If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
Whether it is Blake’s cavern, Plato’s cave, or the modern-day version of our contracted lives, we all seek more from life. We seek sustained happiness, wisdom, and human flourishing. We look for it down the dark alleys, seek it in the sunlight of outer achievements, mourn and attach to its fleeting visits – chase it we do, but, over time, it always seems to outrun our efforts. That is the human longing for the immutable joyful essence of life. Through out the ages and across diverse cultures individuals have universally sought to realize this treasured human possibility. And, it is no different with ourselves.
Individuals and cultures have sought the fullness of human potential in various ways. To name a few – shamanism, religious experience, mysticism, meditation, devotional practices, service, and entheogens among others. Each of these doorways has a singular aim – to cleanse the doors of perception that obscure a larger life. When this “cleaning” occurs, we are once again able to see self and life as it is with unfettered and unobscured perception and awareness. That clarity of “seeing” reveals our natural home and the foundational and unchanging truth of self and reality. And that is the healing that ends all human suffering and leads to sustainable joy.
Of what must our perception be cleansed to see the truth of self and life? What has so narrowed and obscured our vision that we can no longer see beyond the boundaries of our learned idea of who we are? We are born into a human body with a sense of self that is a mere presence, an awareness that sees what is as is without the shaping and influence of conditioning of acquired history. But, from our original pristine consciousness emerges our name and personality, our egoic sense of “I.” We have personal experiences that are committed to memory. We acquire habits and perceptual patterns that shape how and what we experience. We develop ideas, opinions, beliefs, and judgments. Our collected lifetime learnings, called our ordinary “I” or ego self, becomes the world through which we interpret experience and react. All of our experiences are by necessity filtered through this acquired worldview. We learn to live in our bounded world – called a personal prison by those who know better – as if that was the only possibility. We live from youth on with the false belief and certainty that this is who we actually are, rather than who we have become. And that illusion of lifelong conditioning, is what obscures perception and a view of the good, the true, and the beautiful – our natural state of being.
What happens when the cleansing takes place and we can once again see self and world as they naturally are? What happens when the ego structure fades from view and what the neuroscientists call “the neural default mode” is deactivated? What happens when our “person” our personal sense of self with all of its past history and ideas fades from view, losing its shaping influence? When this occurs, the clear eyes of perception and awareness once again reveal themselves, as if cleansed of the obscurations and shaping influences of ego and its history.
What we see is precisely the same world we saw before, but with a purity of perception and awareness uninfluenced by history and ideations. And that change in perception, that ability to see self and the world precisely as it is, rather than as a fabricated personalized world shaped by our inner stories, is the difference between heaven and hell, suffering and freedom, pleasure and spontaneous unchanging joy.
The world as it is is what Plato called the “good, beautiful, and true.” It has also been named the Tao, Christ nature, Buddha-nature, Satchitananda, Nirvana, Satori, Heaven and the endless other names that seek without success to name the unnamable, which can only be known through direct experience. All of these signifiers refer to the “religious mind” – the simple, unfettered, and natural mind that the famed psychologist William James realized was a precious and cherished experience, arising across time and cultures. This profound experience, available to all and free from cultural or institutional shaping is indeed a “religious mind.” Our very nature, just as it is, is sacred and divine.
Self and life are finally seen as they actually are – with awe, enchantment, sacredness, and a radical aliveness. What is so extraordinary is the ordinariness of it all. No complexity, just a simple being and presence that has always been there, but as adults has been filtered out by the confines of our limited self. Whatever method or grace reveals this profound experience of life, that glimpse may. at first be ephemeral, as the tenacious grip of the ego structure seeks to take over once again. But one of the characteristics of this experience is that there is a personal and unchanging certainty that arises, which over time, even when only retained in memory, withstands the assaults of logic or the ephemeral nature of this glimpse. One is unshakeable in the conviction that one has touched the truth of life and the essence of living, and that is how it is.
The experience within when the reality of self and life is experienced with clear perception is still, silent, and easeful as the world continues to move in its usual ways. Consider T.S. Eliot’s words from the Four Quartets:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is ….
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
When we rest in the still point of pure awareness and pure perception, aware but undisturbed by the movements of life – inner and outer, we are in the dance, the dance of life – and that is being alive and awake. A simple yet profound grace and blessing.
Some may ask, “How can we live in the world from such peace and stillness? My answer is simple and twofold. First, “Can you tell me how we live in the world through our contracted ego?” Not well. As the teacher J. Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” And second, consider those who have lived from these truths – those of fame known as Buddha, Christ, and Ghandi and others whose names we don’t know. They have all changed the world for the better. We will long remember their gifts– their gifts of informed wise love and action. Wisdom and pure awareness is not passivity. It is an empowered life that heals.
There are many methods and paths that help us arrive at this experiential truth of living. Some individuals rely on a specific time-tested path that leads towards this realization – several have already been mentioned above. Others gain a glimpse through particular life experiences: dance, music, art, intimacy, service, nature, and so on. In the latter instances individuals often do not know the significance of what they have touched. They only realize that they have touched a fleeting sense of oneness, joy, and inner peace. But to know the real significance of these glimpses and to use them as a powerful motivation to gain greater insight and freedom is an essential next step, if these glimpses are to be much more than a pleasant entertaining experience.
A special note here should be made regarding the entheogens, or psychedelic botanicals. When used with proper preparation, intention, guidance, and sacredness these natural botanicals have for millennia served individuals and influenced religious traditions through their ability to cleanse the doors of perception and open “the religious mind”- the mind that can see the truth of the enchanted and divine nature of self and life. As these entheogens become increasingly available for personal and medical use, we must remember their fundamental action – they, however briefly, cleanse the doors of perception and provide us with an opportunity to taste and rest in the good, the true, and the beautiful. Stability and full integration of these glimpses requires ongoing inner growth.
What is first experienced as a “glimpse” must become our life. It is the essence of who we are. As we stabilize our deeper self, all of the positive qualities and virtues that we cultivate in day-to-day life arise spontaneously in our natural and essential self. They are seamlessly interwoven with our basic nature and appear in their full fruition as we gain stability in our essential self of intrinsic awareness. Fleeting happiness and pleasure arise as unchanging joy without a reason. Relaxation and inner peace arise as the peace that surpasses understanding. Knowledge and information arise as a non-cognitive all-seeing wisdom. Ordinary and well-meaning compassion arises as an all-encompassing compassion devoid of self-interest. Love arises as unconditional and selfless being. And political and social freedom give way to the greatest freedom – freedom from the known, from the past, from fixed perceptions and tenacious reactive patterns. We are free to see what is as is and to live in the radical beauty of each passing moment. These, and more, are the gifts of cleansing the doors of perception.
Do not believe that these possibilities are beyond your capacity. If you hold this belief to be true, it will define you. It is a false belief.
You were born with these qualities, and they are there right now, this very moment. Just a little tweak and you will experience them. You have accomplished far more difficult ambitions. You can as well accomplish the supreme triumph of a lifetime, living in the truth and light of who you are. Yes, it may take a good mentor, study, the patience of dropping in and out, but if you persist you will win the gold for yourself and for a world desperate for healing.
Previously Published on elliotdacher.org