Fishing for God


“A man without God is like a fish without a bicycle.” ~ Found on the men’s room wall, Larry Blake’s Pub, Berkeley, 1977

The Sufi’s say that every story has seven levels of meaning. The above quote is from a book I have been reading again, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger 1. Thanks to what I have learned from RAW over the years, I tend to try and look at things from as many angles as I can (when I can remember that this is a good thing to do.) From a RAW perspective, the Sufi wisdom about every story having seven levels may be an example of sneaky reverse psychology. Perhaps it’s not so much that every tale has seven meanings, but rather that we are always free to look at things in many ways.

Upon initial reading, the quote above could seem like nothing more than the type of humorous dig used by modern militant atheists to make fun of religious belief. As far as it goes, this meaning isn’t bad. It gets its point across rather well. A bicycle is a dry land conveyance, and not very effective in water. At best a bicycle would serve as something interesting for a fish to swim around.

What happens if we dig a little deeper? What if the locale was reversed and we look at the metaphor from where the bicycle is designed to work? In this version, the fish is on land. Land is a place of death for a fish. So, we are dealing here with a fish in the land of the dead. This is a ghost of a fish. A fish who has passed on.

There are at least two activities which a bicycle can be put to, and so here our metaphor splits. The first use to which a bike can be put is for fun. In this version of looking at the quote the bicycle might be God providing fun for the deceased fish, a chance to enjoy their afterlife.

The other activity a bicycle can be put to is getting somewhere. A bicycle is a mode of transportation and one that’s faster and easier than walking. So, where might one want to travel in the afterlife? The obvious answer is that the deceased will want to travel to whatever their final reward is. Getting there faster would certainly be a great boon, especially for a fish on dry land. In this interpretation of the quote, God is the one who makes the way easier, the one who helps the fish get its just rewards in a timely manner.

These are three of the possible meanings for the above anonymous quote. According to the Sufis there must be at least four more. However, I don’t think the point is to see if you can get all seven. Like many Sufi devices, this one is not an instruction for a process, but rather a suggestion of a game. If you can get into the habit of always seeing things more ways than one, then life takes on added depth, and it is sprinkled with more opportunity.

RAW suggested this very thing in many of his talks. It’s a way to avoid getting stuck in dogmatic thinking. When someone tells you the way something is, or what something means, always try to come up with three, or four, alternative perspectives, answers, or solutions. That way you don’t get stuck in things as they are presented. You also get to enjoy the possibility of choice, and therefore a reinforcement of your free will. Because sometimes a fish is not a fish, and sometimes a bicycle is not a bicycle, and very rarely is God a god.

Is Every Book Endless?

“What’s your favorite, X?”

This question usually boggles me. I am a creature of wide tastes, so I am often not able to answer these questions. There are three areas where I know what my favorite thing is. People, movies, and books. The people and movies are stories for another time. Books is what occupies our concern for the moment. My favorite book of all is easy to determine, because this particular book is one I have read far more often than any other. Most books that I read get one reading. A handful get two, or three readings. But, with Robert Anton Wilson’s “Cosmic Trigger volume 1“, the number is at least three times as high. Honestly, I have lost track of how many times I have read this book. I know it’s been at least eight times, but it could be as many as twelve, maybe more.

Each time I re-read Cosmic Trigger 1 I not only find something new, I usually find something absolutely mind blowing. What’s more, I often find something that I have no recollection of from my previous readings. It never fails.

I can’t remember who said it (part of my brain thinks it was Umberto Eco, but I am not very sure), but a renowned author was once asked if he thought people should re-read books. His answer, as far as I can recall was, “Yes, I very much do. You can’t learn everything from a book in one reading. Also, and I know this will sound self serving, when you read a book again you should buy a new copy. You don’t want to have all your attention going to the pieces you might have underlined, or the pages you might have dog-eared. You want to come to the book fresh.”

I had already read Cosmic Trigger 1 about four, or maybe six times when I came across the above advice. I decided to give it a whirl. I bought a new copy. In fact I bought two because I currently have two places I live. I have a copy in each, and I have read both at least twice.

I started reading this old friend of a tome again the other day. I was going through the preface (which preceded the “Forewords” and “Introduction” of this particular edition). There was a paragraph that was very familiar to me. The paragraph consisted of three metaphors used to communicate a basic point. The first, and third are metaphors that I grokked a while back. The middle one simply served as a connector. Until the other day. As I sat in my bed reading the familiar words, my brain did a double take, got caught in a loopty-loop, and then exploded. A whole new level of comprehension was added to the whole of the book. Like most deep realizations it’s bound to be banal to others, so I won’t go into it here. The content of the realization is beside the point. The salient fact that hit me came when I got up stunned, and walked slowly across the room to stare at one of the overflowing book shelves in my studio apartment.

If I can find mind-blowing distinctions in a book I have already read 8, or more, times what’s the limit? Will there come a day when I stop finding them? Will it take twenty readings? Thirty? More? What’s the limit of a book? These questions flashed through my mind as I stood staring at my overflowing shelf. If that was true of one book, could it be true of the others? The idea that every book on my shelf might be nearly endless filled me with horror. I’ve already faced the fact that one lifetime is not enough to read all the books I want to read, but what if the truth is that there is not even enough time in one life to really read one book…


To Dream To Be Human


One of the things that happens when you spend a lot of time observing your own process is you get sensitive to those times when you make a big turn on your own path.

These often come along with some external event which opens our paradigm to a new possibility. Or, they come as an insight, or epiphany, that does the same thing.

I’ve recently had one of those insights. Not surprisingly it came to me during meditation. It has to do with the realms of consciousness we all have access to.

I’ve written about these before, but in a nutshell: According to lots of long term traditions that humans who look into such things, we have access to certain, distinct, realms of consciousness.

First is the Gross realm of physical things. Rocks, bodies, tennis shoes, and so on. It’s also called the Waking state since it’s the state we encounter when we are awake and walking about.

Next is the Subtle realms of ideas, images, impressions. It’s also called the Dreaming state, the one we go to nightly when we go to sleep. We also step into this realm when we day dream or contemplate while awake.

Then comes the Causal state. This is the blank space of potential. That which everything that could be stands upon. It’s also called the Deep Sleep state. This is where we go in our sleep cycles after we have dropped through dreaming. Everything at that point is “gone”. The only thing that is encountered is nothing.

Some of the traditions push these states further in accord with the findings of deeply dedicated explorers of these realms. The lineage of meditators who sit in caves for years on end and accumulate five, ten, or even twenty thousand hours of time on the cushion.

These “hard core” types have discovered, and mapped out, two further realms of consciousness.

The “fourth” realm is referred to in Hindu thought as exactly that, “turiya”, a word that means fourth state. This is the “pure consciousness” which observes, or witnesses the arising of the other three. This state can be confirmed by both non-meditators and advanced meditators. For non-meditators this can be confirmed by being awoken during deep sleep. Perhaps a sudden sound in the environment, or your room mate coming home late, or a fire alarm going off. If there was absolutely no consciousness present in you when you are in the causal state of deep sleep, then you would not note the experience that woke you. Advanced meditators often get to the point in their practice where their conscious awareness continues through all three states above. Meaning they are aware that they are aware even in deep sleep, despite nothing happening to notice.

The fifth state is referred to as turiya-tita, “beyond the fourth.” This state subsumes all four other states. Words fall short here, so we’ll just move along.

Since these states are so often described in an order of some sort, it’s easy to become locked into thinking that order is concrete. Ken Wilber, in his work with the Integral Model points out part of this stuck tendency. Many of the ancient traditions hold hard to the scheme that you get the gross realm before the subtle, then the causal, and so on. Some refer to an inversion of this order as the original creation myth; meaning that “God” sifts down into causal existence, which then sifts down into subtle existence, and finally shows up in gross existence as rocks, plants, and so on.

The issue is that the gross state is there as a framework throughout all the other states, as we humans experience them. Your body does not go away when you drop into deep sleep, for example. We also day dream while wide awake, just before we stub our toe on a gross plane coffee table. So these realms of existence then do not stack on top of each other, but rather they inter-penetrate each other.

So, back to my insight. I had been locked into relating to these realms in a stacked way that had the point of my human experience be at either end. I think that is missing the mark, because what we humans do that is radically unique to us has to do with what we do with our dreams.

Alfred Korzybski, father of General Semantic, suggested that one of the key things that makes humans unique among the species we know is what he called “time-binding.” We pass our knowledge, our culture, our technology, our dreams, from one generation to the next. We do this with language, story, and information storage techniques such as the printed word. This enables us to advance in ways that other species simply cannot. Animals do pass on acquired skills through the generations, but with no where near our speed and integrity.

Another unique thing about being human is that we are the “tool using ape.” We are not alone in that in the species that we share this planet with, but because of our capacity to time-bind we are orders of magnitude beyond what other species can muster.

We craft tools with which to craft our environment, our world. We build things conceived in our dreams.

In short: We humans bring the possibilities existing in the subtle realm into the gross realm.

We are world crafters who use the raw stuff of the dream space as templates for altering the worlds we choose to live in. There is an old saying that, “Life imitates art”, and I think that is precisely true. Life, the life we humans make for ourselves, comes from the dreams we have, the things we imagine. When a piece of art, a story, or a entertainment captures our hearts we find a way to make it real.

What are cell phones if not Star Trek communicators? What are smart phones, if not tricorders? The works in fiction pre-sage our works in science and invention because they come from the same source. The subtle realm of dreams, images, and ideas.

I think this is what we humans do most and best. We are explorers, first and foremost, of our dreams. I have a strong allergy to what I call the “human-o-centric” view, the philosophical position of putting humans as central to the reason for reality being the way it is. So, that gets me to wonder about portions of our perceived reality that seem to only be there because we can perceive them. With regards to the subtle realm, it does not seem like such a realm had any impact on reality here before some form of life came along that could access it. Meaning life with a brain capable imagining, and dreaming. Before there were creatures that could dream, the subtle realm seems meaningless. It’s really a chicken and egg issue, of course, but it makes me wonder.

Is the subtle realm some sort of “intrusion” onto our reality by another order of reality? Is it the case that the subtle realm represents a different dimension slowly coming into contact with ours? It makes me consider Terence McKenna’s idea of the “transcendental hyper-space object at the end of time.” The idea is that evolution, and the accumulation of novelty within our reality, is not a matter of pushing from the past, but rather being pulled from the future. In other words, we are under the influence of an attractor which is pulling us toward it, slowly transforming us as it does so. The fall, like one caused by the gravity of a massive object, is accelerating. Evolution is accelerating.

So, perhaps what is happening is that we are falling, ever more deeply, into the subtle realm. As we do so, this gross realm is being converted to comply with the dream. We re-shape the world in our own image.

Perhaps this is the “alien invasion” so often conjured up in science fiction and the hopes and prayers of UFO enthusiasts. Not the arrival of a new species, but rather the arrival of a new dimension of possibility.

The reverse is possible, of course. It may not be a case of the subtle realm descending on us. It may be a case of us elevating into it. From a relativity perspective this is the same thing. From a functional standpoint though, the difference is interesting and brings up different questions.

It’s those kind of questions that I have been pondering since my view on the realms of consciousness got shaken up. I find the image of the human as an explorer of the depths of the dream space, shaping the reality we live in to match up with what we find very compelling.

What do you think?