Friday, April 11, 2008


There is a desire among human beings, particularly among those of us who believe in God and the spiritual realms, to see the cosmos as a smooth and perfectly running system. How could the Deity create anything imperfect? Unthinkable!

One consequence of this perspective is that when things go wrong in some way, the fault can't lie in the system as a whole but in some part of it that isn't doing what it should or integrating properly. It doesn't take a wizard to guess just which part is usually assigned the blame in such instances. Us. Incarnate human beings. You and me.

There's certainly justification for this point of view. We know we make mistakes. We just don't assume that God does. Or that our Souls do.

Maybe we should.

Actually, the term "mistake" is not the proper noun here. This implies that there is one right way to do things, and that it's possible to screw it up (and our usual assumption in such cases is that if it is screwed up, a human being is at fault somewhere!). But what if we see the universe as filled with infinite possibilities ("Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," as the Vulcan Mr. Spock would say in Star Trek). Some of these possibilities, diversities, and combinations work very well together, and others don't. And when they don't, there are repercussions and consequences to the system as a whole.

And there is learning.

When I was a science student, I learned that experimentation was a way of generating new information, a path of discovery. In that context, there was no such thing as a failed experiment, for even if it was not successful in terms of the hypothesis I was trying to prove, it still generated useful and new information. I learned something either way, and that learning when into future experiments.

I think of the cosmos as an engine for generating new information, a means by which the Generative Mystery (or God, if you prefer) discovers and learns (and everything else in creation discovers and learns as well). I don't believe this process is random, though randomness is part of it. There is a guiding will moving within the cosmos, but also a guiding openness, a willingness to allow infinite diversity in infinite combinations even when that may result in events and processes that simply don't work right or go awry in the context of the cosmos as a whole.In short, creation is an experiment. Not in the sense of "Hey, let me try this out and see what happens, and if it works, I'll keep it," but in the sense of "I wonder what I'll learn or what will unfold if I put this and this together!" Sometimes, the result is "Just what I thought!" Sometimes the result is "Wow! Omigosh! Look at that! That's cool! Who would have expected that?" And sometimes the result is "Oops!"

If I want a metaphor for this, alchemy is not far from the mark. Alchemy is a process of learning, but it's also a process that aims for particular results. I happen to believe the Generative Mystery is interested in particular results, though I doubt I can always understand them from my level of awareness. In other words, the universe, like alchemy, is practical, not merely philosophical. It wants results, and some results really are better than others.

Essential to doing alchemy is the container within which I mix my ingredients and within which the reaction takes place. That's the "alchemical space."

I think of incarnation as an alchemical space. We are retorts or test tubes or pots within which elements are mixed and reactions can take place. It's important to honor and take care of the container, for without it, no alchemy takes place. Incarnation--the creation of a personal alchemical space in which new information can be generated, learning can take place, transformation can occur, and something can be added to the wholeness of creation--is a significant, powerful spiritual process. It's not just for being physical.

In particular, we are an alchemical space in which an experiment of combining the vertical and horizontal worlds can take place.

There's plenty of wisdom, learning, and experience already contained in this experiment. "Lucy," one of our ancestors, lived over three million years ago, and our ancestry goes back much further than that. A lot of incarnating has taken place in that time, even though much of it might not look like what we experience today. But the nature of an experiment is that it generates new information. In that sense, your incarnation and mine are as fresh and emergent and open to new discoveries as when the first slime mold made its way from the ocean onto the land.

And openness to emergence also means openness to "Oops!"

A purely hierarchical view of the cosmos, such as one gets with the Kabbalah or in some esoteric systems in which "levels" or "planes" are stacked on top of each other like a wedding cake, doesn't always convey the richness of this experiment or the participation of all the "players."

In hierarchical systems, the higher levels and beings are often considered to be more perfect or "well-designed" and functioning than the lower levels and beings. "Oops" is considered a lower-level possibility, not a higher one; the whole is not seen as an interactive system in which the possibility of error is part of the whole system itself and not confined just to one of its parts.

An ecological or systems view of the cosmos sees different levels of vertical and horizontal beingness as players and partners, interrelated in a variety of ways within the alchemical space of incarnation. If the resulting mixture produces something sweet and wonderful, all the interacting elements contribute to this, not just the "higher" ones. And if it blows up, then the fault lay in the mixture itself and the dynamics of the relationships within it, not with one particular element (usually the "lower" one).

When I think of incarnation, I think of it in just these terms, as a whole system in which various elements of energy and consciousness and various degrees of "verticality" and "horizontalness" are mixed together in a dynamic space (the oerson or the personality) created and held by the will of the incarnating soul. The nature of our current physical consciousness, shaped by our particular culture and moment of history, is that we don't immediately see or experience the wholeness of this system but only its different parts, such as body, mind, emotions, energy, soul, spirit, and so on. And the way in which we see and interpret these parts can obscure the vision and diminish the alchemical power of the incarnational system as a whole.

That, however, is a different topic to be explored in a later blog. Right now, my point is that all of this is experimental. The vertical and horizontal worlds, meeting in us, don't have it all worked out in perfection and smoothness. Glitches can occur, things don't always mesh or integrate well, parts of the system can overload or clog other parts, and "oops!" can occur.

When that happens and life seems to blow up in our face, it's a chance for learning and picking up the pieces. Reflection is important. What isn't helpful is to blame, nor is it helpful to say, "Oh, well, it's all for the best; everything is always perfect." When an experiment blows up and destroys half the laboratory, it's time to put out the fires, bandage the wounded, pick up the debris, and clean things up to try again. It's not time to wax philosophical and say, "Well, I guess it was all for the best. What's one lab or two anyway?" Something went wrong. The experiment didn't work. It's time to find out why.

An alchemist doesn't look at her sulpher or copper or hydrochloric acid and say, "You evil, rotten, dense thing, you! I'll never use you again in an experiment." An alchemist looks at how things combined or didn't combine, what created a reaction that could not be contained or integrated, and what to do about it. It's too expensive to keep repairing labs or building new ones; we do want to perform our experiments more wisely. We want to learn. And we can't learn by assuming that one element is always at fault while all the others are innately pure and refined. The problem does not lie simply in any one element within us but in the mixing of them and the challenge of integration.

The task of learning to integrate the vertical and horizontal worlds is an ongoing human task. We've been at it for millions of years, and chances are we're going to be at it for millennia to come, not because we can't learn to get it right but because it's a continuing source of new information and learning. Incarnation is experimental in itself, which doesn't mean we can't do it better and more wisely as we go along, only that we're not aiming for a product that will shut the experiment down.

Bottom line: when things go "oops!" or "boom!" in your life, it's time for self-reflection and learning. What didn't integrate? What happened? Was there too much of this or too little of that? But don't begin this process by assuming the fault lies with you as a personality or with you as the horizontal, incarnate person who's simply not as wise and good and pure as your soul or other vertical parts of yourself. It might be the soul that screwed up here, after all. Learn to think of yourself as a whole system and see what happens when you approach your personality--your horizontal self--not with blame but with respect as a partner in that system with your vertical self.

Who knows what new learning and transformation may occur from this perspective?

And if you're not sure about it, think of it as an experiment.