(Gregory Bateson, 1904-1980)
In the mid-90es I ran into a series of spontaneous, supernatural experiences.
At that time I was unable to foresee their influence on my life, and I certainly never imagined that I should spend the following ten years in search for understanding and explanations both in relation to the experiences themselves, but also to the changes I observed in my thinking and my emotional reactions. Nevertheless, this was how it turned out to be, and maybe so because in spite of other peoples attitude I was thoroughly convinced that what happened to me was natural. Consequently, I had to dig my way through loads of literature and articles in order find arguments supporting this view, and later when the surrounding world seemed to have run out of theories that were able to include my new way of thinking and living, I had to form and express my own personal ideas.
The first thinker I met with who turned out to offer the assistance I needed to get through most of my process, was Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), whose meta-thinking introduced me to a theory of learning by means of which I was able to structure my experiences within a rational framework. Moreover, he showed me that it was possible to make explorations into the phenomena of nature without being bound to the conventional scientific paradigm which has dominated my home country, Denmark, and the rest of the Western World throughout the past centuries. Thus, Bateson claimed that the West suffered from a thought failure which he called hybris, and according to which this part of the world has set itself outside nature by separating one part from the whole and acting as though this part were able to control the whole, not least by means of advanced technology.
Bateson believed that this was an extremely dangerous road to take, and you may imagine my enthusiasm when at one point during the process of writing this book, I realized that the way of thinking which I want to introduce and argument for here to a certain extent may be said to offer a solution to this problem.
Even though you may disagree with my conclusion in this respect, it seems correct that Batesons observation is confirmed every day: this planet faces cultural, environmental, ethical and social problems which cannot be solved by new technological measures alone. Moreover, it does not seem possible to define universal human rights without facing apparently invincible walls of traditions, the absolute truth of which are firmly maintained by their supporters. It is true, though, that an increasing number of people believe that the greatest challenge of the new millennium is to understand instead of fighting each other, and that we humans should live in harmony with nature instead of trying to control it. But how is this possible considering the huge financial and egoistic interests at stake?
Well, as mentioned above Bateson believed that the solution was to be found in a new way of thinking, – a solution which seems alluringly simple at first glance. However, when you reflect a little more on the matter it turns out quite differently: this is not just a matter of shifting from one point of view to another within the ruling assumption that the part can control the whole, or by seeking a new cultural or religious standing point among those already existing. No, this must be a completely new way of thinking which is able to include all humans on this planet, and thus evidently a breaking with the auto-habitual thinking from which each and every individual understands him- or herself. This process appears to be both frightening and demanding, but must nevertheless be an indispensable condition!
As I see it, Bateson knew intuitively what it was all about, and it is said that throughout his life he did his best to try to think in a new way, but it is also said that he had to admit that he did not succeed. The reasons for this are probably many, but before I reveal my personal opinion, I want to introduce the reader to the concept of imaginal world which appears from the title of this book and which I have learned from the French philosopher, Henry Corbin (1903-1978). Corbin was a professor of Islamic religion and dedicated a great part of his life to studies and distribution of the knowledge of Islamic mystic, not least to the works of Ibn Arabi (who lived approximately A.D. 1200) a great part of which were translated into French by Corbin. In this connection Corbin introduced a mundus imaginalis (i.e. an imaginal world) to characterize the sphere between the intellect and the senses as described by Ibn Arabi. This is the dimension where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual (Corbin, 1998, p.4) and where theophanic visions occur. This is the inner, hidden world that can be reached only by means of the human organ called the creative imagination.
According to Corbin mundus imaginalis was banned from the canonized world view at a council in Constantinople in A.D. 869, when the former tripartite between spirit, soul and body was reduced to a duality between soul and body. The truth of this new world view was forced through by such cruel retaliatory measures against deviationists that it became impossible to conceive spiritual forms as having reality and extension (Corbin, 1998, p. xxi).
Nevertheless, it is a fact that in the following centuries a number of people discovered the existence of mundus imaginalis, and as previously implied I, myself, belong to this group of deviationists. In this connection I have personally experienced the influence of the excommunication up to our days: thus in my opinion that is what made it impossible for Bateson to include an essential aspect in the new way of thinking which he wanted to introduce.
In contrast to this, my starting point is founded on spontaneous experiences of the banned sort, and the present book is written first and foremost to fulfil a deep and sincere wish to understand myself and to find meaning in the way in which and without wanting it I passed the legal boundaries and without wanting it assimilated a new way of thinking. These changes may have taken place at the split of a second, but seem to have emerged in my consciousness over a number of years. In this connection I have always felt a strong urge to concretize and rationalize the change I experienced, and which I was unable to verbalize until I was assisted by the written works of Bateson and Ibn Arabi.
I am perfectly aware that there are many aspects which need more thorough consideration and much deeper exploration than I am presenting here. At the same time I also realize that Bateson, Corbin, and Ibn Arabi would probably all disagree with me in (part of) what I intend to say. However, I consider this no hindrance for me to feel grateful towards the thoughts they presented many years ago. I have taken the liberty of using them in my own way in order to express the impressions I have received.
He drew a circle that shut me out:
A scoundrel, a villain, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in
Transforming World Views
A quick glance back in human history reveals that there is nothing new in long and harsh struggles about how the map of the world could and should be depicted. This tendency can be attributed to the eternal dilemma faced by mankind: on the one hand the need for preserving the established order and on the other hand the evolutionary demand for renewal and development. This involves a constant tension between two opposing tendencies, according to which some people cling to the known and comfortable in a way which tends to draw a circle that shuts out all changes, while others take daring steps over the border and into the unknown in order to expand the world.
Even though development is often a painful process there is no doubt that constant changes constitute an important trait of human life. There may be personal changes, physical as well as psychical, or changes characterized as discoveries or inventions which some how trigger the movement. Over the centuries we have seen pioneers rising from all parts of the world to introduce new and often controversial ideas and thoughts, the fate of which varied tremendously. Some aroused interest and curiosity while others were promptly rejected if not mocked and ridiculed. The reasons for the mixed reception vary, but one important element may be described metaphorically as a question of whether the soil was ripe for the new thought seeds to germinate and grow. Thus, we see that several ideas have been presented many times before they were widely accepted.
The astronomer, Aristarch of Samos, is a prominent example of a scientist whose ideas were not accepted because they were premature. As early as 200 B.C. he stated that planet Earth travelled around the sun, thus rejecting the established opinion of the opposite. The astronomer, however, did not succeed in convincing his colleagues, probably because his hypothesis required a completely new conception of the Universe which involved that the distances to the stars had to be considerably longer than his contemporaries were able to imagine even in their wildest dreams. Thus, the necessary conditions for Aristarchs thoughts were not present, and not until Copernicus introduced a similar theory in the 16th century had the road been cleared for the new world view, and even at that time 100 to 200 years passed before it was widely accepted in the scientific society.
Irrespective of the quality of an innovators arguments it looks as if much research and many discoveries which challenged the known and accepted world view have always met with obstacles before they gained ground. Some people even had to pay a very high price for their convictions which others found heretical, not least during the Inquisition where several who spoke against the canonized knowledge expressed in the prevailing interpretations of the Bible were tortured and executed, unless, like Galileo Galilee, they were offered the chance to withdraw their theories in order to avoid this gruesome fate.
Sometimes one may wonder, perhaps even smile, at the conservatism which was displayed time and again when new hypotheses were advanced. Many people probably believe that this belongs to the past, and that such incidences do not occur in our modern time of age where open and flexible minds dominate the area.
But, alas, many alternative therapists have had to fight hard in order to be just barely accepted for instance by the Danish health care system where free conventional medical treatment is a corner stone. One of their main problems is claimed to be the lack of so-called scientific documentation for the therapeutic methods applied. No doubt some of these are quite problematic, while others like for instance acupuncture are based on a couple of thousands years of experience in other cultures. Quite objectively this seems to be sufficient evidence.
This subject has been more thoroughly dealt with elsewhere. For now the important issue is to spot and validate the positive trait in the process which has taken place and which is still going on, namely that a great part of the Danish population is now questioning the very foundation of the accepted truth. It appears that many Danes are opening up for impressions from other cultures thus perceiving a discrepancy between their inner wisdom and the paradigm which has permeated Danish culture for centuries.
I have mentioned medical science as an example of an area where many people find the boundaries of the circle too narrow, but there are many other cultural, social and even religious fields which call for exploration beyond the limits of the circle. And here we discover that something unknown, hidden and discarded reveals itself and urges a number of people into crossing the acknowledged boundaries: the means is the personal experience of the sphere which I have previously called mundus imaginalis, – in other words a spiritual experience.
This may seem a preposterous claim to make, and sceptics might find it far-fetched; nevertheless, this is the claim for which I will argue in this book by presenting some thoughts which I, myself, have resorted to for understanding and meaning at a time when I suddenly found myself in a situation which made it impossible for me to be included in the old circle. The solution for me was to draw a new and larger circle, – and this book will show you how I managed to do so. Moreover, I wish to initiate my reader in the broader world view which resulted from the mystical incidents, and I will also give examples of the effects on my everyday life. In many ways there is nothing new to say; in other ways my life has changed dramatically.
The first step for me was to throw myself into an search on a global scale; I wanted to know more about mystical experiences, as I could not help wondering why in my country this sort of experience was only considered a sign of pathological conditions, – and I did not in any way feel or consider myself ill. In the following I wish to relate some of events which finally led to my being able to lead a meaningful life again.
Below I wish to present one of the most significant experiences I have had:
The Gate Keeper
It’s night and dark. Im in my bathroom. I dont know how I got there. I dont know why Im there. The floor is nice and warm. Then I notice a light behind me and turn around. The shower cabin in the corner is on fire ! Flames are swirling up from the top of the cabin. There is no heat. But the flames grow in intensity, and it is as though cruel fingers are trying to reach me, catch me. Im scared to death !!! I cannot bear it. My only hope is that everything will soon be over.. that Ill soon be dead
A figure appears in the middle of the flames, a satanic grin on its face. It is like meeting the evil itself: envy, hatred, cruelty seem to manifest right in front of me. I cannot breathe. I cannot move. Im nailed to the floor … then a roar, like distant drums, from deep, deep down starts moving up through my feet, my legs, my entire body. Shattering me completely. Every cell in my body is being shaken !! Then, for some reason, Im able to move, . and find myself in bed
Im frightened, shocked, breathless. I notice my husband fast asleep beside me and reflect: “Shall I wake him up?”
But I decide not to. He cannot help me. Nobody can. As I lie there I convince myself that I must have had a terrible nightmare. I keep looking around in the bedroom, pondering at everything I see: the cupboard, my jewel box, the picture on the wall etc.
And after some time I get calmer and decide to go back to sleep again.
I turn on to my left side … and find myself right back in the terrible scene. Im right in the middle of it all once more !
This time I know what to do and roll quickly on to my back again. Everything around me is now still and quiet. Now I know: This cannot be a dream! This is not an ordinary nightmare.
Then I reflect: “If its not a nightmare what other plausible explanation might there be?
I suddenly remember that I had at one time read in a theosophical paper that Rudolf Steiner had experienced what was described as “a meeting with the Gate Keeper” , i.e. a confrontation with all your shadows (as described by Jung, I believe). Shadows which you must integrate by surrender, … by embracing them in love !
I know this must be it. I just know it. Its a relief. This is something natural! Im not going mad!
So I start speculating: “How can I surrender? How can I embrace my shadows in love?” Im not sure what to do. Without having any plan, I nevertheless move back on to my left side again and find myself being shaken by the terrible roar again!
I roll on to my back …. fold my hands and and I start praying – the Lord’s prayer. I don’t usually say prayers. But I remember the words from my childhood. I keep on praying for some time and notice calmness spreading throughout my body. Then I feel certain: I have done it!
Ive passed the test.
Things are OK. Everything is OK. I look around the dark bedroom once more -my husband is still sleeping soundly beside me. I lie there for some time; Im not sure how long. I dare not leave my bed. Im still shaken and shocked, but also calm in some strange way. Then I fall asleep and wake up the next morning without experiencing any further interruptions.
The following morning when I have to go to the bathroom, I open the door cautiously to peep in: there is nothing in the shower cabin. …. but Ive got eyes down my spine when I turn my back to it!
A few days later I told my husband what had happened. He listened and accepted what I said. I told him what I thought it was. Later I also told some friends. And everything was OK.
Approximately 10 days after the above incidence I had another experience which I believe is related to the first one:
“Im in bed fast asleep. At some point I wake up, probably because my husband is snoring. He does that sometimes, and normally I just stick to him, and he stops. But this night is different. I cannot bear his snoring! So I get up, pick up my pillow and duvet and leave the bedroom to sleep on the couch in our guest room. Im almost asleep when the roar of distant drums (as described in the 1st episode) move up through my body again, – the roar that seems to come from the centre of the earth and tears my body apart.
I know instantly what to do: I roll from my left side on to my back, fold my hands and start praying!
Scarcely have I opened my mouth before my body begins to float. It is a wonderful feeling, so light and easy! Somehow and without any effort Im moved up to a vertical position. And standing there upright with my feet on the couch …. I begin talking. With my arms and hands gesticulating, – with my head moving from the right to the left and back again, as if Im addressing a group out there in front of me. I cannot see anyone, but I feel there must be somebody out there.
While speaking I make a promise, – a promise to work for the expansion of the consciousness of planet Earth !!! Somehow I commit myself to a mission, to an assignment……I talk and talk out loud. At the same time – at the back of my head Im also listening and talking to myself, stating how fortunate it is that I have moved to the other room, as I would otherwise have disturbed and maybe woken up my husband – making all this noise !
Im two: one practical and earthbound who thinks of her husbands well-being , – and another one with faculties, I never knew I possessed, – one who says and does things which the practical one cannot control and knows nothing of!
…. Then I find myself on the couch again – lying on my left side as though I had never moved. Everything is calm – also inside me. I reflect a little on what has happened. Then I fall asleep and do not wake up until the next morning”.