Reflections on the 'here and now' from the perspective of non-ordinary experience
Consensus / Ordinary Reality
Have you ever wondered about the nature of this 'reality' you are experiencing right now?
I imagine for most people, the answer would likely be a clear “no”, or even “what?”.
Perhaps for some people it might be, “yes occasionally” or possibly, “briefly when I was a teenager - with nothing better to do”.
I could even imagine people answering, “I haven't got time for this. Surely, it's just what it seems, isn't it - real!”
If on the other hand you are someone who experiences natural non-ordinary states, then the answer I'm quite sure will be a definite, “Of course - how could I not!”.
Most people in this situation will be very confused about it all, as there is little good information out there right now.
If you are a family member caring for someone in this 'confusion' or a clinician, then my suggestion is that this reflection might be worth your attention if you wish to understand what they are experiencing and desire to support them through it.
Let us start by exploring our conventional view of things.
Please do stop at any time and reflect yourself as this isn't just an intellectual exercise, it's a realisation that comes to us. The process can be helped by guidance which I will attempt here.
Look around you. Perhaps you are inside a 'space', so you may see walls, floor, ceiling, furniture etc. Reach out and touch something. I felt the textile roughness of the carpet with my fingers just now and then the smooth wooden surface of a wardrobe door. Notice the temperature in the room, here it is cool but not cold, and listen to any sounds around you. Here it is raining, so I can hear the sound of raindrops coming down outside the window and there are quiet sounds of other people preparing a meal in the kitchen. Taste or drink something. I sipped from a glass of water. A cool refreshing, clean taste, I enjoyed just now.
And don't forget to check your body sensations. I have a little discomfort in a rear tooth and some pain in my left shoulder, but there is also a sense of space inside me and a pleasant sensation of aliveness moving.
We can call this experience consensus or ordinary reality. It should be very familiar to you!
And based on this, the assumption in our usual world view is likely that I am 'here', and all that other stuff is 'there'. All the material world exists independent of 'me' and is objectively real. The world is solid, reliable and behaves as it should according to Newtonian physics etc. - apples fall from trees, they don't float up into the sky.
And we know if we meet another person and pass them the apple that fell from the tree, they can take it from you, see, feel and if they wish taste the same apple.
So, this is consensus reality, which is 'real' irrespective of what ideas we may have about it.
Introducing Dream Reality
Let's consider another experience now.
Everyone dreams. At times, you may be aware of the content, and it may well be as clear and 'real' in its experienced sense as your waking reality. But anything might happen in this state. You might fly through the sky or hold a conversation under water. The experience might be pleasant or nightmarish. Once we wake up, we realise it was just a dream.
Again, this will be very familiar for you, even if you don't take much interest in your dreams.
Introducing the Cinema Screen
Let me now propose another view on this here and now experience.
Imagine a cinema hall with a projector running. On the screen you see yourself complete with your eyes to see, ears to hear, nose to smell, taste buds to taste and skin to feel with. You experience the apple in your hand with its qualities of weight, density, smoothness, colour, smell and if you bite it, it's sweet taste.
You feel the realness of the apple and in reflection feel the realness of yourself.
What is happening is simply the meeting between something with a capacity to feel and something with qualities which can be felt. Out of this meeting arises an experience for the consciousness of the 'you' on the screen.
Most people will be deeply identified with the character of themselves on the screen. I call it the persona.
Introducing the Observer
Imagine now that there is another aspect of yourself sitting in the cinema watching the film running.
Possibly in real life you have little awareness of this aspect of yourself, but you can have as it is a natural human capacity.
I'll call the aspect of oneself in the cinema the 'observer' mind. It is mindful awareness, which begins with the self-awareness of what is happening now and evolves to the capacity to consciously choose responses to stimuli you meet and then to a sense of space around emotional states, so you are less likely to become absorbed in them. At its highest level, you can become aware of the 'screen' itself, the luminosity of the mind which like a mirror reflects the 'film'. You are both in the experience and not in it at the same time.
Exploring the Nature of the Film on the Screen
Now let us reflect more closely on what is appearing on the screen.
What comes perhaps is that there is something creating the 'show', which could be considered to 'exist', but it is not part of the reality we experience.
Whatever we experience does not exist in the way we experience it. Another life form may receive an altogether different 'show' constructed from their capacity to sense and the archetypal qualities of the object sensed, say the apple with its 'redness'. A colour-blind person will see something different to the non-colour-blind person.
Someone might say, “I have full human sense capacities, and I know red or green apples objectively exist with their natural colours. People who are colour blind just can't see the colour.”
Again, this is how we usually see things.
In truth, most women will have wider colour awareness than men. If you meet an artist, they may have even greater sense of the colour, texture and shape of the apple. If you meet a clairvoyant, they may tell you about the colours of its aura. A psychiatrist might consider them mad and try and deny them the truth of their reality experience.
This provides insight into our reality as human beings. Each of us lives in a unique, constructed reality experience, based on our capacity to sense form along with a shared archetypal object memory, a 'matrix' which tracks the 'state' of each form. We cannot say more about this 'matrix' or 'mother'.
Nb. The state of a form includes it's relative location in space and it's relative timing if the form changes state independent of you in some way.
Effectively we each occupy our own universe!
But thanks to the mother matrix, everything happening in one person's physical universe, happens in the universe of everyone else.
I appear with my latest state in your universe and throw the apple for you to catch. You catch it and I experience you now holding the apple in my universe.
It all works just great! We both get the experience of consensus reality, sharing an objective 'out there' common universe passing the apple between each other. Something truly miraculous. The more you reflect on this, the more miraculous it all seems.
There is a Zen saying which goes something like, “Walking on water is not the miracle, the miracle is walking on the earth!”
The Origins of Research into the Nature of Reality
I want to say a bit now on the origins of this understanding.
The Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna c. 150-250 AD, looked deeply at this nature of reality problem, and his teaching evolved the concept of emptiness, the empty nature of experienced reality. In this philosophy, 'Relative truth' describes what we usually experience, 'Absolute truth', describes the actual existent reality. Both are true. They do not contradict each other.
I was fortunate at university to have a friend who later went on to work with Professor Steven Hawkins. We had one conversation on Quantum Physics, String Theory and Quarks which left me open to Nagarjuna's understanding when I later came across it, that our experienced reality is real but not in the way it seems.
Hua-Yen Buddhist metaphysics evolved in China during the 6th-8th Century building on Nagarjuna's work developing the concept of interpenetration, which is called “The Jewel Net of Indra” or “Indra's Net”. If you look inside a grain of sand, you can find the whole universe. In terms of human beings, there is only 'mind', within which all other forms appear including our own body. This influenced the underlying philosophy of Zen, to not rest in identification with either the 'film' or the 'matrix'.
It is beyond the scope of this discussion and likely my own understanding, but there are two competing philosophical schools in Mahayana Buddhism: 'Mind Only' and 'Emptiness'. The emptiness school is considered the higher truth, that the only 'thing' there is, is the 'mother' matrix behind the projector like I described before, but in terms of actual meditation experience, what people usually discover is 'Mind Only', the cinema screen itself on which all forms appear.
Nb. I believe one maybe two of my friends making use of Ayahuasca have experienced something alternating between the formless mother (not just an empty screen) and the form on their screen. It left both extremely disturbed as they attempted to integrate the experience into their daily life, and one was left profoundly depressed. You need to be ready before experiencing something like this.
I would recommend further research on these Buddhist philosophies.
Hopefully it is clear, that the content of this essay is not simply my concoction! It is based on the absolute pinnacle of Eastern philosophy rooted in the deepest meditative explorations of what is means to be human.
I have simply built on this work, with my personal experiences of non-ordinary states.
I hope you are still with me. If it feels like you are 'forcing' things to relate to what I'm saying, take a break now! Maybe take a walk somewhere nice and come back to it later.
The Dream Projector
Let's now bring in the dream experience. A different projector works to create the film on the screen and the matrix behind it functions differently. Some aspects of this matrix may be collective while others may be personal to us.
I know from my own experience of being lucid during dream states that it is possible to meet others and share the experience with them later in a waking state.
At the same time, the experience may be unique to me, and as we know, anything may happen.
Relating all this to non-ordinary experience.
I once walked down a road on Koh Phan Gan in Thailand having had a great social evening chatting warmly with fellow yoga students. I remember noticing suddenly that all the plants and trees along the sides of the road were glowing with a luminous vitality that was both beautiful and alarming. “Bugger!”, was the likely first response in my mind, though I didn't panic. I returned to my rented bungalow and immediately began well-rehearsed recovery strategies. I'll relate them another time.
My state was changing, and I would hypothesize that my dream projector was turning on alongside my consensus one.
Things may be more complicated than just the 'two-projector' model, but it is sufficient for now.
I suspect the Indian Chakra system will provide a more advanced model for us to work with, with the 'Ajna' chakra activating more strongly suddenly alongside my usual blend of chakra activity to create the non-ordinary experience. I will dive into this model another time.
Staying with the two-projector model, what you get in my experience is a blending of the contents of the two projectors, creating a reality experience which may be bizarre and very confusing for those not familiar with it.
At its lowest blend, there may be lots of consensus reality, with just a few touches of dream state mixed in there. The glowing aliveness perhaps, or maybe people appearing like they are behind glass or ghost like. Perhaps 'extras' will appear, like a numinous 'tree of good and evil' which suddenly appeared in the driveway of a house I was staying in during an episode. You may experience synchronicities galore as Carl Jung names them, coincidences that seem beyond random. Anyone can experience them in consensus reality but in this state, they can go ballistic.
At a higher blend, the experience feels more like a blank canvas on which anything could happen. What comes will no doubt reflect cultural conditioning like the Tibetan Buddhist archetypal teachings or for Western people it seems the contents of our movies! This is what I experienced. The consensus reality feels far away. The sense for me was that I was in a post-death state or alive but in an alternate universe or dimension.
The experience of time altered, so people might be frozen like I saw later in a “Men in Black” film, or they might all be walking at comically different speeds somehow as if operating in different universes. My 'consensus reality' projector was no longer dominant and so I believe some aspects of the 'interpenetration' which creates the ordinary shared experience was inactive.
I had a sense that everything in my experience, including the people I met were playing out roles linked to my own mind. They felt like dreaming cartoon characters. This isn't to say that I had conscious control over how they behaved, but still they felt like projections of me, offering up interactions my mind 'needed'. This may not be dis-similar to how 'projections' work in consensus reality, but in this state, they felt much stronger.
If you are following me, and are interested enough, there may be myriad of thoughts firing off in your mind now!
We know a fair amount about navigating consensus reality and a healthy dose of mindfulness can help this along enormously.
There is also knowledge in some quarters on psychedelic initiated inner journeys.
But as a culture, we know next to nothing about navigating 'blended' non-ordinary reality. This is not the same experience as someone taking LSD. Your 'alive' body is still with you, your physical reality can be altered, and the process doesn't end after so many hours. The people you meet will mostly be living human beings, though some may not be! The consequences of your actions do go out to affect the consensus reality matrix.
One time, in my experience it was possible to hit my head against a concrete floor without it hurting, but on another occasion breaking a glass door left serious wounds. This is very confusing.
In my experience, it was possible to experience 'extra' forms in my blended reality and introduce them to others so that they could also experience them. Either I was bringing them into their own blended reality for a while with content from my dream projector being shared somehow, or my blended reality was influencing the collective consensus reality for a time. I only ran my test with one other person, so I can't say which. There is a lot to discuss and explore!
Some people may find what I've written here disturbing, as everything can seem 'unreal'. My advice is not to worry about it. It helps to understand when it is relevant to you, and then just let life be. Don't think too much. Focus more on compassion for other people, playing out your life role and becoming more embodied and emotionally mature.
What I want to leave you with is a simple statement. Though at the beginning it may well look impossible, over time, with appropriate training anyone can learn to navigate non-ordinary experience.
Eventually as it did for me, it may stop naturally for you or only recur in a healthy way on occasions when it serves a useful function in your life.
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