Slowly re-reading Owen Barfield's Worlds Apart (1963); I have become much more aware of a major metaphysical difference between Barfield's world view, and the usual assumptions of modern Man. Or, rather, I have become more aware of its importance.
This is the difference between inside-out and outside-in.
Our usual practice for explaining something is inside-out.
We start by assuming an inner core or essence; and then regard this as changing that which is outside. Thus, our identity is regarded as inside us, and (it is supposed) DNA (inside the fertilized egg) is assumed to build an organism around itself. In classical geometry - we start by defining a point, then a plane, then 3D shapes...
But there is another way of explaining: from the outside-in. In geometric terms, projective geometry is an outside-in set of primary assumptions, entailing a different conceptualization of 3D space.
For instance, in describing the development of organisms, many of the most thoughtful biologists have been impelled to assume that there are influences from outside: this is why Rupert Sheldrake was impelled to posit morphogenetic fields, within-which organisms were shaped.
But Sheldrake remains within a positivist framework; and the Romantic Christian can more simply and comprehensibly assume some combination of the spiritual being (extending beyond the body) shaping the physical body within; in the context of the divine work of creation - which can work from outwith the body being formed. Thus morphogenesis and development generally, combine inner and outer influences.
Where are we - our-selves?
Usually, the assumption is that we our inside our heads, in our brains - somewhere behind the eyes. But many people have experiences (of many kinds) that suggest our-selves extend beyond the surface of our bodies - in particular that we may experience (apparently) being aware of things beyond our senses.
I think it likely that we can be non-sensorily (i.e. directly, unmediated) aware of other beings - other living, purposive, conscious entities.
Most obviously we may be aware of other people in our environment; but also (sometimes) animals, plants; and indeed things are are generally supposed Not to be alive - such as aspects of landscape and environment (e.g. mountains, rivers; and indeed man-made entities such as cities).
I have said awareness extends beyond our bodies - but I would add that it does tend to diminish with distance; so that we are more aware of that which is nearer.
However, awareness seems to be extendable (perhaps without any absolute limit) when there is some kind of sympathetic resonance - at strongest love, more weakly familiarity - between beings. Thus we may become aware of some remote being by attuning, imagining, or in some way symbolically depicting - in a nutshell, thinking about that being.
Is this plausible and, if so, how is it possible? The answers depend (as usual) on what we have chosen as our fundamental metaphysical assumptions concerning the nature of reality. I tend to assume that originally we were spiritual beings that lived in a constant, unconscious, spontaneous and immersive state of non-sensory awareness of other beings - and with very little self-awareness. We were thus, largely, passively borne-along by the oceanic tides of created reality.
Part of what made us the self-conscious and detached-feeling beings we are now, was exactly the exclusion of awareness of surrounding beings. We shut our-selves up in our bodies; and interacted more-and-more exclusively via our senses.
Thus, modern man is all-but insensible concerning the living and purposive nature of his environment - which is perhaps how he can live in such spiritually hostile situations as the modern city, housing and workplace - in spiritual situations that may be almost unbearable (and, at least, very unpleasant) to a young child, an innocent tribal person - or someone who has re-opened his direct spiritual awareness.
The idea is that we all originally lived passively and without choice in a situation of direct (not sensory) spiritual awareness; but en route to becoming free agents we needed to cut-ourselves-off from this. But only en route, and as a transient phase, was this necessary.
From where we now are the task is uncompleted, and we each need to make the choice to become directly aware of the beings that surround us, at all times and in all places.
This requires a shift of attention, but since this awareness is not sensory, we should not focus on sensory input - nor indeed on memories that are remembrance of sensory knowledge.
Furthermore, we should assume that this knowledge and awareness arises as primary thinking - neither in the form of inner perceptions (such as innerly-perceived visions or voices); nor in terms of symbols (such as inner language)... instead by direct apprehension; by thinking arising in our own thinking.
Instead we may focus on our "feelings" - more exactly our spiritual responses to other beings; because these are often a non-conscious residual impression of direct awareness. For example, by becoming aware of our previously unconscious feelings; we may discover that we have discernments concerning the goodness or evil of another person (or other being), or the rightness or wrongness of some action. We may become aware of our environment - its threats, or its sustaining and educative aspects.
In terms of meditation; once we have internalized the idea that we are not 'inside looking out' but that instead direct awareness of other (including spiritual) beings sometimes comes from outside-in, and that we must consciously choose to connect with this knowledge; then we will realize that many traditional meditative techniques and goals are likely to be counter-productive. And may find other directions and ways of spiritual striving that serve our purposes more helpfully.