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?