Tuesday 10 September 2019

The heart of A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle

Edited from A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle (1974) - the chapter 'Relating Levels of Consciousness', pp 134-7. This, coming halfway through the book, probably represents the centre of the argument and the key teaching. It represents Arkle's diagnosis of why our life is typically and mostly so dull and oppressive; and how a fundamental change of attitudes and assumptions about this world could make it qualitatively better.  

The seat of consciousness is in the Absolute, and not in what is ordinarily considered as manifestation at all.

The proposition is that the function and purpose of manifestation [or creation] is to create the ground for experience and the communication of experience. The experience itself is only valid when it is a part of this absolute consciousness which we ourselves are not normally in a position to be aware of and properly identify with. The manifested worlds are consequently no more than the ‘stuff’ of communication itself.

To put the idea very simply, the whole of manifestation is a communication on the part of the creative cause. Manifestation with its many universes and planes is something which God wished to say. We are the individuals that God wishes to say it to. Thus the real significance of every instant is the response being made by us to events... not the events themselves.

This suggests that the world we live-in is the world of absolute consciousness; and that the worlds we are identified-with are statements - are communications of qualities and principles. When we look around us what we are really seeing is a prolonged lecture; but the language it is given-in is not the one used in man-to-man communications but an infinitely more complete and efficient language.

This language is the one of the rain and sunlight, trees and grasses, children, mountains, clouds, colours, scents, sounds, responsibilities, loves, dangers, mothers, fathers, wives, lovers, friends, facts and foods, happy times, sad times, beautiful times, absorbing times, boring times and futile times.

To try and equate reality with the physical worlds of communication and to try and equate human consciousness with the human body, is like trying to understand and identify the reality of a book by measuring its proportions and analysing the paper and the ink. Such an attitude could only arise if it was not realised that a book was meaningless as a physical phenomenon but meaningful as a communication.

While the book is a real phenomenon and capable of physical analysis, the secret of understanding it is to realise that it is a continuing statement of qualities and attitudes of consciousness. To know what a book is one has to let it speak, and speak to one’s real Self.

If this is not done, the most searching analysis of the paper and the molecules and atoms and atomic particles and energies and proportions of the paper, will completely fail to explain the reality of the book as a phenomenon. We may gather a very impressive knowledge of the way that the universe is built, but this will be as nothing to understanding what the book and the universe is saying.

The stuff of the physical world we live in is thus no longer to be considered as ‘mere stuff’, if we ourselves are to be more than ‘mere clever things’. If we are to discover ourselves as significant living consciousness, we must accept the world we live in as an important communication. A tree must not only be a potential source of timber and money. A tree must be one side of a conversation, the language of which we must take the trouble to learn and respond with.

The sort of statement that has just been made will not be understood by anyone unless they want to understand it. It is a statement from outside the accepted culture of our day and would be easily ridiculed by any person wishing to do so. Nevertheless it is intended to be a serious factual suggestion as to why so many people find so little meaning in life.

The painful part of failure to observe and read the communications that are continually being made to us through natural phenomena is the experience of extreme boredom. If the theory is correct the boredom arises because the valid and most real part of the individual feels itself to be fulfilling no purpose, in fact it feels ignored and forgotten. It knows it is something of great value and potential, but for some reason it is unable to become responsive and alive except in a few minor ways.

Without knowing it, the individual is creating this misery for himself because he is living in certain restricted categories with which he has classed earlier experiences and has long ago ceased to let events speak for themselves. The person lives in a world of labels of his own making, perhaps in the grounds that he thinks he will be unable to cope with real events themselves and perhaps be unable to make the significance of the events fit into his ‘safe’ but ‘uncomfortable’ philosophy of reality.

Because of this situation such a person is extremely aware of the apparently concrete unalterability and stony-faced aspect of the world around him. He is very aware of matter seeming to be dead, heavy and dull and monotonously unalterable, in fact the walls of a prison. When, however, responsiveness is felt within his being, then immediately the situation alters. The boredom ceases, the unalterability is not noticed, the prison vanishes and time goes quickly. Meaning and purpose creep back into life and the question of what it is all about seems partly answered and, indeed, only an important question is thought of as ‘what can be done in co-operating with life?’

This sense of being aware of matter as a prison, as the beginning and ending of something hopeless and meaningless is not uncommon, particularly among people who have grown beyond the first hectic and unconsidered flush of youth. The world of physical material becomes part of a ‘solid’ identification which, for the purposes of this argument, can simply be termed 'matter'.

This is not the matter of the physicist but matter as experience. Not the matter that is measured but the matter that is felt. Not analysed but identified-with. In this context the following statement can be suggested as a verbal equation: ‘Awareness of matter is failure to communicate.’

Non-awareness of the materiality of matter is thus the result of success in communication.

Matter as materiality only exists in the experience of human beings who have ceased to remain responsive. To the rest of nature materiality presents no problems. It is consciously or unconsciously accepted as a most interesting and absorbing communication of qualities related to survival at the lower end of the third vector or related to beauty and idealism at the upper end of the third vector.

Matter can also be thought of as space and time experience. In the imprisoned mood of materiality, time drags and assumes very obvious characteristics of its own. It intrudes. Together with this the size and number of phenomena becomes over important. The daunted observer reflects on the littleness of his own body and the insignificance of his own single identity among so many thousands of his fellows. 

...He looks from the world out into the universe and his senses are numbed at the thought of the vastness of the cosmic system and the distances that are involved on every side. The background of his whole existence becomes unmanageable by his consciousness. It does not even appear hostile for what is worse is the fact that it appears indifferent, quite unaware of him.

Solidity of life as an experience, or matter as an experience can now be related to a degree of responsiveness of the true Being. It can also be related to the level of consciousness of the individual Being. When 'matter' in this sense obtrudes into our life, it indicates that we are not being our-Self.

When matter does not obtrude, whether we are at a chronic high level or low level of consciousness, we are being ourself as much as we can be, responding with all we have available... A false personality has not been allowed to form and insinuate itself between our Self and the world of communication.


James Higham said...

“This language is the one of the rain and sunlight, trees and grasses, children, mountains, clouds, colours, scents, sounds, responsibilities, loves, dangers, mothers, fathers, wives, lovers, friends, facts and foods, happy times, sad times, beautiful times, absorbing times, boring times and futile times. ”

You’re onto something here, need to think it through.

Bruce Charlton said...

@James - Just to clarify - the whole thing is an extended quote from Arkle.

Lucinda said...

The quote James brought up seemed like the heart of the heart. It is profoundly meaningful.
I wanted to do the book analogy with my daughter, so I told her to ask me about a book I held. She said, “Tell me about that book.” It was really fun to talk all about the physical aspects of the book, in ridiculous detail, and still not mention anything about what the book is about. I told her that is what it’s like when people ignore the most important reality, what God is trying to teach us.