I must say you have to read the book. Methinks he is on to something. I bet ya that if you read the book you will never eat meat again. 5 cents bet.
I must say you have to read the book. Methinks he is on to something. I bet ya that if you read the book you will never eat meat again. 5 cents bet.
Dreaming is an integral part of Native American’s tradition and spiritual practice.
Since childhood, they teach children to remember their dreams so they can learn to interpret them and use them as spiritual tools for guidance in life.
Native Americans have the following 7 beliefs regarding dreaming:
Ego-soul – which is embodied in the breath.
Body-soul – which gives energy to the body and life force during our waking state.
Free-soul – which is the soul that leaves the body during dreams and trances and explores the dream realm alongside the brain, while the other two souls remain attached to the body.
They believe that our mind and body don’t dream anything. Chippewa elder John Thunderbird specifically explains this in the following words:
“Your soul dreams those dreams; not your body, not your mind. Those dreams come true. The soul travels all over the world when you dream.”
They believe we can communicate with other souls, humans and even animals when our soul disconnects from our body and goes into the dream realm.
For them, the dream world is just as real as the physical world.
July 15, 2018
“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that,” cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz wrote in her inquiry into how our conditioned way of looking narrows the lens of our perception. Attention, after all, is the handmaiden of consciousness, and consciousness the central fact and the central mystery of our creaturely experience. From the days of Plato’s cave to the birth of neuroscience, we have endeavored to fathom its nature. But it is a mystery that only seems to deepen with each increment of approach. “Our normal waking consciousness,” William James wrote in his landmark 1902 treatise on spirituality, “is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”
Half a century after James, two new molecules punctured the filmy screen to unlatch a portal to a wholly novel universe of consciousness, shaking up our most elemental assumptions about the nature of the mind, our orientation toward mortality, and the foundations of our social, political, and cultural constructs. One of these molecules — lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD — was a triumph of twentieth-century science, somewhat accidentally synthesized by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the year physicist Lise Meitner discovered nuclear fission. The other — the compound psilocin, known among the Aztecs as “flesh of the gods” — was the rediscovery of a substance produced by a humble brown mushroom, which indigenous cultures across eras and civilizations had been incorporating into their spiritual rituals since ancient times, and which the Roman Catholic Church had violently suppressed and buried during the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
Together, these two molecules commenced the psychedelic revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, frothing the stream of consciousness — a term James coined — into a turbulent existential rapids. Their proselytes included artists, scientists, political leaders, and ordinary people of all stripes. Their most ardent champions were the psychiatrists and physicians who lauded them as miracle drugs for salving psychic maladies as wide-ranging as anxiety, addition, and clinical depression. Their cultural consequence was likened to that of to the era’s other cataclysmic disruptor: the atomic bomb.
And then — much thanks to Timothy Leary’s reckless handling of his Harvard psilocybin studies that landed him in prison, where Carl Sagan sent him cosmic poetry — a landslide of moral panic and political backlash outlawed psychedelics, shut down clinical studies of their medical and psychiatric uses, and drove them into the underground. For decades, academic research into their potential for human flourishing languished and nearly perished. But a small subset of scientists, psychiatrists, and amateur explorers refused to relinquish their curiosity about that potential.
The 1990s brought a quiet groundswell of second-wave interest in psychedelics — a resurgence that culminated with a 2006 paper reporting on studies at Johns Hopkins, which had found that psilocybin had occasioned “mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and significance” for terminally ill cancer patients — experiences from which they “return with a new perspective and profound acceptance.” In other words, the humble mushroom compound had helped people face the ultimate frontier of existence — their own mortality — with unparalleled equanimity. The basis of the experience, researchers found, was a sense of the dissolution of the personal ego, followed by a sense of becoming one with the universe — a notion strikingly similar to Bertrand Russell’s insistence that a fulfilling life and a rewarding old age are a matter of “[making] your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.”
More clinical experiments followed at UCLA, NYU, and other leading universities, demonstrating that this psilocybin-induced dissolution of the ego, extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve in our ordinary consciousness, has profound benefits in rewiring the faulty mental mechanisms responsible for disorders like alcoholism, anxiety, and depression.
This renaissance of psychedelics, with its broad implications for understanding consciousness and the connection between brain and mind, treating mental illness, and recalibrating our relationship with the finitude of our existence, is what Michael Pollan explores in the revelatory How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (public library). With an eye to this renaissance and the scientists using brain-imaging technology to investigate how psychedelics may illuminate consciousness, Pollan writes:
One good way to understand a complex system is to disturb it and then see what happens. By smashing atoms, a particle accelerator forces them to yield their secrets. By administering psychedelics in carefully calibrated doses, neuroscientists can profoundly disturb the normal waking consciousness of volunteers, dissolving the structures of the self and occasioning what can be described as a mystical experience. While this is happening, imaging tools can observe the changes in the brain’s activity and patterns of connection. Already this work is yielding surprising insights into the “neural correlates” of the sense of self and spiritual experience.
Pollan reflects on the psilocybin studies of cancer patients, which reignited scientific interest in psychedelics, and the profound results of subsequent studies exploring the use of psychedelics in treating mental illness, including addiction, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder:
What was most remarkable about the results… is that participants ranked their psilocybin experience as one of the most meaningful in their lives, comparable “to the birth of a first child or death of a parent.” Two-thirds of the participants rated the session among the top five “most spiritually significant experiences” of their lives; one-third ranked it the most significant such experience in their lives. Fourteen months later, these ratings had slipped only slightly. The volunteers reported significant improvements in their “personal well-being, life satisfaction and positive behavior change,” changes that were confirmed by their family members and friends.
What is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions — involving the temporary dissolution of one’s ego — that may be the key to changing one’s mind.
Pollan approaches his subject as a science writer and a skeptic endowed with equal parts rigorous critical thinking and openminded curiosity. In a sentiment evocative of physicist Alan Lightman’s elegant braiding of the numinous and the scientific, he echoes Carl Sagan’s views on the mystery of reality and examines his own lens:
My default perspective is that of the philosophical materialist, who believes that matter is the fundamental substance of the world and the physical laws it obeys should be able to explain everything that happens. I start from the assumption that nature is all that there is and gravitate toward scientific explanations of phenomena. That said, I’m also sensitive to the limitations of the scientific-materialist perspective and believe that nature (including the human mind) still holds deep mysteries toward which science can sometimes seem arrogant and unjustifiably dismissive.
Was it possible that a single psychedelic experience — something that turned on nothing more than the ingestion of a pill or square of blotter paper — could put a big dent in such a worldview? Shift how one thought about mortality? Actually change one’s mind in enduring ways?
The idea took hold of me. It was a little like being shown a door in a familiar room — the room of your own mind — that you had somehow never noticed before and being told by people you trusted (scientists!) that a whole other way of thinking — of being! — lay waiting on the other side. All you had to do was turn the knob and enter. Who wouldn’t be curious? I might not have been looking to change my life, but the idea of learning something new about it, and of shining a fresh light on this old world, began to occupy my thoughts. Maybe there was something missing from my life, something I just hadn’t named.
The root of this unnamed dimension of existence, Pollan suggests, is the inevitable narrowing of perspective that takes place as we grow up and learn to navigate the world by cataloguing its elements into mental categories that often fail to hold the complexity and richness of the experiences they name — an impulse born out of our longing for absolutes in a relative world. Psychedelics break down these artificial categories and swing open the doors of perception — to borrow William Blake’s famous phrase later famously appropriated by Aldous Huxley as the slogan of the first-wave psychedelic revolution — so that life can enter our consciousness in its unfiltered, unfragmented completeness. In consequence, we view the world — the inner world and the outer world — with a child’s eyes.
Over time, we tend to optimize and conventionalize our responses to whatever life brings. Each of us develops our shorthand ways of slotting and processing everyday experiences and solving problems, and while this is no doubt adaptive — it helps us get the job done with a minimum of fuss — eventually it becomes rote. It dulls us. The muscles of attention atrophy.
A century after William James examined how habit gives shape and structure to our lives, Pollan considers the other edge of the sword — how habit can constrict us in a prison of excessive structure, blinding us to the full view of reality:
Habits are undeniably useful tools, relieving us of the need to run a complex mental operation every time we’re confronted with a new task or situation. Yet they also relieve us of the need to stay awake to the world: to attend, feel, think, and then act in a deliberate manner. (That is, from freedom rather than compulsion.)
The efficiencies of the adult mind, useful as they are, blind us to the present moment. We’re constantly jumping ahead to the next thing. We approach experience much as an artificial intelligence (AI) program does, with our brains continually translating the data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for the relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to how to predict and navigate the future.
One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful — wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight, or virginal noticing, to which the adult brain has closed itself. (It’s so inefficient!) Alas, most of the time I inhabit a near-future tense, my psychic thermostat set to a low simmer of anticipation and, too often, worry. The good thing is I’m seldom surprised. The bad thing is I’m seldom surprised.
Psychedelics, Pollan argues, eject us from our habitual consciousness to invite a pure experience of reality that calls to mind Jeanette Winterson’s notion of “active surrender” and Emerson’s exultation in “the power to swell the moment from the resources of our own heart until it supersedes sun & moon & solar system in its expanding immensity.” Pollan arrives at this conclusion not only by surveying the history of and research on psychedelics, but by conducting a series of carefully monitored experiments on himself — he travels the world to meet with mycologists, shamans, and trained facilitators, and to experience first-hand the most potent psychedelics nature and the chemistry lab have produced, from the psilocybin mushroom to LSD to the smoked venom of a desert toad.
Together with his wife, Judith, he ingests a psilocybin mushroom he himself has picked from the woods of the Pacific Northwest with the mycologist Paul Stamets, author of the foundational guide to psilocybin mushrooms. Pollan reflects on the perplexity of the experience:
In a certain light at certain moments, I feel as though I had had some kind of spiritual experience. I had felt the personhood of other beings in a way I hadn’t before; whatever it is that keeps us from feeling our full implication in nature had been temporarily in abeyance. There had also been, I felt, an opening of the heart, toward my parents, yes, and toward Judith, but also, weirdly, toward some of the plants and trees and birds and even the damn bugs on our property. Some of this openness has persisted. I think back on it now as an experience of wonder and immanence.
The fact that this transformation of my familiar world into something I can only describe as numinous was occasioned by the eating of a little brown mushroom that Stamets and I had found growing on the edge of a parking lot in a state park on the Pacific coast — well, that fact can be viewed in one of two ways: either as an additional wonder or as support for a more prosaic and materialist interpretation of what happened to me that August afternoon. According to one interpretation, I had had “a drug experience,” plain and simple. It was a kind of waking dream, interesting and pleasurable but signifying nothing. The psilocin in that mushroom unlocked the 5-hydroxytryptamine 2-A receptors in my brain, causing them to fire wildly and set off a cascade of disordered mental events that, among other things, permitted some thoughts and feelings, presumably from my subconscious (and, perhaps, my reading too), to get cross-wired with my visual cortex as it was processing images of the trees and plants and insects in my field of vision.
Not quite a hallucination, “projection” is probably the psychological term for this phenomenon: when we mix our emotions with certain objects that then reflect those feelings back to us so that they appear to glisten with meaning. T. S. Eliot called these things and situations the “objective correlatives” of human emotion.
Pollan finds in the experience an affirmation of James’s notion that we possess different modes of consciousness separated from our standard waking consciousness by a thin and permeable membrane. The psychedelic puncturing of that membrane, he suggests, is what people across the ages have considered “mystical experiences.” But they are purely biochemical, devoid of the divine visitations ascribed to them:
I’m struck by the fact there was nothing supernatural about my heightened perceptions that afternoon, nothing that I needed an idea of magic or a divinity to explain. No, all it took was another perceptual slant on the same old reality, a lens or mode of consciousness that invented nothing but merely (merely!) italicized the prose of ordinary experience, disclosing the wonder that is always there in a garden or wood, hidden in plain sight… Nature does in fact teem with subjectivities — call them spirits if you like — other than our own; it is only the human ego, with its imagined monopoly on subjectivity, that keeps us from recognizing them all, our kith and kin.
Before this afternoon, I had always assumed access to a spiritual dimension hinged on one’s acceptance of the supernatural — of God, of a Beyond — but now I’m not so sure. The Beyond, whatever it consists of, might not be nearly as far away or inaccessible as we think.
After another psychedelic journey on the drug LSD, which left him with “a cascading dam break of love” for everyone from his wife to his grandmother to his awkward childhood music teacher, Pollan reflects on some of the things he had said during the experience, recorded by his guide, and the limitations of language in conveying the depth and dimension of the feelings stirred in him. A century after William James listed ineffability as the first of the four features of transcendent experiences, Pollan writes:
It embarrasses me to write these words; they sound so thin, so banal. This is a failure of my language, no doubt, but perhaps it is not only that. Psychedelic experiences are notoriously hard to render in words; to try is necessarily to do violence to what has been seen and felt, which is in some fundamental way pre- or post-linguistic or, as students of mysticism say, ineffable. Emotions arrive in all their newborn nakedness, unprotected from the harsh light of scrutiny and, especially, the pitiless glare of irony. Platitudes that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Hallmark card glow with the force of revealed truth.
Love is everything.
Psychedelics, Pollan’s experience suggests, can be a potent antidote to our conditioned cynicism — that habitual narrowing and hardening of the soul, to which we resort as a maladaptive coping mechanism amid the chaos and uncertainty of life, a kind of defensive cowardice reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt’s indictment that “the poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.” Half a century after psychedelics evangelist Aldous Huxley confronted our fear of the obvious with the assertion that “all great truths are obvious truths,” Pollan writes:
Psychedelics can make even the most cynical of us into fervent evangelists of the obvious… For what after all is the sense of banality, or the ironic perspective, if not two of the sturdier defenses the adult ego deploys to keep from being overwhelmed — by our emotions, certainly, but perhaps also by our senses, which are liable at any time to astonish us with news of the sheer wonder of the world. If we are ever to get through the day, we need to put most of what we perceive into boxes neatly labeled “Known,” to be quickly shelved with little thought to the marvels therein, and “Novel,” to which, understandably, we pay more attention, at least until it isn’t that anymore. A psychedelic is liable to take all the boxes off the shelf, open and remove even the most familiar items, turning them over and imaginatively scrubbing them until they shine once again with the light of first sight. Is this reclassification of the familiar a waste of time? If it is, then so is a lot of art. It seems to me there is great value in such renovation, the more so as we grow older and come to think we’ve seen and felt it all before.
Pollan’s reflections bear undertones of the concept of complementarity in quantum physics. But perhaps more than anything, in widening the lens of his attention to include all beings and the whole of the universe, his psychedelic experience calls to mind philosopher Simone Weil. After what she considered a point of contact with the divine — a mystical experience she had while reciting George Herbert’s poem Love III — Weil wrote that “attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer, [for] it presupposes faith and love.”
In a passage that calls to mind Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stunning description of the transcendent state between wakefulness and sleep, Pollan writes:
Because the acid had not completely dissolved my ego, I never completely lost the ability to redirect the stream of my consciousness or the awareness it was in fact mine. But the stream itself felt distinctly different, less subject to will or outside interference. It reminded me of the pleasantly bizarre mental space that sometimes opens up at night in bed when we’re poised between the states of being awake and falling asleep—so-called hypnagogic consciousness. The ego seems to sign off a few moments before the rest of the mind does, leaving the field of consciousness unsupervised and vulnerable to gentle eruptions of imagery and hallucinatory snatches of narrative. Imagine that state extended indefinitely, yet with some ability to direct your attention to this or that, as if in an especially vivid and absorbing daydream. Unlike a daydream, however, you are fully present to the contents of whatever narrative is unfolding, completely inside it and beyond the reach of distraction. I had little choice but to obey the daydream’s logic, its ontological and epistemological rules, until, either by force of will or by the fresh notes of a new song, the mental channel would change and I would find myself somewhere else entirely.
Echoing Hannah Arendt’s distinction between thought and cognition, in which she asserted that “thought is related to feeling and transforms its mute and inarticulate despondency,” Pollan adds:
For me it felt less like a drug experience… than a novel mode of cognition, falling somewhere between intellection and feeling.
Temporarily freed from the tyranny of the ego, with its maddeningly reflexive reactions and its pinched conception of one’s self-interest, we get to experience an extreme version of Keats’s “negative capability” — the ability to exist amid doubts and mysteries without reflexively reaching for certainty. To cultivate this mode of consciousness, with its exceptional degree of selflessness (literally!), requires us to transcend our subjectivity or — it comes to the same thing — widen its circle so far that it takes in, besides ourselves, other people and, beyond that, all of nature. Now I understood how a psychedelic could help us to make precisely that move, from the first-person singular to the plural and beyond. Under its influence, a sense of our interconnectedness — that platitude — is felt, becomes flesh. Though this perspective is not something a chemical can sustain for more than a few hours, those hours can give us an opportunity to see how it might go. And perhaps to practice being there.
Looking back on his theoretical and empirical investigation — his research on the ancient history and modern science of psychedelics; his interviews with neuroscientists, psychologists, mycologists, hospice patients, and ordinary psychonauts; his own experience with a variety of these substances and his sometimes meticulous, sometimes messy field notes on the interiority of his mind under their influence — Pollan writes:
The journeys have shown me what the Buddhists try to tell us but I have never really understood: that there is much more to consciousness than the ego, as we would see if it would just shut up. And that its dissolution (or transcendence) is nothing to fear; in fact, it is a prerequisite for making any spiritual progress. But the ego, that inner neurotic who insists on running the mental show, is wily and doesn’t relinquish its power without a struggle. Deeming itself indispensable, it will battle against its diminishment, whether in advance or in the middle of the journey. I suspect that’s exactly what mine was up to all through the sleepless nights that preceded each of my trips, striving to convince me that I was risking everything, when really all I was putting at risk was its sovereignty… That stingy, vigilant security guard admits only the narrowest bandwidth of reality… It’s really good at performing all those activities that natural selection values: getting ahead, getting liked and loved, getting fed, getting laid. Keeping us on task, it is a ferocious editor of anything that might distract us from the work at hand, whether that means regulating our access to memories and strong emotions from within or news of the world without.
What of the world it does admit it tends to objectify, for the ego wants to reserve the gifts of subjectivity to itself. That’s why it fails to see that there is a whole world of souls and spirits out there, by which I simply mean subjectivities other than our own. It was only when the voice of my ego was quieted by psilocybin that I was able to sense that the plants in my garden had a spirit too.
It is a notion evocative of Ursula K. Le Guin’s conception of poetry as a means to “subjectifying the universe” — a counterpoint to the way science objectifies it. “Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates,” Le Guin wrote. Perhaps psychedelics, then, are a portal to the poetic truth that resides beyond scientific fact — the kind of transcendence Rachel Carson found in beholding the marvels of bioluminescence, “one of those experiences that gives an odd and hard-to-describe feeling, with so many overtones beyond the facts themselves.” Such a feeling radiates beyond the walls of the ego-bound self and into a deep sense of belonging to the whole of nature, part and particle of the universe.
The usual antonym for the word “spiritual” is “material.” That at least is what I believed when I began this inquiry — that the whole issue with spirituality turned on a question of metaphysics. Now I’m inclined to think a much better and certainly more useful antonym for “spiritual” might be “egotistical.” Self and Spirit define the opposite ends of a spectrum, but that spectrum needn’t reach clear to the heavens to have meaning for us. It can stay right here on earth. When the ego dissolves, so does a bounded conception not only of our self but of our self-interest. What emerges in its place is invariably a broader, more openhearted and altruistic — that is, more spiritual — idea of what matters in life. One in which a new sense of connection, or love, however defined, seems to figure prominently.
One of the gifts of psychedelics is the way they reanimate the world, as if they were distributing the blessings of consciousness more widely and evenly over the landscape, in the process breaking the human monopoly on subjectivity that we moderns take as a given. To us, we are the world’s only conscious subjects, with the rest of creation made up of objects; to the more egotistical among us, even other people count as objects. Psychedelic consciousness overturns that view, by granting us a wider, more generous lens through which we can glimpse the subject-hood — the spirit! — of everything, animal, vegetable, even mineral, all of it now somehow returning our gaze. Spirits, it seems, are everywhere. New rays of relation appear between us and all the world’s Others.
In the remainder of the immensely fascinating How to Change Your Mind, Pollan goes on to explore the neuroscience of what actually happens in the brain during a psychedelic experience, how such a temporary rewiring of the cognitive apparatus can translate into enduring psychological change and precipitate profound personal growth, and why this breaking down of “the usually firm handshake between brain and world” may be particularly palliative to those perched on the precipice of mortality. Complement it with Albert Camus on consciousness and the lacuna between truth and meaning, then revisit William James’s trailblazing treatise on the limits of materialism.
Almost a hundred years ago, as if peering into a crystal ball and predicting the future, spiritual teacher and clairvoyant Rudolf Steiner prophesied that the most momentous event of modern times was what he referred to as the incarnation of the ethericChrist. By the “etheric Christ,” Steiner is referring to a modern-day version of Christ’s resurrection body, which can be conceived of as being a creative, holy and whole-making spirit that is inspiring human evolution as it operates upon the body of humanity through the collective unconscious of our species. Involving a radically new understanding of a timeless spiritual event, the etheric Christ, instead of incarnating in full-bodied physical form, is approaching via the realm of spirit—as close as this immaterial spirit can get to the threshold of the third-dimensional physical world without incarnating in materialized form. To quote Steiner, “Christ’s life will be felt in the souls of men more and more as a direct personal experience from the twentieth century onwards.”
A spiritual event of the highest order, Steiner felt that the incarnation of the etheric Christ is “the most sublime human experience possible” and “the greatest turning point in human evolution.” The etheric Christ is a nonlocal, atemporal spirit, existing outside of space and time, that is simultaneously immersed in, infused with—and expressing itself through—events in our world. The etheric Christ reveals itself for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear as it weaves itself, not only through the warp and woof of the flow of events comprising history, but through our souls as well.
To quote Steiner, “in the future we are not to look on the physical plane for the most important events but outside it, just as we shall have to look for Christ on His return as etheric form in the spiritual world.” The most important spiritual events of any age often remain hidden from the eyes of those who are entranced in a materialistic conception of the world. It greatly behooves us to not sleep through, but rather, to consciously bear witness to what has been up until now taking place mostly unconsciously, subtly hidden beneath the mundane consciousness of our species. If this epochal spiritual event, to quote Steiner, “were to pass unnoticed, humanity would forfeit its most important possibility for evolution, thus sinking into darkness and eventual death.” If the deeper spiritual process of the incarnation of the etheric Christ is not understood, this potentially liberating process transforms into its opposite (into the demonic).
Steiner felt that the advent of the etheric Christ—the Parousia (the Second Coming)—was the greatest mystery of our time. He was of the opinion that the incarnation of the etheric Christ was the deeper spiritual process that is in-forming and giving shape to the current multi-faceted crises (and opportunities) that humanity presently faces. This is to say that the seemingly never-ending wars and conflicts that are taking place all over the globe are the shadows cast by spiritual events from a higher-dimension that are animating earthly happenings. One of the main reasons that these multiple crises are so dangerous is because their deeper spiritual source remains unrecognized.
The higher order of light encoded within the etheric Christ is bringing to light the darkness which is seemingly opposed to it, which further helps its light nature to be seen. The true radiance of the light can only be seen and appreciated in contrast to the depth of darkness it illumines. It is as if the revelation of something is through its opposite—just as darkness is known through light, light is known through darkness. A fundamental spiritual principle of creation itself appears to be that when one force—e.g., light—begins to emerge in the universe a counterforce, opposed to the first, arises at that same moment. Just as shadows belong to light, these light and dark powers are interrelated, reciprocally co-arising, inseparably contained within and expressions of a single deeper unifying process. In essence, spirit is incarnating, and it is revealing itself through the very darkness that it is making visible.
Commenting on the other—and less recognized—half of the Second Coming, Steiner chillingly said, “before the Etheric Christ can be properly understood by people, humanity must have passed through the encounter with the Beast.” By “the Beast” he means the apocalyptic beast, the radically evil. The Beast is the guardian of the threshold through which we must pass in order to meet the lighter, celestial and heavenly part of our nature.
As soon as I read Steiner’s prophecy I felt the truth of his words. I recognized how what Steiner was saying mapped onto—and created context for—what is happening in our current world-gone-crazy. I also recognized the truth of what Steiner was saying based on my own inner experience. I have noticed that as I get closer to connecting with the light within myself, the forces of darkness seem to become more active and threatening. It is as if there is something in me—and in everyone, which is to say this situation isn’t personal—that desperately doesn’t want us to recognize and step into our light. This internal process is taking place within the subjectivity of countless individual human psyches, which is then reflexively being collectively acted out—in my language, “dreamed up”—en masse in, as and through the outside world.
In his prophecy, Steiner is pointing out that our encounter with the Beast is initiatory, a portal that—potentially—introduces us to the Christ figure. To quote Steiner, “Through the experience of evil it will be possible for the Christ to appear again.” It is noteworthy that the opposites are appearing together: coinciding with the peak of evil is an inner development which makes it possible for the etheric Christ—who is always present and available—to be seen and felt as a guiding presence that can thereby become progressively more embodied in humans, both individually and collectively as a whole species. In the extreme of one of the opposites is the seed for the birth of the other. Speaking of the power of the etheric Christ, Steiner said, “When this power has permeated the soul, it drives away the soul’s darkness.”
The brightest, most radiant and luminous light simultaneously casts and calls forth the darkest shadows. Through this process of Christ manifesting in the etheric realm, humanity is exposed to evil in a way never before experienced, such that—in potential—we may be able to find the good and the holy in a more real and tangible way than was previously possible. Humanity’s highest virtues and potentialities are activated and called forth when confronted by evil. Evil, according to Steiner, though by definition diametrically opposed to the good, is—paradoxically—a catalyst for bringing the power of goodness to the fore.
It is an archetypal idea that ascending towards the light always necessitates a confrontation with and descent into the darkness. Evil, according to Steiner, co-emerges with the possibility of humanity’s freedom, as if God could not create true freedom for humanity without providing a choice for evil. To quote Steiner, “In order for human beings to attain to full use of their powers of freedom, it is absolutely necessary that they descend to the low levels in their world conception as well as in their life.” From Steiner’s point of view, evil is created by and for freedom, and it is only through the conscious exercise of freedom of choice—which evil itself challenges us to develop—by which it can be overcome.
The mystery of humanity’s higher nature is inseparable from the mystery of evil. It is beyond debate that in our current age we are called to deal with evil—only those who choose to stay asleep, or are overly identified with the light (and hence, project out and dissociate from their own darkness) are blind to this. No realization of the light would ever occur without first getting to know its opposite. Whoever wants to support the sacred must be able to protect it and we can only do so when we know the forces that oppose it.
Evil, however, has an intense desire to remain incognito, below the radar, as its power to wreak havoc is dependent on not being recognized. Paradoxically, it is only by knowing the Beast in ourselves that we become truly human. Recognizing the depth of evil within ourselves helps us to develop the inner capacity to stand free of it, and in so doing, become acquainted with the part of ourselves that is beyond evil’s reach, thus enabling us to establish ourselves as free, sovereign and independent beings. It is to our advantage to know that our worst adversary resides in our own heart, rather than falling for the all-to-common delusion of thinking that our enemy is outside of ourselves.
If we become conscious of the evil within us, in our expansion of consciousness, that evil is promoting our spiritual development. We have then, through our realization, alchemically transmuted evil into a catalyst for our evolution. To quote Steiner, “The task of evil is to promote the ascent of the human being.” The question naturally arises: if, as Steiner professes, freedom is actualized only through the existence of evil, is evil an expression of a higher intelligence, an aspect of the divine plan designed to bring about a higher form of good that couldn’t be actualized without its existence?
The sponsor of humanity’s evolution, the etheric Christ doesn’t give the answer, but inspires the question. Sometimes it’s more important to ask the right question than to find the right answer.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (SelectBooks, May 2018), Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father (Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (Authorhouse, 2006). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He was the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at email@example.com; he looks forward to your reflections.