Diaphaneity: Unfolding the Wings of Perception

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” — William Blake

“Purify your eyes, and see the pure world. Your life will fill with radiant forms.” — Rumi

“The mystery, or the secret, of the sorcerers’ explanation is that it deals with unfolding the wings of perception. The nagual by itself is of no use, it has to be tempered by the tonal. The sorcerers’ secret in using the nagual is in our perception.” — don Juan to Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power.

In his book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser describes the new (integral) consciousness as being chiefly characterised by “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. The citations above are other attestations to the fundamental reality of the “diaphainon” (as Gebser names it) that is the core of the new consciousness and that which makes transparency or diaphaneity of perception possible and effective. As we have mentioned frequently in the past, in William Blake this diaphainon is named “Albion”, which is the vital centre of his “fourfold vision” and his “four Zoas” of “Albion divided fourfold”. Thus Blake’s conception of the essential human form is that it is an energetic entity structured as a Tetramorph, symbolised in the mandala. This understanding is quite common among those who have attained to insight. In other words, the physical form is only a concretisation or physicalisation or manifestation of the energetic form.

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision or the quadrilateral

In Castaneda’s works, what Gebser calls “diaphaneity” is referred to as seeing. A Seer is someone who sees — who has, in effect, learned to “unfold the wings of perception” and attained clarity. Effectively, this “clarity” is the same as Gebser’s “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world” in which we and our reality is perceived immediately and directly, without mediations, for what it truly is. In Castaneda’s description, seeing in this manner is the immediate and direct perception of “energy as it flows in the universe”. This is an interesting way of describing it since it also recalls physicist David Bohm’s conception of fundamental reality as the “undivided wholeness in flowing movement” or the “holomovement” (Wholeness and the Implicate Order) as well as certain matters that arise in Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics described in his seminal book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

Among seers, then, it is understood that we possess fundamentally two modes of attention or perception which, in McGilchrist’s description, are called “the Master” and “the Emissary”. In Castaneda’s works these are referred to respectively as “the nagual” and “the tonal”, and sometimes as the “second attention” and the “first attention” respectively. (This likely is implicated also in Coleridge’s distinction between “primary imagination” and “secondary imagination”, so there is consistency in this). The “tonal” is the attention of ordinary everyday life and is heavily sense dependent. As such it is sometimes called “Sensate Consciousness”. This is called “the first attention” in Castaneda’s works and is associated with the body’s right-side awareness. The “second attention” is called “the nagual” and is associated with awareness of the left-side. This, of course, aligns with McGilchrist’s findings in neurodynamics as well, and with his Master and Emissary modes of perception or attention.

There is, then, one awareness that effectively functions in two distinct, but mutually entangled, modalities. In most cases, what McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” is named “ego-consciousness” or “the ego-nature” or “the Selfhood”, and even as “the false self”. This double-nature of our perception or attention gives rise, then, to dualism in thinking and a kind of either/or logic which is deficient insight. When the Christian mystic states that “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves”. This implicit “presence” which informs or underlies the two modes of attention is also what Gebser calls “the Itself”, which is in itself undifferentiated energy-awareness and is spaceless and timeless (hence infinite and eternal). The diaphainon is the self-manifestation of the Itself and forms the vital centre of the new integral consciousness.

Given the two modes of attention, and their “intensification”, as Gebser perceives this, there arises then paradox. In Buddhism we find these referred to similarly as “Ultimate Truth” and “Relative Truth”, or what we might otherwise call “the truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter” respectively. The tendency today to emphasise a new paradoxical “both/and” logic to supercede the exclusivity of the “either/or” dualistic form of thinking is testimony to the irruption of the paradoxical, and the irruption of the paradoxical (which many people still find uncomfortable) attests to this “intensification” or activation of the two modes of perception, which perform the same function but in much different ways — the tonal and the nagual in Castaneda’s terms. These may also be considered in terms of the mediate and the immediate, respectively.

Much of the new thinking and new logic has accepted the paradox as central to its thinking, as we find, say, in Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy or David Bohm, for example. Much of this has been made necessary by the irruption of the paradoxical in the new physics. The irruption of the paradox as a symptom of the intensification of consciousness (or “quickening” as some might say) also manifests as what Gebser calls “the double-movement” — a disintegration and a re-integration as two aspects of a singular dynamic, which is the self-manifestation of the diaphainon.

Because diaphaneity (or clarity) is the core feature or faculty of the diaphainon, all older forms of speculative philosophy and metaphysics become obsolete, to be replaced by what Gebser calls “eteology” or “being-in-truth” which he calls “verition”. Verition is immediate perception of truth that dispels mental confusion and perplexity. When Castaneda first learned to see (or what we mean when we say “the scales fell from my eyes”), the most surprising thing to him was the realisation that he had always seen reality in this way. He just didn’t know he did. This obstruction to direct and immediate perception is the work of that which Blake calls “Urizen”, the false deity the also calls “Satan”, “Selfhood”, and so on who is clearly the same as the demon Mara in Buddhism, also called “Architect” or “Lord of Illusion” and “Lord of my own ego”, who the Buddha had to overcome on his way to enlightenment in the famous episode under the Bodhi Tree. Figures like Urizen, Satan, Mara, or even Sauron in The Lord of the Rings seem clearly to be what Jung refers to as “The Shadow”.

So, the diaphainon is already latently present within the human psycho-spiritual structure. But owing to what McGilchrist calls the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the psychic household, it has remained obscured or opaque to our consciousness, even as it is the real “power behind the throne”, as it were. “Show me your face before you were born”, as the paradoxical Zen koan puts it. But Gebser is quite confident that the diaphainon is leaving its place of concealment or confinement and is becoming more and more manifest in our times, albeit not without disturbance, turbulence, anxiety and even paranoia on the part of the “emissary”, which seems to be losing its grip.

But that, too, is a paradox.

17 responses to “Diaphaneity: Unfolding the Wings of Perception”

  1. Steve says :


  2. Mary LaForge says :

    “But Gebser is quite confident that the diaphainon is leaving its place of concealment or confinement and is becoming more and more manifest in our times, albeit not without disturbance, turbulence, anxiety and even paranoia on the part of the “emissary”, which seems to be losing its grip.”

    Exactly! Why do you think we accept wearing a mask… the physical evidence we must notice before we can remove our rose-colored glasses. (as I discovered while writing my recent book, ESC).

  3. barryh says :

    Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:

    Another great post by Scott Preston which draws together many different but related threads in the study of our two modes of consciousness.

    The ideas of Jean Gebser, William Blake, Carlos Castaneda, Iain McGilchrist, Buddhism, Christian mysticism are woven together and related. All are clearly describing the same reality with different terminologies. And what a wonderful title word: Diaphaneity.

  4. lyleaolson says :

    A key to developing Gebser’s “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world” lies in the process of meditation. As Pema Chodron says, “One of the first things we learn in meditation is that thoughts are transparent.” Witnessing thoughts consists of shifting into neutral; watching them without reaction, learning how one thought leads to a train of thoughts, concepts, stories, reactions, desires, fears, aversions, denials, perceptions, habits, assumptions, opinions, resentments, judgments, personality, the ego….a whole lot of structure. After thoughts are seen as transparent, then ego and much of what we take for structure is seen through. Gradually ‘we and our reality is perceived immediately and directly, without mediations, for what it truly is.’ The doors of perception are being cleansed.

    A possible point of confusion: ‘in Castaneda’s works … associated with the body’s right-side awareness’ refers to left-brain’s bilateral connection with the right side of the body.

  5. Steve says :

    “When geometric diagrams and digits
    Are no longer the keys to living things,
    When people who go about singing or kissing
    Know deeper things than the great scholars,
    When society is returned once more
    To unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
    And when light and darkness mate
    Once more and make something entirely transparent,
    And people see in poems and fairy tales
    The true history of the world,
    Then our entire twisted nature will turn
    And run when a single secret word is spoken.”

    — Novalis

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Interesting to note, that Petrarch’s life (his ascent of Mt Ventoux plays a crucial role in early Renaissance discovery of space for Gebser) coincides with the peak years of the Great Plague in Europe. Also interesting to note that Newton made his most notable discoveries in physics while self-isolating in the countryside from the plague in London.

  7. TheOakofNormal says :

    I was listening to some old David Bohm New Dimensions radio interviews over the weekend. It’s like you can hear between his sentences he wants to say so much more, but didn’t want to risk his scientific reputation. Most of the great scientists seem to also be semi-mystics connected to the visionary/seer side of things, not sure why they can’t just let it all hangout in the name of discovery, that’s pretty much what got us the Renaissance. I remember reading Tao of Physics like ten years back and getting so excited thinking of some kind of Visionary culture emerging where science/religion/art co-mingle and somehow it seems we are getting farther and farther away from something like that, rational mind keeping things sliced up and diced up. Maybe not, who knows.

  8. Steve says :

    Scott, Can you talk a little about Don Juan’s “surrender to the infinite.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      The surrender to the infinite is not different than “letting go” (or non-attachment) in Zen. Pretty much the same meaning. Don Juan uses the term “tonal” for what we would call the ego-nature. It is finite being, being mortal in time. This is in contrast with “the nagual”, which is not. Nonetheless, the tonal is a necessary complement to the nagual. The problem is the tonal thinks its the true self, which it isn’t. This is also what McGilchrist means in saying the Emissary is a “usurper”. The emissary and the tonal are, as far as I can tell, equivalent.

      What Zen refers to as Non-attachment is what don Juan calls “losing personal history”. This is preparatory for the task of surrendering to the infinite, which you could call “mystical death” — that is, the tonal/ego-nature accepts its personal mortality.

  9. TheOakofNormal says :

    A great short little book, Intelligence in Nature by Jeremy Narby. Narby talking to a Japanese entomologist (audiobook so name was hard but Arikawa) who mainly studies butterflies, “Butterflies are transformers, they do not sprout just wings in the pupu, but brand new eyes as well.” Narby wrote, The Cosmic Serpent, another great read. He’s someone to pay attention to. An outsider in his field of anthropology who seemed to be teaching some scientists a thing a two as he went along creating this book, it’s interesting to think how in the not so distant future outsiders could become the new insiders and vice versa.

  10. Steve says :

    “When D.H. Lawrence died at the age of 44 in 1930 he was most widely known as the author of scandalous novels like Women in Love and The Rainbow, which treated sexual relations with an openness which his age wasn’t ready for.

    Originally he’d become famous as a nature writer with marvellously vivid powers of description, and also as a ‘working class writer’ who portrayed the life of the Midlands mining village where he grew up. At that time, early in his career, Lawrence showed all the signs of going on to be a best-selling writer and a member of the literary establishment, but then a visionary and prophetic tone began to enter his writings which his previous readers found hard to stomach. His books began to be filled with savage denunciations of modern life, a sense of horror at the growing materialism and industrialisation he saw around him, and even a sense that the human race was doomed to make itself an extinct species. People had become alienated from the natural world and from their true selves, he said, they’d begun to exist as just egos instead of real beings, and only lived inside their heads instead of actually in the world. He saw the repression of sex as another sign of modern man’s separation from the natural order of things, and in the end he decided not to care about being published and just to write about sex as openly as he wanted. This was in his last novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which wasn’t published until 33 years after his death.

    It’s probably this novel which is mainly responsible for the popular image of Lawrence as a writer who deals with sexual themes and celebrates the life of the instincts against the suppressive forces of so-called civilised society. To other people he’s still mainly important as a nature writer or a working class writer, while at various times he’s also been labelled (and misinterpreted) by literary critics as a fascist and a misogynist. It’s been very rare, however, that the most important aspect of Lawrence as a person and as a writer has been paid attention to: namely, the fact that he lived his life in what we could call a ‘mystical’ state of consciousness, and that, even though he rejected his Christian upbringing and had no interest in any other forms of religion, he was a mystic in exactly the same way that religious figures like Meister Eckhart and St. Teresa were.”

  11. Steve says :

    Iris Murdoch’s, ” Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature” Forward by George Steiner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: