The literary movement known as Romanticism actively embraced the idea of multiple perspectives. The Romantics were in part reacting against what they saw as the limitations of the Enlightenment. One of those limitations was that for all of its magnificent advances the Enlightenment thinkers were still in some ways committed to a single view of truth. It was not the truth of any particular person. They no longer believed that a king or pope had special access to the really real, but they did believe that natural law told us what was unquestionably true. The Western Enlightenment was a triumph for rationality and was certainly more tolerant of difference than the church of the Middle Ages, but to the Romantics it was still closed to the full immensity and mystery of life.
The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a great Romantic story that metaphorically teaches us about what happens when human beings think they can know everything. Life is bigger than we can conceive of. If we make the mistake of believing that we can understand and control it, the results will be . . . well monstrous. Timothy Morton, also of Rice University, tells us that we are still in the Romantic era, and I couldn’t agree more. Those of us whose imaginations have been captivated by the immensity of that which lies beyond our ability to grasp are captivated by the Romantic impulse. Poets and playwrights like Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Fichte, Goethe, Emerson, Longfellow, and many others wanted to expand our conception of reality.
An astounding implication of Romanticism is that reality, at least as we perceive it, is in part created by us. We are both a part of reality and a source of it. This was a very strange idea in the seventeenth century. The Romantics played with the creative and multi-dimensional character of reality by making cameo appearances in their plays. In a cameo appearance the author of the play plays a character in the story, effectively becoming the creator and a part of the creation at the same time.
For the Romantics our experience of consciousness was not something to be taken for granted. Our minds were not just mirroring reality back to us passively. Our minds were shaping our perception of reality. This is the insight that lies at the very core of so much of what we have come to call personal transformation. If our minds shape our experience of reality, we should be able to change our experience of reality by altering our minds. Reality is not something fixed that we exist in and have to take as it is given to us. Reality can be altered, and we can have a creative role in the creation of a new future. This insight, which is a very Romantic one, is the heart and soul of conscious evolution.
Our spiritual awakenings and realizations confront us with an experience of a reality that lies beyond our current perception. When I have opened to experiences of emptiness, unconditional love, kundalini awakening, constant consciousness, divine revelation, and a host of other excursions beyond the known, the one thing that I was always left with was knowing that reality, whatever it is, is much bigger than I had previously thought.