ’emptiness’ is always going to be problematic. But we can all appreciate what ‘silence,’ ‘stillness,’ or ‘desert’ could mean in the context of deep contemplation on the mysteries of existence.

Tathātā

Buddhadasa BhikkhuIn Buddhism there’s a term, Tathātā, which has been usually translated as ‘thusness’ or ‘suchness’ and it’s the same as this being- or is-ness that Meister Eckhart spent so much time wrestling with. In Buddhism it’s seen as the absolute nature of things before even ideas or words concerning them exist. So, it is the is-ness of is-ness, again we see the characteristic of self-awareness here.  There’s a nice quote on the Wikipedia page regarding Tathātā that comes from Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a perennialist and reinterpreter of Buddhist doctrine. Look him up, his rejection of the idea of rebirth rattled a few cages a few years back. Anyway, he said:

When tathātā is seen, the three characteristics of impermanence, dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and no-self are seen, emptiness is seen, and specific conditionality is seen. Tathātā is the summary of them all — merely thus, only thus, not-otherness.

In other words then, is-ness and being-ness is what there is. It’s all there is.

As you’ll no doubt be aware from listening to/watching the podcast, I’ve developed a major grá for Rupert Spira over the last few months and around seven years ago he put out a video about what we’re grappling with here; is-ness and being-ness. 

Matter and Consciousness

Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to dissect everything said in the video, do have a watch if you have the time after reading, but here are some thoughts about it. He begins by saying that is-ness is what everything and every object shares in our existence. And this being-ness is a kind of emptiness/void. This is the dreaded ’emptiness’ I wrote about above but here Spira says that it’s a first kind of emptiness. Matter is mostly empty, we perceive it as not being that but science will tell us that the space around atoms is mostly empty and while not empty in the sense of a vacuum, the space is  actually occupied by waves, perceived as points when observed. So, we can say then that matter is energy vibrating, it is a kind of emptiness yet we perceive it as matter. Bizarre isn’t it?Rupert Spira

Spira speaks about this is-ness and says there’s another characteristic though, that this is-ness is known by the objects, people, beings etc. So, is-ness has awareness. Is-ness, or being-ness is self-reflective, i.e. being-ness knows of its own being-ness.

This then is a second kind of emptiness. Consciousness knows of its consciousness, there is no matter involved, only self-knowing of its knowingness. He says: 

The emptiness of matter, which is made of being and the emptiness of thought, or knowing, which is made out of pure consciousness.

But that creates a question; where is the line between these two things? Well, there’s isn’t one. It’s the same as what Meister Eckhart says above, that our being-ness and is-ness is the same as God’s being-ness and is-ness.

Spira says about this:

“The reality out of which things are made, pure being, matter, and the reality out of which knowledge or the mind are made, which seem to be two; I, the inside self, made of mind and you, or it, the outside world, made of matter. If we explore them both, they are both empty…these two emptinesses are identical.”

He goes further and explains that space is what the mind occupies while matter occupies time. Both of which are ‘approximations and both are, as such, empty as well‘.

To end the video he explains that the experience of love (mind) and beauty (matter) are what happens when these two different aspects knowingly experience themselves. And who could argue with that? When you love something you know exactly what it is to feel and to be alive. The same goes for seeing or experiencing a moment of beauty.

What use is all this knowledge though? Well, if being-ness and is-ness and our knowledge of our own is-ness and being-ness is the same as God’s being-ness and is-ness then we can engage with it in three simple ways.

The first is to pay attention to sounds, pick something you hear often, birdsong or cars in traffic for example. When you hear them, pay attention to the moment and simply be present. Feel your body, witness your thoughts without judgement, do whatever it is that makes you feel there in that  moment.

The second is to just stop, engage with one, or more of your senses and say, I’m here and be present. Another is a meditation I made for myself based on Peter Kingsley’s mêtis because “when we live [the illusion] to the full, to its furthest limits, we are nothing but reality fulfilling its own longing” (source). Let’s ignore the ‘illusion’ word though, that’s not my bag at all. I sit or lay down and I say to myself ‘I see, I feel, I think, I taste, I smell, I hear’ as a mantra, repeating and repeating and repeating and doing the things I’m saying seeing, feeling, thinking, tasting, smelling and hearing. It’s not an easy meditation but when it all syncs up together, everything simply is.