Chapter 2: Perception is the Key

Down the Rabbit Hole

Symbols and metaphors are incorporated within the Jesus story itself. Jesus’s choice to use the parable, which is symbolic language, is an indication of its importance in conveying his message. Having experienced this profound and transformative rebirth of sorts, Jesus sought to express it through the most effective means to the external world. So the Jesus story itself recognizes the difficulty in communicating this awakened state; therefore, symbols and metaphors are presented as the preferred instruments of Jesus. Like a bridge, they connect two worlds, but we must be willing to risk letting go of our preconceived notions to cross this bridge. We have been conditioned or taught to hold up our intellectual thinking as a sword for slicing through the world as the primary way of making sense of it. But in order to cross this bridge, we must put down that sword and listen to the voice of our intuition and imagination. Trespassing beyond the confining borders of socially-conditioned, linear logic and mainstream thinking is vital to understanding the topic of this book. Jesus's own trespassing challenged the paradigm and hierarchical structure of his day and he was crucified for it.

If then we read the story of Jesus symbolically, what does it specifically reveal that is different from the mainstream perspective? What message comes to light? And what was Jesus attempting to convey? We are astounded to find that there is no message in the ordinary, logical sense. There is no static information to be learned or assimilated or possessed; there is no instruction manual and nothing to be snatched. There are no take-aways and the fundamental message has no content; rather it is a mirror of sorts. Of course, this notion is absolutely absurd to orthodox believers. I propose that the "message" found in the Jesus story points back to the individual, to you and me. In other words, the very eyes through which we comprehend or perceive all messages and experiences and which determines perspective is the key. In order to grasp this in some way, we must be shaken and displaced from our current center. We must metaphorically make a jump into another dimension. A three-dimensional, dynamic sphere passing through a two-dimensional, static plane will only reveal a growing and shrinking circle on the surface of the plane. We are like that two-dimensional plane that interprets the sphere as an expanding and contracting circle, through our two-dimensional, static perspective or thinking. But there are other, more dynamic dimensions that lie outside of the borders of our two-dimensional perspective. Science and physics have come up against the same issue. Our ordinary, linear thinking and language belongs, comparatively speaking, to the two-dimensional world that does not understand the three-dimensional sphere. The metaphor, through imagination, can help with that leap of understanding and pitch us into, at least, the mystery of other dimensions. While our language is static, we understand through science that we live in a strange, dynamic, and fluid Universe. Our most advanced and recent scientific tests have been returning astounding results that reveal our Universe to be filled with paradoxes and incomprehensible puzzles. The study of quantum physics has become the poster child for such paradoxes. There is no single view or perspective that reveals the ultimate truth, not necessarily because it does not exist but because of the dynamic nature of reality. Our conditioned language and ways of perceiving the world do not allow us to go beyond certain boundaries. In other words the only tools for grasping reality, which is constantly in flux, are based on static concepts and ideas. And while we have a range of perspectives, from those of self-proclaimed believers to atheists, all of them are based on certain static ideas, filtered through specific, subjective standards for facts and truths. Believers see and interpret the world through a certain perception that is governed by a divine, all-seeing, all-knowing authority. Atheists, on the other hand, see the world and interpret it through their understanding of science and nature, including biology and natural selection. We must understand that both views are simultaneously and paradoxically correct and false. They are correct insofar as they are based on a personal or subjective (biased) interpretation or perception of reality. They are false in that they are always incomplete, operating on inconsistencies and based on concepts or crystallized ideas. The story of Jesus metaphorically shines a light on and holds up a mirror to all of this and nothing more. It does not try to interpret, articulate or tell us what we perceive. Rather, it questions the clinging to our perceived notions. It liberates us from ideologies, watches in wonder and recognizes that dynamic human process as the nexus or mystery where perception, truth and expression converge into a singularity of sorts. And being there, present at the crossroads, opens a door to an enormous space. Jesus tells us in John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." This is the metahphorical place where our conceptualizing minds are in arrest and we find ourselves in accord with whatever is happening at that moment.

We see in the Gospels that Jesus experienced some very deep and personal revolution, which prepared him for his mission. We know that he spent forty days – a recurring, symbolic number in the Bible - in the desert, praying and being tempted by the devil. We get a sense that, upon his return, he had found out something utterly profound. Something had changed. But what did Jesus find out? What was that shift in perception? Whatever this shattering or groundbreaking movement may be, it can only be found in the desert of one's own solitude, in an inward journey. The devil in the story is a symbol for Jesus's fears and insecurities. The understanding and integration of these fears give rise to the Christ vision. It has nothing to do with the familiar world of dualities, which is based on the dichotomy of subject-object, observer-observed, learner-learned, or experiencer-experienced. This movement is not an experience as we normally define the word. Rather it is a non-divisive perception that throws individuals back onto themselves, to confront themselves as a dynamic process. It is an absence of the conceptualization of life; it is the elimination of oneself as “the observer” of events or actions. It is the abandonment of all the potentially seductive and hypnotizing effects of the concept or idea as a substitute for reality1. Money is today's prime example of such a hypnotizing idea. People everywhere chase after money, which is only a symbol for the potential of what they can acquire in exchange for it. No one has ever been saved from hunger by eating dollar bills. A dollar bill is simply a printed piece of paper. It has no inherent value beyond the paper. That is its fundamental reality. People give this piece of paper value by agreeing that it is worth something. It is a collective idea that gives money its value. The dollar bill is only a symbol until it is exchanged for some consumable product or service. It has no value whatsoever among aboriginal tribes living in the deep forest and subsisting on their natural environment.

In the Gospels, Jesus always seems to have a surprising answer that "feels" right, full of wisdom. Many of his sayings and actions are founded on a mystifying power that brings us to the present moment with all of its hopes, pains, pleasures, and conflicts, unfettered from its associations (ie. the dollar bill is really just a piece of paper). In other words, his speech and actions are not the result of the accumulation of some external knowledge or associations or new-found, analyzable information based on socially programmed ways of thinking, but an emptying or shattering of the conceptualization of life, the conditioning of thought, belief and dogma. It cannot be discussed or taught or given openly to another because it is not static information. It is not content. Many people conclude that the power of Jesus came from some type of enlightenment and they chase after the same kind of mystical or enlightening experience through gurus and spiritual exercises. Those who reach for this experience are always disappointed because they conceptualize or hold in their minds an idea of what that enlightenment is. They are, relatively speaking, trying to satisfy their hunger by eating dollar bills when in fact, they are in a realm chasing after a concept that has no reality or fundamental value. They are hypnotized by the concept. They are in love with an idea. In the context of my discussion here, the true acceptance of the failure of finding enlightenment, or the absolute ending of the search for it, is itself enlightenment. That is the point of the Jesus story. It is the end of living life through concepts and content. It is a rejection of what life is not and the acceptance of our inability to verbalize or conceptualize what life is. It is, most fundamentally, the psychological death of the conceptualized world. There are no more rationalizations or intellectual routes of escape. There is no control center left from which we can form an idea or a doctrine or creed to limit the dynamic life that is in us. Through this perception, one does not continue a search, the result of which is to be found in the future. This state is also not a result of asceticism or works that will bring a reward or assure eternal survival in the future. It is not a denial or subjugation or reformation of the impulses that make us human, like most religious dogma requires, but a recognition and an acknowledgment of their power as the illuminated door to something quite profound and unnameable. That recognition sanctifies our impulses and clears any conflict that we may have seen in them. It is the very thing that we have consistently struggled against and attempted to avoid, deny and abolish, and it emerges, figuratively, as our savior. Through this shattering of our view of life and the world, all things are turned on their head in a very meaningful, paradoxical way. The condemned comes to be recognized as the redeemer. The blasphemer becomes the prophet. The last become first and the first become last. The dead come to life and those whom we had thought to be living are in fact walking dead.

How do we approach and talk about the essence of this perception or experience that Jesus had undergone. Is it accessible and, ironically, some may ask how can one acquire it? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus constantly refers to The Father and the Kingdom of Heaven. Obviously he is not speaking of a literal parent or a worldly kingdom but a symbol for the unnameable source of his state of mind or perception. Many however insist on finding a way to talk about it, even in general, nonreligious terms. They may describe it as Action, a visceral and ever-present dynamism, perhaps the very force or energy behind nature, life and the Universe. They may use generic and unfettered terms like Connecting Principle, Prime mover, etc. Any description falls short because words are confining and biased. For this reason, many mystics throughout time have taken an apophatic approach in talking about "it." Jesus's symbolic language gives us a sense of this Kingdom, of this fluid Landscape. Because this Landscape is unified by its very nature, virtues such as compassion and love are not feelings that are cultivated or practiced or demanded; rather they are natural symptoms of living out of this Landscape. By love I do not mean sentimental or affectionate or moral and obligatory feelings but a natural, innate, compelling, and existential, all-consuming need or a seeming inebriation. It is a love that is not associated with the ego or fragmented or aimed at anyone or anything, but a light or radiance that shines outwardly in all directions. It is a type of magnetism and all human beings have an innate ability to recognize it. It is this magnetism that drove the multitudes to Jesus’s feet in the Gospels. We cannot help but behold the story of Jesus as a compelling Drama that duly manifests itself as immeasurable compassion and joy, found within us, amidst existential pain, suffering, turmoil, horror, and death. Like Jesus, those who are seized by this Drama become like lovers in an epic tale of great proportions, rejoined to their Beloved after eons and eons of separation. With the Beloved at their side, they become suspended between heaven and earth, drinking simultaneously and willingly from the fountain of suffering and the fountain of joy, in recognition that the two flow from the same spout. They, who are so driven to take up this journey and scale the luminous heights of heaven, know that they must also descend into the deepest, darkest valleys of the human soul - as Jesus had done - be crucified, and conquer the abyss. And they return, after having come full circle, to the very place where they began but with renewed vision of themselves and the world.

Naturally, this is a creative process; therefore, the experience of the artist can be helpful in communicating these ideas. Here I aim to sketch a portrait of this seamless, dynamic, and experiential process and to embark with the reader on a meditation to that unbound Landscape that can only be seen through one's own eyes. Although I may use terms such as Love, Life, Spirit, etc. - with a capital letter at the beginning of each word – they point to more than their conventional meaning; they are used poetically to evoke meditation and introspection. Undoubtedly, I will use Christian imagery and language to express my points; however, they are not to be taken literally. As such, I disclaim any reference or hint in this work to any literal, supernatural or divine being or creator or heaven, outside of the context of symbolic language, because such a reference would necessarily have to be limited by concepts, theology and dogma. In summary, I am not pointing to some content but to a non-divisive perception or a frame of mind – which I believe was the aim of the story of Jesus – that disposes entirely with the need to go beyond the human world, the here-and-now and with the need to ask such questions as: Is there a god? Or is there life after death? Living from within this Landscape, in the vast mystery and wonder of the present moment, implicitly renders these questions as meaningless and harbors the answer and secret to their dissolution.

1 See Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations (1981)

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