Piercing the VeilCory Panshin on February 13, 2008
All the great philosophies, in one way or another, offer the same simple message: The reality we inhabit is no more than a thin skin stretched over the substance of true reality.
This skin might be compared to the tenuous films of air and water that sustains life on the surface of our planet. Everywhere above our heads and everywhere beneath our feet lies a vast, unknown domain.
There are many ways of conceptualizing this larger domain, all of them useful to a degree and all of them ludicrously inadequate. We are creatures of the surface and never experience the depth of reality directly. Instead, we infer its existence and nature through the effects it has on our mundane world — and we devise metaphors, drawn from the things we do know, to express our inferences.
Recently, many of our older metaphors — such as “God” and “spirit” — have become decidedly creaky and started to show their age. They were made for a world in which the social relationships and state of scientific knowledge were very different from our own, and they no longer function effectively to attune us to the workings of a greater reality.
Rather than pointing towards higher dimensions of existence, as they once did, those words have become coopted by the mundane world of power and greed. They are used to justify self-promoting agendas and have a largely negative impact on our public discourse.
We need a fresh start — and a supply of new metaphors with the power to challenge these once dynamic but now degraded words and images.
I personally would like to see a range of different metaphors available, with none of them able to summon the kind of unquestioning acceptance that the God-metaphor commanded for so many centuries. In that spirit, I would like to offer one particular set of images that I myself have found useful:
I imagine the depths of reality as a great sea of transformative energy, straining to break through into our mundane world at any point where the veil between them is sufficiently thin. Non-living matter is dense and not easily influenced, but the emergence of life represents a thinning of the veil. This is why living beings provide fertile ground for the transcendent forces of change and growth and evolution. Consciousness provides a still further thinning, and a greater receptivity to the power of true reality.
As conscious beings, we are at any given moment no more than a whisper away from something intensely profound and powerful. Every one of us is a point of potential access for creative forces from beyond the world we know — and wherever those forces burst out, novel and extraordinary things happen: New art, new science, new political arrangements, new understandings of the universe and our place in it.
Although every human has the potential to serve as a vehicle for creative transformation, however, some open themselves to it more fully than others. Where most of us are satisfied to tend our gardens, others transform the world. The visible record of these vaster transformations is the stuff of our history books, our museums, our soaring cities, our marvels of engineering, our most enduring stories and poems.
But even the sum total of these visible accomplishments barely hints at the full creative reality that lies beyond. All the achievements handed down to us from the past are no more than imperfect and fossilized imprints of the unknown and unknowable well of creative energy which bubbled up to form them. To focus on those imprints is to become lost in a mirror-maze and miss the original, the true source of all the many partial and broken images.
And yet it would also be an error to dismiss those imprints too carelessly. There is a special quality to our most profound myths, our most inspiring monuments, and the essential founding documents of our societies. They are not merely fossils but retain a crucial spark of the creative flame which originally inspired them — a spark which remains available to be blown back into full life by those who approach them in the proper manner.
Let me vary the metaphor slightly. Geologists tell us that the rocky shell which forms the inhabitable surface of our Earth is marked by certain long-term thin spots — places where the deep magma repeatedly punches through to form volcanoes and volcanic islands. The Hawaiian Islands, for example, have been formed as the Earth’s crust moved over one such hot spot during millions of years.
In the same way, there are long-lasting thin spots in the veil between this world and the reality beyond — points of contact through which transformative energy repeatedly finds access to the world we know.
These access points typically manifest first through the lives of great prophets and teachers. It would be hard to say whether emergent thin spots turn ordinary seekers into prophets or whether prophets create new thin spots by their own internal alchemy — and even to ask the question may signal a limitation of vision, an inclination to perceive duality where there is only unity, like calling to like.
What is important on a practical level is that these thin spots can remain active for many lifetimes after the passing of their founders and still be accessed by those who come after. They serve as enduring weak points in the prison of things-as-they-are, central hubs around which creative transformation can continue to build outward.
If there is lasting value in the great myths and monuments of the past, it has nothing to do with whether we believe literally in whatever fairy tales may be incorporated in them. It lies rather in their ability to return us to the true original source of their power and allow us to identify with that source and maintain its ongoing activity.
Such monuments also have another value. Ultimate creative power may be beyond human comprehension, but these doorways to that power are not. They retain the personality and individual wisdom of whoever originally established them. They bring us right up to the boundary of ultimate reality — but it is a boundary that always wears a human face.
Or say, rather, many human faces — for these portals are as distinct as their creators. They are as varied as the members of the human family, and the energy that pours through them is formed and channeled into many streams by the diversity of their underlying visions.
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