When I was a very tiny child, I had a dream that has stayed with me. I remember it as a dream about outer-space, so that’s what it must have been. I also remember it as a dream about that great distant god who seems to be found pretty much universally. So it was a dream about that eternally roaring “god-stuff” that DH Lawrence talks about in the Plumed Serpent too. But the divine outer-space I dreamed of was neither distant nor angrily roaring, but peaceful and pulsing. It was no black echoing void either but moderately cloudy and fluid. Now I think about it, it was something like blood plasma, or interstitial, seminal, or amniotic fluid.
So I understood from the start what I’d dreamt about but it was like in Juliana Speer’s Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartbreak:
We come into the world.
We come into the world and there it is.
The sun is there.
The brown of the river leading to the blue and the brown of the
ocean is there.
Salmon and eels are there moving between the brown and the brown
and the blue.
The green of the land is there.
Elders and youngers are there.
Fighting and possibility and love are there.
And we begin to breathe.
We come into the world and there it is.
We come into the world without and we breathe it in.
What I mean is, it was a dream about my matrix but when one is three, one’s physical, spiritual, religious environment is taken for granted and accepted for what it is.
Still, as I got older, the dream began to perplex me. By now, Lawrence’s “god-stuff” was being moulded for me into the Christian very distant inaccessible god who is only reachable through his son, Jesus. I understood this god as synonymous with the stuff of the vast eons of black intergalactic nothingness that I saw in the night sky. In this form he simultaneously scared and concerned me, and I couldn’t bear to think of him existing abstractly in the farthest reaches of nowhere. But I did wonder how I’d got so mixed-up about his nature in my early dream.
In time, I did resolve the dream – to my own satisfaction at least – through another dreamlike experience. I was smoking the entheogen, salvia divinorum, and shortly found myself alone with neither sense of myself in the physical world, nor concept of myself in the mental. I had no physical body and no mental map of where I’d been or was going because there was no past, present or future. I was utterly sensorially-deprived in a place where all interaction was impossible so I didn’t exist except as a universal lonely, deeply anxious awareness. As the terpenoids dissipated, a sense of interaction returned and I realised myself separate from that anxious awareness except that it had attached itself to me as a suffocating blanketing neediness. But slowly this heavy swathing resolved so that it was a chiffony covering of prickling stars which had overlaid me and thereafter I understood that the stars actually were me – 350,000 nadis lighting the flow of life through me, delivering nutrients to cells, running errands, taking communications back and forth…And then I had the idea that life and individuality are the gift of that universal awareness whose generosity arises from a need to ground itself psychically and materially through the experience of another.
Plato talks of this mixing of divinity with materiality in his Timaeus. His Demiurge – or divine artisan – takes material bodies and folds soul into them, turning over and through, as though making flaky-pastry. But materiality was, to Plato, a degraded thing, and it remains fundamentally different to spirit and essentially inferior to it. But there were those then and others since who have questioned this duality. Amongst them is the seventeenth century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. To him god and nature are one and the same thing, and he wrote “Deus sive Natura” – God or nature, both dynamic actions, growing and changing, never static. His philosophy tended towards neutral monism where the universe and all that is in it is essentially pure experience. What decides the nature of this experience – i.e. whether it’s about matter or mind, material or spirit – has to do with the patterns arising from its interrelations with itself and subsequently emerging complexity. Mind and matter, body and soul are one but require each other for comfort.
That ubiquitous distant god of our religious myths has been for so long self-sufficiently unto himseIf. He has always been pure and unchanging; always a construction of unassailable strength. Oftentimes, according to myth, he (always he) created the world, sometimes out of a need to assuage loneliness, but then drew back to exist singly as unpolluted divine light. His angels are regularly jealous of human materiality but not him who’s above all that. He’s always been the giver in his relationship with his creation, never the recipient. It was in this capacity that I was taught to understand why Jesus died for humanity – god offered his son as an act of compassion towards humans in respect of our frailty. It never occurred to me before that Jesus’ suffering might be understood in reverse as well – that the myth is possibly also a kind of complaint discourse or, in other words, a means for Deus sive Natura to re-establish its presence in the world at a critical time of possibly dangerous waning influence and consequent ecological and cultural disintegration.
It’s the thing that when anything is around so long that it becomes part of the furniture, it gets taken for granted. But complaining – as a reminder of every individual’s enmeshment in a caring network – serves as a levelling device and as a public reminder of the continued presence in the world of those who require to be attended to. It’s a strategy much used by Ju/’hoansi elderly who don’t do isolated independence but remain always interdependent. They have an unquestioned right to respect, honour and social status by virtue of their belonging within a community and their complaints are a constant reminder that what they have previously given and done establishes this regardless of current individual productivity which might be zero.
Complaining reminds those around that they have a duty of care, even when they don’t feel caring. And, in drawing attention to suffering, it can inspire compassion, given the right worldview. Complaining is to draw one into another’s pain and makes them co-sufferer who must then – because now they hurt too – seek to alleviate or ameliorate the suffering of the complainant.
Christ’s Passion means a great deal to a great deal of people but, whatever, seems always about us: god is on the cross but human failings are in the spotlight. Perhaps this is because we’ve learned to take ourselves too seriously in such a way as has certainly enabled the rise and rise of human spirituality but has cost our materiality and Deus sive Natura dearly because this game of life we play together is essentially zero-sum.
We’ve got to learn to truly listen to complaints, so it seems to me. It’s the only way to level us. And we have to listen to these from the perspective of the other rather than taking it all inside to ghosts inside hollowed-out machine-bodies where it becomes all about us as isolated individuals. Our bodies are pulsing systems which rely on multiple other systems of varying natures. They are dynamics processing huge amounts of information about relationship within divinely enfolded interior and exterior environments. If we don’t listen to the complaints that arise from our bodies, communities, and natural environments, then gains are illusory. They are transitory in any case no matter what we’d like to think. But we ought to avoid human-apotheosis like the plague because reaching a zenith means we’ve already lost everything to Deus sive Natura in this zero-sum game of life.