The Dream of the Fish, Redux

I suppose it’s time to tell my own story once again. Veteran readers of this blog (bless their hearts, they’ve put up with it for a decade now), in its various incarnations as The Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis, will likely recall the story. It’s what makes me tick. It’s what brought me to blogging about the things I blog about in the first place.

“The Dream of the Fish” was, I believe, the very second blog entry I ever wrote after launching The Dark Age Blog 10 years ago. Even those familiar with the tale may find novelties in the retelling, as new elements and aspects of the experience have come to light over the years also.

So, here’s my story, once again.

In the year 2000, I was living and working in the high-tech sector in beautiful downtown Vancouver, BC, which is a nice place to be if you are doing that sort of thing. For assorted reasons, I had become very disillusioned with the industry and its pretensions as well as skeptical of Geekdom. I decided to pack in that lifestyle and to pursue an advanced degree in the history and philosophy of science and technology from a social studies perspective.

It was during that course of studies that I suddenly became interested in “perspectivism” itself. Just what did it mean to have a “perspective”? I kept coming across research papers with the title “A Perspective on” this or “A Perspective on” that, or “A Framework for” this or “A Framework for” that, and began to wonder about that, too. Just what did it mean to have a “perspective” and a “framework”? I began tracing the whole history of that back to the Renaissance artists, and began accumulating primary and secondary sources to prove that the Copernican or Scientific Revolution actually began with the Renaissance artists, and that metaphors like “perspective” and “framework” and “point of view” were all rooted in aesthetics, and that what we now are calling “the mental-rational consciousness structure” had its roots in art before it became “science”.

Well, as you might imagine, all hell broke loose when I insisted on formally presenting my findings in my faculty. The very rationalistic, scientistically-minded would hear nothing so “preposterous” as that the origins of their worldview lay in perspective illusionism and aesthetics. They wouldn’t even look at the evidence I had assembled, apparently perceiving it as a threat to their authority, their self-image, and very identity. The controversy led to a serious squabble in the faculty between quite vicious detractors of my thesis and supporters of that thesis.

Disillusioned and despondent about academia, I dropped it all. I had begun walking down the hallowed halls of academia as though I had 100 lb lead boots on my feet. Instead, I hitched up with my then girl-friend and we bought a farm, which I had intended to turn into a model of organic farming, while continuing to do some technical consulting on the side.

It was while I was on the farm (my ex- and I have since gone separate ways) that I had what I’m calling my “dream of the fish” — a very vivid dream and it blew my mind. I had dreamed I was a fish. And there’s no question in my mind that my consciousness was a fish sentience. It’s a most peculiar thing. In any case, I was a fish, and as a fish, I took a lure. I could feel the lure as a pressure inside my mouth rather than a pain. I felt myself being drawn upwards against my resistance, and when I broke the surface I saw a fisherman standing in a boat, reeling me in. And the fisherman, too, was me. I was both fish and fisherman simultaneously.

The effect was so startling that I woke up suddenly, bolted upright and sat on the side of the bed pondering how it was possible for my consciousness to be in two apparently separate forms simultaneously, as both fish and fisherman. Then I was suddenly struck by the realisation that there was still a “third” form present — “me”; the form named “Scott Preston” that also experienced itself simultaneously as being fish and fisherman. And just when I thought my amazement couldn’t get any more intense I realised further that there had been a “fourth” presence simultaneous and identical also with fish, fisherman, and “Scott Preston”, which I subsequently called “the Architect” — the root awareness that not only designed the dream scenario, but was present in and as all three — me, the fish, the fisherman. The sentience called “Scott Preston” was as much a part of its dreaming as the fish and the fisherman. This fourth awareness (which I call “formless awareness”) is so vast in scope that we tend to overlook it precisely because its very infinity, its very formlessness, makes it imperceptible and inconceivable. And yet it is Presence. It is Being itself, and I was just a very small part of its awareness. So it wasn’t “my” consciousness and identity that had been simultaneously in fish and fisherman and the entity called “Scott Preston”. All three were aspects of “its” awareness, the means by which it participates in physical reality without fully being itself in time and space. It experiences itself by means of avatars of itself.

It’s this formless awareness that Gebser calls “the Itself”. The fish, the fisherman, and the “watcher” called Scott Preston were all avatars or emanations of the same singular awareness.

At that moment, everything around me changed too. The total environment was also part of the Architect’s dreaming. It had no solidity, but was the manifestation of it’s intent. The “will” I called “mine” was only a pale shadow or echo of that intentionality. This effect lasted only a few jaw-dropping minutes until I reassembled the world, as it were. But afterwards I was changed irrevocably.

A few days later, an “echo” of that experience recurred. I was working in the field when the boundaries between things disappeared — earth, sky, the forest, the field, myself dissolved. One part of me still “saw” them as cognitively separate entities, but another part of me “saw” no boundaries between them at all — an infinity gazing into an infinity that people call “Nothingness” or “Emptiness” or “empty mirror”. There had been a momentary hiccough or lacuna in my inner narrative or cognitive system of classification, a brief interruption of the inner dialogue and mode of cognition. The world was, and yet it wasn’t either. Even my “I” wasn’t even my own “I”.

First there is a mountain.
Then there is no mountain.
Then there is.

These events are just memories to me now, which echo in my mind. Although they have left an indelible impression on me, I’m still just as stupid as I’ve ever been.

First, there is stupid.
Then, there is no stupid.
Then there is.

In hindsight, I now realise that the “dream of the fish” was a momentary convergence of those different structures of consciousness that Gebser calls “archaic” (the ancient), the magical (shamanistic), the mythical and the mental-rational, or what Seth equally calls “the multidimensionality of consciousness”.

The “Itself” is the “ground of being”, and yet it is so vast, so impenetrable to perception by its very vastness that it is experienced as abyss, as infinity, as nothingness, as emptiness itself. Yet in our own personal identities we are tiny, individuated, finite and mortal, aspects of the Itself, the means by which the Itself can participate in the play of physical existence. We can’t “see” it because we are it. Inherently, implicitly, we are this same formless awareness that intends its world as a means of coming to know itself.

If there’s anything “beyond” this formless awareness, I’m not privy to that. It is, presumably, what some people call “God”, as Creator, or Architect. All I can say is that I experienced the awareness I call “mine” as being in four different forms or identities simultaneously, which is astonishing enough, wouldn’t you say?


20 responses to “The Dream of the Fish, Redux”

  1. donsalmon says :

    “This fourth awareness (which I call “formless awareness”) is so vast in scope that we tend to overlook it precisely because its very infinity, its very formlessness, makes it imperceptible and inconceivable. And yet it is Presence. It is Being itself, and I was just a very small part of its awareness”

    Beautifully said. we are the fish swimming in water who don’t know water because it is so obvious.

    That which looks through our eyes but our eyes cannot see
    hears through our ears but our ears cannot hear
    thinks through our minds but our minds cannot think
    Kena Upanishad

    • Scott Preston says :

      That which looks through our eyes but our eyes cannot see
      hears through our ears but our ears cannot hear
      thinks through our minds but our minds cannot think
      Kena Upanishad

      That’s perfect!

  2. abdulmonem says :

    This bring to mind what I have posted in a previous comment, and I have created creation to know Me. Formless awareness to be known in a formed awareness. It is both immanent and transcedent.

  3. Risto says :

    Thanks for sharing your story Scott! I’ve been reading The Chrysalis for about a year now and it has given me a lot. It’s nice to know how you got started.

    I was thinking do you have any idea, what made you have that dream and those other experiences?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Hello Risto.

      That’s a very good question, but maybe impossible to answer. What triggered it, I think, was that I was questioning the very foundations of rationality and the origins of “point-of-view”, as I note in the memoir. The dream and the vision were, in that sense, a culmination or affirmation of that “deconstruction” of the “authority of reason”, as it’s called. So, that’s another thing — I’ve always been suspicious of things which claim to be authoritative, so “radical openness” to the possibility of the validity of other narratives than the authority of reason.

      This scrutinisation wasn’t cynical skepticism of rationality itself — what we’re now calling “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” — it was a sincere probing of the very roots of this mode of perception. At that time, I had no idea that I was engaged in some procedure called “deconstruction” of point-of-view-line-of-thought consciousness. But at the same time, the very reason I started that was the abundant evidence of our times that there was something quite faulty about it.

      There was also my disillusionment with my previous experience as a computer programmer and systems analyst. I had pushed logic about as far as it could go and also discovered its limitations. That seems to happen quite a bit to programmer/analysts, actually. My attitude to logic was that it was a very useful tool, but it was just a tool, and a master craftsman doesn’t become a slave to or a mere extension of his or her tools.

      At the same time, though, I was working with the Aboriginal Healing Project as a consultant on intercultural and intergenerational communication, and I was learning a good deal about the traditional aboriginal outlook on things (which I frequently mention in the Chrysalis) which was also challenging to the “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness structure. I think I learned a great deal more from my aboriginal friends than they learned from me.

      Come to think of it, there’s one episode from some years prior that may have been a foreshadowing also, possibly my own “dark night of the soul” episode while I was at university. I went through this dark period — quite literally I might say. For a couple of days, the world looked to me like the negative of a photograph. I remember it as the “days of the Black Sun”. It was horrible. It was Hell itself. The world really did look menacing, cold, colourless, with it’s oppressive light of a cold, black Sun.

      Eventually I pulled out of it. Later, I discovered that the “Black Sun” is often a term used to describe depression or melancholia, and that seems to have been connected with my deconstructing “point-of-view”. But it was also a term from Alchemy to describe a process of transformation and metamorphosis (ie, breakdown as breakthrough).

      So, I wasn’t following any kind of practice or procedure. It was in some sense simply honestly questioning the belief system that props up the ego-consciousness. My experience with the Black Sun is probably connected to that. It’s one of the reasons I came to appreciate Nietzsche, for I, too, had my own “stare into the abyss”, and I really thought of suicide at the time as relief from the oppressive Black Sun as Nietzsche was also consoled by the thought of suicide. Those literal thoughts of suicide, though, are reflections of an essential spiritual metamorphosis — a death and a resurrection. That seems even a necessary and essential part of the process of change. In Nietzsche’s case, his “stare into the abyss” was a necessary prelude to his becoming “a free spirit” and his “joyful wisdom”.

      “Everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die”. I think I heard that in a song. It’s true. People clamour for “change” but they really don’t want change for that reason. Real change involves a death and a resurrection from death. But the ego-identity doesn’t want to change because it fears its own demise.

      That’s why you have to cultivate a “warrior’s spirit” — resilience, discipline, endurance, skillfulness, absolute confidence in your inner resources. “Become hard”, as Nietzsche put it (but which I think has been misinterpreted as cruelty when he meant resilient). And as Castaneda’s don Juan also told him, a warrior balances “the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive”.

      • Risto says :

        Thanks for this expansion of your story! I can relate to many things you’re talking about.

        One of the things, I’ve been pondering since I started to read The Chrysalis is, what are the ways individual can achieve the integral consciousness. From your answer I get, that it sort of happens by itself (or Itself), when you awake from the ego’s deepest sleep.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I think it can all be put in two words: “Let go”. That’s all there is to it. As you can tell from my own description, this is what I was doing, but without really knowing that as such. “letting go” and “deconstruction” are pretty much the same process.

          But by “letting go” I don’t mean self-abandon or self-indulgence or something origiastic (which is usually what it’s taken to mean) — it’s a disciplined process of progressive non-identification or dis-identification.

          This was actually the Buddha’s procedure, which I was following but without really trying or even deliberately pursuing. By examining the root assumptions of “perspectivism” or the mental-rational, I was objectivising them, distancing myself from them, or actually dis-identifying with them. “Not me, Not me” — Neti, neti (although I didn’t know this then). This was the proper mood of “disinterestedness”. Without really consciously intending it, I was systematically and progressively “letting go”. In fact, I actually let go of a lot of things in a process of what you might call “controlled demolition”.

          So, somewhat invisibly, by interrogating the root assumptions of my culture in a scholarly way, I was actually also working on my own by a true process of “reflection”, in the sense that it was reflexive. I was beginning to free my own consciousness from it’s identification with perspectivism and the “framework” of perception.

          So, I was practicing “letting go” without deliberation on that — not following a conscious “procedure” at all. But a consequence of it was that I was progressively distancing myself from the belief system that props up the ego-consciousness.

          Hence Nietzsche’s formula for self-overcoming: “it’s not the courage of one’s convictions that count, but the courage to attack one’s convictions that count”. I suppose that may have been in the back of my mind as I was probing the historical roots of the mental-rational structure of consciousness as expressed in “point-of-view”, “perspective” and its “frameworks”.

          I do worry sometimes that people will misconstrue “letting go” as a kind of annihilation. It’s not that. It’s a disciplined dis-identification with the phenomenal.

          But then, this leads into a kind of paradox. How do you reconcile “Neti, Neti” (I am not this, I am not that) with “you are the world” (“Tat Tvam Asi”). Strange paradox isn’t it? Nothing — the Big Empty — is the same as All.

          • Scott Preston says :

            I should probably point out, too, that “letting go” is not without POLITICAL risk, which I certainly experienced as described in my post. What is spiritual practice of non-attachment or dis-identification inevitably becomes, also, in political terms “disloyalty” or, in religious terms too, “apostasy.” Both Jesus and the Sufi martyr Al Halaj experienced that, too.

            That’s one reason I’ve suggested everyone get familiar with authoritarianism and its meaning.

            Life is dangerous.

            • Risto says :

              Well, as Kierkegaard would put it, embracing the paradox is the ultimate goal. The bigger the paradox the better.

              About the political nature of “letting go”: Do you think it’s something you should actively engage in social environment, or is it “enough” to sit by your computer and mull these things over inside your head?

            • Scott Preston says :

              About the political nature of “letting go”: Do you think it’s something you should actively engage in social environment, or is it “enough” to sit by your computer and mull these things over inside your head?

              You’re a social being. You need to be socially engaged. I have to admit that it’s very challenging for me to be with other people now. But too much of anything, like solitude, can make you crazy just as much as too little.

              Once you know and act from the “vital centre” you don’t worry about such things. You speak and act according to the truth of your core being and according to your predilection. It comes “naturally” we might say — spontaneously. If you need to mull, mull and introspect. It’s usually for a reason.

              The ego is MEANT to act in space and time. It is an agency, and that’s what all those parables about “servants” refer to. The problem is that the ego-nature thinks its really the master so its will is often not aligned with the intent of its being.

              What we are calling “predilection” is its purpose, its task. Some call it one’s “ruling idea” or “personal myth”. Maybe to the eyes of others it seems petty and trivial (while their own predilection is the most important thing in the world!), but you know what they say about appearances being deceiving and about big things coming in small packages.

              If you live from the core of yourself, any imbalance in things you know, and even just your presence in a situation can be re-balancing. Everything and every event becomes a “dharma teaching”, as they say.

              We’re here to learn. That’s our purpose. What are we here to learn? How to effectively translate ideas into physical form, which process we call “creativity” — the responsible use of energy. That’s what I learned from my “dream of the fish”. We’re here to actualise potentialities of our core being, and that could mean anything from evolution to handicraft activity, or, indeed, a “self”.

              This is what Gebser means also by “concretion of the spiritual”.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Actually, I just thought of something that might fit your question, Risto.

              When I was on the farm, I learned to love composting. I loved the whole idea of turning garbage into “black gold” — soil, revitalising the soil. I suppose I treated the activity much as alchemy — transmutation of lead into gold. So, I really invested myself in it, and I mean that quite literally.

              As it turns out, I discovered by research that good balanced compost is 25% air, 25% water, 25% earth, and 25% heat — there you have the four classical elements of Greek philosophy. For that reason, some enthusiasts treat compost as almost a religious ritual or spiritual practice.

              It is, in a sense, alchemy. And I also came to realise that I was performing Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” in the handicraft of compost making. Composting became a meditation in action, as it were.

              And, so, where do you think my political philosophy comes from then? Actually, less directly from Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality than from composting — liberalism, conservatism, socialism, environmentalism are much like the four elements that go into making good soil — like earth, air, fire, and water. That’s the principle of homeostasis or dynamic equilibrium.

              The fifth element is in all this is, of course, you. You are the steward of the compost, as it were — your consciousness, your sense of proportionality, of balance. When you’re composting, you and the cosmos are as one process, because earth, air, fire, and water are also your metabolic system, your respiratory system, your nervous system, and your circulatory system, and the same principle of homeostasis or dynamic equilibrium applies.

              Death, today, is even defined as “homeostatic failure” — loss of the balance of factors.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Ed just emailed me, privately, a quote from Jung that seems particularly relevant here (thanks Ed!)

          “The years … when I pursued the inner images were the most im-portant time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life…. Everything later was merely the outer classi-fication, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then”.

          That “enigmatic stream that threatened to break me” was also, in my case, very real. You need your “shields”. You can’t lose your marbles as I almost did with the “Black Sun”. You need your wits. You need to maintain some measure of psychological distance, non-attachment, non-identification with all that if you want to keep your sanity and even your life.

          • Scott Preston says :

            I also received another email this morning (a regular notification) from Richard Moss, author of the Mandala of Being, which I have mentioned in past posts. He has a video clip in which he talks about the “mandala” in terms familiar to those who’ve read my stuff on the “cross of reality”, as well as these various identifications which mislead us into limited and limiting ways of life and false identities. You might all be interested in hearing it.


          • Risto says :

            (I’ll reply here, because WordPress wouldn’t let me reply after your last comment.)

            I see what you’re getting after in those replys.

            It’s just that sometimes it’s hard let things be, if you have the feeling you should be “doing” more. Maybe it’s just the ego pushing to be in control of everything.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Yes. But that path leads to early burnout, even cynicism about life. I know lots of social activists who have burned out in that way — the old “banging your head against a brick wall” problem. You just have to ask yourself where this “should be doing more” feeling comes from and why?

              I put it once in a paradox: everything is as it should be. But nothing is as it could be.

              All I can suggest in the circumstances is the wisdom of don Juan’s “path with heart”. There’s a lot of very valuable life wisdom in Castaneda’s works, even if you happen to be a skeptic about Castaneda’s tale itself. Some people do treat it all as fiction (and some of it is, and some is not) but still extract valuable wisdom from it.


              This “path with heart” also goes by a million names, too — “Good Red Road”, “Way of the Cross”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Journey to the East”, or just “the Way”, “Entering the Stream”, or even “Sharia”. Problem is, people have distorted the meaning of this and have turned it into a moralistic and legalistic notion.

              “All paths lead to God” is the saying of the wise, for they know that these are the “paths with heart” and that “any path is one of a million paths”. As our Sufi friend abdulmonem keeps putting it “unto him we shall return”, so that’s abdulmonem’s “path with heart” inasmuch as he follows it gladly and joyously. That’s abdulmonem’s Sharia. That’s abdulmonem’s “Good Red Road”. That’s abdulmonem’s “Way of the Cross”

              “All paths lead to God” is pretty much the equivalent of Blake’s Proverb of Hell “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise”, too. Nietzsche celebrated his follies just as much as his wisdom, too, for that reason.

              Remember what I call Khayyam’s Caution: “only a hair separates the false from the true” and this applies to the “path with heart” as well. Don Juan is saying exactly the same thing with his “path with heart”. One will burn you out and the other will make you strong.

              There’s also some truth in the English poet Milton’s phrase “they also serve who only stand and wait”. Some people perhaps might rationalise that as a moral justification for inaction, indifference, and apathy, you see. But it doesn’t mean that. That’s the issue of “truthiness” which is pretty much the same as Khayyam’s Caution as well. It means to stand once more at the Gates of Dawn waiting patiently for one’s vocation — the calling. “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” as they say.

              That’s what I’m trying to say when I say: “everything is as it should be, but nothing is as it could be”.

              So, if you have this feeling that you “should be doing more”, you can drop that, and ask yourself instead whether you could be doing more. That’s the proper question because the should isn’t yours. It’s what I call “the foreign installation” — our inner fascist, as it were. The “should” leads to guilt about one’s path and even one’s life. It makes you feel weak. It uses up all your energy.

              The “could” be doing more is a simple natural inner prompting to become more than you are. The should be comes from some external authority that has become internalised — the Freudian “Superego” in a sense — The could be comes from your inner Author. That should be doing could kill you. It could demand your life as a sacrifice to itself, see.

              Maybe even the quest for your path with heart IS your path with heart? Some people enjoy that — the mystery of the quest, the dance of the seven veils, the hide-and-seek game of the quest. In which case, they are already on their path with heart.

  4. Miles58 says :

    Regarding your experience with academia, I’m reminded of this from Pogany:

    “The socioeconomic environment that coincides with a given hermeneutic demands adaptive behavior as a precondition for differential success. Modus ponens is enlarged and rewarded (the more indirectly the more useful it is to bolster the text); modus tollens is sidetracked as manifestation of nonadaptive (irrational) behavior. Or, as may often be observed in the everyday life of academia: ―The tenure-seeking assistant professor rarely disagrees with the department chairman.‖ In the end Gleichschaltung prevails, making mainstream economists appear as the overlapping generational pupilage of a monopoly confessional school. (For the sociobiologist‘s view on adaptation, see Wilson 2000, p. 577 sic passim.)”
    – Peter Pogany, “Value and Utility in Historical Perspective”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Ah, the “Gleichschaltung”. Boy, Pogany is sure flirting with controversy by using that word! But it fits. It’s a word I’ve also been using a lot lately to decry Prime Minister Harper’s rule of “executive democracy”.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    Bearing witness for Him, even on your self, is the path of the heart. Pursuing truth is by itself is quiet a life errand. The journey is from Him to Him, Ibn Arbi wrote about the perfect human and warned such aspired human to join any group before maturation and insisted that he formed his own group, that is why all prophets advocate that they are the first on the road. The errand is personal first then turn into social afterward, away from confining one errand in one closed field. It is the pursuance of the integral consciousness, The everpresent light of the cosmos.

    • Risto says :

      Thanks Scott and abdulmonem for these wise words! It’s always good to be reminded that everyone have their own path to follow. I think I needed that just now.

  6. LittleBigMan says :

    A rich fascinating dream, and even a more magical experience while you were working in the field.

    As a kid, my mother always took me and my brother to the village where my grandparents lived every summer. I spent quite a bit of time in the field and farms during that time, just walking around and eating apricots until I passed out underneath some tree. The quietude of the mountains in those days and the peerless beauty of the night sky seemed so magical to me even as a kid. Nature has this indescribable and intangible magical quality.

    “…….These events are just memories to me now, which echo in my mind…….”

    Lately, my memories of 20+ years ago (frankly, even memories of 10+ years ago) seem more like a dream to me now than events that actually took place. This has been a remarkable realization for me as of late that distant memories have a dreamlike quality to them.

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