A Virtual School for the Nascent Imagination: 'By Means of a Higher Art'
"And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." - Romans 2:27-29 Saint Paul wrote to the Church in Rome about the Old Testament commandments. In the early 1st century, the Pharisees, and those who admired their rigid faith, had a very unhealthy obsession with the mere outer form of the Hebrew scripture. They were blind to the inner meaning dwelling within the outer forms of the text - what we still often refer to as the spirit of the text. Some portions of the nascent Church then came to hang their hat on this same outer-form obsession. It was used to justify excluding people from the congregation who were not of Jewish ethnic descent or refused to adopt Jewish practices, such as those who weren't physically circumcised. Paul is then conveying here, as he does throughout his epistles, that all children of the Spirit - all human beings - can be adopted into the faith by seeking out the inner meaning of the outer forms, regardless of their physical heritage or properties; by spiritual 'circumcision'. He disclosed a new paradigm of the relation between what is Divine and what is human, to be mediated through our own discernment of inner meaning within the outer forms of Nature and Culture. We don't need to encapsulate any of this Wisdom in abstract theological concepts to see how it is immanent and practical to our experience. In this connection, the most critical spiritual lesson we can mine from the virtual environment is that of trust in the Thinking-Spirit. We are often told how our failures and misfortunes should serve as opportunities for us to learn and mature in life, but this saying remains rather inert until it becomes concrete; until we perceive the fruits of this attitude in our experience. In the Beat Saber environment, we will encounter many such 'misfortunes' in the faster-paced songs. The horizontal intellect's natural reaction to missing the beat-cubes, or failing to strike them in the proper direction, is to get confused and panic. It then attempts to regain its imaginative rhythm by focusing more on the outer forms of the individual beat-cubes, i.e. their locations, colors, and arrows. That is an expression of distrust in our spiritual activity, as if we are saying to it, "you have failed me and now I need to build back my own rhythm one outer beat-cube at a time". This attitude will not manifest positive results and, actually, it won't work at all until the musical idea manages to entrain our thinking activity again. That is the Spirit wrestling back control from the horizontal intellect. If, instead, we consciously allow the Spirit to continue working within our willing-and-feeling organism, guiding our rhythmic-and-melodic movements, then our resurrection into the musical idea will proceed much more quickly and smoothly. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." - John 6:63 The Spirit (Logos) who lives in us as our logical thinking activity is much more powerful and adaptive than we give it credit for. It does not have to remain as dry and mechanical verbal chatter in our heads, but can live within our entire organism as a creative force. Always remember, we don't need a virtual environment to observe this reality. In fact, if we find that this experience only manifests in the virtual environment, it means we have not learned any lessons; that we are still only viewing the syntax of perceptions in the world without their semantics. The 'words' which speak from the musical idea - the beats, notes, chords, and lyrics - can provide us the most enlightening parables for our nascent existence within the spiritual realms, but only if they are understood as parables. The virtual realm is actually a parable for our spiritual activity within the physical realm, and the latter is a parable for the spiritual. So, we must remember in the game that we are one layer further removed from the spiritual. The virtual simulation is not the bridge between the physical and the spiritual, but rather it is one of many 'schools' in which imaginative lessons can be mined and fed back into the physical plane. Personally, I limit my sessions to about 30-45 minutes per day, and that is more than enough for both my physical and spiritual exercise. "And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." - 2 Corinthians 8:10-12 Trusting the Spirit working through us, we can leverage what we have learned and bring some fruits of that knowledge to completion. There is a long journey ahead of us, but what we are doing in any given hour, minute, or moment is a fractal image of eternity itself. It is an image perceived through a glass darkly, but an image nonetheless. In the virtual game, the ideal content of the music is 'decohering' into objects within space-time through our imaginative thinking activity. We then visualize it as a steady, rhythmic flow of beat-cubes and other objects which are engaged by our physical organism within the virtual arena. When we take off our headsets, walk outside, and encounter the world's manifold phenomena, we should also sense that we are visualizing a symphony of ideational activity and content which weave together the natural world; we should sense how all the appearances reflect back to us meaningful qualities of our own soul. The dense qualities of meaning are flowing through our thinking-"I" into the perceptual structures. It is that same Thinking-"I" which 're-coheres' the meaning implicit in the physical appearances, metamorphosing them into their higher spiritual essence. There is a depth structure in this overall process which involves many ideational beings. If the metamorphic process was not constantly taking place through our shared Thinking activity, then we would only perceive decaying fragments of 'things' in the world. It is all thanks to the Spirit that the world we perceive still has some semblance of life which we can observe and appreciate.
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" -1 Corinthians 6:19 Paying attention to the lyrics while we rhythmically engage the musical idea in the virtual environment will also help us concretize the spiritual lessons and feed them back into the physical plane. Many artists feel that they are expressing their own novel ideas in musical melodies and lyrics, but that is simply not true. The artists are temples of the archetypal Spirit where Divine and human ideations intersect. We, as listeners and participators, are also temples of this Holy Spirit, perceiving what is transpersonal and universal in the song; what harmonizes and integrates our individual existence into the life of the Cosmic whole through it. Both the artists and the listeners should be humbled and grateful to participate in this ever-evolving Cosmic symphony which reunites man with his Divine essence. Even in the most annoying pop songs of modern culture, we can perceive what quickens and matures the soul if we are thoughtfully engaged with the unfolding musical idea. Every refrain and chorus we hear can become relevant to some portion of our own eternal journey within the Cosmic Idea, pointing our attention back to the most sublime ideals. We can muse with Emerson, "can these things be, and overcome us like a summer’s cloud, without our special wonder?" "When a sound or a scent once sensed and long inhaled—at once present and past, real and not just factual, ideal yet not abstract—come to life again, the enduring and usually hidden essence of things is soon liberated, and our true, seemingly long-expired Self awakens, reanimated by the heavenly nourishment that infuses it. A minute, free from the order of time, has, so that we may feel it, recreated the human in us free from the order of time.” - Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913) We discussed the critical role of musical tempo in the previous essay. The musical beats, nested within the overarching musical idea, represent the timing through which the outer structure of the musical idea unfolds to our "I". In the Beat Saber game, we first encounter down-beats and up-beats. In the familiar musical count of "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and" within a measure, the numbers reflect the down-beats. In contrast, the "and" reflects the up-beat. It is extremely valuable to contemplate the spiritual nature of down-and-up beats while playing or, more generally, when listening to and contemplating music. Each new measure begins with the "and" before proceeding to the down-beat. Each "and" is a liminal space between the perceptual forms of numbers (a more detailed treatment of "liminal spaces" can be found in this essay). Consonants in language reflect to us outer perceptual form, while vowels reflect inner meaning; the former are associated with the numbers in the musical count (outer form; down-beat), and the latter with the "and" (liminal space; up-beat). It is not important to try and memorize these associations, but rather to sound them out, experiment with them, and generally think through them, testing them against one's Reason and "holding fast what is good". As a helpful aside, we can consider how the ancient Hebrew script contained only consonants. The perceptual forms of the script did not explicitly reflect inner meaning. Given our considerations so far, we should have a pretty clear understanding of what that signifies. Such a script practically forces the people reading it to provide the inner vowel-meaning from within themselves to make any sense of the word-forms. What the Hebrew people were forced to do several thousands years ago can be a concrete spiritual lesson for us today, when the outer forms of Nature and Culture have so little semantic content. Except, now, there is no external power to force our inner spiritual activity into motion in that manner, but rather we must voluntarily choose to do so ourselves. That is the concrete way in which we come to, not abolish, but fulfill the Law which was etched into humanity so many epochs ago. A tried and true way of accomplishing that, at first, is by relating all of these perceptual associations to our own spiritual thinking activity. Imagine you want to communicate the idea of "musical count" to someone and therefore say to them, "1 and 2 and 3 and 4". Before the "1", you inhale (up-beat) and then strike the down-beat of "1" as you exhale. We are now inhaling meaning before we exhale perception (word-form). Please don't confuse these associations, or any that follow in the essay, for mere 'metaphors'. This inhalation of meaning and exhalation of perception is what we are literally doing to communicate an idea. Whether the meaning is exhaled as a word-form in speech, a musical down-beat, a visual script in language, or a visual beat-cube in the virtual environment, does not change the essence of what is occurring. The metaphors (symbols) we use in our spatial language are used to point to this essential process, not the other way around. For example, we might say that we are "gathering our thoughts" prior to communicating an idea. That is a metaphor for inhaling meaning prior to exhaling perception. The issue here for the skeptic is not the literality, but their own idolizing of "inhaling" and "exhaling" into purely physical processes which lack a qualitative (meaningful) dimension. There is no warrant for that spatial idolatry. As discussed in the previous essay, the physical processes are only partial reflections of the meaningful ideational activity. "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." - Luke 17:2 The nascent Imagination will be well-nourished if we make an inner effort to view all physical processes of living organisms, such as breathing, from their higher spiritual dimension. Our Imagination is a 'little one', waiting to be birthed into the spiritual realms. That is the deeper, more vertical meaning of being "born again". We were born once into the physical world, and we can be born again into the spiritual world through our cognitive evolution - "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." If we intend for the precious child of Imagination we are carrying within us to be born into the world healthy and vibrant, rather than crippled or stillborn, it will require great discipline and care on our part. The physical images of all these cultural events, institutions, and practices are tools for usto figure out the proper ways of harmonizing our ideal activities with the nascent spiritual realms carried within the physical appearances. We must stress this fact so much because, as long as our cognition is not born again, we will always be tempted to reverse the relation back to its habituated expression - "perception gives rise to meaning"; to keep a millstone of tyrannical perceptions around our necks, dragging us deeper down into the dark waters of unconsciousness.
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come... Let no one cheat you of your reward... intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God." - Colossians 2:16-19
That is the purpose of the horizontal intellect - the fleshly mind - which isolates perceptual properties in space and time so they can be analyzed.The perceptions are disconnected from the vital source which organized them - the Idea - so naturally they appear as dead 'entities' with an existence-in-themselves. Even if we keep repeating, "meaning before perception, meaning before perception, meaning before perception...", we will lapse back into a slumber of the mind every so often. We can resist this intellectual tendency by being aware of it - by holding fast to the Head. We can try to concretely sense how the meaningful Idea flows through us and into the virtual arena as a holistic array of perceptual symbols across space and within time. Eventually, the virtual environment will help indicate to us how this same process is always occurring out in the 'real world'; how the physical plane is a shadow of the spiritual things to come. The former is not to be confused for a mere "fantasy", however, because it is lawfully connected to the spiritual realms. Just as I can get physically injured by improperly reacting to visual cues in the virtual environment, so too can I get spiritually injured by improperly reacting within the physical environment. That lawful connection is also the reason why the virtual and physical worlds provide valuable lessons for the spiritual realms; why the perceptions can be traced back to their lawful and structured meaning.
So how do the up-beats (meaning; idea) and down-beats (perception; matter) relate to our own spiritual activity in the context of the virtual environment? Normally, if we listen to a song, this rhythmic alternation is only discerned dimly, and, more importantly, we are listening to it passively. It feels as though there is dim meaning simply streaming towards us from some mysterious source. Now, in the virtual arena, we can concretely discern with our vision and our touch, through the controller shape, weight, and resistance, how the meaning of the musical idea metamorphoses from meaning to perception and back to meaning, as we physically and spiritually inhale, exhale, and inhale in rhythm. We inhale the overarching meaning of the musical idea, exhale through the lightsaber striking beat-cubes, and inhale again as the song completes. We can repeat this process with the same musical idea (song), but it will have novel shades of meaning each time. At a more narrowed scale, we inhale on the up-beat cubes, exhale on the down-beat cubes, and repeat until the song completes. This rhythmic alternation process is occurring at many different scales which are fractally nested within each other. An inhaling up-beat at the narrowed scale can simultaneously serve within an exhaling down-beat at the broader scale. By recognizing all of these spiritual associations, we can get a sense of how rich 'layers' of meaning are superimposed and fractally embedded within the musical idea before 'decohering' to our physical senses and intellectual thinking activity. We could stop to consider that other players who are participating in this musical idea are not experiencing its decoherence exactly as we are. The very fact that we all experience varying shades of meaning demonstrates that we are, in fact, actively engaged in the same musical idea with our thinking. We are not passively receiving 'information' from external sources, which we have labeled "musical ideas", but each individual is actively co-creating an entire world of forms, including inner desires, feelings, and thoughts, from the same idea through their Thinking engagement. That we are able to experience infinitely varied shades of meaning through these forms, yet still have a shared understanding of the musical idea we are participating in, reveals that the very structure of the Cosmos is shared yet differentiated, stable yet evolving, and necessary yet free. Each perspective is expressing a portion of this shared ideational structure in their own unique way.
"Now, in artistic creation... it seems that the materials we have to work with, words and images for the poet, forms and colors for the painter, rhythms and harmonies for the musician, arrange themselves spontaneously under the idea they are to express, drawn, as it were, by the charm of a superior ideality. Is it not a similar movement, is it not also a state of fascination we should attribute to material elements when they are organized into living beings?" - Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind My exhaled words-forms communicated to another person become their perceptions and can serve as their inhalation of meaning, and, ideally, they will then exhale word-forms to me or to others at a higher level of meaningful integration. In the same way, my series of striking up-and-down beat-cubes within a virtual song, with many inhalations and exhalations, is the exhalation of the entire musical idea. Here we can concretize this lesson by realizing that entire communities of living beings are established in this manner. As a rather crude illustration, I cannot walk outside of my house until I, or someone else, has the idea of building that house and exhaling the meaning of the idea into the outer structure of the house. I then have the idea of leaving my house and going to work, which is exhaled in my outer commute to work by walking, driving, bus, train, etc. Those modes of transportation were, in turn, exhaled into existence by yet other ideas. When my coworkers and I arrive to work with our ideas, we provide our employer with the meaning necessary to exhale our ideas into the goods or services they provide consumers. In this manner, the nested hierarchy of beings who inhale meanings and exhale perceptions is a concrete image for all that we perceive in the domain of human culture.
Returning to the specifics of the virtual musical idea, the up-and-down beat-cubes are sometimes rotated by 90-degree or higher angles, so that I need to strike through them horizontally or diagonally to remain harmonized. Sometimes, they also exchange places so that I must cross my arms to strike them, or they float very high so that I must stretch upwards (perhaps even jump) before plunging back into a downward strike. These movements, taken as a whole, reflect degrees of freedom through which our spiritual activity can manifest the musical idea. The palette of thinking-movements with the lightsabers, wielded by our physical and virtual avatars (our reflected "I"), is expanded to encompass many more shades and intensities of meaning. Each new degree of Thinking-freedom embeds all the previous degrees within it, so we are not simply swapping one Thinking-gesture for another, but integrating them all. We now know what inner gestures can be made to accomplish the various outer movements. The diagonal movements help us sense how our spiritual activity can live consciously within the threshold of willing and feeling (downward) or feeling and thinking (upward), since they are fluid and interwoven activities. Keep in mind, we are not speaking of the isolated movements here, but rather the totality of movements within the broader musical idea.
Our living Reason and nascent Imagination, reflected in the service of the left hemisphere to the right hemisphere of the physical brain, do not deal in the isolated meanings of fragmented perceptions. They can certainly understand the meaning of those isolated perceptions, but they also recognize that there is no deeper meaning to be mined from them in their isolated (dead) state. Rather, they must be reconnected to each other as members of the living musical idea; to become the body of the musical soul. Music provides our spirit a natural corrective to the habit of isolating perceptions and connecting them along a horizontal plane. By actively engaging the musical idea, we are invited to express our Thinking-movements within its fluid grooves, feeling a more holistic appreciation of the ideal content reflected in the perceptual structures. At the same time, our physical organism is engaged in tight connection with our Thinking-movements. With relatively little resistance (weight) in our extended reach with the lightsabers, we can project our thinking activity into fluid and outstretched movements which simply aren't possible in the physical plane. Our limbs, in general, reflect a concrete overlap of our nervous system (thinking), our respiratory system (thinking-feeling), and our circulatory system (feeling). There are also metabolic (willing) processes occurring within them, but these are the most remote from our conscious awareness. Our respiration can be made quite conscious by our living Reason and concretely related to our Thinking activity as such, just as we did above with the inhaling and exhaling illustrations. It is more difficult to perceive the concrete connection with the circulatory system, but we can all intuit how the image of the heart pumping blood relates to our feeling activity. We should then also consider how the blood carries the oxygen, inhaled by our respiration (meaning), throughout the body. When it is exhaled back into the world (perception), it has been transfigured into something quite different. We have, in a very real sense, resurrected the meaning into a new life, which will then continue to weave through Nature and provide vitality to the plant kingdom. This reciprocal process of meaningful transfiguration and vitality continues on. Our metabolic processes (willing) convert oxygen combined with calories into 'energy' for our physical organism to circulate blood, respire more oxygen (meaning), and generally perform the movements we are intending.
"The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again."
- Ecclesiastes 1:5-7
Remember, our willing activity is the opposite pole of our thinking activity - the latter is able to manifest in the physical domain through the resistance of the former. This willing activity is very remote from our intellectual vision, but, in the virtual musical context, we can still have a distinct sense of this activity imbued with feeling on the downward diagonal strikes unfolding in the course of the musical idea. Another way to approach this dynamic is to consider the following - when we sleep at night without dreams, our thinking pole is entirely withdrawn, which explains why we cannot form any memories during that time. When we are asleep and dreaming, the thinking pole is somewhat present, and some dim memories are formed, but the willing pole is still much more active. We frequently manifest new imagery into existence through ouu will and we won't even stop to thoughtfully reflect on how that happened. When we awaken and go about our day, the thinking pole is much more active and the will is constrained to its given limits in bodily movements, which are reacting to perceptions manifesting in the world that we seem to have almost no control over. If there is a progression within a song where we move from regular down-beat strikes, to downward diagonal strikes, to horizontal strikes, to upward diagonal strikes, and finally to vertical up-beat strikes, in harmony with the beat, melody, and lyrics, there is a distinct sense of awakening from a state of deep sleep and dreaming. We can actually simulate all of these things even without the virtual environment, but the musical idea, which has entrained our thinking with its fluid structure, will greatly intensify the meaning of these movements and its connection to our own inner activity. It is the same sort of entraining which occurs when reading or listening to someone communicating an idea in a 'musical' way. Just as the flow of the words, phrases, and sentences in relation to the underlying ideal content (meaning) - the art of diction - can capture our attention in a vivid and inspiring way, so can the flow of beats, tones, and chords. All of these arts, then, are spiritual tools for our Thinking-organism to be born, to grow, to mature, and to evolve in sync with the Cosmic ideational processes. In the words of Ranier Maria Rilke, "we have... through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us." "Now it is in indicating this structure and rhythm, in taking into consideration the temporal relations between the various sentences of the paragraph and the various parts of each sentence, in following uninterruptedly the crescendo of thought and feeling to the point musically indicated as the culminating point that the art of diction consists. ... There is a certain analogy, be it said in passing, between the art of reading as I have just described it and the intuition I recommend to the philosopher. On the page it has chosen from the great book of the world, intuition seeks to recapture, to get back the movement and rhythm of the composition, to live again creative evolution by being one with it in sympathy." - Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind Our thinking ideations are manifested in the world when they meet the resistance of our willing organism. The less resistance those ideations encounter, the more degrees of freedom they have to manifest themselves in the world. As always, balance is paramount - if there was no resistance, the imaginations would flow uncontrollably as they do in a state of delusion and hallucination. Virtual technology, then, allows us to slightly 'astralize' our normal physical organism, so that it provides slightly less resistance to our imaginative ideations. We must remember, though, that these degrees of freedom only manifest when we are aware of the deeper meaning we are participating in; when we permeate the musical phenomena unfolding in the virtual space with our logical thinking activity, as we have in the previous essay and above. Otherwise, they simply lay dormant as unmanifested potential. If we fail to use this potential to free our spiritual organism from a tyranny of the senses, then we can be sure that it is tyrannizing us instead. It is, without a doubt, a narrow way to walk from the sphere of necessity to the sphere of freedom; to pass through the eye of a needle into the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, "to save all, we must risk all." "But can Man really be destined to neglect himself for any end whatsoever? Should Nature be able, by her designs, to rob us of a completeness which Reason prescribes to us by hers? It must be false that the cultivation of individual powers necessitates the sacrifice of their totality; or however much the law of Nature did have that tendency, we must be at liberty to restore by means of a higher Art this wholeness in our nature which Art has destroyed." - Friedrich von Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795)