Transformational Spirituality: The space of relationality
In this article I will present a view of the spiritual arena that is intentionally challenging to previous formulations. It goes beyond limitations of the “metamodern” articulation because it leaves behind constraints and habits of thought that linger from prior stages of human development.
This presentation will be shorter than earlier explorations i of the same space. I will assert rather than justify or provide evidence for some of the steps in reasoning. The justifications can be found elsewhere ii. However, I am putting forward some deep shifts in mind-set and do not wish to compress what I say to the point of unintelligibility.
My jump-off point
I regularly begin the thread of this viewpoint with a personal experience dating back to 1983. Scientifically that subjective report would be unacceptable on its own but it is backed up in many ways including the sample reference texts noted and also in almost 40 years of subsequent exploratory experience. It is not by any means a one-off. Even so it is used here as an example of key features in the real world.
The personal experience was of being trained in the use of inner sensing and visualisation to the point where a quite specific psychic event took place. I was required to investigate the health condition of someone unknown to me, supplied with only his name and approximate geographical location. The information about this individual was written on a card, held by someone who did not know its contents and did not speak during the investigation.
After a period of having no ideas at all I used a technique which instantly delivered a visceral experience of pain in my head. I knew right away and asked if the person had a brain tumour. This corresponded with the information on the card.
I tell this story to illustrate three key points:-
I had no expectation that I would be able to do this, no previous comparable experience. Rather, my scientific training told me that there was no way in which it would be possible.
In order for it to happen, information must be available across time and space, susceptible to conscious and intentional access. Such information about a person, object or event is addressable and locatable in relation to them
Reality must be different than I had so far known it to be and quite unlike that which is conventionally recognised, even four decades later
I will describe here (as distinct from “define”) what I mean by this term, since there are
many possibilities, possibly as many as there are readers.
One term I like is “non-ordinary” reality, used by shamanic teacher Michael Harneriii, as it is broad enough to cover not only shamanistic practice, intuition and psychism but the many fields of human experience that are described by religions, by mystics, by those exploring their inner experience and non-duality, even the experiences that people describe under the influence of psychedelics.
For many people, “spiritual” automatically invokes a reference to God or at least a Divine presence. It also conjures up traditional religions, which are something else; not all spirituality is religious and not all religions are spiritual. Since there are also many versions of God available, I will state for now that God is optional in all that I will say, and while I will later be more explicit about my personal frame for this realm, it will be up to you whether, or where or how, you fit God into this picture.
It would be convenient and easy to say that spiritual reality is all of reality that is not material. But there is much in our world that is in the realm of psychological and societal information – cultural contexts, embedded default belief systems, shared histories and mythologies, conventional teachings and fantasy stories – not all of which may be called spiritual. All of these are features of an informational realm, the things that humans say, know or believe about our world. Spirituality is a part of that informational realm because it too relates to what we know and believe, to the experiences we have and the stories that we hold about them. Information and story are at the centre of all that follows here. The conclusion of this article will go directly to your own story about who and what you are.
First, we must look at science and epistemology.
Part of the ontology that I am trying to advocate for is an ontology of real relations
Things like evolution are dynamical systems, themselves. They are self-organising processes
….These dynamical systems and the sets of constraints and the real relationships they embody
are real and causally efficacious in an important way”
These relations are not Subjective. Not Objective. They are Transjective.
What is the world made of?
The conventional story during the century since Einstein and E=MC2 has been that everything is energy, and that energy can form itself into matter. There has been an accepted quantum rider to that, which is that the boundary between energy and matter is ambiguous and that what we describe as a particle may also be an energy wave, depending on how we look at it (or measure it). Uncertainty is built into that model.
That story has a serious gap when it comes to explaining how reality works. It does not describe what determines the shapes that energy makes as it forms matter. It is a story of randomness and accident; it is even less adequate when it comes to describing the organic world and the progression from amino acids to cells, to living systems, ecologies and creatures like us. It has an even bigger gap when asked to deal with consciousness such that it comes nowhere near being able to integrate spiritual experience, still less the psychic event that I have described.
So, what does determine how matter is shaped and how it behaves? The answer is information. Information is at the centre of all that follows.
…. the observer, Maturana and his colleague, Francisco Varela proposed, does not discover a pre-existing reality, but creates it in the act of observation. In other words, the realist epistemology that is implicitly challenged here has to take a back seat to a notion of reflexivity which turns reality into the product of the dynamic interaction between observer and the system of which he or she is a part. For living systems, such as the human, Maturana and Varela found the real, external world is in fact part of the living system itself and is not something that can be proved to be external to it
Nasrullah Mambrol on Humberto Maturana
The nature of the information field.
The idea of an information field is not new. You can find it in many places, such as Ervin Laszlo’s many books about the Akashic fieldiv, or Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenesis theoryv. However, most presentations of the field represent it as passive. They don’t convey the sense of its dynamic activity in propelling the journey of unfolding creation.
From the first instant (for convenience, the “big bang”) when a vast and unformed energy began to create a material universe, there was experimentation taking place. What forms, what patterns of energy would sustain in material form, and which were non-viable? Those that were sustainable were stored in the field – you might say remembered – to be repeated over and over. Those patterns created sub-atomic particles which later combined and stabilised as atoms. Patterns built on patterns to combine atoms into molecules. Over long periods of time, structures of increasing complexity were formed, and these too are part of the universe’s memory.
This emergent, internally driven process is intrinsically creative. It doesn’t demand a conscious intentionality and no designer is required. If you wish to put a divine entity as an impelling presence, you may. But you can also allow that the fluctuations of energy in motion will continue to generate new patterns and that as before, either they will be sustainable, remembered and generate new building blocks or they will vanish. The process will tend towards increasing levels of order, and this is why life is anti-entropic. It embeds energy into material form and holds all its potential in dynamically balanced tension. The field of consciousness is inherently generating increased levels of sustainability as it flows between chaos and order. You demonstrate this to be true simply by existing. You could not be here without it.
This view is also not new. It is represented among others in Maturana and Varela’s articulation of autopoiesis (self-creation) as a principlevi, and in Elizabet Sahtouris’ development of it in biology and evolutionvii.
It is essential however, to avoid the trap of viewing the “things” that are created as holding a primary place. The universe is not expressing a purpose in doing what it does. The field exists regardless of whatever things are in it. It is human nature to ask “why?” and it is also human nature, since we are conscious of the process and aware of our own existence, to regard ourselves as intended outcomes. There is no more reason why this should be true than to see plankton, prawns or penguins as intentional. We are all expressions of the same patterning, the same dynamic process. Treating the existence of “things” as more important than the unfolding of the field distorts our perception of both universe and ourselves and is part of our problem. At the same time our degree of awareness does seem to place us in a unique position within the process and that has powerful implications.
These aspects will show up in due course.
Spiritual Engagement: Conscious beings in a conscious universe
There is a tendency to use “conscious” and “consciousness” in quite vague ways. Few people define their usage, often treating it as self-evident. For the purposes of this narrative, I will treat “conscious” and “information-driven” as identical. That is to say, there is a universe shaped by information, informed by what it remembers and knows of its existence. The knowledge is continually increasing. By extension, consciousness exists and subsists in being aware of that information. That is equally true whether we are referring to the universe or to ourselves.
Thus, we are by definition, conscious beings in a conscious universe. We are aware of it and its awareness, in the sense of the information it contains, includes us. There is no ultimate duality. At the same time there is distinction. In the instant that we make reference toourselves, there is the “I” and the “Not-I”viii. Duality is as real as non-duality. Some people would like to present the non-dual as the only reality, but the difference is merely one of a selected point of view. Which one do you choose to see? You can describe yourself as operating in either reality.
How then does this relate to the nature of spiritual experience? I am saying that all forms of what humans have classified as spiritual experience are in some way descriptions of the engagement across that boundary and expressions of the myriad ways in which we experience our awareness of self and of the information field in ourselves and others. We can identify those connections as shamanistic engagement with our living environment, power relationships with earthly and cosmic forces, religious relationship with deities and codified belief systems. We can find them in the spirit of one another at the human level.
In all events spiritual engagement is a relationship. It is created or framed by our point of view and subject to our interpretation.
So who / what are you?
Point of view thereby becomes a choice. One way to examine that choice is to ask:- Are you a human being having a spiritual (consciousness) experience? Or
Are you a spiritual being (a being of consciousness) having a human experience?
The choice appears to be either 1) that you are primarily physical and that anything in the realm of consciousness or spirituality arises from that or 2) that you are primarily spiritual and that this is the ultimate source of your experience of physicality. Since both points of view are available at any time the question loses its meaning. The implication of a definite answer that comes with the verb “are” does not apply when the question resolves with equal validity into the answers “both” and “neither”. There is no separate object to these sentences. Put another way, when you say “I am” you are both subject and object in equal measure. (Technically, grammatically, the verb “to be” is intransitive.) Nor is any justification required since “I am” is a complete statement. Descartes didn’t really need any reason. When he said “dubito ergo cognito ergo sum” his doubt manufactured a reason.
Otherwise, “Sum” stands assertively on its own two feet.
At the same time, surely there must be something more. If the question becomes meaningless when stated in that form, what would a meaningful answer to any potential distinction between physical and spiritual existence look like? I suggest that subject and object operate in the realm of the quantitative by giving material definition to the sentence’s action. I brush my teeth. I read a book. I eat an omelette. When you add something to the sentence “I am” the addition is qualitative. So what does a more meaningful statement about our existence look like?
Such an answer begins with the statement “You are the experience”. This shifts the definition of what you are away from the spurious binary of being either spirit or human. It opens the possibility of a new paradigm. You can be a non-dual experience and you can be an experience of duality.
You can occupy the “I” space at the centre of this graphic or you can occupy the entire space of both “I” and “Not-I”.
Only your qualitative awareness changes.
Who or what is having the awareness?
Extending the question of the previous paragraph, what does this new paradigm say about your identity and what you see yourself to be?
Do you see yourself as a “thing”? Things are material, you can touch and see them. It would be understandable if you see yourself as a thing and there is very little in the narrative of our cultural reality that would lead you towards a different perception. For all my decades of life until now I have accepted that quantitative view of reality. I have taken it for granted and not questioned it.
Now I am doing so, and I invite you to question it too. That view brings with it several other conventions. If you believe in the existence of a soul it comes with particular kind of language. It is “my soul”. Or “I have a soul”. It is less likely that you would say “I am (a) soul”.
If you identify with your body but believe in life after death it is more likely that you would say “My soul will live on” than “I will live on.” Behind such expressions is a convention for the physical body to occupy a prime position in our self-definition. That is what I see in the mirror when I shave. There is good reason for that identification. It makes it more likely that I will watch for traffic when crossing the road. It is my physical existence that reminds me to eat, or even to take my next breath. There is a motivation to preserve the quantitative existence.
We are not consistent, though. You might equally well say “I have a body” or “I have hay- fever” and you would probably not say “I am my body” or think in terms of your soul having hay-fever. What might change if you did?
This is not an idle speculation. I am not merely playing with words but rather exploring a fundamental question of identity and being against the backdrop of the information field. If the information field is the shaper of reality it also shapes you and me. In turn, that makes me a physical expression of the information field. I am what happens when the information shapes energy into form.
“The problem comes up because we ask the question in the wrong way. We supposed that solids were one thing and space quite another, or just nothing whatever. Then it appeared that space was no mere nothing, because solids couldn't do without it. But the mistake in the beginning was to think of solids and space as two different things, instead of as two aspects of the same thing. The point is that they are different but inseparable, like the front end and the rear end of a cat. Cut them apart, and the cat dies. Take away the crest of the wave, and there is no trough.
Here is someone who has never seen a cat. He is looking through a narrow slit in a fence, and, on the other side, a cat walks by. He sees first the head, then the less distinctly shaped furry trunk, and then the tail. Extraordinary! The cat turns round and walks back, and again he sees the head, and a little later the tail. This sequence begins to look like something regular and reliable. Yet again, the cat turns round, and he witnesses the same regular sequence: first the head, and later the tail.
Thereupon he reasons that the event head is the invariable and necessary cause of the event tail, which is the head's effect. This absurd and confusing gobbledygook comes from his failure to see that head and tail go together: they are all one cat.”
Alan Watts On the taboo against knowing who you are.
What does this say about who we are?
I will go further now than above where I said, “you are the experience” and assert that you are all of it. You are the experiencer and the experiencing. More than that, you are an active component of the information field, an impulse within the wider autopoiesis.
Through your choices you are a contributor to the unfolding emergence of the reality to come. (Here I am dismissing out of hand the theoretical possibility that your choices are pre-determined and that free will is an illusion, which I regard as a dead-end.) I am asserting that you are a co-creator. Everything is an aspect of the information field in motion; therefore, you too are consciousness in motion. Who you BE is an action, not a thing. You are a verb or perhaps an ongoing stream of verbs, but you are not a noun. A noun is not sufficient to denote your participation in the information field.
The reality we are meeting with here carries major implications for your choices and likewise for your spiritual experience. Once again, this is not merely philosophical conjecture. It has consequences for the way that you live your life and for what is possible in the day-to-day world. If you share the Native American thought that philosophy does not matter if it does not grow corn, this philosophy matters.
The implications for your choices arise from being an active component of the information field. We are accustomed to the notion that our actions have consequences, seen and unseen. We must now extend that into our being and thinking. When who you be is an action, and what you think and choose is a component in the ongoing creation of what is to come, these, as well as your choices of what to do, affect your future. Viewing yourself differently activates new possibilities.
Music is the space between notes
You should try to leave some space between all those notes, some music might fall out!
What does this mean for spirituality and spiritual experience?
As explored earlier, what we term “spiritual” takes us into many different realms of discussion – religion, the divine, human spirit and context, shamanism, psychism and more of “non-ordinary reality”.
We have been changing perspective away from one where material reality is what we accept as truly real, in contrast to a non-material existence which is somehow less real, and even more to be doubted due to being located in a subjective space that much of science has found to be tricky in respect of its search for that which is objectively verifiable. When the information field is primary then it is arguably the most real of all. Since the information field is where spiritual experience as traditionally understood takes place, all of existence emerges from there. You could even say therefore that nothing exists which is not spiritual in essence. Just as there was a philosophical perspective in which all of existence is in the mind of God, to acknowledge the non-dual as where we unavoidably live means that all experience is spiritual experience.
However, such a formulation is not all that helpful, either. Angels are dancing on the head of a pin. It does not add to our understanding of how to function. It does not help us navigate the boundary between “I” and “Not-I”. Absolute non-duality does not help us grow corn. Nor does it deal with those tricky questions that humans ask, the ones about “why?”, about our individual purpose, about how we can “know” what is real rather than imagined. It does not help us with our choices of what to do. That is the bad news.
The good news is that those questions cannot be answered definitively and sometimes not much at all. It’s good news because you don’t actually need to know. In large measure the problem is illusory - that we imagine that we need to know. It can be interesting to indulge your curiosity in speculation and many of us do. But you can function adequately without knowing. In fact, you always have done, because life has always been unpredictable and ultimately unknowable. The desire to know arises from our fears and insecurities. The problems are generated by doubt, by self-doubt and the perceived need to control. While these have been near-universal ways for humans to think, they are optional. You don’t have to indulge in them. More than that, life improves when you don’t.
The improvement comes in two ways. Increasing your level of trust and your gratitude for the richness of existence is psychologically healthy. It leads to well-being. However, while feeling happier and less inclined to depression and anxiety is surely a good thing, it is not the key here. The gain can also be practical.
When you make your choices from intention to control you exclude potential options. What if something is available that is better than you can imagine? What if your intention to control limits your awareness of the field and causes your decisions to be blind to reality?
And that is just the world of events. Intention to control affects your relationships with people. Do you like it when others control you? Most of us do not, so how do you expect others to feel when you control them? It’s a poor strategy.
It may appear that I have veered away from spirituality and spiritual experience but it’s the reverse. When ALL of life arises from the spiritual realm, from the information field, from the Divine or from universal flow, a new way of being becomes possible. Your body is mind all over and that body-mind is never disconnected because the information field is in you, through you. Any boundary is one of perspective. Like a fragment of a hologram, the whole is present in youix.
Since this is a paradox it can be unfeasibly hard to conceptualise. We need to accept it without knowing and to live in the unknowable. It calls simultaneously for trust in the universe and in ourselves when connected with it. When you are embodied spirit in motion; personalised information in flux; sensorial experience in conversation with the all; connected and grounded consciousness in trust and flow, you have the potential to function in full connection with the realm of non-duality, simultaneously one and distinct. You are the flow.
The more you abandon any notion of knowledge and control, the greater your empowerment and potency. This is the opposite of how most of us have been raised, educated and enculturated to see and think. Even if you have gone beyond that education conceptually, you have built up habits of thought, feeling and behaviour which do not just vanish in a flash of enlightenment. (Not that I claim to have experienced enlightenment; this is a speculation rooted in both my experience to date and my observation of others.)
We understand the world in its becoming, not in its being.
Once again, the world seems to be less about objects than about interactive relationships.
All things are continually interacting with each other, and in doing so each bears the traces of that with which it has interacted: and in this sense all things continuously exchange information about each other.
The end and the beginning
In asserting that we are verbs not nouns, flow not solidity, qualitative being more than quantitative doing, with the consequence that spirituality arrives into our personal world through our connection with the wider field of information, we enter knowingly into the never-ending quality of creation. We accept our participation in an unfolding that has no definable limits. It is not only never-ending but continuously beginning.
And since we do not exist as things with boundaries, our being is not defined by the adjectives we used to apply to ourselves. Nouns are qualified by adjectives, actions by adverbs. What we are or do gives way to how we do or be it. Even more than that, our existence is not located in the descriptions of ourselves as independent entities. What characterises our existence is now located in the relationship between us and that which flows through and around us. The definition, if you can call it such, is contingent on the other components that we stand in relation to. They define us as much as we define ourselves, through our impact on them and their impact on us. Since we have multiple relationships to other components of our world, we exist only in the myriad relationships to our contexts.
This is philosophically true of existence in general and it extends into the psychological reality of our relationships with others. I am both who I choose to be and who you choose to see me as. While I note here that I have power and agency over my own choices and can ignore what you see me to be (your opinion of me is none of my business) it is also a societal reality that your viewpoint is part of the conditions I live in unless I walk away from them.
So I have to deal with that implication of the relational context. We are all familiar with that aspect of reality in practice. It led Jean-Paul Sartre to say “Hell is other people”.
The concept that we exist only in relation to our contexts is also consistent with some recent articulations of the quantum reality. As noted early on, for a century or so there has been an accepted context for presentations of the material realm. The quantum reality has been framed in terms of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – that the descriptions are not determined until an observation is made. Until that happens something may be a particle or an energy wave; Schrodinger’s cat can be simultaneously alive and dead and governed by equations of probability. Einstein famously objected to this unsatisfying formulation, declaiming that “God does not play dice with the universe”, but the question remained unresolved in spite of that. The mathematics increased in sophistication and the observations reflected ever more advanced ways of experimenting, bigger atom-smashers and continual addition to the list of particles, but the results have not gotten closer to certainty.
The principles put forward throughout this exposition are aligned with the more recent formulations that derive from Relational Quantum Physics. Prof. Carlo Rovelli has made powerful arguments that all formulations of indeterminacy arise because nothing has definition until we measure or observe it. So, the double-slit experiment and the idea of collapsing probability by our observations are similar in that all that exists is defined by or through its relationship either to apparatus or organic observers. As a result, what you measure something to be is an artefact of the way that you chose to measure it. The cat inside the box knows if it is alive. All of existence is in relation to its contexts and thus is no different than your identity or mine. The atom-smasher determines what particles are made visible, even for smaller and smaller lengths of an evanescent time. Since our contexts too are continually changing (the information field is never static) we can only exist as the flows that we be.
There are also resonances in this story with wider contexts. The bars that accompany this article present a smattering of descriptions that engage with the spaces in which our relational existence has been found to operate. I hope that they add to the sense of how the principles I have described show up in our existence. Since everything stands in relation to everything else, we experience it all in the space between things and the space between thoughts. We experience it all in terms of the points of view that we adopt as we look through those spaces at the other elements in our universe. We sense it all through our awareness, both cognitive and embodied, of the field itself and of what the field knows about those relational flows.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.
E. M. Forster
The pattern that connects is the pattern of patterns
Transformational spirituality arises from the connection between ourselves, our non- material experience, our awareness of the informational field and our existence as active components, influencers of the flow. Spirituality is not merely an observation or a passive experience. Humanity has always known or sensed this. Science may have adopted the perspective that this “magical thinking” is a childish fantasy, but it doesn’t go away.
Humans pray. Humans visualise. The pattern that connects is the pattern of patterning. Here is not the place to present the evidence for practical magic and several of the references given, including my own book, explore that territory. The significance of this deep knowing is that the more we accept and engage actively with it, the greater its power to change the way that the world is, hence the choice to describe it as transformational.
That is where I wish to close, and to express the hope that as you engage with this perspective on who you are, who you can be and who, together, we can become, the faster we can open both ourselves and our world to their new and boundless potential.
Jon Freeman July 2022
God is alive, magic is afoot God is afoot, magic is alive Alive is afoot, magic never died God never sickened
Many poor men lied Many sick men lied Magic never weakened Magic never hid
Magic always ruled
Leonard Cohen, from poem “God is alive, Magic is afoot”