In 1884 Edwin Abbott published a novella called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions and the exploration of multi-dimensional reality that it contains. In this post I use this book as the basis for a multi-demention explanation of mystical experiences. The remainder of this post is an excerpt from my soon to be released book The Soul of a New Self.
Flatland is a world that only exists in two dimensions. It is a flat plane like a table top with no height. In Flatland the only thing you can see are lines. The actual being in flatland might be a circle or a square, but inside of flatland you can only see their edges. In the story only the mysterious entity visiting from the world known as Spaceland can see the surface of the circle or square because the Spacelander exists in three dimensions not two.
The important insight here is that as long as we stay inside our existing reality our perception will have less dimensionality than our being. There is always more to us than we can see! The square in Flatland can never see its own surface because to do that it would have to jump outside of the two dimensional world that it exists in. The three-dimensional being, perhaps it is a cube, already exists outside of the plane of Flatland so the cube can get up over the square and see its surface.
From within our world we may see beings that have more dimensionality than we do, but we will only see those aspects of them that exist in the dimensions available in our world. When the cube from Spaceland crosses the plane of Flatland it doesn’t appear as a Cube. It appears as a line because lines are all you can see in Flatland. The cube could never explain what it looks like in three dimensions. That possibility lies outside of the Flatlanders’ capacity to imagine. The cube can’t even explain the existence of the Flatlanders own surface – the idea of surface is not even imaginable in Flatland.
When a three-dimensional cube passes through Flatland it simply appears as if by magic. One instant it is not there, the next it is. No entrance from anywhere. It simply appears out of nowhere because from the Flatland perspective nowhere is exactly where it came from. If this line that appears as if by magic then tries to explain itself, the Flatlanders simply have no idea what they are talking about; they can’t imagine it.
All manifest beings exist within a limited dimensionality. Dimensions beyond those do not exist for them. This book introduces a reality that exists beyond our own current level of dimensionality. Generally it is not visible to us at all. Occasionally we get glimpses of it. These glimpses, as seen from the vantage point of the limited being that we are, feel unintelligible and mysterious because our powers of perception have less dimensionality than that reality has.
I call the consciousness that gives us access to this high dimensional reality continuity-unfolding. A vision of continuously unfolding reality can appear to us, and has to me, in deep meditation and in collective spiritual dialog practices. If these experiences remain anchored to our current sense of self, in other words if they are viewed from within our current limits of perceptual dimensionality, we can only see a thin slice of that bigger reality.
If we are able to leave our current sense of self behind and float off into another dimension something even more amazing occurs. If we not only ‘see’ higher dimensions from here, but actually leave here behind and move into higher dimensions we can actually experience this new reality in its fullness. When we are inside of it, having left our limited self far behind, that reality appears to us as totally intelligible. In fact, it makes more sense to us than anything else we have ever experienced and we have no doubt about its existence.
Imagine a Flatland square that lets go so deeply of its sense of reality that its consciousness floats up out of its current plane of existence. All of a sudden the Flatlander is seeing the impossible, squares, triangles and circles not as lines, but as surfaces from above. From that point of view the Flatlander is standing in nowhere seeing everything, which sounds like descriptions mystics use to explain their spiritual awakening experiences.
I believe this is a very useful way to understand our own mystical experiences. They are journeys to other dimensions that occur once we have let go of our current sense of self and reality. These experiences are profoundly intelligible and seem to make sense of everything. When, and if, we return from such a journey we find that squeezing back into the limited dimensionality of this world is uncomfortable. We also discover that what was so clear and simple and true out there, is mysterious when remembered from back here. Our mystical journeys beyond our current dimensionality are often impossible to communicate to anyone else, unless they have had a similar experience.
Of course I am making all of this sound horribly dualistic, as if there is a reality out there that is separate from a reality over here. This separation is a line of division that is useful in describing our mystical experiences because our minds are conditioned to see things dualistically in terms of separate objects and this description fits comfortably into those patterns of thought. Ultimately, however, it is not true. There are not two realities there is One. Reality is one continuous whole without breaks or gaps. That is the core insight that characterizes the reality that we are moving into and that I am calling continuity-unfolding.
In this first chapter we have explored how we come to have perceptual glimpses of a new reality. We live in a world of things-in-space and have glimpses of a new world of continuity-unfolding. These glimpses, which we often refer to as mystical experiences, come in weaker and stronger forms. The weaker forms are glimpses of a new reality as viewed through the perceptual limitations of our current sense of self. The stronger forms are journeys that we take in consciousness beyond our current sense of self directly into a new reality. The weaker forms leave us compelled to continue. The stronger forms leave us convinced. The weaker forms have the power to initiate a true spiritual search. The stronger forms have the power to end it.
In the remainder of this book we will expand our exploration of continuity-unfolding consciousness and more importantly we will discuss the possibility of not just having perceptual access to a new reality, but actually creatively embracing a new sense of self that can abide there. We can glimpse a new reality from our current sense of self. We can learn to liberate our consciousness and journey beyond our current sense of self into a new reality. But even more significantly than both of those we can let go of our current sense of self and embrace a new one that allows our awareness to stabilize in continuity-unfolding consciousness. In this book I intend to share with you everything I understand about how we can stabilize in a new reality.
My experience tells me that this is not a solo journey. The sense of self that we must embrace is collective not individual. We will not become a new being on our own. We will become a new being together. I have experienced this shift into a collective self with others. It is a miracle. It is almost impossible to describe and yet I feel compelled to do so. You are invited to a journey that takes us beyond our current sense of self, beyond the experience of no self, beyond even an individual transformation of self, into a sense of self that only emerges between us.