For the sake of illustration, let’s liken the whole of reality to a sphere. Let us further suppose that qualitative differences of some sort or another can be observed as we move our attention from the core or center of the sphere towards its outer surface. Convenient examples of these qualitative differences (which depend upon distance from the center) are provided by our planet and by the solar system itself. Geothermal heat diminishes as we move from the Earth’s molten core to the surface. The sun’s heat and light become fainter and fainter as we move from the blazing orb out to Pluto and beyond.
As above, so below: but also, “as without, so within.” Everything essential about our “sphere analogy” holds for the inner as well as the outer universe. Similarly, all microcosms replicate the essential features of their macro-cosmic analogues or prototypes. With these symmetries and parallels in mind, let us take a few more steps.
To begin with, let us reflect upon the surface of this sphere that symbolizes the whole of actual or possible experiences. From one angle, the surface can be likened to a shoreline upon which incoming waves break and fall apart on contact. A wave, let us remember, is not different in kind or substance from the enormity of the sea upon which it arises and travels – but only in a formal sense. The wave is simply a more or less distinguishable, “individuated” form or modification of the single substance, seawater. Moreover, it is a form that is in motion and the fact that it is in motion is ingredient to its (ephemeral) “existence.” It may be worth remembering here that water is at once the bringer of life and the universal solvent (of forms).
Another useful way to reflect upon the surface of our imaginary sphere is to think of it as the meeting place between inside and outside – or between psyche and the material/bodily realm. Of course, inner and outer – psyche and world – are both enclosed within our symbolic sphere, so I am not proposing a dualistic scheme here. If, nevertheless, the inner and outer arenas of experience appear to be separate or split, this is due to a dualistic or divided kind of consciousness on the perceiver’s part – and tells us nothing trustworthy about the un-split reality that it bifurcates and deforms.
A sphere without a limiting surface is inconceivable in the same way that a functional movie theater without a screen makes no sense. The spacious screen is where the moving images from the projection booth become apparent, just as the shoreline is where the incoming waves collide and collapse, only to be followed by the next wave. Thus, we begin to see how limits, boundaries, and obstructive or reflective surfaces are crucial to the sound and spectacle, the drama, the apparent ebb and flow of life. As photons collide with a blank screen, figures appear. As waves die upon the shore, motion comes to rest; forms dissolve and are absorbed back into potentiality.
Just below the surface, we find ourselves in a position to foresee how “things” are likely to “take shape” when ever-incoming waves hit that surface – the meeting place, as it were, between two halves of a cell-sphere: psyche and “outer world.” If we could experience and partake in the actual conjunction of psyche and world – in a unified, non-dual way – we would be immersed in what Jung called “synchronistic” experience. What synchronicity entails is a more or less perfect correspondence between meaning-saturated psychic images (that are being spontaneously generated from within) and the outer events transpiring before us. Something akin to a continuous waking dream would be underway if the cognitive split between the private-personal subjective and the collective-impersonal objective could be healed and overcome. Of course, by ordinary – which is to say split (Cartesian-dualistic) – standards, such a person (experiencing life synchronistically) would be regarded as either mad or a genius, or a hefty mixture of both.
Many persons who have taken psychedelics have reported these sublime experiences wherein the accustomed separation (between the little subjective ego and the vast objective worlds within and without) was temporarily suspended and overcome. In such ‘transcendent’ moments the soul of the “tripper” experiences liberation from the cramped confines of his constricted-inherited cell-world and feels “at one” with the cosmos – the larger sphere. The microcosm is momentarily aligned in consciousness – and in expansive feeling – with the macrocosm, which is almost invariably associated in the rapt mind of the liberated “tripper” with “God” or some version of the “Great Spirit.”
Of course, a question all of us would like to know the answer to is “did the LSD or the magic mushrooms merely produce a fatuous hallucination – a spectacular but ultimately empty and meaningless illusion – or did these psychotropics open up the doors of perception to allow us a fleeting glimpse of the truly magical reality from which our deforming, dualistic subjective standpoint systematically and automatically alienates us?” Am I advocating the experimental use of psychedelics for anyone who is reading this? Do I think such experimental drug use is necessary for the sorts of experiences that are being discussed here? Of course not. Not everyone, I would argue, needs – or would necessarily benefit from – psychedelics to trigger or facilitate the “transcendent,” barrier-breaking experiences that I am indeed encouraging and advocating for anyone who feels called to such experiences. As far as the use of psychedelics is concerned, I came to the view, after moderate but fruitful experimentation, as a young adult, that continued, regular indulgence would amount to a kind of cheating. What do I mean? It is my view that once we know, firsthand, about this heightened or expanded form of experience that I have been referring to here, we are far better off, in the long run, employing study, meditation, and the disciplined mind to consciously evoke these “transcendent” perspectives – and avoid dependence on substances that can transport us chemically to states and experiences that are better won than stolen. In the disciplined efforts we undertake to earn these deepened or heightened states of consciousness, we actually accomplish a good deal more – both for our own spiritual-philosophical enrichment and for those to whom we might lend a hand – than would be the case if we habitually resorted to “extrinsic” means or helps. In this way, we rely chiefly upon our inborn imaginative and intellectual capacities to build a stable bridge between the inner dimension of meaning and the outer one of persons, things, and events.