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In a number of different scenarios, the idea of a gulf or chasm between two different ways of thinking is very much in evidence. In the West, for example, the Arts/Science divide is often considered insurmountable. But the list of chasms is a long one: young/old, rural/city, and religious beliefs for example. Or even the timeless man/women. Few would deny some fairly fundamental differences in how these respective pairings of mind-sets operate!
In global, cultural terms we might offer East and West as two banks on either side of a chasm: the West with its Cartesian, rational, science-based cultural and ways of thinking, the East, the Chinese in our case, more Taoist: practical, flowing; more akin, perhaps to the Arts bank: concerned with sensing, feeling and first-hand experiences.
But how can these, and other similar differing world-views, be reconciled? They are, by their nature, different ways of thinking, alternative ways in which the individuals concerned engage with others and with life itself: they are often deeply embedded cultural phenomenon.
As the world becomes one global home the need to bridge such cultural chasms becomes ever greater: how else can we live sustainably, in harmony? But is it possible?
Let us take the Arts/Experiential and Rational/Scientific gulf as an example. To some individuals and groups, there is no question that bringing together experience and rational explanation is not just possible but an essential step in securing a future for our individual selves and our species. Although currently small in number, relative to the global population, a few people are, it seems, able to exist in both camps, feel comfortable on both banks of the Arts/Experiential and Science/Rational chasm.
How to they do so? In my PhD thesis I called it a process of transcendence, the term immediately highlighting a key feature: that the resulting way of thinking, is at a different level of consciousness. It embraces the previous two modes whilst going beyond both. It might also be considered an integration process: the sum of the two being very different to either of the parts. The process can be applied to many of the cultural chasms listed above and may be simply illustrated using that same chasm analogy.
The Transcendence Process
Individuals on either bank who think this way cannot even see the other bank; they cannot even imagine that a different way of thinking even exists. They only know their own type of consciousness and that no other form is possible. Ne’ r the twain shall meet.
2. A step up
Here an individual on their side of the bank has climbed a hill or built a tower and looked around. They become aware of a far bank, of some land separated from their own, though may have little understanding as to what it is.
In consciousness terms, this might equate to the scientist attending a concert and finding they enjoy it; or an artist needing to do their annual account and finding that it’s not as hard as they had feared.
Fuelled by this experience, and blessed with an open and enquiring mind, such individuals will explore further, they climb higher mountain, begin building bridges or boats and exploring beyond their mental comfort zones.
3. Taking Flight
One day the intrepid explorer will take to a hot air balloon and see the bigger picture: two banks with a chasm between them. Maybe, they’ll let the wind take them over the gulf, land the other side and dare to set foot in uncharted territory.
For that is what free-form artistic creation might seem like to a life-long paper-writing scientist: or how a page of numbers and calculations might appear to an artist. Different world views. And there is no alternative to experiencing them to attain any form of appreciation of them.
In consciousness terms, this hot-air balloon experience might be a guided meditation (or visualisation of a hot-air balloon perhaps!) which is particularly moving. The individual has an experience that doesn’t fit into their existing world view, in places them in a different mental place or space. Such experiences can occur to anyone at any time, probably when that individual is ready to explore further. In my case it came when I, as an engineer, found I could dowse.
And it’s those moments when, in a strange land, after the initial confusion and frustration on arriving tired and confused, after a good rest, when relaxing you suddenly ‘get it’. For example, the Spanish have word: Mañana. Which I’d never really understood: it certainly didn’t seem to mean the literal “tomorrow”! Then, during one holiday, in the beautiful Andalusia, I was sat, totally relaxed, drinking a freshly squeezed local orange juice at a bar/café in a small town. Watching the world go by and observing the locals going about their business I just knew what mañana was all about: allowing the day and tasks to take their naturally, unhurried course.
4. Out of this World
The balloonist's vantage point is more than being able to set foot in both camps. Transcendent consciousness embraces both, can switch between the two at will and even be outside of both.
To really appreciate the chasm, it’s valley, surrounding landscape and place on the globe, our intrepid explorer has to go into space. From up here the chasm has disappeared, the differences between the two world-views are as irrelevant as that between red and green for a colour-blind person.
A transcendent state of consciousness is probably not describable in words, but typical attempts to describe it might say it is one in which everything and everyone are ‘as one’, where a deep sense of peace and connection are obtained. Yes, it probably is similar to or comparable with that enlightened, nirvana, state reported by mystics, yogis and gurus. But it’s a state, a mode of consciousness that is natural and available to anyone. In this mental state, we know that every human-being is unique and special . . . and we all have the same basis need: to love and be loved.
Please don’t think this is a definitive road-map towards a blissful, higher level of consciousness: if only it were that easy! This article is meant only to set the scene, to provide an impression of a typical journey. It probably helps not at all to imagine there are specifically 2 or 3 steps, stages or levels. The process, from my own experience and in observing countless others, is an on-going one: we may go from satellite to tower, from balloon to base-line and back again many times before a transcended state is anything like our normal, waking, consciousness. It seems to take many experiences of others levels of heightened consciousness/awareness before a mind conditioned to being on one bank or others of some chasm or another can truly go with the flow in the river between the two and in the air that flows over both.
An engineer’s perspective
So many different factors can affect how easy or difficult it might be to engage with and make progress with this transcendence process. In hindsight I was lucky to find my way into engineering. With applied science I was always exposed to the creative process and to human factors. A good engineer understands aesthetics as full as scientific principles, can work with natural flow as well as abstract formulae: Thomas Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge being an excellent local example.
Engineers often know a few things about spanning gorges: physical and metaphysical. But then, so too can a mathematician appreciate the beauty of numbers, or a musicians understand both the mathematical and inner significance of what they are playing. Transcendence is more an approach to life, a willingness to throw ourselves into a chosen field and allow the nuances of all that entails to enthral and support us. The process of bridging a cultural chasm is an adventure through which we evolve from, often frustrated, humans doing this or that to a whole human-being: at peace with ourselves and our place in the world.