Map of Apocalyptic Consciousness
My map of apocalyptic consciousness utilizes a series of simple mandalas. All things begin and end in Mystery, and this map is no different: It is not ‘the way it is’ but one way to look at it, and like a kaleidoscope, if you turn your perspective a bit every piece will move and create another variation on the pattern expression of Reality.
At the center of, and underlying everything, is a Great Mystery. When one reaches the end of opinions, beliefs, knowledge and conditioned answers, and stands finally and fully in the awe of ‘don’t know,’ there is a Mystery at the center of life, underlying everything. The thinking mind cannot comprehend it, though it loves to give it names.
Names don’t explain or give true knowledge, or gnosis. It just gives word-and-thought-using life forms a name to call the unnameable and unexplainable, that which by its very nature must be too vast for the human mind to hold.
This is a good thing for conversation and communication, but disastrous when one fuses the name with that which is beyond names, and thinks one knows something when all one knows is the limited concepts of one’s thinking mind. This isn’t a good compass for a meaningful life.
In the Christian lineage, many people have been conditioned to think of the Ultimate as a God of Light/Good at war with Darkness/Evil. This war of opposites creates the basis for the apocalyptic ideology of holy war, but the Zohar speaks of a dazzling darkness before God : “A spark of impenetrable darkness flashed within the concealed of the concealed from the head of infinity.… With this beginning the unknown concealed one created the palace. This palace is called God.”
In the Qur’an, Allah puts it this way, “I’m a hidden treasure; I wanted to be known. I created the cosmos so that I might be known.”
How did the Unmanifest blossom into Manifestation in all its diversity? It’s a Mystery; nonetheless, here it is and here we are. Humans have a particular ability / liability to be able to select one particular angle on the multi-facetedness of reality, settle down there and become blind to the rest.
The Church Father Clement wrote, “The Son is the Consciousness of God. the Father only sees the world as reflected in the Son.” Through the birth of Consciousness (the yellow bit in fig. 2). Mystery gets to know itself through Creation, which includes the amnesia of us vs. them in its numerable forms.
Consciousness permeates like light, as the sun doesn’t pick and choose who and what to shine on. Consciousness, like breath, defies the privatization that has become a prime directive in American ideology. Consciousness, like breath, ultimately subverts the Western compulsion towards individuality without interdependence and collective responsibility.
Psychology helped create an idea that all our internal problems are personal, but it may be that, like local weather in a larger context of atmospheric currents, personal problems aren’t only an individual affair, but part of the collective situation.
Perhaps it isn’t accurate to appropriate those currents as “me” and identify them as “my” thoughts and emotions. The Western psyche is conditioned to over-privatize. Consumerism would fail if it were not for a citizenry that felt unfulfilled and willing to gamble that a new personal acquisition, whether it be a thing, a person, or an experience, might make a permanent difference. In other words, consumerism depends on a sick population. (for a great view into the evolution of consumerism, check out the BBC series The Century of the Self.)
next up: the Imaginal Realm and the Luminous Epinoia
The Imaginal Realm and the Luminous Epinoia
“Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images.” Gospel of Philip, The Other Bible
The imaginal realm, accessible to the collective in both personal and transpersonal ways, is the land of symbols, deep imagination and archetype.
Some assign the word “God” to an image in this realm; God becomes an uber-human and the Mystery is compressed into one little picture called ‘true,’ with the rest of the pictures and energies in this realm labeled ‘false,’ ’or ‘just your imagination’ (fantasy).
The Old Testament addresses the problem of the concept of “God” with the injunction against idolatry. Not only graven statues, but idols created in the mind, can trap human consciousness when humans fall in love with their own images and worship them: They lose the ability to reach for that which is beyond images and their cherished images inevitably enter into conflict with the cherished images of others.
The Luminous Epinoia
The story of Adam and Eve has the first humans “falling” from paradise after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The basic Adam and Eve story has God as the Good Guy, Adam as the kind of good guy who gets swayed by Eve who was a sort of bad guy pulled in by the Serpent who was the Really Bad Guy.
Gnostic versions of the Garden of Eden story are 180 degrees different, with the serpent being Christ, the Good Guy, giving to Eve the “luminous epinoia” to help Adam and Eve find their way back to Divine Reality, as the god of Genesis is a bumbler.
Author Elaine Pagels, in her book Beyond Belief, writes that when Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness, “they saw that they were naked of spiritual understanding [gnosis], “but then the luminous epinoia “appeared to them shining with light, and awakened their consciousness.”
Referring to the Secret Book of Thomas in The Other Bible, she writes,“To speak of various modes of consciousness susceptible to revelation, the author of the Secret Book invokes a cluster of words related to the Greek verb norin, which means “perceive,” “think,” or “be aware.” … But according to the Secret Book it’s, above all, the “luminous epinoia” that conveys genuine insight” She avoids translating the word epinoia as”imagination,” because some “take this term as Iranaeus did, to refer to fantasy rather than conscious awareness.”
“…epiinoia conveys hints and glimpses, images and stories, that imperfectly point beyond themselves toward what we can not now fully understand.” Some translate epinoia as “insight” or “insight consciousness.” I like “imaginative insight.” Maybe it’s high time we liberate the term “imagination” from the single definition of “fantasy ” and let ourselves be guided by the luminous epinoia (the green circle in my simple image). Imagination, consciousness, the luminous epinoia : the bridge that exists between individual awareness and the Mystery of the Totality.
I’ve noticed over a lifetime involved in both studying and teaching different types of visualization methods, that without a stable mind, it’s easy for people to get lost in their own amalgation of the imaginal realm and the wounds in the individual psyche. The violent fundamentalist apocalypse story is one example. People who enter the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana world without stabilizing through meditation and ethics can go to some crazy places too. When I was an underworld guide, I saw people get inflated and self-important with the visions they had fasting on the land. The wild beauty of the imaginal realm can be intensely alluring to those temperamentally suited to it, yet, one has to do the work of creating a suitable vessel, as in alchemy, to hold it in a good way. I have researched this thoroughly in the alchemical lab of my own psyche as well as observing others, and I know this to be true.
Edward Edinger defines the word “archetype” as a “living organism …that inhabits the collective psyche.” It’s both a pattern “composed of a network of inter-related images” and a “dynamic agency” — a “primordial psychic pattern of the collective unconscious that is at the same time a dynamic agency with intentionality.”
It’s possible to encounter an archetype and call it God. It’s also possible to dismiss the power of archetypes as they manifest in the invisible aspects of the visible world. It’s possible to become possessed by an archetyype and not even know it.
Edinger defines the archetype of the apocalypse as the “disintegration of social and psychic structures and values which have been the architecture of the collective psyche no longer ‘contained’ by an operative religious myth.” You could say we are currently contained by the uncontained, or trapped in chaos. Fundamentalism can be appealing because it gives a sense of security and structure in denial of the very real chaos of disintegrating social structures
Times of Apocalypse are cyclical in nature, though at this time in history human beings have the capacity to create the end of the world in a definitive way. We can slow down this directive towards planetary destruction and consider how to cooperate with cycles and endings. All things come into being, stay for a time, and end. The Buddha knew this. The Hindu trinity of Creator, Preserver, Destroyer knows this. The cycle of the seasons in nature knows this.
I see us in America as walking in the debris of a shattered culture and a dead empire, the end of the American dream. Is there a way to accept and cooperate with this without complete systemic collapse of the basics, that is to say, with minimum suffering? This is our current challenge.
The picture-making aspect of humans
I once heard a photographer speak about “pictures made with light.” The human psyche generates pictures made with the light of consciousness. Author Salman Rushdie writes:
Our response to the world is essentially imaginative: that is, picture-making. We live in our pictures, our ideas. I mean this literally. we first construct pictures of the world and then we step inside the frames. we come to equate the picture with the world, so that, in certain circumstances, we will even go to war because we find someone’s picture less pleasing than our own.
Ignorance of the fact that the psyche works in picture- making fashion is not limited to conflict with others. Note how much trouble people have with changing habits — drinking, smoking, overeating, etc. People tell themselves not to do the thing they don’t want to do, usually creating a greater desire for the troublesome substance. What they don’t realize is when they go through their day telling themselves to not do it, what they are actually doing is constantly showing themselves a picture of what they don’t want to do, thereby keeping it forefront. Pictures don’t come with a red slash through them in the international “no” symbol. A fair amount of thinking is translating internal pictures into words.
Belief, creativity, cultures and traditions all originate from the use of imagination. If one considers belief, culture, and conflict to arise from the use and misuse of imagination, then the popular bumpersticker “Don’t believe everything you think” reveals a certain wisdom, though it’s kind of depressing to look to bumperstickers for education on how to live within our minds; conversely one can consider them pith instructions. Collectively, we have become the victims of conditioned pictures.
In a death-phobic culture it’s hard to cultivate death as an ally, to let go of what isn’t useful. The result: people cling ever tighter and identify with pictures that are a tiny piece of an imaginative interaction with life that ought to be fluid and ever-deepening our understanding not just of our humanity, but of all the forms of Creation that express the many aspects of Mystery.
The land of the individual psyche is where we encounter what is, at times, the extremely painful phenomenon of fragmentation in the privacy of personal consciousness.
Rumi and other mystical poets liken individual humans to drops of water in the ocean. For many of us, personal consciousness can be more like an ice cube, but the ice cube can melt into water and water can evaporate into air. Human consciousness makes us innately capable of imaginal shapeshifting.
Even though the Mystery is the context in which we live, any sense of a universal consciousness holding us can seem far away and the Mystery can seem like just darkness that we fear like little children.
Even though we perceive everything through consciousness and imagination, both can seem like concepts separate from our individuality. It takes trust and an opening of the deep heart to let it all become permeable and let the most inclusive of stories be the structure that holds it all.
Many spiritual traditions imagistically stress the underlying interconnectedness of life (the seed of life mandala, Celtic interlacing) because being a self-aware smallness in the larger context of the Mystery can be so frightening without that awareness of innate belonging. This is the apocalyptic mirror trap — if you see others as inherently not belonging, or not worthy, you claim the same for yourself, whether or not you consciously notice. But it will drain you, like a bad spell.
The desire for wholeness and belonging, coupled with the fear of the Other, can lead to exclusionary belief systems meant to soothe the enormity of the tension between personal autonomy and the need for belonging to something
larger than oneself. Rigid structure can give the illusion that one can lasso the Mystery, consciousness and the collective imagination for oneself and one’s group. When everything is commodified, it’s hard to imagine that some things are simply not up for grabs.
The human mind needs some structure within which to operate, but when the structure is built on exclusive constrictions of dogma and is not able in some way to acknowledge the underlying wholeness of life, it’s guaranteed to generate conflict. The belief system itself creates psychic pain, no matter how unconscious.
The inherent sadism of apocalyptic Christianity is a venting of that pain. This is what I would call the antichrist. The “body of Christ,” or “body of consciousness,” includes all of life. Simply put, the body of Christ is inclusion while the antichrist is exclusion. With exclusion comes threat, fear and violence; with exclusion comes the crucifixion of Christ consciousness.
The goal of human consciousness may be to experience both wholeness and autonomy, that is, to be aware of oneself as a cell in the universal body and at the same time an individual. The conditioning of the American Way fights the idea of “us” in favor of rugged individualism aspiring to freedom without responsibility. Other cultures focus on collective responsibility to the point of squashing individual development. Humans need both.
The ideology of us/them achieving wholeness through getting rid of “them” is the “vision” of genocide. It’s the perversion of a Hitler or Stalin and to a lesser extent all conditioned bigoted thoughts. A big version of the vision is to destroy a whole race, one that “God” wants eliminated. A small version is when reality does not conform to personal desires and one has violent feelings towards the ones who cut one off in traffic or offended one in some way. Note how prevalent the quick reaction with “enemy images” over even relatively small matters is in America today.
Even in this scenario there is a desire for wholeness, but the wholeness is attained by destroying that which is different. Rather than changing one’s worldview to expand to include all of “us”, a world of “us” is created by destroying all of “them.” ” Even without eliminating “them,” the fantasy is that one has brought the totality of God along when all one has is a little icon made in imagination.
This strategy can work to some extent. The shape is viable if one has no attachment to circles. Circles are the first shape children all over the world draw. The planet we live on is a sphere as are the sun and moon and the fellow planets of our solar system. The eyes through which we see the world, referred to as the “window of the soul” are round. The circle of wholeness is a shape with profound meaning.
Visions of the Apocalypse and end of the world and Second Coming of Christ shanghai God as Unity and Totality and carry the dream of separation into eternity with the saved/chosen going to heaven for eternity and the damned burning in hellfire for eternity. Even if one does not subscribe to this belief it’s clearly being played out all through our society and our world – there are those who matter and those who don’t (and different belief systems will have different ideas as to who matters and who doesn’t).
Mystery, Source, God is not only at the deepest center of a human being, it’s also the context in which we exist. The Mystery at the center of Life is God transcendent; the Mystery that permeates us is God immanent, sometimes referred to as the Goddess (also banished in Western thought over the last centuries). To unite within ourselves the source and the context, the God and the Goddess, to let that which has never touched the material world — but is the creative impulse that brought into being every atom — marry that which saturates every molecule in us is to offer our unique human expression as the bridal chamber of the Mystic Marriage.
If the Divine is infinite, then it follows that the manifestations of the Divine are also infinite. But a whole branch of religion is in denial about the Divine in manifestation. The divine is in its creation, but many people have been taught to put the Divine exclusively into their own image of the Divine. People become the Whore of Babylon, drinking from the cup of their fornication with their mental fantasies, but the lovemaking they are really seeking is between the manifest and unmanifest Divine.
The mystery of unity and diversity is the love story that is us.
By using the structure of circles, I examined things in one way. But life is not really separated into these neat distinctions, each with their own color and place. That’s easily forgotten in self-created structures. Another way to represent it all would be like this, which looks kind of like an eye. Consciousness, symbols, imagination, the individual and the Mystery are ultimately inseparable. We can separate them only through the capacity of our human minds.
When we fight a war, what is it we destroy? We can create belief systems to justify murder, but we really don’t know what it is we destroy, just as we don’t know what will happen to us after death, regardless of what we believe. To impose an exclusionary belief system on this interwoven “eye” is to live a self-mutilating life in which an individual plays out the famous scene in the surrealist movie ”Le Chien Andalu”— and cuts their innately mystical eyeball with a razor.
This gives a very graphic twist to a few Bible quotes : “Where there is no vision the people perish.” If thine eye be single ( variously translated as clear, single, or bright) thy whole being will be full of light.; Love your brother as your own soul. Protect him as you protect the pupil of your eye.
Perhaps humans are meant to enjoy both oneness and individuality. Perhaps Western religion has always grappled with sexuality because sexuality is one of our potentially most valuable spiritual tools. In conscious sex one can melt into wholeness then step back into autonomy. Sexuality is for the most part superficial and compulsive in the West, because people are frozen in some aspect of the individual autonomy ____________ collective wholeness scale.
In the West people are experiencing the fragmentation and despair that comes along with the lack of meaning one experiences when one cannot feel oneself as part of the whole. Islam has traditionally had more understanding of wholeness than the West, but has failed as well. The coercion of the veil, being forced into the collective, makes people crave Western individuality, which gets labeled as “freedom” but it’s not. True freedom involves being able to move along the full length of the autonomy_____________wholeness scale.
Some in the West feel threatened by Islam but it would behoove us to understand that the conversation between East and West has often been about this question of individualism/wholeness; that is, Islam has grown in the way it has partially because of the influences of the West. Both feel threatened by each other, politically, ideologically and emotionally. “What has a front has a back — the bigger the front the bigger the back” is a Japanese saying. If one looks at a phenomenon like suicide bombing from that point of view, the suicide bombing of Islam complements an opposite but equally strong nerosis about fear of death, and a penchant for distance killing, in the US.
Death and Fear of the Unknown
“You come from nothing. You’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!” (Life of Brian)
In America, there’s a fascination with extending physical life, a lack of initiatory psycho-spiritual death, and in this Christian nation, a lack of inquiry into the words of St. Paul, “I die daily” or the suggestion in the Gospel of Phillip (The Other Bible) that one should become “not a Christian but a Christ,” which would suggest a personal crucifixion, visit to the underworld (What did Christ do there for three days?) and resurrection. This death/ underworld/return story is not specific only to the story of Jesus Christ: there are many stories of the dying / resurrecting godman.
Americans are urged to cling to beliefs, opinions and all that we identify as “I.” We don’t know how to lose ourselves in a healthy way, but in our fear of death we conversely find it all magnified all around us – murder, suicide, war, violence, the sheer excess with which we pursue ever greater weapons of mass destruction.
Our fundamental life is breath – inhalation and exhalation. Americans are conditioned to be a people who want only to inhale – to live without dying, to possess and consume and hold tight without letting go.
Tim LaHaye, in a 2002 interview with Terry Gross, admitted plainly that the “primary purpose” of the Left Behind series “is to encourage people to convert.” When asked if he would like to be alive during the rapture, he answers,
We [speaking of him and his wife] would love to be part of the rapture instead of either one of us having to face the death of the person we love. …the neat thing about it’s that everyone of our listeners today, if they would recognize that they would recognize that they need to receive Jesus, they could have that same hope.
Internal, mystical death becomes a fantasy of escape from death sparked by the mega-death of others – Rapture followed by the great War of Armaggedon. The blatant expression in this interview offers a clear insight as to the appeal of Christian fundamentalist apocalypse.
The story of Apocalypse is a story of collective crucifixion and resurrection. It’s a story we are living in right now. According to Edinger,
Christ was the first attempt of the God-image to incarnate and transform itself. Now, the second time…God is going to incarnate in humanity as a whole.…humanity is now in the role of the “son of God.” And God is bringing about his own transformation by another self-destruction while incarnated in the “mortal body” of humankind. There will follow necessarily, archetypically, the same sequence of events as occurred in the life of a single individual but now in a larger arena. And this second act of incarnation likewise will bring about the same goal, a transformation of the God- image. The image of a totally good god—albeit pestered by a dissociated evil Satan—is no longer viable. Instead, the new God-image coming into conscious realization is that of a paradoxical union of opposites; and with it comes a healing of the metaphysical split that has characterized the entire Christian aeon.
If God wants to incarnate in all of us, who am I to say no? But I’m fully aware that some us of are more ok with this kind of a bumpy ride idea than others.
In Conclusion: Fire
Fire is the symbol of our nuclear age. Destruction by fire is the predominant symbol of our dark apocalyptic visions.Fire of course, is neither good nor evil, right nor wrong. Fire is an essential element of our world, and of our bodies (the digestive fire, fever) and personalities (passion for justice or for love). Tending fire is a survival necessity for warmth and cooking of food. Tending fire is a fundamental task in all alchemical workings. If you look around, you can see that the world is on fire. Whether it be the fire of destruction or transformation is a decision made in every breath.
In The Book of Thomas, Jesus says, “I have thrown fire on the world. Look! I watch it until it blazes.”