I was going to talk about the ideas contained in this essay I wrote years ago, but in the end talked about a related topic: hallowing limitation. But here’s the essay anyway:
Finding the Doors, Holding them Open, Showing them to Others, Walking Through them
‘In every human being there is a Heaven – whole and unbroken.’
Roger and Joan Evans at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London developed a helpful way to relate to therapy clients. Adopting a stance which they termed ‘bifocal vision’ they suggested that you see your client both as ‘messed up’ and ‘whole’ at the same time – as if wearing bifocal glasses. Rather than being idealistic, focusing just on their ‘perfect soul’, or purely pragmatic, just focusing on their woundedness, the Psychosynthesis therapist is urged to relate to their client in the belief that they’re both whole and broken – at the same time – at different levels.
We can apply this same method of perception towards life and the world – facing the fact that it is messed up in many ways and yet seeing its beauty and sensing its perfection. This perspective avoids the traps of both denial and despair.
At the heart of all spiritual approaches lies the belief that this world that we know through our five senses is not the only reality. Instead ‘earthly life’ is seen as just one expression of Life, and there is a belief in other worlds, a heaven or heavens, or even parallel universes – an idea now being explored at the farther reaches of physics.
Many of these approaches also believe that the physical universe emerges out of this Otherworld, and in certain cosmologies this emergence is seen as cyclical so that the ‘Manifest (physical) world’ is periodically reabsorbed by the ‘Unmanifest (Other)world’.
This idea parallels the conception of the soul which ‘manifests’ in a physical body for a certain time before returning to its source. With this understanding, both the Earth and our bodies are manifestations in the dimensions of Time and Space of Beings whose source is in the Otherworld, in another dimension.
If you believe this, then adopting bifocal vision means simply that you remember to be aware of both levels, and you sense yourself as being anchored in the world of Source and Soul. The story of the source of the river Boyne, the Well of Segais, offers a graphic description of this process by reminding us to drink from the well as well as from the five streams that flow from it.
The prime function of a spirituality can be seen as this: to provide doorways, portals, gateways through which people can access the Source, the Otherworld, (or Deity in other ways of speaking about these things). People, books, organisations and places can all act as these portals between the ‘messed up’ world and the ‘parallel universe’ of the Otherworld – the Source.
Pilgrimage to sacred places, reading books that awaken our spiritual awareness, talking to, listening to, or communing with spiritual friends and teachers, following a particular path, meditating, and so on are all ways of opening to the Other – of switching our vision for a time from the bottom lens of the bifocals to the top, or to use a more evocative image: of finding the doors, holding them open, showing them to others, and walking through them.
We see this idea reflected in children’s fiction that deals with magic, since almost always the story is based upon the process of moving from the everyday world into another more magical world, as in C.S.Lewis’ Narnia stories where a wardrobe acts as a portal.
This idea of ‘Gateways’ between the realms is central to the spiritual path. Each tradition will speak about this in different ways – as an example, in the Jain tradition the 24 great teachers are known as Tirthankaras, which means ‘Ford-makers’ – suggesting they help create a bridge/ford/gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness. The founder of the Baha’i religion was known as ‘the Bab’ which means ‘gate’. In Druidry, natural features or deliberately placed stones or trees form magical gateways that can help us access other realities, near where we live, the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ in the Sussex landscape, also seems to be creating a gateway for us, reminding us of Novalis’ statement that ‘Visible and invisible, two worlds meet in man.’ This idea is strongly evident in shamanism in the process whereby the shaman makes journeys into the Otherworld to bring back healing, or knowledge that will help in the manifest world.
All these things – teachers, teachings, sacred places, practices such as ritual and meditation – have as their purpose the creation and maintenance of gateways so that there can be traffic, commerce, connection – a flow – between the worlds. And in this period of instability, they take on an increasing importance as anchor points that can help to stabilise us by anchoring us in Spirit.