In part 1 of this essay, I explored how the language of ritual and myth has embedded people in relationship with themselves and the world around them throughout much of human history. Part 2 examines how an emerging holistic science worldview can lead us towards that same relationship through more modern language and symbols.
Walking the Holomovement: Quantum Theory and the Implicate Order
“The path of an individual particle is the result of the wave processes of the whole.”
The ritual process described briefly above – the journey through Separation, Liminality, and Return – can be understood as a reflection of the dynamics of a deeper order of reality encompassing both mind (human consciousness) and matter. The discovery and formulation of quantum theory during the past century has uncovered a level of reality in fundamental contradiction to previously held assumptions and explanations of a mechanistic world. The concepts of discontinuity, non-locality, and contingency explored in quantum theory paint an image of a much more fluid, context-dependent, interpenetrating universe in which matter can no longer be understood as existing completely independent of the mind of the observer.
Indeed, as David Bohm has formulated in his theory of the Implicate Order, what we observe as discrete particles may be just an expression of a dynamic unfolding-enfolding movement of background energy. From this understanding, the perceptible and apparently objective universe is but a temporary unfolding of cosmic energy, soon to be enfolded back into this ‘cosmic sea’ through a dynamic and recurrent process much like that of ripples in the open ocean of Earth occasionally converging into a large wave as if from nothing (Bohm). The explicate order of reality, what appears to be stable and discrete from other phenomena, is an expression of the dynamic dance of more subtle levels of reality manifesting over and over at such speed and frequency that particular regions of space appear to have a stable and continuous existence.
As particles can no longer be understood to be discrete, independently-existing entities separate from the background field of the universe, each particle becomes, like the footstep of the pilgrim, “an expression of the entire universe” (Peat). Indeed, the Buddhist sutra associated with the 88 Temple Pilgrimage and the mantra which I intoned at each temple along the way, reads:
“…even the five aggregates are empty of inherent nature. Form is empty, emptiness is form, Emptiness is not other than form, form is also not other than emptiness. Likewise, sensation, discrimination, conditioning, and awareness are empty. In this way, Sariputra, all things are emptiness…”
The Buddhist conception of ‘emptiness’ alluded to in the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom above describes not a void in the western notion of emptiness, but an all-pervading unity in which no phenomenon has inherent existence independent of the whole. At more and more subtle insights into this truth, even the whole itself is found to lack inherent existence. Perhaps similarly, Bohm’s Implicate Order may involve an indefinite number of increasingly more subtle orders out of which the multi-dimensional Implicate Order now glimpsed is only a further unfolding, each successive order an interpenetrating unfolding and enfolding of ‘above’ and ‘below.’
Thus we see the mirror paths of quantum particles unfolding out of an unexpressed liminal state into actuality, and ritual “passengers” enfolding back into the “ambiguous and indeterminate” state of liminality described by Turner in the rites of the Ndembu. This same continual and reciprocal movement from known to unknown, unexpressed to expressed, differentiated to undifferentiated is found in the relationship between conscious and unconscious mind, as well as the eternal movement of the Tao:
Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.
When the Universe Smiles: Synchronicity and the Creative Ordering of the Cosmos
“Tao can be anything… I call it synchronicity.”
If the underlying order of reality has a fundamentally creative and unified source, how do we experience this in our everyday post-modern lives? In rationalising and mechanising our world, we have forgotten or destroyed the potent symbols of myth and ritual which previously embedded us in a living cosmos. While my own personal experience shows that we can still follow those forgotten paths into wholeness – and increasingly people are re-treading these paths to make sense of a confused world – we must also ensoul the symbols and language we do have, that of science.
While quantum physics has begun to shed light on the fundamentally subjective and interpenetrating nature of matter at the quantum level – where observed particles are neither separable from the mind of the observer nor their quantum potential separate from the quantum potential of the entire universe – modern psychology has begun to uncover the objective nature of mind hidden deep in the collective unconscious and expressible in the language of myth and ritual journey. Jung’s concept of synchronicity, variously defined as “meaningful coincidence” or an “acausal connecting principle” of the universe, can be understood as the physical manifestations in the outer world of inner processes of the mind. In the indeterminate world described by quantum theory, non-local and discontinuous phenomena are known to occur, opening the possibility for seemingly random coincidences experienced in the world to have an underlying ‘acausal connection.’ When experienced as a significantly meaningful event by a subjective mind, synchronicities may indeed be the coming into consciousness (from the objective layer of collective unconscious) of a universal creativity (manifested in the material world from an underlying subjective layer of matter).
Perhaps the crucial element of Jung’s theory is the formative role of meaning in the physical manifestation of a synchronicity. As a subjective experience, meaning can have no outer manifestation in a purely materialist world. However, the work of Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli has demonstrated the possibility of “an order of unfolding and enfolding that is common to both mind and matter,” thus providing a basis for an intrinsic meaning to manifest in the world (Peat). Indeed, the ritual process described by Turner and catalogued in the manifold myths of the world by Campbell and Shaw, must be understood as expressions and experiences of connecting with the latent meaning of the universe. My own lived experience of pilgrimage was full of meaning unfolding in unexpected ways, most dramatically exemplified in the meeting of a Zen teacher high in the mountains of Shikoku who had trained as a Zen monk in the same tiny prefecture of Japan in which I had just lived for two years and who had also lived in the US and spoke serviceable English (an extreme rarity in Shikoku). This meeting early in my pilgrimage significantly changed the quality and course of my journey, and the relationship that we immediately established and later evolved after the walk provided the spiritual foundation and context in which my transformation was inexorably embedded.
As Peat has interpreted synchronicity, it is the physical manifestation of an underlying “creative ordering” of the universe, “something that lies beyond mathematics, language, and thought.” Understood as the manifestation of a transformative process moving from the unconscious to the conscious mind, this very accurately describes my direct experience of inhabiting an inherently meaningful cosmos, a feeling which gradually unfolded over the course of the 800 mile walk but which was most powerfully felt in the period following the pilgrimage – the ritual stage of Return or Completion. As Peat says, “a mind that remains flexible and sensitive will be in a constant process of creative change…synchronicity will appear very naturally.”
Even in reflecting upon this transformative experience now, memories flood back and the feeling arises of drinking deeply of the sea of cosmic potential, the universe enfolded in every drop and unfolded in every sip.
The Constant Renewal of Truth
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.” For the soul walks upon all paths…the soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”
– Kahlil Gibran
In many respects, the last mile to Okuboji (Large Hollow Temple) – temple 88 – was the same as the first mile from temple 1. A thick humidity lay over the morning fields, cicadas droning in the trees, the fecund odour of late summer a constant background sensation. There was a profound difference, though, between this experience at temple 88 and that of walking through the first temple gate. Somewhere along the journey, my understanding and experience of reality had shifted. As is characteristic of all aspects of this particular pilgrimage, the transformation was subtle, quiet, sinking into the ground of my being like the first gentle rain of spring absorbing into the parched and thirsty earth. Walking through the gate of temple 1, I had a destination to attain; returning to this same temple seven weeks later to complete the circle, I was that destination in every step.
Whether through the language and symbols of physics and psychology or the symbols and experience of pilgrimage and ritual process, it is when we unfix reality from the confines of our thinking mind that we open ourselves to a more subtle ground of reality, where the inexpressible is lived out in infinitely diverse forms of expression, experienced as our own personal truths flowing from a universal source. Sectarian conflict, ecological exploitation, the rapacious commodification of humans and earth – these patterns are but reflections of a fundamental disconnection from the living cosmos and its unified multiplicity. There are many paths on the journey into wholeness, and we as communities and individuals must uncover the one hidden in our current paths of fragmentation.
In this period of great uncertainty and global transition, there is a desperate need to re-interpret the truths handed down to us, to allow the voice of the universe to renew itself through us and us through it. Whether we dance and play to the tune of a new science, or an ancient pilgrimage, it is our collective responsibility to allow each tone its place in the cosmic orchestra. And in the absence of many instruments we once knew well, let us learn to play those missing melodies in whatever way moves us most.
Bohm, D., 1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Ark Paperbacks.
Campbell, J., 1972. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Macy, J., 2007. World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Meier, C.A., ed., 2001. Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters, 1932-1958. London: Routledge.
Peat, F.D., 1987. Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind. New York: Bantam Books.
Shaw, M., 2011. A Branch from the Lightning Tree. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press.
Turkington, D., 2011. Pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. [online] Available at http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/index.html [Accessed 5 May 2012].
Turner, V., 1995. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Tzu, C., 1981. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Translated from Chinese by A.C. Graham. London: Mandala.
Tzu, L., 1961. Tao Teh Ching. Translated from Chinese by John C. H. Wu. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.