THE TRANSFORMATIONAL PERSPECTIVE (1)
AN EMERGING WORLDVIEW
By Hank Wesselman
On a bright autumn day in New Mexico, in October of 2002, I crossed trails with Dr. John Mack at an international conference on altered states of consciousness at which both he and I were offering keynote presentations. John had read several of my unusual books and over dinner one evening, he asked me if I would consider contributing an essay to the Primacy of Consciousness Project that he was co-chairing with Trish Pfeiffer. When I responded with interest, John began to talk about the project’s epicenter – how the world might be transfigured as the public at large becomes increasingly aware that consciousness, not matter, is the ultimate reality and thus the ground of all being.
As I listened, my thoughts turned toward those parts of my life spent working as an anthropologist among the tribal peoples of Africa, for it was out there, among the indigenous traditionals, that I had first stumbled upon this perspective more than thirty-five years before. It was expressed differently, of course, but it was always there, right at the core of their worldview—the perception that the multi-leveled field of the dream is the real world; that we human beings are actually dreaming twenty-fours hours a day; and that the everyday physical world came into being in response to the dream, not visa-versa. These assertions were always accompanied by a conviction, strongly-held, that the dream world is minded, that it is consciousness itself, alive, intelligent, and power-filled, infusing everything that emanates from it with awareness, vitality, and life force.
In the Western world, this perspective is often referred to as panpsychism, a view that has found notable supporters among such mainstream philosophers as Schopenhauer and Goethe, Leibnitz and Rudolf Steiner and Alfred North Whitehead.
Among the indigenous peoples with whom I had lived and worked, this was not a philosophical theory, nor was it a concept. It was a percept, an absolute known based upon direct experience. But it wasn’t until I became aware of the ‘Mind-Within-Nature’ focused upon me one starry night in 1972 while I was out on the savannas of southwestern Ethiopia that I began to understand what they were talking about.
I was 30 years old then, a member of the Omo Research Expedition, spending my days with an international team of scientists involved in the search of answers to the mystery of human origins. One evening a group of us drove north from our safari camp, out across the grassy plains to a place we all knew. I turned off the engine, then we all climbed up to sit on top of the Land Rover in the light of the full moon. In retrospect, this was one of the most magnificent moments of my life, my friends and I inhaling the sweet winds of eternity into our lungs in deep draughts, our blood sparkling with the light of the twinkling stars and the simple joy of being alive.
Far and away, jackals offered their high keening song to the moon followed by the hoarse, churring calls of nightjars that drifted on the warm wind… and then I felt the Presence. The sense of being watched surged within me like boiling water as I looked slowly around in the ghostly light, staring out in all directions across this empty dry land, but nothing out of the ordinary presented itself. It was just there, at the edge of my awareness… that sense of being observed by something, or someone. It was very, very close… and then it was gone.
This spooked me, and spooked me good. I was certain that it had been RIGHT HERE, whatever it was. Raymonde Bonnefille, a French palynologist picked up on the shift in my mood. “What is it?” She asked. “I dunno,” I hedged. “ I felt like there was something here… something that was watching us…”
“Ah oui,” she breathed with an intake. “We all feel this from time to time, I am sure, although we don’t talk about it.” A sudden sweet scent swept over us from some unseen night-flowering plant. The air was thick with this wonderful smell and then it was gone, as quickly as it had come.
“What do you think it is?” I had asked her. “I do not know but sometimes I feel it too…” she offered. We all continued to sit thoughtfully, in silence, for the best part of an hour, then in the end, we climbed down and drove slowly back to camp, the nightjars rising like ghostly spirits from the dusty track in front of the car.
This brief anomalous experience marked the inception of an ongoing continuum of spontaneous epiphanies involving abrupt, transient altered states of consciousness—unsought experiences that completely changed my understanding of the nature of the self as well as the nature of reality. Profoundly challenging psychologically, these episodes took me far beyond the carefully patrolled borders of science, and not surprisingly, my personal worldview shifted in response (1).
As I continued to listen to John talk about his project with rising enthusiasm, my thoughts rotated again, this time toward the experiential workshops that I had been leading for almost a decade at various retreat centers like the Esalen Institute in California and the Omega Institute near New York. Motivated by the need to more fully understand what had happened to me, I had designed these gatherings to draw in other visionaries so that together we might explore aspects of an ancient technology pioneered tens of thousands of years ago by the shamans of the Paleolithic Period—a technology of transcendence. Utilizing techniques such as monotonous, rhythmic percussion combined with focused intentionality, the participants in these gatherings were encouraged to search for an inner doorway through which they might journey into the dream worlds while very much awake. Surprisingly, most were able to do this on first attempt, and once ‘there,’ most were able to establish connection with those inner sources of wisdom and power that the traditional peoples call ‘spirits.’ Through my ongoing participation in these groups, I came to conclude that the different levels of reality on which the shaman operates are simultaneously levels of consciousness as well as levels of experience. By intentionally expanding their conscious awareness, shamans are able to transcend the physical world and change their level of experience, effectively shifting from one level of reality to another.
My years of facilitating such groups had left my inner scientist deeply impressed by the internal consistency of these experiences and by the transformative effect that they obviously conferred upon the experiencer. I had watched, fascinated, as these inner explorers were led toward an inescapable conclusion–that the fabric of reality is composed of a multi-leveled vibrational field that is alive, conscious, and intelligent.
So allow me to take up John’s invitation and share some thoughts about what I have come to think of as the Transformational Community, an important subculture that is coming into being in the Western world. Perhaps through consideration of their closely held values and beliefs, we shall gain glimpses of what our world may become once the certainty that consciousness is primary takes hold on an increasingly wider and potentially societal scale.
(Continued next time)