Footnote to “Ritual”: Matter and Meaning


This is a footnote to The Epiphany of No Purpose and to Ritual.

“[T]here is a universal flux that cannot be defined explicitly but which can be known only implicitly, as indicated by the explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux. In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances. Rather, they are different aspects of our whole and unbroken movement.”
― David BohmWholeness and the Implicate Order

A Place for Words

I’m hoping the word “epiphany” carries a bathetic meaning. I hope it signifies a “ludicrous descent from the exalted to the commonplace.” But in this case a descent from the high horse of a ludicrous certainty to the banal wisdom of uncertainty. Being dis-illusioned in the best sense.

The epiphany doesn’t have a pedagogic purpose either. It’s only a moment without resistance to one’s folly. A receptive mentality. But not a proscribing or self-help mentality. Therefore without ulterior purpose. Banal in its own way. At least from the standpoint of conventional wisdom, which tends to picture a dumb blankness in the absence of knowing.

This prejudice causes amnesia. It makes us forget that words provide faded snapshots of the kaleidoscopic or fluid perspectives of an immersive moment.  We don’t often trust the material world to reveal its own inherent order. To manifest its own intelligence. But what need is there to describe relationships that are already being tasted, touched, heard…?

In the absence of a narrative intermediary, the whole body is in communion with the world. And then we’re privy to a thousand conversations, the weaving together of trees, clouds, birds, storms and shadows.

Privy also to one’s own shadowy motives before they escalate into a cumulus of folly.  This is easy when there’s no separation between an inner and an outer world. Reflex thoughts are part of the whole conversation. The incoherence of assumptions of separation can be felt long before they tear an alienating rift within one’s own perceptual field. There’s no chatter of a mind divided on itself. That low-grade schizophrenia that passes for normalcy is absent.

Knowing this, some people dismiss these words by saying “those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know.”

But we’re still embedded in a pyramid of conventional thinking that is incoherent with what those moments reveal. The verbal dismantling of these pyramids of conventional assumption are an enjoyable extension of the epiphany itself.

I think words play an important, but secondary role: To identify the structures of conventional wisdom that are incoherent with a more immersive and less schizophrenic perspective. To make the implications of that moment explicit.

Magnification, Not Abstraction

The word “implications” seems to drag us off into an abstract landscape. But that doesn’t have to happen.

A bear is immersed in his woods and mountains, and reads the meaning of his landscape. This doesn’t make bear an abstract philosopher, but a real bear, not a zoo bear isolated from the world. Implications enhance bear’s immersion in the world.

If we look deeper into matter, we find meaning itself. Even physicists are discovering this. A deeper magnification of matter itself reveals not only fields of energy, but even more subtle fields of “information.”

There’s a triple equivalency here of matter, meaning and energy that was perhaps unconsciously reflected in the male-centric metaphor of the Christian Trinity: Meaning as the Father; Matter as the Son; and energy as “the Holy Ghost.”

But in any case, meaning is not an abstract realm, not something separate from the material world. It’s not a heaven or a hell floating free of base matter. Matter itself is the beloved body of meaning.

It’s that sneaky viral meme of separation that makes this commonality hard to notice. We can’t seem to help assigning separate realms to matter and meaning. It’s an old prejudice that blinds us to a simpler vision.

Lab-coated observers try to remain separate from the matter they study. But it’s not possible. Their own meaningful analyses are part of the study.

The perception of meaning in the material world is not abstraction, but magnification. A deeper magnification can read the mind of our landscape, and it’s not a severed mind. It’s a mind implicit in the dirt itself.

Bears, too, perceive subtle meanings. As do all animals. The ability to read the intentions in body language, in physical manifestations of whimper and growl.

And just as a bear is a specialist in smells, and a bat in sounds, we are specialists in sensing the meta-level implications within matter itself: we have the potential to feel and see matter as a manifestation of meaning, and to distinguish subtle currents of meaning: how prejudice influences perception; the difference between thought and thing; the difference between proprioception and thought.

However, this potential for direct perception of the meaning of matter does not initially take the shape of ideas, or words. It’s not any of this that you’re reading. This is a descriptive dance, that’s all. In a moment of epiphany, meaning is not intellectually removed, but felt, heard, tasted, in the surroundings. When the wound between observer and observed is healed, and the bleeding of one’s own thoughts stop, the whole bleeding structure of consciousness can be felt, seen, and tasted. Because the fragmentations of society stand out in stark contrast to the unfragmented moment itself.

I mean, the material world itself displays this non-verbal meaning, in the same way that the ruined earth reveals the shape of human suffering.  One feels an alienating objectivity in all the divisive structures of this culture, the highways, the stores, the relationships. One sees an unrequited love for the world in pinched and brutalized faces.

We see and feel and know all of this without words.

The implications are grounded. This dance of language doesn’t deliver actuality itself. Like the dance of bees, it infers only the instructions for where to meet this meaning. If we believe that our comprehension of the dance is sufficient to “understand” then we have completely misunderstood what is being communicated.

“The mind, with its cunning arguments, is not everything. There is something vast and immeasurable beyond the mind, a loveliness which the mind cannot understand” (Krishnamurti).

So reading, writing and comprehending are only half the work. We have to learn to fly into what it means. Deeper and deeper into the material world.

6 thoughts on “Footnote to “Ritual”: Matter and Meaning

  1. Beautiful. Thank you.
    There was/is the elder whose eldering (a function) consisted mainly of sitting quietly in the middle of the hubbub of the village – not dazed and confused, not drugged, certainly not “childish,” or (goodness) “innocent” and therefore certainly not ignored. He or she was a manifest witness of any slathering with opinions, someone who exemplified “let me no react/speak to this but think about it and be quiet” and so brought the slatherer and the whole village to mindfulness (proprioception?).
    But where do the elders sit now? So I don’t mean the old people, but the people who actually do this eldering. There is no village for them to sit in anymore. If they still exist, they sit in studies, grown quiet among their books. Or in blogs to be discovered haphazardly…
    And so, “Knowing this, some people dismiss these words by saying “those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know.” Is there not a tragic truth in that? The word *hidden* is so powerful here (Bohm).
    And… hence (but not only because of that) “the ruined earth, human suffering, the pinched and brutalized faces”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautiful. Yes. There is no place to sit. The nursing homes are the saddest examples of this. These places (which are no place at all) demonstrate very well a strange thing: When we’re deprived of a place to be heard (to listen mainly, and be “heard listening”) then our potential as elders often seems to shrivel. Somehow the eldering potential of the individual is stunted by the absence of a social field in which to grow.

      In other words, I can in some sense only be as aware as the social network. Or maybe not entirely. But one can’t keep sitting quietly in a village, reflecting what is said meaningfully, when the village is razed and a superhighway is built over our heads. Maybe it’s possible to keep find sanity in such a predicament, but it’s not conducive to that. At the very least it’s not easy to keep speaking or reflecting when there are only cars and trucks wizzing by all day, when there is no one around who can understand your language.

      I’ve been puzzling on something like this for a few months now. And I can’t quite formulate the question to my satisfaction, but here’s a lame attempt: How entangled are we in the madness of our surroundings? Is intelligence a social or shared quality? Can we discover sanity in a madhouse? Do we end up just talking to ourselves, mad one way or another? Or do we eventually have to stop writing and speaking, even to ourselves, and just listen to the fall of the world, which is our own fall?

      I look for indications of sanity, like yours. It’s almost like clarity emits a certain tone that vibrates sympathetically in one another, creating a momentarily conducive environment for the appearance of a new mind, a new society in Utero. It’s not consistent in any of us at present. Just the occasional moment of sanity.

      The difficulty is that this isn’t a call to arms of some elite group. We have to somehow recognize that potential in us while also recognizing that it’s a belongs to a new perspective, not to an individual brain. We fall in and out of that clarity, but we have to find some way of acknowledging the potential of this eldering mindset without seeing ourselves as owning it.

      I think the eldering mind is not necessarily all wise, but simply light enough to face its own errors without fear or repression. In other words, it’s so fragile this new world. So fleeting. A new tribe is forming, but it seems unidentifiable as you or me or this or that person. It seems only identifiable in acts of honesty, in laughing at oneself. Once the laugh is over and the usual mindset settles back in, we lose membership in that new tribe.

      But I do think a new tone of some kind is beginning to sound in many of us now and then. It seems to be vibrating, shaking off by negation the many layers of blind assumption that have blocked our potential as a species. It wants to come into being now, but the individual (who is not individualistic at all, but a matrix of shared dogmas) hasn’t vibrated to pieces yet. It’s like watching a new world trying to be born, appearing now and then in this or that person. In the absence of this steady society, we have to reach out more often like you did and let it ring as much as it will. And we have to sit back and listen to that shared sound. When there is no village left, we need to become the village itself at this moment, even though the village will disappear in the next instant. Something is happening beyond our ken, but we need to recognize and tell each other that something is happening.

      I was thinking of writing about it, but recently encountered strong headwinds of doubt about the value of saying anything. This helps. Besides I can’t help saying things, because honesty is relentless. Not “my” honesty. But the world’s. No matter how much I try to save myself from too much honesty, I can never keep pace with errant evidence, with revelations of my own stupidity. It forces me to write.

      Very strange stuff. A tribe is forming, but there are in some sense no members. We become members only in the moment of honesty and leave the tribe as soon as we resume swimming in the social matrix of perpetual escape from reality. But I see it in your response. Thank you and may we meet again.


  2. When I wrote …”privy to a thousand conversations…” I hadn’t heard of David Whyte.

    Everything Is Waiting For You
    David Whyte

    Your great mistake is to act the drama
    as if you were alone. As if life
    were a progressive and cunning crime
    with no witness to the tiny hidden
    transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
    the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
    even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
    the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
    out your solo voice. You must note
    the way the soap dish enables you,
    or the window latch grants you freedom.
    Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
    The stairs are your mentor of things
    to come, the doors have always been there
    to frighten you and invite you,
    and the tiny speaker in the phone
    is your dream-ladder to divinity.
    Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
    conversation. The kettle is singing
    even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
    have left their arrogant aloofness and
    seen the good in you at last. All the birds
    and creatures of the world are unutterably
    themselves. Everything is waiting for you.


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