One of the great strengths of the liberal arts is that they recognise the inner person that, despite how much money, success or recognition we might have on the outside, will still have the most incredible potential for further growth. A potential that when realised, brings with it a sense of fulfilment that is unrivalled.
One of the curious features about this, is that a person can live out their lives, fully aware of themselves as that outer person. But they may have very little knowledge of the person within, that is to say, their real self, that has hidden depths and dimensions, that go way beyond the mask of their social identity.
What is even more curious is that somebody can then become a virtual stranger to themselves. Some part of them may suspect that there is more to them than the mask that they actually show to others. However, without some kind of special knowledge or education, they may never actually meet that real person within.
The real self is multi-layered and multi-dimensional and has depths to it, that if we knew, would completely surprise us all. In this sense, it presents us with something of a mystery. Yet even this carries with it a tremendously positive implication. Within ourselves we are like a vast unexplored kingdom, the territories of which go far beyond what we can currently view or see.
And the exciting feature is that when we do begin to explore this kingdom, we then start to realise who and what we really are. This, in its turn, is not only a revelation, but it is also very reassuring and comforting. It is in a very real sense, like coming home again.
Setting up a dialectic
One of the most common approaches to the real self is to set up some kind of dialectic, that is to say a distinction between two contrasting levels of the self. There is the self that we know, that others know, a self with which we keenly identify. And then there is the real self, that has those hidden and unexplored depths that I just mentioned.
Having made such a distinction, terminology then comes into it, because to explore these different levels of the self we need suitable terms with which to do so. However, which terms do we use? One commonly used set of terms recognises a distinction between the lower and the higher self. Another describes the former as the false self and the latter as the true self. Another calls the lower self, the ego and the higher self, the soul. Yet another sees them as manifestations of personality for the former and essence for the latter.
With so many different terms therefore, it can be difficult to know exactly what is being referred to. Until of course, you begin to awaken yourself, at which point, the terms used for these two aspects of the self, will no longer matter to you. In fact you will no longer care, so profound will be the realisation that there is the outer you that is finite, limited and subject to physical laws and conditions. Then there is the inner you that is the complete opposite: infinite, unlimited and transcending all known physical laws.
To confirm this, all we have to do is start looking within ourselves. Even if the real self is a mystery to us at present, ask yourself, where do you come to a stop? At which point do you meet boundaries that define the limits of who and what you are? Do you meet a fence with a notice upon it that says do not proceed beyond this point? Or do you meet iron bars that then reveal to you the extent of your prison?
By asking yourself these questions, you will soon realise that the real you is actually like the cosmos: completely and utterly limitless, having no known bounds beyond those which we arbitrarily place upon them.
Once we begin to come to grips with this, a whole area of self-growth then begins to open up before us. This is as we then begin to discover, not the outer-verse that we were formerly so preoccupied by, that absorbed all of our attention, but the inner-verse that also exists within us.
So who are we as individuals? The truth is that each one of us is a mystery that is as vast as the universe itself. The challenge of course, is coming to terms with and then embracing that mystery.
Because of the need for this, our knowledge base then has to expand. We now need, not just one level, but at least two levels of knowledge. We need that ordinary level of knowledge to understand ourselves as a part of the known world and a much deeper form of inner knowledge to understand ourselves as we really are. As such, things can really start to get quite exciting, as we realise our potentialities in both of these areas
However, once we know this, we are then presented with a challenge. This inner knowledge is the complete opposite of the kind of outer knowledge that we are most familiar with. In fact all of our education represented a process of acquiring this outer knowledge. At best, this is the knowledge of the experts, of subject specialists, of the academic world. This knowledge is of course brilliant, and in one form or another many of us have spent a life-time studying and acquiring it. Yet it is not the be all and the end all of knowledge.
There is another type of knowledge that can act as beautiful complement to it. This is inner, or what may be referred to as self, knowledge. In a very profound way, this is a knowledge that will arise from deep within us. It is knowledge of who and what we really are, and who and what we have always been. It is the knowledge of our real self, which nobody can define for us, and nobody can put a limit to.
An expansion of consciousness
So how do we begin to acquire this self-knowledge? We acquire it through the process of expanding our consciousness. What I mean by this, is that the field of our conscious awareness is gradually and systematically expanded to embrace what is going on within ourselves. This includes what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing on a moment by moment basis.
So how is this achieved?
It is achieved by remembering to put ourselves into the picture. Let me now explain what I mean by this. It is all to do with attention. When we are having a conversation with somebody, that other person tends to absorb all of our attention. In this sense, the positive energy of our attention is always flowing outwards, away from us.
When we remember to put ourselves into the picture however, all of this changes. Instead of flowing outwards the energy of our attention then flows both in and out at the same time. This then sets up an energy circuit the experiencing of which will tell us a great deal. This is because the energy of our attention is no longer exclusively focussed upon the person we are talking to. It is also focussing upon what is happening within us as we are talking with that person.
As we do this, we will then start to be become much more self-aware. At the same time as learning about the person we are with, we will also be learning more about ourselves, what we think, feel, and how we react to them. And it is in this way, that the field of our consciousness then begins to expand.
This in turn can then lead to a very exciting event. As we practice this, we will begin to slowly awaken to the living presence of our real or true self. Not that this presence was ever absent from us. It is that we were always so preoccupied by the outer, that we forgot to keep an eye upon the inner!
Using one’s feelings as a guidance system
So what is the true self like? Just talk to anybody who has any experience of it. They will all report the same kind of feelings. It is:
like being joined to a sense of warmth and belonging that knows no limits;
to be buoyant, effervescent, producing a feeling that if you wanted to, you could jump over a house;
to feel in harmony with nature and one’s surroundings;
to be permeated with an abundant supply of fresh, positive, healing energy;
to be forever inspired, guided and led towards everything that for us, brings with it a sense of fulfilment.
And the strangest thing of all perhaps, is that it all feels completely natural, the way that we could feel virtually all of the time. But this new normal comes with a certain proviso. To maintain it we need to begin listening to our feelings more. After all, our feelings cannot lie, they cannot deceive and they cannot pretend. They react with total honesty and as such, offer us a beautiful pathway back to the truth of the real self.
Although we might not be aware of it, our true self is the greater part of each one of us. And when we listen to our feelings we can then more easily align with our true self. However, what if those feelings are negative? Positive or negative, if we are becoming more conscious, we are in a win-win situation. This is because a negative feeling indicates that we are out of sync with our true self, and that therefore, we need to find a way to realign. When we do, that feeling will then sublimate into a more positive feeling.
Our emotions are thus like the rumble strip on the motorway that alerts us if we veer off the road. We wouldn’t keep driving along the rumble strip and we are really glad that it’s there to enable us to re-orientate. Likewise, we don’t need to remain in a state of negative emotion once we realise what it is telling us.
When we have a positive emotion – satisfaction, optimism, enthusiasm, interest, delight – our feelings are telling us that we are in accord with who and what we truly are. Naturally, when we build upon these good feelings, we will then be attracting more and more of what actually makes us feel good.
In this sense, our feelings act as an internal guidance system. They are a compass that, all depending upon which way it is pointing, can always lead us back to true north. Positive, uplifting feelings tell us that we are already there. Negative feelings tell us that we have gone off track in some way. Because of this, negative feelings are just as important to us as positive feelings. This is because they tell us what we don’t what in order to guide us towards more of what we do want.
As this blog has so far indicated, self-knowledge is a very powerful path towards personal growth. For it points to the possibility of each one of us becoming a truly conscious person. A conscious person is someone who has taken the effort to become attuned to their own feelings and their thoughts. Being conscious, they then acquire an incredible gift. This is an ability to direct their thoughts and feelings in accordance with conscious imperatives.
These imperatives are the compelling propulsion towards personal growth and expansion that we all feel. And when we follow them, we then begin to expand, not as a part of the universe, but with the universe. And this is what it means to be a liberal artist. It is to be a conscious practitioner of those arts of the self that can bring out the very best of who and what we are.
Let me begin this talk with a simple reminder. And by doing so, get us all centred and focussed upon the wisdom of the real world.
As we cast our eyes upon the incredible beauty of this world, as we feel the gentle breeze upon our skin, as we dip our toes into the cold sparkling water of the mountain stream, or as we bite into the soft, luscious peach, we may realise just how fortunate we are.
As we watch the sun go down over the hill, as we watch the stars starting to appear in the night sky, as we hear the evening breeze brushing past the trees, as we watch the moon gently rising over the mountain, we may also realise just how fortunate we are.Continue reading “7 Sophia”
In my last post, Tabula Rasa, I began with a reconsideration of our tremendous wisdom heritage. Occurring in three parts, which are the universal, planetary and human, I showed that, given the extent of that heritage, we clearly have no shortage of opportunities to become wiser and more enlightened beings. The main question raised was how to reclaim that heritage. For this purpose I pointed out that we needed recourse to two main languages: the verbal, whether spoken or written:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
and the numerical language of mathematics:
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Going on from this, we saw that the language of words provides the necessary foundation for the trivium, whose three subjects are grammar, dialectic and rhetoric:
While the language of mathematics provide the foundation for the quadrivium, whose four subjects are arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy:
This made grammar and arithmetic particularly important, in that between them, they establish the foundation for their two respective domains, which are the trivium, in the case of grammar, and the quadrivium, in the case of arithmetic. Now, the triad of three (the trivium) added to the tetrad of four (the quadrivium) makes seven, embracing the complete spectrum of liberal arts needed to fully reclaim that incredible wisdom heritage:
We then looked at the first liberal art, grammar, with which this process of reclamation may begin. Defying conventional views upon the subject, we saw that as a liberal art, grammar is something different to what we might, at first, suspect. As a liberal art, grammar is all about the power of the word, a power so great, that for many cultures, it was considered supreme. This, in itself, was enough to alert us to the fact that grammar is so much more than the subject we learned at school.
In this post, I will be further discussing what grammar is, as one of the seven liberal arts. This is where, as we discover more and more about grammar, we begin to get really excited at the prospect of having such a powerful tool at our disposal. And by using the word powerful, I am probably understating the fact. The liberal art of grammar, is and can be, all-powerful – giving us access to an inspiring source for personal creativity, that can totally transform our lives – if we let it.
As an indication of this, picture in your mind a cauldron, filled with the effervescent energy of pure inspiration. Imagine immersing yourself in this cauldron, and being filled with that inspiring energy. Notice as you do so, how all of your cares and worries are just being washed away. You are, in fact, being remade anew and as a result, you now feel fresh, inspired and completely transformed.
This provides us with an accurate picture of the sheer power of the word. It also shows us just why teaching is an essential feature of the liberal arts. However, I am not referring to teaching as the transmission of facts that an intelligent student can assimilate for themselves anyway. Neither am I referring to the teaching of career skills that a person is going to need to enter into their chosen profession.
I am referring to teaching as an ongoing dialogue on the incredible power of the word: founded in grammar, developed in dialectic and then eloquently expressed through rhetoric. This is the power that is clearly revealed by the wisdom of the past, and as it continues to be revealed, in the present, it guides us towards a brighter and more hopeful future. As examples of this, consider:
the ancient rishis of India, attuning themselves to the vibration of the sacred word, OM,
Buddhist monks guided to enlightenment through the dharma, or word of the law,
the saints of Christendom, inspired to martyrdom by the words of the Gospel,
the sages of China, becoming one with the Tao, so beautifully revealed by the words of the Tao Te Ching,
Sufi dervishes, transformed and transfigured by a knowledge of the Divine Names, inspiring in their turn, those exalted dances that vividly portray the celestial spheres as they spin and turn in perfect harmony,
the hierophants of the ancient world, teaching the precepts of the divine Hermes Trismegistus,
the great philosophers of old, the lovers of the divine Sophia, whose wisdom is the word itself,
the maggids of Judaism, quietly passing on the Hokmah Nistarah, the hidden wisdom revealed only by, and through, the word,
the ancient druids of Great Britain and Gaul, inspired and transformed through their memorisation of the sacred verses.
Need I go on?
This is but a taste of some of the incredible wisdom of the world of which we are a part. A wisdom revealed in, and through, the power of the word. And, if we take the time and trouble to notice it, we will soon discover that our world is, literally, overflowing with this wisdom.
Yet, this is not even considering the most powerful element of all of this, which is our own capability, as human beings, to make use of the word for the purposes of our own self-transformation. The logic of this, is that as the word has inspired and enlightened countless people before us, so too, may it inspire and enlighten each one of us today.
To understand how this works, try thinking of yourself in terms of that age-old analogy of the chariot. According to this analogy, the carriage represents your body, while the horses that pull it signify your emotions – both positive and negative. The rider of the chariot, in this case, represents your mind: informed, inspired and enlightened by the power of the word. Accordingly, it is through this power, that you yourself can then become transformed.
This transformation largely comes down to a process of realignment. Because of our way of life to date, many of us have lost all sense of our natural alignment with the real world. And in its place we now find ourselves moving through an illusory world that happily uses up all of our vital life-energy just in order to maintain itself.
However, if we can find that right alignment with the real world, we will find ourselves living more in harmony and sympathy with it. And, as human beings living upon the planet Earth, this will transform us in all sorts of incredible ways. We will feel the joy, love and presence of the real world once more, rising up within us, like a beautiful, healing fountain. As it does so, we will then know, once and for all, that we are no longer living in exile from our true home, which is the real world itself.
THE TRIVIUM OF MIND
The workings of our own mind will always be key to this process of self-transformation. We need to get our mind working more productively towards the fulfilment of our aims and purposes. We need to stimulate our mind into being productive once more, and as a result, actively engaged with creative, inspiring projects that bring more light into both our world and the worlds of others.
This is why, as liberal arts students, we study the trivium, whose three arts aim to develop and cultivate the true power of our mind. A good analogy for this is a garden. If our mind were likened unto a garden, the study of grammar would give us the tools needed to tend the garden, dialectic would be ourselves cultivating that garden and finally, rhetoric would be that garden coming into full bloom and producing beautiful flowers and fruit.
Have you ever wondered why the pine cone was so revered by ancient cultures? One reason is that the pine cone is the flower of the tree that remains forever green. It, thus, proves symbolic of that perennial wisdom heritage that never loses its freshness, lustre or appeal.
And this again shows why the study of the trivium is, or can be, so important to us. The study of grammar will raise our awareness of that heritage, dialectic will enable us to think for ourselves from the sound platform of that heritage and finally, rhetoric will enable us to contribute to the transmission of that heritage to future generations.
Of course, when working with our own mind, we do need to take great care. We do not want to start interfering with the workings of our mind, To do so would clearly be disastrous. What we do want, however, is to give our mind the chance to thrive, blossom and bloom, which it will do, when we give it the opportunity to do so. For this purpose, all that the mind really needs is a bit of gentle encouragement in the right direction. This encouragement is provided to us by our studies of the trivium, which positively celebrate the incredible creative capabilities of an inspired mind.
It does help if we have an understanding of the way in which our mind works. For we will then see, and understand, how the growth and development of our mind works according to a threefold or triangular process. Here again, I am referring to the three subjects of the trivium. When assessing the value of these, I have always found it helpful to see the mind as having three basic functional capabilities, which are input, processing and output.
In this sense, the mind works as a system, and like any system, it depends upon the processing of matters from outside of it. In this case, these matters are the signals that the mind is capable of receiving, processing and then transmitting:
Input refers to the signals received through our sensory impressions.
Processing concerns the mind’s handling of those signals, together with the production of new signals that our mind is capable of independently generating.
Output refers to signals being transmitted from the mind by way of characteristic expressions such as speaking, gesturing, eye movement, posture and so on.
As a system, therefore, the mind works very much like a signal processor, the flow of which we may usefully refer to as the mind-stream. The inputs of this stream correspond to the incoming flow of impressions, while the outputs correspond to the outgoing flow of expressions. As a complete dynamic system that includes the signal flow of the mind-stream, our minds, thus, have five aspects:
This, in itself, is fascinating to ponder, because it shows that our mind is capable of growth towards higher levels. This occurs through the way in which we handle the signals of the mind-stream. What we take into our mind through impressions, and what we then output from our mind by way of expressions are clearly vital features of this.
This observation then helps to explain the subjects of the trivium in a beautifully clear manner. These subjects address the three vital capabilities of our mind. These are: the receptive capability based on inputs; the formative capability based on processing; and the communicative capability based on outputs. To clarify how these work, when you:
listen to a person speaking or read an article in the newspaper you are engaging the receptive capability of your mind,
are sitting back and thinking a problem through, you are engaging in a different part of the mind, the formative, which is the mind’s capability to produce independent thought,
are replying to a person who has asked you a question or perhaps composing an email, then you are engaging the communicative capability of your mind.
Once we understand how this works, we can then see just why the trivium needs to have three subjects. Each subject aims to develop one main department of the mind. Grammar aims to develops the receptive mind through learning the skills of listening and reading. Dialectic develops the formative mind through learning to think and reason for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric develops the communicative mind through the skills of speaking and writing.
The concept of the threefold mind then explains why grammar is such an important liberal art. Grammar provides us with the basic tools which all of the above abilities used by the mind will make use of. Here, I am referring to reading, listening, thinking, speaking and writing, all of which are unthinkable without a knowledge of grammar.
The most important of these abilities, so far as being able to function as a part of society is concerned, seem to be reading, writing, speaking and listening. Thinking, however, tends to receive minimal attention. Because of this, although a person might be able to speak and listen, if they cannot think freely for themselves, they will find great difficulty adding anything new to the dialogue.
Similarly, even though a person might be able to read and write, if they cannot think freely for themselves, they will have great difficulty creating any new or original written content. In this sense, an ability to think is vital if we are ever going to be able to contribute anything new to the world. The importance of thinking is reflected in the following diagram, which places it at the very heart and centre of the five-fold scheme:
Thinking, in this sense:
is the creative heart of the mind.
is the life of the mind, exalted by the power of imagination.
is the faculty of discernment that enables the growth of true individuality.
It is for this reason that the liberal art of dialectic is such an important subject. Dialectic teaches how to think and reason for ourselves. By doing so, it confirms that each one of us is, indeed, the centre of our own universe, entirely responsible for our own life and thoughts. And, it is here that the process of self-transformation really begins: with taking responsibility for ourselves and the workings of our own mind. When we do so, we will also begin to activate some of the most incredible creative abilities that our mind has.
One such capacity, which always proves vital in the process of self-transformation, is an ability to consciously create our own reality. Here, it might seem curious to hear me speak of reality creation, as if it were an art in its own right. Yet that is what it is and always has been:
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven.
So speaks Jaques, in his monologue from Shakespeare’s, As You Like It (1599).
Characteristically, the reality through which we move is cast up as being akin to theatre, each one of us playing our own particular part, rather like a role in a play. Of course today, we have largely forgotten about this, so seriously do we now take our roles. Therefore, gone is the sense of delight in artistically creating the part that we play, gone is the sense of playfulness, as we have fun doing so, and gone is the sense that each one of us has the power to alter our own destiny, often in the mere turning of but a single brief moment.
However, this newfound sense of seriousness is understandable. Many of us now subscribe to a belief in what is, increasingly, turning out to be a very foolish idea. This is the perceived dichotomy between the objective and the subjective. We have all been informed, time and time again, that the objective reality through which we move, operates independently of our own subjective perception. In this way, we tend to be cast up as being the passive perceivers of reality, rather like goldfish living in a bowl, staring out upon the wonders of the world beyond.
Generally speaking, we only accept these views because we have not taken the time and the trouble to think them through. Although from our own subjective viewpoint, we look out upon this so-called objective reality, the fact is, we are also an essential part of it. As a part of it, we can also, therefore, function as an instrument through which that reality can be changed.
If you doubt that this is even possible, just look at what a skilled gardener can do: transforming an uncultivated piece of land into an earthly paradise, filled with the most beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees imaginable. And from where did these transformations originate? They originated in the mind and imagination of the gardener. Having conceived these changes, the gardener then set about practically realising them, and as a result, helped to co-create a more beautiful world.
This process follows a clear pattern and most of it takes place within the mind of the gardener. First comes the desire, the impulse to transform that land into a vision of beauty. Then comes the inspiration, the exciting vision to bring that desire about. So the gardener thinks about it, mulls it over and works out a plan to bring that vision about. The final stage is then realising their vision in physical terms.
This is an example of reality creation par-excellence. It is a creative partnership between ourselves and the universe; an inspired dance between the subjective and the objective, that then becomes capable of driving our co-created reality towards an ever higher level. In this sense, the reality of which we are a part is never frozen or fixed. Instead, it is soft and malleable like clay, and each one of us can help to give shape to it.
If you are still not convinced, try the last person on earth exercise. Imagine in your mind, that you were the last person left on Earth. Where would your native country be? This, of course, is a silly question, because your country would no longer exist. All that would be left would be the landmass where your country formerly was and the crumbling relics that were once the physical anchors of its reality.
So, where has the country gone? It has not gone anywhere. What we thought to be our country, was largely a communally agreed to construct of our minds. And a sense for the theatrical always played an important part of that construct. In this context, consider costumes and uniforms. The policemen, the soldier, the sailor – all wear costumes appropriate to their assigned roles.
However, now that you are the last person left on earth, this has all changed. There is nobody left to play the parts or create all of the carefully devised props. As a result, what we thought to be the objective reality of our country has all now simply collapsed. And this just goes to show: reality is not, and can never be, just one-sided. It is a working partnership between the subjective and the objective that literally fizzles with creative potentials.
CO-CREATE WITH THE UNIVERSE
So, what is the secret to this art of reality creation? It is that each one of us is part of an ever-fluid creative flux, a dynamically evolving symbiosis between ourselves and the universe, in which we have the privileged function to act as co-creators. Essential to this, as the diagram below shows, is the workings of our own mind:
This is why the power of our imagination is so important to us. It is upon the screen of our imagination that we become capable of projecting completely new realities, ideas and visions. Having conceived them in the imagination, we can then set about bringing them into realization. And doing this, of course, all begins in the realm of thought.
Consider also, the nature of thought itself. What is thought? It is basically a mental dialogue that develops through use of our own imagined vocalisations. This is why, when we do think, we tend to do so in our own voice. Try thinking for a moment, but using somebody else’s voice. The fact that you can, shows you that the voice with which you do think is imagined into being.
As such, the power of our imagination is even more primary than thought, because without imagination, it would be impossible for us to internally vocalise. Any real system of education as such, should not only encourage the birth of independent and original thought, but also the vivid use of one’s own imagination.
This is also why beauty is so important. Although in some circles, beauty has now become an ugly, almost unmentionable word, there is a lot more to beauty than we realise. Beauty is the eternal standard by which we can measure the results of our co-creative partnership with the universe. Therefore, if what we create turns out to be beautiful, uplifting and awe-inspiring, we can be pretty sure that we are on the right track. The perfect demonstration of this is the universe itself, a creation of such incredible beauty and wonder, that we would have to be already dead, not to be moved or inspired by it.
Relevant to this, is the fact that we cannot just step outside of the real world. In effect, this means that everything that we do, think, feel, or say, registers as a part of the real world. To help envision this, just think of a single drop of water falling into the ocean. Then ponder the fact that the moment that drop falls, the entire ocean adapts and transforms precisely in accordance with the gain of volume corresponding to that drop. A tiny gain it may be, but it does, nonetheless, causes a change to the entire ocean.
This, in turn, means that as individuals, we each represent the seat of a tremendous world-transforming power. As the universe is but one vast ocean of vibrating, shimmering energy, means that every single thought that we have, or every single word that we speak, goes on to transform and change the world. And once thought or spoken, that change cannot be undone. It might be possible in certain circumstances to remedy it, but each thought that we have or word that we utter has the potential to change and transform the whole world — either for good or ill.
This is why words are just so important to us. If, for example, we think to ourselves, I am a failure, we are, unwittingly, using our power to co-create with the universe in such a way as to transform ourselves into the very image of those words. Clearly, therefore, what we think is very important. Not just for ourselves, but also for the world at large. If we focus upon nothing but problems, for example, they will only get worse, and as a result we will never be able to escape them. However, if we focus upon solutions, our lives will then improve accordingly. For this very reason, we need to learn how to guide our thoughts in the direction of what we do want.
Here, the precise words that we use are very important. We need to find words that adequately reflect what we do actually want. They also need to be words that resonate with us on a deep level. Therefore, what is productive in the above case, is not thinking of oneself as a failure, but instead focusing one’s mind upon one’s successes, even if those successes are at first, very small.
I love the feeling that my successes give me.
Each success, even though perhaps small, then allows me to build on those successes.
And in this way, I become ever more successful.
The thought of these successes will begin to call forth more of the same. In this way, we will gradually transform ourselves into the very image of the successes that we are now building upon. Notice that the power to direct these efforts, comes from the exact words that we are using. As such, through the sheer power of our words, we are not passive, we are not inert and we are not powerless. We are all tremendous world-movers, world-shakers and world-transformers.
The proof of this is human civilisation as it stands, which was brought into being in the first place, through the direct use of that world-transforming power. When Christ said, ‘turn the other cheek’, he was creating the seed from which a new world might grow. That new world was the Christian dispensation. When Confucius stated his Golden Rule, ‘what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others’, he was also creating the seed from which a new world might grow. That new world was the Confucian society.
And there are countless more examples where courageous individuals went on to transform the world through the sheer power of their words. So when you listen to people speak, think of the kind of world that their speech is trying to call forth. And when you speak, do so with the intention of positively calling for the kind of world that you want to live in.
Here, there is a simple rule. Whatever you focus your mind and attention upon will grow in abundance. Therefore, if you allow yourself to think and speak of hateful things, you will land up living in a world completely consumed by that hate. On the other side of the coin, if you think compassionate, caring thoughts, and speak words to match, you will land up living in a world filled with those very same qualities. In this way, do we continually create our own realities. The real art of it, of course, is to learn to do it consciously.
In my last post I discussed three levels of our natural wisdom heritage that a study of the liberal arts will lay bare. These are the universal, planetary and human levels. Let me now remind you of what these are.
Our universal heritage is that inner wisdom which we all share as vital parts of the real world.
Our planetary heritage is the wisdom bequeathed to us by the tree of life from which we have all evolved.
Finally, there is our human heritage which consists of those precious stores of wisdom that have been aggregated, recorded and preserved throughout the history of humanity.
Given that we do have such a tremendous wisdom heritage, any attempt to become more appreciative and conscious of this heritage on our part, will always be effort worthwhile. And this is one very good reason for studying the liberal arts. They will help us to reconnect with our very own wisdom heritage.
One of the main reasons that we need to do this, is that many of us were brought up according to the idea of ‘tabula rasa’. What this means is that when we were born, our mind was claimed to be a blank slate upon which our parents, mentors and teachers could effectively write whatever they liked. Moreover, whatever was written, it was believed, would then shape and determine exactly what we would later become.
However, as we are all parts of that greater whole, the real world, which itself endows us with such a great heritage, the very idea of ‘tabula rasa’ now needs to be challenged. This is because, when we are born into the world, the wisdom of the real world already shines through us. To treat our mind as if it were a blank slate is in effect to steal this precious wisdom heritage away from us, or at least to cause us to forget all about it.
The results of this can be seen all around us today. Many of us are suffering what seems to be an unfortunate state of collective amnesia, which means we no longer know, feel, or sense our true depth of connection with the real world. And I say unfortunate, because when we are aware of that connection, the wisdom of the real world will then be felt rising up within us, like a beautiful bubbling spring. As such it is necessary to restore our natural connection with the real world and by doing so, re-open the vital channels of our connection with it.
Once re-opened, this wisdom will then act as our guide, our teacher, our inner compass and we will always know just what we should be doing at any given time. Without this connection however, we will lack that strong sense of having our own internal guidance, as a consequence of which life can then seem to be confusing. Moreover, to get by we will then have to rely upon externally imposed rules, regulations, and codes of moralities that in the main have been decided for us.
So what does this mean for the process of education? It means that one of the true purposes of education should be to show us how to access the tremendous wealth of wisdom that is already present within us. That for the most part, this purpose is not being fulfilled puts us all in a very difficult position. How do we rectify this? What can we do to reclaim that heritage that is rightfully ours?
Having been in this position myself, I can say that the best policy is a concerted drive toward self-education. We need to get ourselves educated. When we do so, we soon realize that it was not always like this. At one time, the liberal arts were the mainstay of education. Moreover, these showed us how to establish a clear connection with the real world. This they did upon two levels, the trivium, which enabled us to perfect the workings of our own mind, and the quadrivium, which offered those vital tools needed to re-establish this essential connection.
Having their roots in classical Greece and before that, the great civilization of ancient Egypt, the liberal arts prevailed for thousands of years in various forms. And in doing so, educated and informed a great number of people. Even then however, problems became apparent. One was exclusivity. They were generally reserved for the cultivation of ‘free men’ who not only enjoyed the kind of wealth that enabled them to be classed as being free in the first place, but also all of the tremendous benefits of the liberal arts.
However, this no longer applies. In theory at least, we are all today counted as free persons and therefore capable of studying the liberal arts in and for our own right. Through the study of these liberal arts, upgraded and revised for a modern generation, we will then experience a re-awakening of this vital wisdom within us.
Once awakened, we will then find ourselves beginning to remember who and what we actually are. We will realize that we are the natural inheritors of all of the wonder, majesty, and glory of the real world. Having realized this, everything will then begin to make sense to us. We will feel propelled forward upon a driving wave of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that, having its roots deep in the past, will then provide us with the impetus to take us forward to a brighter and more fulfilling future. In this sense, the key to our future has always lain in the past. While the key to our past has always lain in the present. Here it is interesting to see that these are observations that have somehow not escaped the notice of our mentors.
Something that will help us a great deal, is paying a particular interest to the language that we use. Wisdom speaks to us in a particular language and unless we are alert to this, we will miss a great deal that can be of importance to us. However, bearing in mind the idea of ‘tabula rasa’ mentioned earlier, the whole notion of language can get very tricky, particularly in the hands of those who have used language, not to educate and inform, but to condition, propagandise and even colonise the human mind with values that are not necessarily natural to it.
Is it natural I ask, for human beings to feel so isolated and alone in themselves that they feel compelled to compete against one other in a perceived ‘rat-race’? The word ‘rat’ of course, says it all, as also does the idea of ‘dog-eat-dog’. Moreover, how often have you heard people being described as ‘sharks’? So lest our educational policy makers really take all of this to heart and actually start believing that we are no better than rats in a trap, it is time I feel, for a change, away from the direction of Skinner boxes and more towards the ancient spirit of the liberal arts, which exulted in the freedom, dignity and responsibility of what it truly meant to be human.
Inevitably, this will always begin and be reflected by the language that is used. We need to recognize, not just the language of practical and economic necessity, which, using terms such as human resources or workforce, often does no more than to degrade and de-humanize, but the language through which true wisdom is expressed. Yes, our earthly existence can be difficult, imperfect and provide us with great challenges, but this is no reason to throw out wisdom for a language of reality that ultimately reduces us all to the lowest possible level.
In order to be able to recover that wisdom we will need recourse to two main languages which are:
First there are spoken and/or written languages based upon the word
Second there is the language of mathematics, which uses numbers as the vehicle of expression.
In terms of the former, we have to be prepared to be flexible. There is an incredible amount of wisdom that has been recorded and written in various different languages, some of which are no longer even extant. When studying this wisdom literature of the world, which includes works such as the I Ching or the Tao Te Ching of China; the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads of India, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Popul Vuh, or the Pyramid Texts of Egypt, we are generally reliant upon scholarly translations and as such, have to take advantage of whatever grace there is to produce and publish viable translations. In the meantime, the truly dedicated will take upon themselves the task of learning those languages necessary so that they can have a more intimate knowledge of the wisdom expressed therein.
In terms of the language of mathematics, we are on much surer ground because number is a universal language and as such, more suited to the expression of universal wisdom. However, a certain amount of repatriation is needed for the simple reason that this language is no longer properly understood, taught, or received. This is unfortunate because knowledge of the language of mathematics will enable us to then go on and read the book of nature and by doing so make vital connection with that living wisdom of which all nature is an expression.
This is the wisdom that when assimilated, can bring the most incredible enhancements to our lives. Through it, we can directly connect with the vital presence of the real world, which according to all ancient accounts and theogenies, speaks, sings, and expresses itself through the universal language of mathematics.
To the observant, the signs and signals of this language are everywhere to be seen. I mean just look at the form of the flower shown on the title page, which however you care to look at it, grows with a distinctive geometry, all of its own. Implicit to this geometry is the superposition of two triangles, one of which points upwards, the other downwards.
Where have you seen this before? It is the Seal of Solomon and it is, in a very real sense, one of the vital keys to the wisdom of the great King Solomon. The downward pointing triangle symbolizes the Macrocosm, that great whole of which we are a part. The upwards pointing triangle symbolizes the Microcosm, which is ourselves conceived as a reflection or mirror image of that whole.
As above, so below.
There is a wisdom that is ever-present, mirrored at every possible level, including ourselves.
Mathematics as such, can introduce us to these great mysteries, many of which run very deep. Fortunately, the liberal arts introduce us to these in a graduated fashion, for which purpose:
The language of words provides the foundation for the trivium whose three subjects are grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.
The language of numbers provides the foundation for the quadrivium whose four subjects are arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
When studying the liberal arts therefore, we are essentially dealing with two tiers, two languages, and two levels of approach to the wisdom of the world. Moreover, through the combination of these, we will then have the keys to everything that we have ever wanted. We will be able to explore all of the incredible mysteries of the world. We will be privy to nature’s very own book of secrets. Above all, we will begin to understand who and what we are, as human beings living here upon the planet Earth.
Given two languages to consider, whose media are words and numbers, together with seven subjects of the liberal arts, an important question is posed. Where is the best place to start in order to get a proper orientation to the study of the liberal arts? The answer to this is with the first subject of the liberal arts, which is grammar.
However, bear in mind that we no longer understand what the liberal art of grammar is or even means. We think that it somehow pertains to the proper use of our spoken and written languages. Yet as I stated in my first talk, Introduction to the Liberal Arts, this is only the tip of a very large iceberg.
For me this is fortunate because as a writer I often make grammatical errors when I am writing. And I am quite used to other people pointing these out to me. In one of my books, I created a ‘glossary of terms.’ Having done so a kind student pointed out to me that I had fallen to the use of a tautology, a pointless double-statement. In this way do I then learn more about formal grammar and as a result, my writing hopefully improves.
Yet as a subject belonging to the ancient liberal arts, there are much more exciting features that eclipse any worries about falling to grammatical errors. Would it surprise you if I pointed out that the liberal art of grammar will give us the key to the whole world? And by world, I mean that greater whole of which we are a part. Would it also surprise you that this key is at the same time connected with our personal use of an incredible creative power, one that for many ancient cultures was seen to be so enormous that it was considered supreme?
So what am I talking about? I am talking about the power of the word. To understand this power, think back to some of the old stories, myths, and accounts of the creation of the world. Surely, it is no coincidence that many of these attribute the creation of the world to the utterance of a certain word or words.
A good example of this is ancient Egypt, whose divine scribe, the ibis headed neter Thoth, was said to have first conceived the world in the realms of thought. Having done so Thoth then uttered the words necessary to bring that world into actual being.
His consort was the great Seshat, the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom often portrayed with what appears to be a seven-rayed star above her head. These rays clearly signify the seven aspects or expressions of wisdom, which very much later, then coalesced into what we now call the seven liberal arts.
Similar ideas are reflected in the Vedic wisdom of India. Consider the vocable OM that signifies that primal vibration from which everything in the world was believed to have come into being. Even the notion itself is incredible to consider. Thousands of years ago, the great rishis of India sensed that the essence of the universe lay in a vibration, a sound, a word. That sound is also Brahma clashing upon the cymbals to announce the commencement of the world creation; it is the conch of Vishnu signalling yet another incarnation, it is the shabda, the divine sound current flowing through the universe like a silver stream, that brings enlightenment to all who apprehend it.
Hence that great emphasis upon intoning this great mantra OM. It’s purpose is to attune oneself to the primal vibration that is the root and cause of the all. In this sense, OM signifies the vital shimmering essence of the universe, of which everything that we are, know or do is a direct expression.
Yet we need not always look to the East for such profound ideas. Just think about the Fiat Lux of the Biblical book of Genesis. God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. In this way, to name something was at the same time, to create it. The very secret of creation in other words, lay in grammar. Then there is St John who begins his gospel with the epic words ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.’ This word is at the same time the ancient Greek logos, the divine reason and order behind the cosmos itself.
In some accounts, the logos was conceived in a more musical sense as a song. As a musician, this idea really fascinates me. It appears with the Celtic idea of Oran Mor, the great song of life in which we all play a part. Its strains can be heard everywhere, providing of course, that we are prepared to listen out for them. It is the song of our ancestors, of the fairy folk, of the gods and goddesses of old, and its echoes can still be heard in the wild forests. As an idea it is beautifully conveyed, not just through music, but also through the intricate knots of Celtic artwork, composed more often than not, of one single strand that follows the most intricate possible path, evocatively depicting the fundamental sense of unity of which Oran Mor is the perfect expression.
Consider also the Native American myth of spider woman, who from the web of her dreams sung the world into being. Thought of as grandmother spider, she has been and still is revered and respected as the source and fount of all wisdom. She is the creatrix, the universal web or loom whose subtle threads continually shimmer and vibrate to produce the eternal song of creation.
Each of these accounts, regardless of the culture from which they originate, say something important about the world of which we are all a part. The clue to this lies in the nature of a word. A word is a vibration, a tremor of the air in response to a certain stimulus. Through words, that vibration can be given a characteristic shape, identity, and character. When we learn what these signify, we can then understand what another person is trying to communicate to us.
However, think what this says about the world as an expression of the word. Although the world appears to our senses to be solid and substantial, underneath it is composed of nothing but vibrating fields of energy. What we perceive to be solid is energy that is moving at one speed, while the gaseous is energy moving at another.
So consider this thought. What if there was just one primal field of energy underlying it all? What if everything was simply a modification of that one energy? It means that what we see to be a cup is not what we think it is. It is not a stable object. It is simply vibrating energy in a state of transit. Consequently, if we come back in a thousand years we will probably find that the cup is gone. The energy from which the cup was made is not gone however. It has simply changed form.
Now in a world of solid objects, words have only a brief transitory power. However, in a world composed of energy in a state of vibration, the picture then becomes quite different. All of a sudden, words acquire the most tremendous power. Words are the vibrating patterns that we can use to help bring forth our reality from the shimmering sea of energy that is the universe.
Just think of the difference that the use of certain words can make. What kind of world do you want to live in? Because whatever kind of world that is, it can be shaped, summoned and called forth through the sheer power of your words. Therefore, the words hate, difference, division, and discord call forth one kind of world, while the words love, togetherness, union and harmony call forth another. The choice is of course ours.
In this fourth post I will be discussing some more of the fascinating and intriguing features that surround the study of the liberal arts. We will begin by considering two of the vital keys that a person will need in order to be able to successfully unlock the treasures of the liberal arts. The first key I mentioned in my last talk, which is the radiant light of consciousness. I say radiant for the simple reason that consciousness is very much like the sun. It shines a light upon whatever we turn our attention to and by so doing, enables us to have a direct cognition of the world around us.
This sense of consciousness is truly an amazing power. And when we start to become more aware of it, we soon realize that as human beings, it counts as one of our greatest gifts. Without consciousness we would be basically insensible to the incredible wonders of the world in which we live. I mean, just look closely at the crystalline form of a snowflake. How incredibly beautiful it is. And then consider the fact that each and every snowflake is not only something of the most incredible beauty, but like each one of us, carries the stamp of its own unique individuality. And it is of course the power of consciousness that enables us to be able to have cognition of this.
In view of this try an exercise. Spend some time writing down the treasures that the power of consciousness gives us access to. Three such obvious examples to start the list off, are first, a cognition of the world around us; second, a sense of ourselves as individuals and third, the ability to listen to and enjoy music. Then take a look at your list and imagine life without some of the things that you have noted down. You will then begin to more truly appreciate the incredible power of consciousness.
This then brings me on to the second key. This is what I referred to in my last talk as the real world, in contrast to the illusory world which we have all been brought up to believe in. The real world is that vast scintillating whole of which we are all but miniscule parts. And this real world is itself, something that is so incredibly beautiful that it is literally enough to make us gasp.
So how much better could it actually become? Well fortunately, this is the position with which we begin our studies of the liberal arts. In this sense,the study of the liberal arts will be unlike anything we have ever come across or encountered. This is because we will be studying the real world, not through this or that manufactured truth, theory or philosophy, but directly through the engagement of the light of our own consciousness.
The reasoning behind this is that the aim of a true liberal arts education is to enlighten the mind of the student. This process of enlightenment, however, does not happen to somebody else. It takes place within ourselves and the chambers of our own mind. For this reason the light of consciousness just has to be central to the entire process.
It is to facilitate the growth and expansion of our mind towards ever higher levels of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. It is to make direct personal connection with those vital sources of knowledge that have sustained every great school of learning throughout history. And it is of course, all there waiting for us, a vast treasure trove of all those precious jewels of learning and wisdom that can bring a sense of light and joy back to our lives.
However, as you will often hear me say, do not take my word for any of this. Undertake your own personal search for the learning and wisdom that conforms to this pedigree. When you do you will soon discover that this learning isactually everywhere. And if you don’t believe me just look at a tree – any tree will do. Observe that the roots of the tree extend deep down into the solid earth. Its branches however, reach skywards in order that the leaves can receive the vital light from above.
This represents a perfect metaphor for our study of the liberal arts. The roots of the tree correspond to our earthly experience through media of the five senses. The trunk of the tree represents our efforts to improve ourselves and learn. The branches of the tree represent our aspiration towards those vital sources of learning just mentioned. And finally the leaves of the tree represent the growth of our mind which, guided by that learning, enable us to draw down the light from above. This light is of course the light of the real world.
We will also discover vital traces of this learning throughout the history of human civilization and culture. After all, we are not the first people in the world to seek truth, knowledge and wisdom. These have been sought after since the very beginnings of the arising of human beings upon the planet earth. And for some people they were always seen to be the real treasures of this world, far preferable to money, gold and jewels.
As such, these sources are discernible within every single age and culture. In effect this means they are now accessible to all of us who would take the time and the trouble to avail ourselves of them. Here we are fortunate for the fact that our ancestors took the time and the trouble to make sure that we, in our time, would indeed have the opportunity to access this knowledge. For this to be possible however, they first had to learn how to use the arts of the squirrel. In order to sustain itself through the winter months the squirrel takes care to store up a secret stash of nuts. These in their turn, then enable the squirrel to gain knowledge of the spring that will then follow.
The treasures of great learning are exactly the same. They have been carefully stored up and preserved in a great number of different forms. Endowed with the light of consciousness, it is therefore our pleasure and delight to search, find and then discover what these are. They do and can include fairy tales, myths and legends; board games such as snakes and ladders; cryptic diagrams, pictures and illustrations; playing cards or even what seem to be innocent mnemonic devices. These and more are the places that the wise of humanity squirreled away their precious stores of wisdom. And it is all there, waiting for us to find and rediscover it. The only keys that we need to use in this respect, are those already mentioned.
Of course, faced with such a claim, it is only logical to ask, how can there be wisdom locked up in a children’s game such as snakes and ladders? In answer to this I would point out that although seemingly innocuous, the game snakes and ladders embodies within itself a complete moral and ethical cosmology. This is because it offers an allegory of our own personal journey towards enlightenment. For this purpose, the first square is where we begin our journey, the last square our intended destination. As we go on in with this journey, we soon realize at any point along the way, we are always faced with two choices. These are represented symbolically by the snakes and the ladders. Snakes of course, have been used traditionally as symbols of temptation. They symbolize what can cause us to fall. Then there are the ladders, which symbolize an upward progression towards a wiser and more virtuous way of life. So there you have it, the snakes symbolize our vices or failings, while the ladders symbolize our virtues and successes.
My point in mentioning this game is that a lot of the wisdom we might have been looking for is and always has been, directly in front of our own noses. It is just that in the main, we have allowed ourselves to fall asleep to the fact. When we do however, begin to wake up, we then discover that an incredible path of wisdom awaits us, a path about which our ancestors knew a great deal.
We do need to realize however, that this knowledge carries its own inbuilt protection, which each of us must learn to overcome. This lies in the fact that we will never discover this knowledge for ourselves until we wake up and learn to take an active part in its inquisition. This means taking nothing for granted, being ever alert and actively seeking for the sources of learning that we need. Seek and ye shall find it was once said, knock and the door will be opened unto you.
Towards this end try another exercise. A great deal of this aggregated wisdom has been stored and preserved in various forms. An obvious example of this is the Great Pyramid at Giza whose lessons have been staring us in the face for literally thousands of years. Spend some time writing down as many examples of this preserved wisdom that you can think of. Having done so then begin your own independent investigations into the first of those examples on your list, that arouse your particular interest. What is this wisdom and why was it felt so important to store and preserve it? How can this wisdom help me in my own life?
THE WORLD MYSTERY
Having said this, let us now consider the real world some more. A liberal arts student will undertake a keen study of the real world. However, in doing so they will always be confronted with one inescapable fact which is this. Despite how much we think we know, the real world is and always has been an incredible mystery to us. And this is one of the first things we need to lay hold of when studying the liberal arts. We are all faced with what is in effect, an incredible phantasmagoric mystery.
Of course, compared to the people of say, ancient Greece, we do now know a lot more about the real world. We know that the world does not revolve around the sphere of the Earth as was formerly thought. We also know that the dimensions of the real world are infinitely greater than our ancestors could ever have perhaps imagined. However, despite these advances in our knowledge, nobody could seriously assert that the mystery of the world has been solved. All that’s happened is that the mystery has got a lot bigger. And as it has grown bigger, our knowledge of it now seems even smaller.
As such, when assessing the mystery of the real world, there is perhaps only one sure fact that we can rely upon. No matter what race, culture or time a person is born into; each and every one of us is born into a magnificent unfolding mystery. Now due to advancements in human technological capability, we now have microscopes that offer a fascinating glimpse into the molecular and even atomic worlds. We also have telescopes that enable us to see into the vast recesses of intergalactic space. These in turn speak of a significant increase in the range and depth of human knowledge. In fact, there is now talk of the possibility for a grand theory of everything, a unified vision of the cosmos that promises in potential at least, to tend a final solution to the world mystery. Now while we all anticipate this promised golden age of knowledge, we should not lose sight of the fact that in the meantime, the mystery abides.
Inevitably, these observations can have a humbling effect upon us. Yet they also reveal a powerful sympathetic bond that still unites us with some of the greatest philosophers of antiquity, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, all of whom recognized that the real world is and probably always will be, a mystery to us.
As such, the fact of the mystery is not something to be ashamed of, in fact it can be very advantageous. For a start we are provided with a much-needed panacea against all forms of fundamentalism – whether religious, scientific or political. Invariably based upon claims of absolute infallible knowledge, the possibilities for this are of course rampant. We need only look at our human history to see the horrors that have been inflicted upon human beings in the name of such absolutes.
Recognizing this mystery also offers a spur towards ever greater knowledge. Realizing how little we know, makes us then realize how much there is yet to know. Giving the much-needed room for our mind and consciousness to expand, we then find ourselves awakening to the reality of a completely new world, a world that is forever fresh, vibrant, alive and literally bursting with new possibilities.
This in turn gives our mind access to an inexhaustible supply of inspirational creative energy, which it is possible to connect to at any moment. The trees of the forest, the flowers of the field, the stream that runs down the mountains or indeed, the arrival of the sun at the dawn of a new day, are all parts of this great shimmering mystery in which we find ourselves, a mystery which is as old and fresh as time itself.
THE MYTH OF CONTROL
Once we come to accept that the real world is a mystery, life actually becomes much easier. We can stop pretending to ourselves that really we do know. This in turn enables us to do away with what is probably one of the most destructive myths that has ever been created. This is the myth of control. According to this myth, we are meant to be the masters, rulers and conqueror of the world, for which Mother Nature is nothing but the drum upon which we hammer out the rhythm of our conquest. And as the people of society, we are all supposed to march in perfect lockstep to its insane rhythm.
However, when faced with the reality of the world mystery, the myth of control then collapses. How can we exert control upon a world that in all likelihood is infinite and eternal? How can we be conquerors of a world which we know virtually nothing about it? Clearly it is time to give up on this illusion of control. And as we do so, return to that inquisitive state that many of us enjoyed as children. Back then we all lived in and as a part of the real world. As such our world was not only full of mystery, it was also very strange. Think back to the strangeness of learning about the humps on a camel, or the elephant with that long trunk for a nose. Or how about the strangeness of eating, stuffing things into a hole in our face? We could not have invented any of this even if we tried.
The real world is strange, but it is within this strangeness that a lot of its charm lies. Consequently, to reduce the world and everything in it to a known quantity, just to be able to control it, accomplishes only one thing. It kills off the mystery of the world. And as this mystery extends to probably 99% of it, this then leads to a catastrophic loss of all sense of reality. Accompanied by the closing off and dulling of our mind and senses, the mystery then becomes forgotten and as a consequence, the world loses its sparkle, colour and magic.
The fact is that the real world is not going anywhere. It has always been there and always will be. Knowing this, we then become free to begin participating in the world mystery again, like eager, inquisitive children. And rather than trying to control the world, instead we can learn to become one with it and by doing so, re-find ourselves as a part of the great harmony of the infinite and eternal whole.
THE CARTESIAN SPLIT
When facing up to the mystery of the real world however, we do need to take some care. We cannot just rush into it. This is because most of us have been brought up in almost complete obliviousness to the real world. And in its place we have all been spoon-fed the illusion of certainties. Consequently, when we allow our mind to expand beyond the limits of the illusory world that had formerly held our mind captive, it can be rather unnerving. For we are then confronted with the mystery of the all, the absolute, that vast whole which embraces everything of which we are a part.
Although unnerving, there is encouragement to be gained from the fact that the human body already works as a part of the real world, as indeed do its various systems. Any problems we have relating to the real world therefore, lie not with our body, but with the distorted screens of perception of a mind that is no longer in proper alignment with the real world. An important part of this is the Cartesian split. Based on Descartes’ famous axiom I think and therefore I am, this presumes an automatic state of separation between ourselves as observer and the world as the observed.
The result is a mind state, today considered to be the norm, which amounts to nothing but a state of total alienation from the real world. This state of alienation in its turn, then leads to the slow agonizing death of the human spirit that we see all around us today. In truth, there is no split or division between ourselves and the real world. The real world is one and we ourselves, are one with the real world. In this sense we are all rather like waves of the ocean. Although we see ourselves to be separate, ultimately we are all a part of the ocean itself.
What this means is that when we go to bed at night and dream, because we are used to seeing ourselves as being somehow separate from the real world, we think of ourselves as ‘dreaming’. However, when we dream we are simply entering the dreaming whereby the presence of the real world then makes itself known to us. Informing us of what we might need to do to realign ourselves with the real world, the dreaming is consequently just as much a part of the real world, as are the trees, the mountains and the moon that shines over the lake.
Now physically, we cannot just separate ourselves from the real world. This is very fortunate, because it means that whatever happens, we can always use our body to help bring us back into contact with the real world. We can eat and enjoy a meal. We can breathe deep of that fresh, mountain air. We can drink cool water from the spring. Or we can just sit there, enjoying that feeling of belonging that we get when sitting on the mountain side. All of these are real and all of these are vital parts of the real world.
However, if our thoughts, perceptions and feelings are not in alignment with the real world, we will then sense an unfortunate state of disharmony within us. In such a state, we will then find ourselves to be strangers, not only to the real world, but even to ourselves. This is because, seeing ourselves to be separate from the real world, we mentally isolate ourselves from it. From that isolated position the real world can then appear to us as being rather empty, cold and hostile. However, have you ever thought that it is not the real world that is hostile to us? It is more that, thinking of ourselves as being isolated from the real world, we then become like a bubble of air in water, confined and isolated by the rejecting presence.
This I suppose, is a kind of hell. It is to live in a state of exile from the tremendous majesty, wonder and inspiration of the real world. Yet this state of isolation is not actually necessary. We can realign ourselves mentally with the real world right now. Towards this end, imagine waking up in the morning to find yourself part of something that was so vast and incredible that your mind could not even contain the wonder and beauty of it all. And then ponder the fact thatthis is not a hypothetical possibility. It is simply the reality of the real world of which we are a part. Who could not be inspired and uplifted by this? And who would not want to become an enlightened citizen of that world?
Once we have recognized the real world for what it is, we then arrive at a very fortunate position. We may put ourselves forward as students of the real world. And this is what it means to be a student of the liberal arts. They are liberal because the study of them will free our minds to the point where we can then re-establish a powerful heartfelt connection with the real world. Through that connection, we may then learn for ourselves all of the incredible lessons that the real world has to teach us. And what better teacher could we ask for than the universe itself?
An important part of this learning process is the acquisition of discernment, whereby we become able to distinguish truth from falsehood. From this sense of discernment then comes knowledge and from this knowledge, then comes illumination. However, strange as it may seem, a great deal of this knowledge cannot be taught to us. This is because we already have it. What we have forgotten is how to access it.
How could we possibly lack knowledge when we ourselves are a part of the real world? As metaphorical ‘waves of the ocean’, each one of us contains within ourselves a complete knowledge of the ocean that bears us. This is because we are the real world and each one of us is a window through which the real world shines. Therefore our very lives stand upon a tremendous platform of knowledge that we ourselves can then learn to access.
Of course it is with this latter that the problem lies. How can we access the tremendous wealth of knowledge that is freely available to us. The secret here is not chasing after this knowledge, but simply watching, listening and contemplating the real world with a clear, still and open mind. If we can learn to do this we will then begin re-establishing our mental connection with the real world again. And in ways which at first might seem inexplicable, the real world will then begin to guide, teach and help us. As a result we will then find ourselves beginning to awaken to the tremendous wealth of knowledge that is already within us.
For this purpose we need absolutely nothing except for our own natural faculties, which are of course our mind, feelings and senses. Coupled with the innate powers of our own human consciousness, these are the greatest treasures that we possess and they are also the tools that we can use to regain a knowledge of the real world.
Because we already have this knowledge, we cannot rely or depend upon anybody else in our search for it. We must find our own path to it. If not, we will then find ourselves running down this path and running down that path but without actually making any clear progress. This is because we are no longer pursuing our own path, but instead trying to walk the path of another. Being alone in this search however, is not a weakness, but a strength. By accepting the responsibility for it, we will then acquire the necessary resolve and determination to unlock the knowledge that we need. This in turn will then help us to come into full occupation of our own true power as individuals.
Bear in mind that, so far as the illusory world is concerned, we are no more than a name, a number, a resource, an employee, or a source of labour. So far as the real world is concerned however, each one of us is an absolutely unique individual that has never passed this way before and never will again. As such, one of the greatest treasures that we can ever have is that unique individuality. It is the true stamp of our greatness as human beings and as such, should be a source of pride to all of us. However, we do need to be prepared to accept the gift of that individuality and, rather than trying to hide or mask it in order to blend in as a part of the crowd, instead learn to stand up for and promote it.
So for the moment at least, let’s forget what our peers are saying, forget what the newspapers are saying, forget the messages that television tries to put across. Instead let us recognize the unique gift of our individuality and in doing so, begin to discern for ourselves that one reality that has been ever-present throughout the ages. A reality that never changes, never fluctuates and never dims. Ever-present, eternal, everywhere. What more could we ask for? What else could our mind need? A world of infinite and eternal beauty, awaiting only our recognition of it.
A HERITAGE IN THREE PARTS
By doing so, it will soon become apparent that we are the rightful heirs to the most tremendous natural heritage. And again, strange as it may seem, this heritage occurs in three main parts. The first and most magnificent part is our universal heritage. Born forth upon the tides and currents of universal life, the whole world moves and shines through us. Coming from and being a part of the real world, we are thus its true inheritors.
As such, through the simple fact of our birth, each one of us inherits the whole world, should we choose to take up that inheritance. Naturally, this inheritance is not to be dismissed lightly. After all, what is the real world of which we are a part? It is the veritable source of everything, everywhere, including ourselves. It is also our future, for the simple reason that the real world is all that was, is now and always will be.
The second part of our heritage is planetary. We are an evolving branch of the tree of life that includes everything that lives upon the planet Earth. Have you ever thought about how much knowledge this position endows with? We each contain within ourselves the aggregated wisdom of the whole tree, of which our species is the sum. This wisdom we call instinct. It is the primal inborn knowledge that betrays our organic origins as a part of the tree of life.
Moreover, due to our unique situation as an advanced organic species, we are the natural stewards of the garden in which this tree of life grows. This garden is the Great Mother Earth and we are its inheritors. What therefore shall we do with this most tremendous part of our heritage?
The third part of our heritage is human and takes the form of that tremendous body of wisdom that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors. Locked up and stored in all of the great works of art and literature that have been built up over the ages, this is the heritage which can make us all as wise as our ancestors were.
A heritage in three parts, within which sits the wisdom of the whole world. Who can complain?
In the first two posts I introduced the liberal arts and discussed various features connected with them. However, I have not yet discussed how a person might best begin their own study of the liberal arts. In this post, therefore, I will be considering this very important question. One of the most important features of the liberal arts is the recognition of the individual as a free and independent centre of mind and consciousness. Towards this end, imagine sitting in a forest under the shelter of an old oak tree, looking out upon the woodland before you. As you sit there contemplating the natural beauty of the forest around you, surprising as it may seem, you are already in possession of all of the main tools that you will need for the study of the liberal arts.
These tools are yourself, your mind and those tremendous natural faculties that the universe has endowed you with the use of. And the true magic of the liberal arts is that they will show us how to use these in order to begin to unfold our deepest potential.
Although this sounds straightforward, there is more to it than meets the eye. First, it is necessary to take stock of our natural faculties and the capabilities that they then extend to us. Second, it is a matter of taking steps to maximise our use of those faculties. For this reason, a study of the liberal arts best begins with the acquisition of a certain amount of self-knowledge. This entails coming to a reasonable understanding of who and what we are, together with the various faculties, systems and processes that we are fortunate to have the use of.
Relevant to this is the fact that although each one of us counts as an individual in our own right, we are all, nonetheless, but miniscule parts of that much greater whole that is the real world. At this point, therefore, let us ask a key question. What does it mean for us to be a part of the real world? Most of us know what it is like to be a part of the human world. And although this world can seem to us to be all embracing, it is, nonetheless, a rather limited world.
Fewer people seem to have cognisance of what it is like to be a part of the planetary world. Embracing all life upon the planet Earth, this is the world of our planetary host, referred to by ancient spiritual traditions as Mother Earth. Beginning, perhaps, with James Lovelock’s, Gaia hypothesis, there is an increasing recognition among the various peoples of the world, that in universal terms, the earth counts as a living being in her own right. This represents a welcome alternative to the view of the planet earth as being nothing more than a ball of dead rock that has somehow become ‘infested’ with life. And it is welcome because as a part of the real world, such views do no more than to depreciate the earth and everything that lives thereupon.
So, let us instead be sensible about this. Whether a living being or not, the planet Earth is certainly part of something that is so vast and incredible that it literally goes beyond our comprehension. This is the shimmering mystery of the real world, the first or original causes of which have intrigued every thinking person since the beginnings of human history. That the beauty and wonder of the green earth,, is all a part and parcel of this wonderful mystery, means that questions surrounding the true nature of Mother Earth will only be properly answered once we know more about this tremendous mystery. Consequently, in the meantime we can only conjecture or hypothesise in terms of what might or might not be.
Fewer people still, have cognisance of the real world which is the universe conceived as a vast whole. Referred to by Plato as the true, the good and the beautiful, an enlightened consciousness of this world represents one of the ultimate aims of the practice of the liberal arts. However, in the meantime, there is nothing to stop us trying to gain some kind of sensibility of the real world. Towards this end, cast your mind upon it and try to gain a sense of the fabulous depths of its timeless mystery. As you do so, allow your mind to rise up into the vast open spaces. You will soon realise that the real world is so utterly vast that it does indeed go beyond our comprehension.
When you do contemplate the real world, try not to make the same mistake that many others have made. This is to see the real world as something that is outside and separate to them. This is a mistake because we are all a part of the real world. Therefore, when envisaging the real world, do not forget to bring yourself into the equation. When you do so, you will soon realize that at the very heart of this tremendous world mystery lies you yourself. And what does this self say? It says very clearly I AM.
However, we cannot, like the god of Moses, say I AM THAT I AM, for to say that would be to imply that we are self-created. Very clearly we are not. We are a result of sequential causes linked to the species of which we are a part. Because of this, we are all very much dependent upon the support of those other worlds that I have already mentioned, which are the human and planetary worlds. Therefore, to understand ourselves and our own capabilities we first need to consider the way in which these worlds do support and uphold our existence. As this is an important issue let us consider it further.
THE FOUR CHANNELS
As human beings it is very clear that we are not gods and we are not immortal beings, at least not in the way in which we ordinarily understand these words. We are all a part of but one of the many organic species that are hosted by the planet Earth. As such, whether we like it or not, we are all utterly dependent upon the support of worlds that are greater than ourselves in the universal scheme of things. This, then, brings us on to an important question. How, and in what way, do these worlds support us? This they do through four essential channels. As you may not have heard of these before, let me now explain what these are.
The first channel concerns the solid foods that we need to eat to survive. These are consumed, broken down and what is needed from them is then absorbed by our body, the rest being expelled as waste.
The second channel is similar to the first, although it deals in a different kind of matter. Because our body is by majority fluid, we need to be able to replace those fluids, which is done through drinking.
The third channel deals in a finer form of matter still. It takes the form of breathing. Because our body needs air to survive we need to be able to inhale and exhale gaseous matters.
Notice that each of the three channels so far mentioned deals with a certain state of matter: the first deals with solids, the second fluids and the third gaseous matter. As this is clearly a logical progression, this then gives us our vital clue to understand the nature of the fourth channel.
The fourth channel takes the form of impressions that we receive through our five senses, each of which deals in impressions pertaining to certain stimuli:
through the sense of sight we take in visual impressions
through hearing we take in aural impressions
through the sense of smell we take in olfactory impressions
through the sense of taste we take in sapid impressions
through the sense of touch we take in tactile sensations.
Note that this fourth channel – sensory impressions – belongs to an altogether different order than the other three. Making use of the nervous system and brain, it handles those much finer electrical matters that still provide us with a vital form of nourishment, but this time not for the body, but for the mind and all that our mind is a gateway to. In simple terms our mind ‘eats’ the experience that we receive through the senses, rather in the same way that our body eats, say, grains and vegetables.
In this context colour, sound, fragrance, flavour and sensation are not just sources of information. They are a vital source of nourishment for the mind. After all, who does not gain edification from the sight of a majestic sunset, the sound of beautiful music, the taste of fine food or the wonderful fragrance emanating from a flower-filled garden on a summer’s eve?
As such, the real world supports and maintains us through four possible channels each of which deals in a certain type of food: solid food, liquids, air and sensory impressions. All four of these are absolutely essential for life. We could not survive without solid food for more than, say, a few weeks; we could not survive without water for more than few days; we could not survive without air for more than a few minutes and, surprising though it may seem, we could not survive without sensory impressions for more than even a single second.
For students of the liberal arts, these four channels offer vital indications of what is possible for us and why. They also help to guide us towards the making of choices that facilitate, rather than obstruct, our further growth as human beings. Therefore, for example, while we all understand the need to eat healthy, wholesome and nourishing food; to drink plenty of clean, fresh water and to breathe fresh unpolluted air, liberal arts students also apply this concern to the electrical impressions taken in through the senses.
This is for the simple reason that all four of these channels help to maintain our own individual sense of health and well-being. The first three channels do this with respect to the body, while the last channel which deals in impressions, does this for the mind. Consequently, to be able to maintain a healthy body and mind, we need to make sure that we are receiving the right quality of nourishment upon all four levels.
For some people this idea might come across as being curious – that the quality of impressions that we take in through our senses can have a direct impact upon our state of health. However, a little thought will soon convince us of the truth of this. Spending too long in an ugly, squalid environment can easily have a deleterious effect upon our mind state. A good example of this is the sprawling decay of many urban environments, which often lacking any sense of colour or beauty of form, do nothing but to sap our spirits.
On the other hand, if we find ourselves surrounded by stunning scenes of natural beauty, the complete opposite can then occur. We will find ourselves being uplifted by the tremendous natural beauty that is all around us.
Now, it could easily be argued that what seems ugly to one person might seem beautiful to another. But the point in this case, is not to try to establish some kind of objective scale of beauty. The point is the feelings that are being engendered in us by our environment. If these are positive, uplifting feelings they indicate that the impressions we are receiving through our senses are providing our mind with the right kind of food. Which, of course, is why we all love listening to good music, or hearing inspired poetry. It is why we love to look at beautiful artworks and to eat food that does not just taste good, but it also smells good and looks attractive to the eye.
DOORS OF PERCEPTION
Now, it has sometimes been said that our whole lives are essentially meaningless and that any attempt to find some kind of meaning is simply a psychological defect on our part. However, anybody who says, thinks or believes this is somebody who has forgotten how to make use of their senses. Each one of us is a part of the real world and through the electrical impressions that we receive through our senses we can each establish a powerful life-affirming connection with the real world.
This, in itself, establishes a powerful lever of meaning from the very start. We can learn more about the real world in which we are participating and as a result become wiser and more enlightened beings. Now, while I respect the right of anybody to declare that their life is essentially meaningless, for me, at least, this quest for knowledge, understanding and wisdom fills my life with such a tremendous sense of wonder, purpose and inspiration that whatever anybody else might say, I say yes to that!
However, in order to access these wonders, we do need to recognise that, due to the way in which we live out our lives, many of us have more or less lost our vital sense of connection with the real world. One of the consequences of this is that we no longer tend to appreciate the absolutely vital work that our senses do in enabling us to make a direct connection with it.
Because of this, not only are our senses not working as efficiently as they could be, but we ourselves are not properly engaging with the work that they do for us. Think what an eye does, of the incredible displays of colour, shade and form that we are privileged to witness through use of our eyes. Our eyes are so amazing, that if we viewed them as a technology, we would consider this to be the most amazing technology that the world had ever invented.
In this context, the full range of our sensory capabilities is, of course, absolutely tremendous. And, it is well worth time examining our sensory endowments as if they were a technology. How much would you pay for a pair of eyes if you didn’t have them? How much would you pay to actually be able to taste the flavour of your food? All of these are clearly priceless.
This knowledge, then, reflects back on the notion of each one of us being an independent centre of mind and consciousness. Our sense of consciousness is clearly supported and sustained by the continual flow of the electrical impressions that we take in through our senses. This gives to our consciousness the facility of what is, in effect, one of the most amazing sensing and detection mechanisms that it is possible to imagine.
Admitted, our senses do have limitations. We cannot just zoom in and look much more closely at something. Neither can we apply volume gain to our sense of hearing. Yet, despite these shortcomings, we have all been endowed with the most incredible sensing capabilities that, if you did have to pay for them, would literally cost you the earth.
Now, I am sure you have heard the phrase ‘doors of perception’ as popularised by writer, Aldus Huxley. Our senses are just such doors of perception through which can flow all of the wonder, majesty and beauty of the real world. However, unlike Huxley with his mescaline experiments, we do not need drugs to maximise their potential. We simply need to engage our mind properly with the work of our senses. When we do this we will then find ourselves living in a fresh, new inspiring world.
This, then, introduces us to the possibilities that we all have for natural learning. This is learning, not by way of textbooks filled with pre-formulated ideas and theories, but directly for oneself through the full and unmitigated use of one’s senses. Backed up by the light of our own consciousness, this sphere of natural learning will introduce us to all of the wonderful mysteries of the real world, all there waiting for us to experience them for ourselves.
However, given our upbringing, education and way of life to date, there are numerous obstacles that might stand in the way of this. One such obstacle is that we have been taught not to properly trust our senses any more and, as a consequence, we often pay very little heed to what they are telling us. Instead, we have been taught to heed only the voice of authority, in whatever form that this might take.
Because of this, we can then find ourselves in a curious situation where our senses might be telling us one thing, the voice of authority another. This is a very dangerous position to find ourselves in, for it basically means that we can be coerced into subscribing to a false or distorted view of reality whose terms are being dictated by the voice of that authority. The threat of this is, of course, very real. After all, if you can coerce a person to affirm something that is in complete denial of what their senses are telling them, you can then, effectively, take command of their entire world view.
Another such obstacle is peer pressure. Although our senses might be relaying to us accurate information about our situation, if this information is not confirmed by others, we can be tempted to deny what our own natural faculties are telling us. In this way do we often deny our own cognisance of reality in favour of the collective view of our peers.
Another such obstacle is our habitual state of mind. When assessing this it is difficult not to be blunt. Basically, we have allowed ourselves to fall asleep to the incredible reality of the real world of which we are a part. This state of sleep manifests as a certain mental torpor that, in one way or another, brings all of our higher possibilities to a gradual state of arrest. This amounts to a state of mass hypnotic subjugation that, if we are not careful, then turns us into the very zombies that so fascinate us when we see them in films.
Now, in looking for a remedy for all of this, it would be a mistake to try to apportion blame to anyone or anything for this situation. It would also be a mistake to resent what has been happening. After all, we do all of this completely out of our own free choice. Consequently, the first remedy is to actually take responsibility for our own states of mind. However, to be able to do so, we then need to understand how our own mind is working.
Generally speaking, rather than being focused upon the amazing work of our senses, we tend to focus on anything but. I have been in the most incredible situations, amid scenes of breath-taking beauty and seen people sitting there, completely oblivious to it, absorbed instead thinking about some past event, or perhaps worrying about trivial and unimportant things, or maybe feeling anxious about the future, or rehearsing what they are going to say to so and so when they see them.
Fortunately, there is a powerful cure for all of this. It is to begin to wake up and learn how to use our senses properly again. What this means is don’t just look, but instead learn how to truly see again. Don’t just hear, but instead learn how to truly listen. Towards this end, imagine being the first person to arrive upon a new planet. As you stepped out of the craft onto the surface of this new planet, think what your state of mind would be like.
You would not be daydreaming, or thinking about something that happened to you last year. And you certainly would not be checking Facebook posts on your mobile phone. Instead, your mind would be completely and utterly focused upon what your senses were telling you. You would, consequently, enjoy an acuteness and sharpness of mind that would be a pleasure to experience. This enhanced mind-state would, then, cause that experience to register in your mind as a true peak experience, something that was notable, memorable and capable of causing irrevocable change within you.
However, we do not need to land upon a new world to cause this sharp and alert mind state. We already live in a world that is so utterly beautiful and awe-inspiring that it could totally transform us if we would let it. This process of transformation is kick-started by getting in contact with our senses again and, as a result, being present for what we are experiencing. What this means is that if we eat, say, an orange, we allow our mind to focus fully upon the experience of eating that orange. We consciously experience its taste, we observe its shape, colour and form, feel its textures with our fingers, listen to the sound that occurs when we peel it and enjoy its beautiful and distinctive fragrance.
When we do learn to do this we will find our mind starts to get the nourishment that it so vitally needs. The exhilarating feeling that this produces is very noticeable. It is called awakening. The result will be the beginning of a process of internal growth and transformation which, in the end, will become our greatest joy. And it all begins by getting into contact with our senses again.
Through doing this, we will find that our senses will begin to sharpen up, which in turn will have the effect of heightening our perception. Colours will seem to be more vivid, sounds will reveal subtle frequencies we never even noticed before, fragrances will begin to completely uplift us, while the textures that we feel on our skin will become much more fascinating and evocative.
The key to this is, basically, focus. Think about a cat when it is hunting. Every one of its senses is focused totally upon the task to hand. This state of absorption is often so complete that if you suddenly break the cat’s concentration the cat can appear startled. Here, I am grateful for the fact that the recent fad for mindfulness has prepared the way for a lot of this. After all, what does it mean to be mindful? It means being present and focusing upon what your senses are telling you.
By focusing upon the work of our senses in this way, with a still, yet completely alert mind, we will also begin to learn an incredible amount about people, places, nature and, in fact, everything we encounter. Our experiences will also be much more vivid, our energy levels will be heightened, we will enjoy everything so much more and it will generally provide us with such a boost that we will look back and wonder why we did not try it before.
So, let us now return to the picture of ourselves sitting under the shelter of an old oak tree in a beautiful forest. As we sit there, we look out upon the tremendous beauty that is all around us. We listen to the birds singing, the sound of the stream in the distance and we breathe deep of the fresh forest air. Now, if while sitting there, we focus our mind not upon our own rambling thoughts, but only upon the tremendous beauty that is all around us, we will suddenly find that within us, there is a growing sense of serenity.
At this point, gone will be the worries and the cares, gone will be the anxieties and feelings of foreboding. Instead, there will be nothing but the beauty of that old forest coupled with a growing sense of peace and stillness within. If you then go into that feeling of peace and stillness, you will then find that it has a very distinctive feel to it. It is a beautiful serene and uplifting presence. That feeling of presence is the beginnings of our apprehension of the real world.
Now, the curious thing about this, as anybody who has experienced it will confirm, is that this presence seems to be instructive in its nature. What I mean by this, is that if we spend enough time with it, we will then find ourselves learning from it. This is because it is in effect our greatest teacher – which is the presence of the real world itself.
This is natural learning at its very best – quieting the mind, alerting the senses and then absorbing valuable learning from the real world that is everywhere around and within us. And this is not even considering how it then gets even better. This is when we realise that, sitting there underneath the shelter of that old oak tree, we are actually a part of the beautiful blue planet earth, which, in galactic terms is but a twinkling blue orb gracefully and serenely undertaking her own journey through the infinite depths of the eternal void of space.
How much more perfect could it actually become? Perhaps the mountains might be a touch taller, or the oceans a bit deeper. Maybe the shade of white of the passing clouds might be purer, or the sky could be a deeper shade of blue! Perhaps the luscious peaches that grow upon the trees could be sweeter! Or how about the delicate beauty of the earth upon which grow the colourful flowers of early summer. How might we improve these do you think? Now, surprising as it may seem, this is where the study of the liberal arts actually begins. It begins with ourselves and our own use of the incredible faculties with which we have been born.
In today’s society, there is a great interest in subjects such as personal development, self-improvement, self-actualisation, self-realisation, self-cultivation and many other similar sounding subjects, whose main focus is the exploration of the extraordinarily rich field of human potential. If you, yourself, have any interest in these subjects, please read on because the liberal arts that I introduced in my first talk, were just such a system of self-realisation. Therefore, their main concern was, and still is, the fulfillment of the remarkable potential that we all have, to become wiser and more enlightened beings.
One of the great features of these arts is that being truly liberal, there is no sense of conformity required when studying them. As such, feel free to disagree with everything I might ever say about them. This is because they are, essentially, the arts of the free person. This means that when you study the liberal arts, there are no dogmatic principles that you must adhere to.
Let me say, though, that unless you grasp one of the first principles of the liberal arts, they will probably never really make much sense to you. Although we touched upon this principle in our introductory talk, it now needs to be discussed in some more detail. When we study the liberal arts, we do so as the central point and purpose of them all. Towards this end, imagine a circle at the centre of which is a tiny point.
Think of that tiny point as being you, the self – nestled safely within your own circle of mind and intelligence. Now, the general aim of the liberal arts is to inspire, inform and illumine that self such that it can then grow and expand. This, in itself, means something very special. By grow and expand, I mean transcend all perceived limits, embrace all possibilities and in the end, come to a profound realisation of the infinite capacity of the self. Continue reading “2 The Light Of Self”
In the Vatican there is a spectacular fresco by Italian Renaissance artist, Raphael, called the School of Athens. Therein are portrayed some of the most notable and learned people of the ancient world. Imagine if we ourselves could receive an education on a par with some of the distinguished figures portrayed in this famous artwork, people such as mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos, remembered today for his theorem of that name; or perhaps the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, depicted in the fresco with his pupil, Aristotle; or even one of the most learned and esteemed women of the ancient world, Hypatia of Alexandria.
Well, fortunately, we can. All of these people I just mentioned and a host of others, were informed by a life-long commitment to the study and practice of the liberal arts. Consisting of a varied spectrum of different subject areas, a typical spread consisted of the subjects of grammar, logic, rhetoric, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic and music.
I first came across the liberal arts when I realised my own education had left me short of certain vital skills that I wanted to learn. One such skill was logic. Although my formal education had been eager to teach me what to think, it never really taught me how to think.. So, like many people, I set out to learn how to think on my own account.
Fortunately, in doing so, I then learned more about the liberal arts, for which the skills of logic and reason were always central. I also discovered that the liberal arts were a literal treasure trove of ancient wisdom. A treasure trove that we should all have access to. Hence this site, whose main purpose is to point out some of these treasures.
Of course, I am not alone in pointing out the benefits of studying the ancient liberal arts. The author, Dorothy Sayers, was doing this over sixty years ago. In her Oxford University address, The Lost Tools of Learning,she lamented the fact that the liberal arts were no longer valued or appreciated. And what she said about this is just as pertinent today.
“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?”
How much worse has it become today? Basically, we are awash in such a tide of ‘fake news’ that nobody seems to know what is true or false any more. And what is perhaps alarming is that nobody seems to care. Naturally, this puts us in a very difficult position. To live out our lives as informed people, we need access to reliable sources of information. Yet, where are they to be found?
In some ways this is good because it forces us to fall back on our own resources. And to do so, we then need to sharpen up our skills of logic and reason. Having done so, the fakery of many of the arguments with which we are presented today will soon become apparent.
PLATO ON THE LIBERAL ARTS
Logic, however, is just one of the delightful treasures of the liberal arts. In addition to logic, there is also a great deal more. To appreciate how, though,we will now need to take a closer look at the liberal arts, beginning first of all, with the spread of subjects associated with them. At one time there were seven of these subjects whose names have already been mentioned.
However, when you hear about subjects such as grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry or astronomy, try not to assume that you know much about them. This is because in every single case, those subject terms referred to something that was radically different to what we would think today. Proof of this can be found in The Republic, a philosophical work written over two thousand years ago by Greek philosopher, Plato.
As you probably know, the Republic basically sets forth Plato’s vision for an ideal world. Now, while you might not necessarily agree with Plato’s particular vision, he did write about the importance of studying some of the subjects that I just mentioned. One such subject was arithmetic — the very thought of which probably takes you back to your schooldays!
We all think we know what arithmetic means. It means doing sums and calculations or perhaps learning multiplication tables by rote. Or at least this is the arithmetic that I was taught. But before we dismiss this subject out of hand, why would such a deep thinker recommend the study of arithmetic?
Is it because he wanted the citizens of his ideal world to be skilled at sums? I don’t think so. This is because the arithmetic that Plato refers to in the Republic is not the arithmetic that we know. The proof of this is where Plato states one of the purposes behind the study of arithmetic. It was to enable the student:
“to rise up out of the sea of change and lay hold of true being.”(1)
This, of course, is a curious statement. How does laying hold of true being tally with your understanding of what arithmetic is? Here, Plato is referring to the possibility for an elevation of human consciousness achieved through no more than the study of arithmetic. This is totally fascinating, because whatever Plato is referring to, he is certainly not talking about the arithmetic that I was taught in school.
However, it then gets more interesting. This is where he writes about geometry. Now, I don’t know about you, but even the word itself takes me back to math classes. Do you remember being asked to work out the area of a circle by multiplying the square of its radius by pi?
However, Plato again says something very provocative about this subject.
“The knowledge of which geometry aims is a knowledge of the eternal” (2)
Here,Plato seems to be implying that through the study of geometry it is possible to gain a glimpse of eternal knowledge. What, I am caused to ask, does geometry have to do with eternal knowledge? Clearly, whatever Plato is talking about, he is certainly NOT talking about the geometry that I was taught in school. He also talks about astronomy. Here, he also says something remarkable.
“In every person there is an eye of the soul which, when by other pursuits is lost and dimmed, is by these purified and reillumined; and is more precious far than ten thousand bodily eyes, for by it alone is truth seen.!” (3)
This, again, is a very mysterious and enigmatic statement. What does Plato mean by eye of the soul? Presumably, he is referring to the power of the human imagination. It is, after all, our imagination that gives us that faculty of inner lucidity that then enables us to be able to conceive of new ideas, new possibilities and new ways of looking at things. There is also a hint in what he is saying of the pineal gland, which the seventeenth century philosopher, Descartes, later took to be the very seat of the human soul. Here, it is notable that in the East, the pineal gland is associated with the third eye, a spiritual faculty that when activated, is, indeed, said to produce a profound state of inner lucidity.
However we care to interpret what Plato is saying,I think I have made my point. When thinking about the various subjects of the liberal arts, we cannot just assume that we know what those subjects are actually about. This is because, in absolutely every single case, they meant something totally different to what we think today. And when we discover what they do mean, we can be absolutely stunned.
I certainly was when I learned about the ancient liberal arts. What really amazed me, was finding out that these subjects weren’t just taught to educate and inform. Their true purpose was to illuminate the mind, to light it up like a great shining lamp. And whatever anybody else might say of this, I say yes to that.
THE FIRST LIBERAL ART: GRAMMAR
Well, having whetted your appetite we’ll now look more closely at the liberal arts. And by doing this, let’s begin the study of grammar as a liberal art. But wait… again…. We cannot just assume that we know what this word is referring to! This is because as a liberal art, grammar refers to something that is totally different to what we might suspect.
As a liberal art, grammar provides the very key to the human mind. It can open up the portals of true understanding.And, in the end, the study of grammar can lead to a deep and powerful transformation of our mind and consciousness. This is for the simple reason that grammar is founded upon the tremendous power of the word. A power that is so incredible that it is difficult not to get excited about it. Providing, of course, that we do not conflate the liberal art of grammar, with the schoolroom subject of grammar that we learned as children.
There is a great deal of difference between them. Such a difference, in fact, that like the other subjects of the liberal arts, we are then left wondering. Why did nobody ever tell us this? Why were we not taught this vital information? Bearing this in mind, let us now remedy this. And delve in to the tremendous power of the word.
As a gateway into this, think back to all of the great creation myths of the world. Is it any coincidence that many of these attribute the creation of the world to the utterance of a certain word or words? A brilliant example of this is the ancient Egyptian deity, Thoth, scribe of the gods, who was believed to have uttered the words that brought the world into being. Another good example is the intriguing Eastern concept of Nada Brahma, the divine sound, associated with the vocable OM, whose vibrations it was believed, provided the underlying substratum for the world and everything in it. And then, of course, there is the concept of the logos, the divine reason as expressed by a certain word or words. ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with god and the word was god.’ So begins the epic gospel of St John.
Today, we have been taught to take these accounts literally. And, as a result, to either believe or not believe them, as the case may be. However, we have now forgotten that all of these ancient accounts were composed to function upon numerous levels, of which the literal is merely one such level. As such, there is often a lot more to them than meets the eye.
To discover this for ourselves, however, we need to learn how to read through the lines as it were. This is done, not by taking them literally, but by looking for their deeper levels of meaning. When we do this, we realise that they are not just telling us how it was thought the world was created. They are also offering an insight into the tremendous power of the word.
They are implying that words can function as powerful creative agencies through the use of which each one of us can aquire a great deal of power. And, logically speaking, it is not difficult to see how or why. We can use words in order to create and express completely new ideas, concepts, understandings and in the end, we can even begin to create completely new worlds – all through the effective use of words. So, for the moment at least, let’s put all of our received ideas of the subject of grammar to one side. Let’s forget about nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions. Although a part of the subject of grammar, these are nothing but the tip of a massive iceberg most of which is hidden from our view.
Now, one of the first points to be made when studying grammar as a liberal art is this: do not take the meaning of any word or term for granted. Find out exactly what words mean. In doing so, there is the dictionary definition of a word as a first port of call. Yet, for the liberal art of grammar this is just the beginning. We also need to find out exactly what those words or terms mean for ourselves and our own lives.
Although we were probably not taught this in school, there is a very good reason for this. When we study the liberal arts we do so as the very centre of our own cosmos. This is because the general aim of the liberal arts is to unfold and develop our highest possibilities as a human being. And what is the key to those possibilities? It is of course ourselves.
For the liberal arts, this mysterious quality of self that shines out through our eyes, is never, ever dismissed. In fact, the liberal arts fully recognise that it is in fact, our greatest treasure and therefore something to be cherished, prized and above all, cultivated. As such the liberal arts recognize that the self, is actually our true source of wealth as a human being.
In this way, the liberal arts affirm a fundamental truth that we all know and experience every day of our lives. As human beings, each one of us stands at the very centre of our own circle of mind and consciousness. As such, when studying the liberal arts, we need to get used to the fact that we and our own unique possibilities are the whole point of those arts.
They were created in the first place to help us achieve the true wonders that we know that we are actually capable of achieving. This is why the meaning of words for us is so vitally important. Through the study of those words, we can open up new pathways of understanding, reconnect with the inspiring brilliance of the universe and all that is, and learn how to think for ourselves in productive, inspiring and illuminating ways. And, this all begins, surprising as it may seem, with the study of the humble subject of grammar.
WHAT IS A LIBERAL ART?
Having said this, let us now see why they were called liberal arts in the first place. First,what does the word liberal actually mean? The Online Etymology Dictionary says, ‘befitting free people, noble, generous, willing’. It also points out that the word liberal comes from the Latin liberalis which refers to ‘noble, gracious, munificent, generous people’. So, in effect, the word liberal was not being applied to the art itself. It was applied to the person who studies and practises that art.It basically states, that whoever is studying the liberal arts is doing so as a free and independent person in their own right.
We can understand the reasons for this when we bring in a historical context to the study of the liberal arts. In the distant past, when the liberal arts were taught in the great institutions of learning, three levels or types of art were recognised. There were the liberal arts, the fine arts and the servile arts.
The fine arts we all know about, among which seven were considered particularly important. These were architecture, literature, music, drama, dance, painting and sculpture. The servile arts we know less about. Certainly, their name provides a good indicator as to why we know so little about them. Today, the very idea of a servile art rankles us because it reminds us of the unfairness of a society which consisted of the haves on the one hand and the have-nots on the other. It is, of course, the have-nots who would enter into the practice of the servile arts. Curiously, at one time there were also considered to be seven categories of servile art which were agriculture, warfare, cooking, tailoring, masonry, trade and smithing.
The liberal arts, as such, were intended for the haves: the people of independent means who were counted as being free citizens. It was they who received the benefits of the liberal arts and it was they who then became enlightened by them. This is why they were called liberal, because it was the free people of society that studied them.
Today, of course, we recognise the unfairness of this, because it meant that only the fortunate few could gain the benefits of a liberal education.However, consider this. As we are now all basically counted as free citizens, it means that we are all now free to study the liberal arts. We are also, therefore, free to enjoy for ourselves the benefit of the study of those arts.
However, this prospect does raise an important question. Is it realistic to think of ourselves as being free? Do we feel free in our own person? Is our behaviour bound by conventions and social mores? Is our thinking free? Do we think for ourselves as free and independent persons? Do we even know how to think for ourselves?
Again, these are all very difficult questions to answer. They also raise some important issues. This is because there is a great deal at play in the study of the liberal arts. What is at play is ourselves and our own highest potential. Very clearly, we will never be able to fulfil that potential unless we at least begin to think of ourselves as being free. In doing so we are fortunate for the fact that our minds are still essentially private spaces. As such, we are free to think whatever we like. This, then, puts us in a prime position to study the liberal arts.
ART AND SCIENCE IN THE LIBERAL ARTS
Having considered the word liberal and what that means, let us now consider the word art and what that means in the context of the liberal arts.A good way to do this is to contrast the word art with the word science. For the ancient liberal arts, science boils down to a very simple dialectic principle. There is the knower, which is ourselves, and there is that which can be known. Consequently, if there is something to be known, whatever it is, it will then fall under the mantle of a certain science. Therefore, to come to a knowledge of, say, arithmetic, is at the same time, to acquire an understanding of the science of arithmetic.
Because of this, the liberal arts embrace a much broader view of science than we are used to. They also accept as valid, subjects that modern science might easily be tempted to dismiss. A brilliant example of this is herbalism, the knowledge of herbs and their medicinal qualities.
For the liberal arts, herbalism counts as a beautiful, ancient and noble science. After all, herbalism was around for thousands of years before modern science ever began. And characteristic of it, were two fundamental positions which, even today, nobody in their right mind could actually deny. The first is that herbs do have medicinal qualities. The second is that there are ways of coming to a sound knowledge of those qualities. For the ancient liberal arts, this qualifies herbalism as being a valid science.
Let me say, though, I’m not ‘dissing’ modern science – as founded upon today’s more rigorous scientific method. Science is fantastic. I am just pointing out that for the liberal arts, there was a different take on science. This is because for the liberal arts, the mind and consciousness of the knower were always central. However, for modern science, mind and consciousness are often dismissed as being nothing but epi-phenomenon generated by our bodily chemistry.
This brings us back to our original question – use of the word art, in contrast to the word science. While in the liberal arts, science concerns that which can be known, art concerns that which can be done. This view also leads to a much broader idea of art than is typical of our modern society. From a liberal arts standpoint, anything that can feasibly be done can count as an art in its own right. This includes cooking, gardening, writing, speaking, meditating, exercising, thinking and of course herbalism which we just mentioned.
In this way, if we take the ancient liberal arts on board, they pose a profound and beautiful challenge to us all. They invite us to reconnect with the very fountain of our own creative inspiration. In doing so, they then encourage us to participate in the world, not just as passive consumers, but as inspired co-creators, working towards the creation of a new and a better world for all, a world enhanced, enriched and transformed by the use of art at every possible level.
Who among us would not want that? After all, if we were all able to fulfil our creative potential we would then be able to create a world of such beauty, inspiration and uplifting that it would be enough to make the mind fairly boggle. And, seeing that in the near future, there is the very real possibility that artificial intelligence might take over most of our jobs, this idea, I think, might soon see its day again. As our jobs disappear, rather than feeling redundant, dejected or useless in the face of a new technologically driven world, we can, instead, use it as an opportunity to study the liberal arts. And, in the process, we could then help to lift the world to heights that, in the present, we only dream of.
Yet for some of the people I have met, this is not good enough for them. They point out to me that not everybody is actually creative. However, is this actually true? As far as I can see, creativity is the very essence of our species. It is just that many essential types of creativity have been ignored and sidelined by modern society. This, in turn, has led to a stereotypical view of creativity as being the exclusive province of professional artists.
However, the liberal arts show us that we can all be artists in our own right and that we all have a tremendous capacity for true artistry. To create a home is a wonderful expression of creativity. To cook a nourishing meal is also a creative act. To grow flowers in order to create a beautiful garden is also very creative. To compose a letter or an email is an act of creativity. Of course, viewed in this way, our whole lives can become one continual expression of inspired creativity. And, if anything, this is one of the most important lessons that the study of the liberal arts can teach us.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIBERAL AND FINE ARTS
Now that we understand this, let us now consider how a liberal art is different from say a fine art? Imagine a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone in order to reveal a form of exquisite beauty lying dormant, therein. There are, basically, three things involved in this process. First, there is the artist working with their tools i.e. a hammer and a chisel. Second, there is the medium through which the artist is working i.e. stone. Third, there is the final revelation of the artwork itself.
The liberal arts work in exactly the same way, except for one crucial difference. The artist and the final artwork are one and the same. Now of course, we might find it strange to start thinking of ourselves as artworks in our own right. For this purpose, we clearly need a radical rethink of what and who we are and how we actually become the way that we are.
The liberal arts show us that we are not necessarily the powerless victims of our circumstances. They show us that we need not be slaves to external forces. They show that each one of us is a unique center of mind and consciousness that literally resonates with the most tremendous creative power. This is the power to be self-determined. It is the power to direct our own destiny. It is the power to contribute to the creation of a new and inspiring world. It is the power to bring our highest aspirations into actuality.
As such, we can all be practitioners of the liberal arts. The difference is that we do not work upon blocks of stone. We work, instead, upon ourselves and our own abilities. And, by doing so, as individuals in our own right, we can then each become world movers, world shakers, world changers and world transformers.
And, the great thing about the liberal arts, is that they show us that these changes do not begin by trying to change and alter others. They begin with us, as free individuals and our own tremendous power to transform ourselves into the very picture of the enlightened person that we could all very easily become. As the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, once said:
“We are not here to save the world, we are here to save ourselves, but in doing so, we then save the world.”