Plato’s cave – the shadow of the real

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
― 1 Corinthians ch13 v12

Meditation: “Saying the mantra ma-ra-na-tha … each repetition the erasure of a pixel of illusion.”

Via Transformativa

Pop prophet Andy Warhol famously said one day everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes. He didn’t specify how or famous for what but now we know. In our celebrity obsessed culture when asked what do you want to be the majority of pre-adolescents replied “famous”.* Famous for what? They want to be famous for being famous. Like Kim Kardashian. 29,892,572 people do ‘Like’ her on Facebook. That’s 14,946,286 per cheek. No-one can tell me what for. Susan Boyle who can sing has only 1,590,233 ‘Likes’.

Famous how? This is now a well trodden path. All you have to do is make Simon Cowell smile – or scowl – so long as you win X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent – both Cowell properties. That’s how Susan did it. Can we remember any of the other nine BGT winners or twelve X-F winners? Even your fifteen minutes is quickly forgotten.

The other avenue these days is, of course, the internet. The most ‘famous’ Vlogger I’ve never heard of (that’s video blogger to you and me) is KSIOlajideBT – aka KSI or Olajide Olatunji from Hertfordshire whose YouTube channel has 16 million subscribers and 3.1 billion views. His videos mostly consist of him playing FIFA video games along with his commentary. Famous for 45 minutes each way?

What are the chances of realising fame for it’s own sake? According to Wired magazine** the fraction of living famous people is 0.000086. The chances of winning the UK Lottery jackpot is 1 in 45,057,474 or if every one of the 7,059,837,187 living people on the planet joined in there would be 157 winners or represented as a fraction 0.0064. More than a hundred times better chance than being famous. And as a Lottery winner you’d be famous as well. As I say to my brilliant aerialist daughter “do your work – fame is none of your business”.

The lure of celebrity as a way out of the humdrum of austerity is compelling. As the poison dwarf Angela says in American Beauty “there’s nothing worse than being ordinary.” But the price can be more than the entry fee to X-Factor or a Lottery ticket.

“Chasing fame is like chasing a ghost. It’s a fool’s errand. What happens when you search for it for your whole life and never find it? What does that do to your psyche? How could you ever hope to be happy without this thing you crave so desperately?” Adam Pliskin

Chasing shadows is the theme of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, or Plato’s Cave, in Book VII of his Republic written in about 380BCE to compare “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature”. It is the most accessible discussion of the nature of reality in philosophy to this day. The allegory is related to Plato’s Theory of Forms, according to which ‘Forms’ or ‘Ideas’ and not the material world known to us through our senses possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality.

It goes like this:

Imagine a cave in which there are prisoners shackled and their head is tied so that they cannot look at anything but the cave wall in front of them. They have been there since birth and have never seen outside of the cave. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between them is a raised walkway. People walk along this walkway carrying things which cast a shadow on to the wall. If you had never seen the real objects before you would believe that the shadows of objects were ‘real.’

Plato suggests that the prisoners would begin a ‘game’ of guessing which shadow would appear next. If one of the prisoners were to correctly guess the others would consider him or her smart – knowledgable. One of the prisoners escapes from their bindings and finds a way out of the cave. He is shocked at the world he discovers outside the cave and at first does not believe it can be real. As he gets used to his new surroundings, he realises that his former view of reality was an illusion. He begins to understand his new world and sees that the sun is the source of life and goes on a journey where he discovers truth, beauty and meaning. The prisoner returns to the cave to tell them the good news. They do not believe him and threaten to kill him if he tries to set them free.

“Previously he had been looking merely at phantoms; now he is nearer the true nature of being.” Plato

There have been other occasions where people would rather kill the Truth than have their illusions shattered. Who was it that said “for most people thinking amounts to no more than re-arranging their prejudices”?

If you ask a fish what the water’s like today he would reply “what’s water?” Before Aristotle you would trust your senses and believe the earth was flat. You probably believe in evolution even though you’ve not studied the empirical evidence. Neither have I. Our latest scientific theory or conjecture as John Hands corrects us*** is that our universe began in a Big Bang 13.4 billion years ago followed by an inflation faster than the speed of light. Believable? Modern cosmologists tell us 95% of the total mass–energy content of the universe is missing and call it dark energy (68%) and dark matter (27%). Would you believe it? Scientific truth is always provisional.

The mystic does her own experiments on the nature of reality in the cave of the heart where there are no shadows only Light. You can try it yourself without buying a ticket but you’re very unlikely to get famous just eternal.

“This world is not unreal; it is the real world, but reflected as in a mirror. To mistake the reflection for the reality, to think that the world as it appears to the senses is real in itself, is illusion.” Bede Griffiths


beyond belief

“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy

Meditation: “Meditation is like floating on the meniscus between sky and water, between heaven and earth, between spirit and flesh, between knowing and believing.”

Via Transformativa

believe bɪˈliːv

verb – accept that (something) is true, especially without proof. Oxford English Dictionary

One of the unexpected casualties of the UK referendum on British exit of the EU or ‘Brexit’ was truth itself. Prominent ‘Leave’ campaigners unapologetically misled voters with the trumped up claim that the £350m weekly EU budget would be redirected to the NHS if Britain left the EU. 52% of the British electorate believed the lie and won the day to Leave. The day after the result the claim was removed from the Leave campaign website and one of its most prominent mouthpieces, Nigel Farage, the then leader of the UK Independence Party, disowned it on TV. Who believes a politician?

It is not only political careerists who are not trusted. In a populist anti-intellectual tide sweeping western democracies it is fashionable to trash anyone who is presented as an ‘expert’. We no longer put any store in the pronouncements of pollsters, academics and economists. “People in this country have had enough of experts” was how Michael Gove, one of the leading figures in the campaign to leave the European Union, infamously responded to warnings against Brexit from economists.

It is not only in the secular world that the currency of belief has been devalued. In his 2016 book Brian McClaren calls for a spiritual migration from a system of beliefs to a way of life. “What we need is not simply a new set of beliefs but a new way of believing.” He is not suggesting having a belief is wrong (unless, presumably, it is the ‘wrong’ belief which for him is everything else except Christian) but he is suggesting if we use our system of beliefs as our primary way of gatekeeping those who are “in” or “out” of our exclusive club called the ….. (insert name of religious group here) we are missing the true meaning of believing in Jesus as the way into the Kingdom. “Belief systems perform practical survival and political functions that are completely independent of the truth of their component beliefs.”

So when the evangelical (or the atheist come to that matter) asks “what do you believe in?” it is not a theological question more a sociological question. Are you one of us?

This way of believing you might call dogma and it appeals to the mind. There is a different way of believing which appeals to something beyond mind which you might call spirit. When Nicodemus came to Jesus under cover of darkness he wanted to keep his options open. When Bob Hope was asked why he did benefit gigs for all religions he said he didn’t want to ruin his chances of eternity on a technicality. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews but felt attracted by this radical rabbi. If Jesus had a direct route to God he wanted some of it. He used flattery to draw him out but Jesus cut through his double mindedness. “Unless one is born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus took him literally at mind level. Jesus challenged him to go beyond earthly things if he was to enter the kingdom of heaven. It required a response beyond belief in earthly understanding. “Whoever believes in the Son of Man may have eternal life.” A belief beyond belief.

Jesus was not asking Nicodemus to accept a new belief system to upgrade his old belief system … Judaism 2.0. He was inviting Nicodemus to accept that He was the fulfilment of the law and the prophets and that He and the Father were one. To ‘know’ this is not so much mind’s assent to dogma. Rather a spiritual ‘ascent to the cave of the heart’ as French Benedictine mystic Henri le Saux titled his journal.

“I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not. Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.” Rumi

how do you like your consciousness?

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.” Albert Einstein

Meditation: “Meditation is like being suspended by threads from a billion suns to the centre of your soul vibrating in harmony – a universe within a universe … like Russian dolls.”

Via Transformativa

unitive-consciousnessAfter Descartes set a cat amongst the pigeons with his deceptively simple and simply divisive ‘cogito ergo sum’ separating ‘mind stuff’ from ‘matter stuff’ modern philosophers responded with various approaches to explain consciousness. How can the chasm between a ‘thing that thinks’ (subject) and the thing that is doing the thinking (body object or specifically a brain) be bridged?

They came up with not one problem but two – the ‘hard problem’ and the ‘easy problem’. The ‘easy’ problem is to understand how the brain (and body) gives rise to perception, cognition, learning and behaviour. In other words how do the physiological mechanisms of an objective body get translated into a perceiving subjective ‘I’? The ‘hard’ problem is to understand why and how any of this should be associated with consciousness at all. As Anil Seth asks “why aren’t we just robots, or philosophical zombies, without any inner universe?” Beast-machines as he calls it.

The study of consciousness is the last great frontier as yet bamboozling reductionists. The standard view of scientists is that it is an ’emergent characteristic’ of the brain i.e. through the mechanism of evolution at some point the brain reaches a critical point of complexity and consciousness emerges. Consciousness is seen as one more adaptation for the survival of the species.

This ‘hey presto’ assumption that increasing complexity leads to a self reflective conscious ‘I’ seems as much a leap of faith as the Genesis 2:7 version: “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living (i.e. conscious) person.”

Was the first Adam self conscious? Apparently not until after the apple incident since he wandered around the garden naked in mixed company without batting a fig leaf. “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Genesis 2:25.

With self consciousness comes the sense of a separate ‘I’. This may be the original sin – the fall from sharing the same consciousness as union with the divine spark into the consciousness of a separate ember. How can this union be recovered? There are two schools of thought. Either the separation is real and you need a Saviour or Redeemer to bridge the gulf or the separation is an illusion and to recover union only requires that you dispel the illusion. To apply the solution you must correctly identify the problem. In a world of separate atoms and separate individuals you may lean towards a Redeemer – a Fixer.

But what if we aren’t ‘broken’ in that sense? What if we always were and always are fixed – we just forgot. Or we dropped out of united consciousness into separate consciousness. One of the most powerful words I ever heard was in one of my German girlfriend’s favourite recordings by an English spiritual teacher – unfortunately I can’t remember his name – where he said “you don’t need fixing.” And if we come from God how can we be separate from God unless by our own mis-perception?

Maybe we aren’t separate after all. In his article in Psychology Today ‘Connectedness – Are we really Separate Individuals?’ Steve Taylor PhD identifies three different types of interconnection. The first is ‘interconnectedness of feeling’, or ‘empathic connection.’  The second type of experience is ‘interconnectedness of being’ reported in many awakening experiences in which people experience a transcendence of separateness. The third type of experience he calls ‘interconnectedness of knowing’ famously documented by Rupert Sheldrake in his controversial experiments with the dog Jaytee who anticipates his master’s return.

Taylor suggests it is possible that what we know as consciousness is not produced by the brain at all but is a fundamental quality of consciousness like gravity is a fundamental quality of matter. “This is what is sometimes known as the ‘panpsychist’ view, and it is becoming increasingly popular amongst philosophers and psychologists who struggle to explain consciousness from a materialist perspective. According to panpsychism, consciousness is not dissimilar to mass or gravity – a fundamental, irreducible quality which has always been ‘built into’ the universe.”

In this view, consciousness is the fundamental reality underlying both mind and matter our brains being manifestations of consciousness. Philosopher Keith Frankish is not convinced. “It (consciousness) is a highly localised phenomenon that is specific not just to brains but to particular states of brains. It appears to be a specific state of certain highly complex information-processing systems, not a basic feature of the Universe.”

Can anyone save us from our fall from unitive consciousness? “Who can deliver me from this body of death (separation)?” pleads St Paul. (Romans 7:24)

Danah Zohar can. In her synthesis of quantum physics, philosophy and new age religion – ‘Quantum Self – Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics’ – she claims that bosons are the basis for the conscious life, and fermions for the material life. The Bose-Einstein condensate is the extreme example of “bosonic” behavior (relationship, sharing of identities). Zohar imagines that such a condensate is the ideal candidate to provide the unity of consciousness.

I can see the t-shirt now: “Bose-Einstein condensates of the world unite”.


the best day of your life

“Do not seek to bring things to pass in accordance with your wishes, but wish for them as they are, and you will find them.”



“Saying the mantra is like watching the bag dancing in the wind in American Beauty.”

Via Transformativa

Playa de las ConchasHow will you know when it’s the best day of your life?

Well, of course, you won’t. It will have passed before you know it. And anyway – no matter how fantastic this day is turning out to be who’s to say tomorrow won’t be even better?

In the movie ‘About Time’ Tim discovers that, like his father, he can travel in time and change what happens in his own life. Desperate for a girlfriend he is able to re-engineer social situations to his advantage. Result. As the novelty wears off he uses his ‘skip backwards’ trick to relive ordinary days to find the gold in the lead.

So although playing the game of ‘spot the best day of your life’ can be fun it can’t be won but it does help us focus on fully appreciating the present experience not becoming lost to the moment in some anticipated future or fondly remembered past.

We can take this a step further. Because the perfect day will elude us in its passing we can always live this present day as if it was the perfect day. And in a profound way it is. In the grand order of things the cosmos is in its perfect stage of inflation, our galaxy is in a perfect spin rotating once every 226 million years and the sun comes up on the frostiest of mornings. More prosaically, the traffic on the ring road is exactly as busy as it is and you will get to the station just in time to catch (or miss) your train.

With so much finely tuned for benevolence it seems churlish to accuse the garden of Life of serving you a lemon. Learn to like lemons. Who is the sage that said “happiness consists in wanting what you’ve got”?

This is not a manifesto for passive acquiescence in the face of unacceptable injustice. It is, however, a manifesto based on the intuitive understanding that you and Life are not separate … or that Life is ‘being done’ to you. You are Life unfolding.

“The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day. I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.” Tim in About Time.


I see you

“We are the mirror as well as the face in it. We are tasting the taste of eternity. We are pain and what cures pain. We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.”


“Saying the mantra is like fingerprints on a steamed up bathroom mirror until you can see clearly.”

Via Transformativa

AvatarPair43In James Cameron’s movie Avatar towards the end of the film when Neytiri is holding the real Jake in her arms, not the avatar Jake, they say to each other, “I see you.” Of course, they could have said “I love you” which is what we might expect – but our Hollywood notions of ‘love’ are too romanticised for real communication these days. Jake is the one she loves, the real him, regardless of his avatar. She sees through to his soul and loves him.

In modern love you may as well say “I need you” … we are accomplices in projecting onto the other what we need to make us feel good about ourself, to feel accepted, to feel loved. This is proxy love. No other person can give you the love you seek. Only wiping away the illusion of separateness … from others, sure, but crucially from your True Self will allow you to see into the truth of who you are … the beloved. Meditation dissolves all known illusions.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”
1 Corinthians 13 v.12



“We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.”
Meister Eckhart


“Meditation is like a chocolate soldier slowly submerged in a river of hot chocolate; or a mercury cop in Terminator crossing a river of molten mercury.”

Via Transformativa

The goal of the alchemist is to turn base metal, typically lead, into pure metal – gold. An early form of quantitative easing … if it ever came off. Many have tried – including Sir Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle – without success as far as we know – unless you count the Bank of England’s £375bn money printing festival.

The Philosopher’s Stone – the legendary alchemical substance capable of transforming base metal into gold was also seen as the ‘elixir of life’ with healing and rejuvenation properties – like Nigella’s chocolate. It is the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest, purity, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss.

Central to the Hermetic tradition – the body of alchemical knowledge – is the idea also prevalent in Indian mystical cosmology – that the ‘microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm’. Newton states it like this in his translation of the Emeral Tablet:

“That which is Below is like that which is Above and that which is Above is like that which is Below to do the miracles of the Only Thing. And as all things have been and arose from One by the mediation of One, so all things have their birth from this One Thing by adaptation. The Sun is its father; the Moon its mother; the Wind hath carried it in its belly; the Earth is its nurse.”

This may sound very strange coming from England’s leading scientist and committed Biblical Christian. He saw his experiments with light as an experiment in difracting the very Word of God.

We can see our own journey as one of alchemical transformation – from the base idea that we are nothing more than an accidental concatenation of atoms – a body – to the refined idea that we are nothing less than the recepticle of the One essence.

Re-scripting our lives in this sense we are all on the journey of The Alchemist.

“If there hadn’t been a sixth day, man would not exist; copper would always be copper; and lead just lead. It’s true that everything has its Personal Legend, but one day that Personal Legend will be realized. So each thing has to transform itself into something better, and to acquire a new Personal Legend, until, someday, the Soul of the World becomes one thing only.”  Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


I am the Walrus

“In the Kingdom of heaven everything is in everything else. All is one and all is ours. We are all in all as God is all in all.”
Meister Eckhart


“Saying the mantra is like dismantling the wall that separates you from your true Self – union with God … ma – ra – na – tha … each syllable a brick, each repetition a course until the wall of separation falls.”

Via Transformativa

If you are The Walrus “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together,” according to The Beatles. Then we are all walruses.

According to John – the Beatle not the Apostle – The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. They certainly had the best tunes. But Jesus had a similar turn of phrase when he said “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20) A sort of reciprocal Russian doll thing going on there – and very mystical.

This is what is called ‘panentheism’. The term panentheism is Greek for “all-in-God,” pan-en-theos. A panentheistic belief system is one which posits a god that interpenetrates every part of nature, but is nevertheless fully distinct from nature. So this god is part of nature, but still retains an independent identity.

It is true that both panentheists and pantheists (see below) share the view that the universe and every natural thing in it is pervaded by divinity. However, since panentheism postulates that the universe is contained within God and not God in the universe, panentheists believe in a God who is present in everything but also extends beyond the universe.

In other words, God is the universe but is also greater than the universe. Often panentheists also believe that this God has a mind, created the universe, and cares about each of us personally. Pantheists on the other hand believe that the universe itself is divine and do not believe in personal or creator gods.

If there is God then nowhere can be outside of God. Meditation deconstructs the dividing wall that keeps us separate from the divine infusion. This TEDx video says it best: