Sleeve notes to The Music of William Arkle - written by Bruce Charlton
(Slightly corrected by using information I have since obtained from discussions with his son Nick Arkle.)
William Arkle – who was called Bill by his friends - was born in 1924, and died in 2000. As well as composing music; Arkle was a spiritual philosopher, painter, poet, teacher and visionary.
Bill Arkle was a friend of the writer Colin Wilson and attracted a small group of dedicated students. During the nineteen seventies he published two books, was the subject of a local television documentary and collaborated with the progressive rock band The Enid. However, despite this modest celebrity; Arkle was never famous and he remains an obscure figure. (The figure whom Arkle most brings to my mind is that other visionary English ‘William’ – Blake; who died in almost equal obscurity but is now recognised as one of the greatest lyric poets and also an influential illustrator).
I know about Bill Arkle mainly because I lived nearby as a child: my sister knew his wife and daughter via ‘ponies’; and his next-door neighbours were my good friends. I also met him once, briefly, when visiting his son. I had dipped into the work from nearly forty years ago; however, it was only after a series of ‘synchronicities’ and having become a Christian in late life that I eventually made the effort to engage with Arkle’s work in a serious fashion – and discovered that he was one of the most inspiring spiritual philosophers of the twentieth century.
Arkle’s life was spent mostly in-and-around the city of Bristol. He served in the Royal Navy during the 1939-45 war, and trained as an Engineer – an unusually scientific and practical background for a visionary, but one which had a lasting effect on the way he expressed his spiritual ideas, often using metaphors drawn from optics, atomic physics, computers, holograms etc.. After the war Arkle became an art student in Bristol and married Julia Rae Hubbard in 1947. This marriage was short lived, and Bill married Elizabeth (Liz) in 1954. They later had two children called Nick and Rose.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, Bill participated in spiritual and Christian discussion groups in Bristol and produced a lot of paintings on mystical themes. He typically used ordinary household acrylic paints on hardboard, deployed luminous pastel colours, and his characteristic theme was of ordinary and everyday scenes transfigured by light to show-forth their inner reality.
At first the family lived in Clifton, then Alveston, in Bristol, making money by renovating and re-selling houses - apparently Liz was the business brain and Bill put his craft skills to good use. They later moved to Backwell Hill House, about 7 miles south west of Bristol – a dilapidated ‘mansion’ that had previously been a monastery (with a large chapel) and stood in large grounds. They had horses and various other animals.
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s the household was large and included people visiting to work on spiritual matters with Bill, and also people who helped with the horses and running the household. Bill made money from selling his paintings from a shop in the Whiteladies Road in Bristol, and from picture restoration – including pictures of horses.
In 1974 Arkle published A Geography of Consciousness, which had an introduction by Colin Wilson. The Great Gift, a book of his pictures with commentary and some essays, was published in 1977. In the same year BBC West broadcast a location-filmed TV program called William Arkle in the series Life Story.
In the mid-1980s the Arkle’s moved to the Cotswolds, then after some years moved back to Somerset in a house called Pigotts in Chelvey Batch (very near to Backwell Hill House). In 2000, Liz Arkle died, and Bill followed a few months later.
Right up until his death at the age of 76, Arkle remained active, creative, optimistic and spiritually aware. His final writings are, indeed, his happiest and most positive statements concerning the human condition. If a man’s abstract philosophy is to be judged by its practical effect on his own life, then William Arkle’s ideas must be counted a success.
I will attempt briefly to summarise Bill Arkle’s ideas. He regards the universe as created by Heavenly Parents (i.e. ‘God’) and inhabited by their children (men, women and angels). The divine children are free individuals each of whom is offered the gift of developing to full divinity in their own unique fashion. Thus, our mortal lives on earth are a mixture of joy and horror, encouragement and hazard, love and fear and so on – each person’s life with its own pattern. Life is set-up to provide each of us with those experiences that we most need to achieve the fullest, all-round, knowledge – and such that eventually we can work towards fully-divine status; to become friends of God on a level footing and participate in the work of creation in a spirit of family love. (Jesus has a vital role in this work – which is why Arkle must count as a Christina; albeit of an unorthodox type.)
Arkle’s understanding can be encapsulated as based-on the fact that we each have a spark of divinity; by means of which we can all potentially (if we are able to attain the necessary, undistracted and real form of consciousness) directly-know something of God’s true nature, mind and benign intentions. For Arkle; life is Good at its root and when correctly understood, because the world was made, and continues, for our ultimate benefit. What makes Arkle a mystic in that he personally had a vivid and immediate perception of God’s reality and activity in the world.
As many of his paintings depict; Arkle perceived life (ordinary, everyday; working, married and family life) as a communication from the divine and permeated by spiritual influences. Various paintings show a teapot and cups on a table by a window, a mountain landscape or a seascape, a bowler-hatted businessman, people doing holiday things – sitting, dancing, playing a flute… these typically illuminated by inner light; or with a mysterious glow or sparkle; or with large spiritual (and smiling) faces or enfolding hands invisibly present and waiting but unacknowledged.
(If this type of painting sounds simplistic, sentimental even saccharine; then this is indeed how they strike many modern people. But they arise from a base of tough resilience and immersion in practical life – and ought to be regarded as a higher, but true and realistic, vision of actual Heaven.)
In essence; Bill Arkle’s world is one of meaning and purpose, a world of experiences and learning (he often terms Life a ‘university’); and ultimately one underpinned by that unselfish loving affection we may know from our glimpses of ideal family living in which parents nurture and sustain the individuality, growth and freedom of each of their children. Each child is encouraged to grow-up, if and when ready to do so; and despite that the process necessarily entails suffering and loneliness; because the objective is an adult, autonomous child who voluntarily chooses to becomes a friend, colleague and collaborator in the endlessly creative work of reality. This is a partial-microcosm of Arkle’s Heaven – a dynamic world of evolution of absolutely-unique individuals, cohering by pure love.
Arkle’s friends have told me that the most characteristic and complete expression of his vision was to be found in semi-improvised multi-media presentations of visual, verbal and musical material. I have been studying Arkle’s writings and pictures intensely for the past five years; and find them an inexhaustible source of insight and encouragement. But until now, I have not heard any of his music.
This reissue of The Music of William Arkle, from the era of his collaboration with The Enid, is therefore very welcome to me; as rounding-out a more complete picture of this multi-faceted and inspiring man.
In his Geography of Consciousness (1974; pp 117-9), William Arkle describes eight levels of consciousness spanning the physical and ideal worlds - at the lowest end is Man as almost unconscious: passive, instinctive and immersed in the social group; at the highest level, Man's consciousness has become that of a god: free, agent, autonomous, participating in the work of creation.
But as probably only one or a very few have ever attained Higher Man stage (Saint John the Evangelist, may be an example); it is stages 1-7 which we need to consider...
4. Sophisticated cynical - the Dead-Centre
1. Lower man
And in particular I wish to focus on the sophisticated cynic of stage 4 - which is the typical and defining stage of Modern Western Man - or, at least, the intellectual and institutional leadership class of Modern Western Man.
To paraphrase Arkle; the sophisticated cynic is at the Dead-Centre of the evolutionary scheme - poised, suspended, trapped between lower and higher consciousness. This is a state of wide awareness of options and possibilities; made possible by increased knowledge and learning - but experienced as a pervasive relativism.
Everything is known, but nothing known with confidence - all is suspect; one option is balanced and cancelled-out by the others. Movement upward, or downward, immediately leads to loss of confidence and a tendency to return to the Dead-Centre.
And the centre is 'dead' because there is a state of demotivation. The longer a period of time that is spent in the dead centre; the harder it gets to escape. The modern sophisticated cynic may yearn either to become a higher man, to live by pure ideals and non-material values; or (perhaps more often) he yearns to discard sophistication and cynicism and simply lapse back into passivity, instinct, spontaneity and unreflectiveness - to become natural...
But both are equally impossible. His materialism and hedonism reduces and deconstructs all higher values - while he 'knows better' than the natural, spontaneous, instinctive Man - and he finds he just cannot forget or discard his sophistication, science, philosophy, ideology... They come back, again and again, to haunt him.
The sophisticated cynic is therefore pulled in both directions; and also repelled by both directions. The sophisticated cynic is the permanent adolescent - too mature to be a child, too immature to be an adult; too bored by both immaturity and maturity, seeing-through the innocence of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. He is cut-off from the basic satisfactions of simply getting-by in practical, material life; and also from the spiritual satisfactions of living for ideals located outwith mortal life and human limitation.
As the sophisticated cynic remains trapped by his own pre-conceptions; he may create vast belief-structures of ideology... but although initially promising, these invariably always lead-back (sooner or later) to where he began-from.(All apparent escape tunnels turn-out to be loops.)
The sophisticated cynic knows that the world of communications - of nature, of other people, of his own evanescent thoughts - are doubtful and unreliable: he has often experienced this unreliability. This insight itself implies that some other and solid form of knowing exists (with which communication is implicitly being contrasted); but when it comes to any specific knowledge, the sophisticated cynic remains unsure: he lives in an atomsphere of doubt... Yet at the same time, he doubts his own doubts, suspects there is 'more to life', and cannot embrace a fully nihilistic skepticism.
Thus the sophisticated cynic is trapped in the Dead Centre of consciousness.
The phase is a necessary point through-which Men must pass if they are to attain the autonomy required by higher consciousness; but if the lessons are to be learned, then the phase must feel real - must indeed be real - at the time it is being experienced. There must to be a pause in progression - and this pause may become prolonged and arrested into stasis.
(The ship must slow to a standstill, and actually stop - but once forward-momentum has been lost, the ship may become becalmed; at which point momentum and friction prevent it from moving again.)
Although many people do get stuck; some do escape - and in the right direction. What gets people out from the perpetual adolescence of sophisticated cynicism?
William Arkle then goes on to discuss the stages of consciousness beyond the sophisticated cynic and leading towards the Higher Man - who thinks in the divine mode, and who is the product of spiritual progression or theosis.
The idealist is the first step beyond the sophisticated cynic. He is motivated by 'ideas'; that is, by a theoretical understanding: specifically a set of metaphysical assumptions that acknowledge the possibility of a higher (and superior) mode of consciousness - above and beyond this-worldly materialism and emotions.
The poetic thinker adds imagination; that is, he 'pictures' or 'images' aspects of higher experience - not necessarily visually, but as an inner-generated perception of some kind. Thus the 'poet' has personal experience of higher things; not direct experience, but self-generated creative experience. More exactly, the poet has imagined the universal world of reality.
(The previous idealistic stage is necessary for the poet to regard his imaginations as real and significant - because if he is a metaphysical materialist, then he will not take-seriously his own imaginations.)
The mystic has experienced actual, direct-contact with the underlying divine and universal reality; he has experienced the universal world of truth, virtue and beauty.
(The previous stages of idealism and imagination are necessary so that the mystic may recognise and acknowledge the reality of that divine world.)
The mystic has (merely) experienced the underlying divine and universal reality - but the higher man creatively-participates in this world - beyond experiencing he actively sustains, reshapes and adds-to that created-reality - in line with God's primary creation. This is a divine form of participation; hence the higher man has become a co-creator and collaborator in God's great work of creation.
William Arkle believed in reincarnation, and a means of Men gaining experience and being-educated across multiple lives. By contrast, angels are a separate creation, who gain their experience and education by moving 'downward' from spiritual Heaven deeper into the material realm of incarnation and earth - the job being both to help and educate Men and themselves to learn about the problems of imperfection and evil.
By contrast, my understanding is derived from Mormonism - which is that there is a three stage progression from pre-mortal life, as spirit angels, through incarnate mortal life ad via death to post-mortal resurrected life; this time as incarnated angels.
Yet, brooding on Arkle's understanding of the nature and role of angels and Men, which can be found in his works Letter from a Father and Equations of Being; I have realised that these provide considerable insight when interpreted from his scheme.
Arkle's angels correspond to pre-mortal existence; and he emphasises that the innocence, bliss and purity of this life is a deficiency of understanding - angels have no spontaneous understanding of the constraints of incarnation, mortality, and the evil effects and suffering resulting from free agency.
Therefore, while spirit angels work to educate and assist Men (when such interventions are of benefit - given that our purpose in mortality is primarily to learn for ourselves, by trial and error); the angels are of limited knowledge, and prone to make errors due to their lack of understanding. In fact, angelic errors are themselves an accidental but inevitable contribution to the evil and suffering of mortal life.
We might imagine a ladder from the spirituality of highest Heaven to the materiality of earthly-mortal existence; angels are descending that ladder, Men are ascending it; angels are the teachers, but also learning - Men are the learners, but indirectly acting as teachers of angels; both angels and men benefiting from the interactions.
Spirit angels existed before the first Men were incarnated as mortals, and have always been involved in earthly life; but we can assume that they will have found mortal problems both confusing and appalling - and they needed to learn from the experience.
We can imagine that - over time - more and more spirit angels will have learnt enough to recognise that they would benefit (in terms of progression towards full divinity) from voluntary incarnation as mortals; and then do this.
Over time, from the first mortal Men, there would be a development of angelic expertise, and eventually spirit angels were supplemented by incarnate angels who had experienced mortality.
yet, over this timescale, there will have been an accumulation of the effects of evil - so the problems of mortal life have also accumulated.
And the evil of mortal life has also been increased by the activities of fallen spirit angels - I mean demons. These demons perhaps include individual spirit angels whose interaction with mortal Men have led to various responses such as hatred, resentment, fear and the desire to dominate mortals.
For example, the prime demon - The Devil, Satan or Lucifer - is depicted in Mormon scripture as having rejected the divine plan for free agency in Men; and having fallen in order to destroy Men's free will, and to enforce a compulsory plan on Men (and other demons). The devil is therefore the prototypical totalitarian dictator; who believes he 'knows best' what is best for Men.
Arkle also assumes that the difficulties of mortal life, the accumulation of errors, evils and demonic power will eventually make mortal life just too difficult for the need for learning by experiencing; and this world will need to be ended, and another begun. In other words there will be an end time terminated by the end of this world (i.e. equivalent to Christ's second coming, the New Jerusalem).
Anyway, I find that this understanding of spirit angels descending and Men ascending and both interacting - to be helpful in making sense of what has happened in this world since the original incarnation of Adam and Eve; and the ways in which the problems and tasks of mortal life have changed throughout history.
An essay published in The Great Gift by William Arkle, 1977
There are a number of matters which I would like to define which are matters that seem to cause a deep stirring in the heart of our being and which require some response from us. I will quickly go by the opinions of those people who do not see the need for a purposeful creative consciousness behind the manifestation of this universe. Such understanding must come to us as a simple observation beyond doubt, or it does not come at all.
We realise that there are people who are able to conceive of this manifest universe as an outgrowth from some haphazard life which is fumbling its way by accidents from one thing to another. I cannot sustain such a theory since I am aware that the organisation of matter has to reach an extremely high degree indeed before life can even begin a fumbling of any sort. Our time and attention is too valuable to remain in, what are for me, such unproductive fields. We must observe all things, but not limit them to the tangible and the 'scientific', particularly when we realise that our own consciousness is neither tangible nor 'scientific'.
My observations lead me to a purposeful God, a living responsive creative source, whose motives we may begin to discover in the way of our own nature and environment are formulated.
Many of these qualities have become so clear to me that I would like to bring them to your notice in a direct manner. To you, my propositions may well be faulty and insubstantial, but I will endeavour to place them before you in an order which seems to me to have some relevance.
Let me start with a simple thing.
You will have noticed that those people among us whom we sense to have gone furthest in the development and expression of their nature have shown clearly that they attach greater importance to qualitative matters than quantitative ones. (By this I mean that they can be seen to be concerned to do one thing really well rather than many things less well. They are people who for instance, would rather write one good book than several indifferent ones, who would choose one deeply valuable friendship rather than many semi-friendships.)
They are also concerned to be strong, but not powerful, concerned to add value to life and other people, never to take it away. They try to fulfil themselves in such a manner that they also fulfil others. They appear to gain as much satisfaction from the quality of experience they can afford to others as they gain for themselves. They seem to share their life with others while at the same time drawing out the possibilities of those others. In a word they endeavour to make all things freshly 'new' and thus non-repetitive.
If we call this manifest universe creation, then these people want to be creative within it. They would appear to be the ones who achieve real friendship and who also add creatively to the life about them. They see the value in their creative living in terms of adding to the significance of life, but not in any form of cleverness which may well detract from the significance of life. So they do not seek to be important, yet they have a clear-cut hierarchy of values which would enable them to recognise the best things in people and the best people among things.
Such individuals, if they do influence people profoundly, take care not to do it through any form of power which over-rides the individual wishes of those people, for, more than any others, they value the uniqueness and autonomy of individuals. Every individual is valued as another unique polarity of life with whom an endless variety of expressions is possible.
The loss of any individuality is an absolute loss to all living potential, and the diminishment of any individual (in respect of the deepest level of that person’s being) the greatest of tragedies.
Now I have been making this point because what I want to observe are principles which I feel can take us a long way into the understanding of the creative impulse. If we, out of our experience, follow human nature up to its highest expression we get well into the nature we expect belongs to that of the spring of creation.
If we then combine with this the situation of the family group, we already have a good motive and a good method of achieving that motive.
The workings of the family group can be observed closely by us, and can be seen to be an excellent way of developing the potentiality of an individual in such a way that the child takes on the reality of its separate existence in a gradual way, and then is encouraged to stand alone.
In the proper family relationship the child is instinctively aware that the ties of childhood must be broken and then, ideally, replaced with an entirely voluntary friendship. I say ideally because it is quite rare for the full cycle of the family to be fulfilled, for this requires a number of mature attitudes which do not often arise. The parents have to be wise, and the child has to be wise, and so too few children succeed in becoming real friends with their parents, certainly in the deep sense of their true being.
I observe that the friendship of true being can arise in our world, but I also notice that so few people are able to demonstrate the characteristics of true being, that it does not arise very often. I must then say that the true friendship of true being is a rare phenomenon and we have much to learn about the nature of this relationship.
What we observe most often is the nature of secondary friendship, the character of which is different to the character of primary or true friendship.
Whereas secondary friendship is a situation in which the persona or secondary self alone participates, primary friendship can only be entertained by the primary self and does not exist in the values of the unspiritualised secondary self. When primary friendship is demonstrated we are able to say that the primary self is also demonstrated, and thus also the nature of the creative source and the motive of that source.
To put it in simple language, we shall obtain an illuminating insight into the nature and purpose of God if we look at the full nature of true friendship and the nature of the family as it should, but often does not, fulfil its natural function. If we see in a clearer fashion the nature of God, we shall also see ourselves and one another with fuller significance if we accept that we ourselves are the outcome of this God’s endeavour.
We must practise an intuitive perception of God to know ourselves and an intuitive perception of ourselves to know God.
There is a vicious circle here which feels to me like a limit set upon our ability to understand true nature by our inability to enter into the full relationship of true friendship. We habitually mistake secondary friendship for the real thing, and we do not look upon this true friendship as a great art and a great achievement.
True friendship so forgets its self-interest in the absorbing experience of full communication with another, that it derives a great gladness in witnessing the fulfilment of the friend and the full expression of that individual. Similarly the individual in question is so absorbed in giving life and form to the values and concepts that mean most to his nature that he becomes equally forgetful of his self-interests.
Thus we achieve a situation in which neither individuals are concerned to conform to any image they have of themselves, and, for a space, they live as though they did not know who they were. They are so concerned to 'be' themselves that they no longer need to monitor their self-image to feel safe. This freedom enables them to become aware of a much larger nature in themselves than is otherwise possible.
This attitude requires courage, confidence and faith in life, which is most difficult and is a part of the limiting circle which must be broken.
If one true friend says to the other by his attitude, "From whoever I am, I am deeply glad about you, whoever you are," he gives to the other inner space, freedom and confidence which enables him to go beyond his previous knowledge. In going beyond his previous more limited self, this other gives back to his friend a demonstration of values which enable that friend to witness the quality of true being, and thus the quality of the potentiality within his own being. This at the same time reveals the motive of God who wished creation to have taken this particular form.
My own experience tells me that the nature of this God must have in it a bigness of heart and of mind which is greater and more poetically beautiful than that yet demonstrated by any man or woman. And my experience of people who have bigness of heart and mind is that they do not have, as so many of us do, deficiency needs which absorb much of their time and attention. Having overcome the deficiency needs of their personalities, they give all their attention to observing and 'being with' those people who confront them. They are quite naturally at pains to recognise the real individual in each person they meet, and in this way they draw out the real values in that person for they no longer have any interest in the secondary values which we play with in our games of ego-importances and ego-greeds.
If big natured people express the nature of our Creator then the fundamental 'desire' which must have been at the heart of God’s character and at the heart of that longing which is the inspiration and motive for manifestation, is to share creative friendship with other real individuals. Within this highest form of being are the divine qualities of love and affection, strength and integrity.
If my approach has seemed reasonable, we have now got a motive and a concept of God and of man which can satisfy many of the reasons for the world being the way it is. We can begin to understand God’s motives for designing creation as it is when we accept that a longing to bring into being other conscious individuals to exist creatively with, in highest friendship, was the greatest desire in His heart.
The bringing into existence of this physical world with all its mixed values, pains and joys seems, in the light of such a motive, the only way it could be achieved.
If, for instance, this world had been kept in a pristine condition then there would have been no room for the fulfilment of the individuality and understanding necessary for true and creative friendship. For pristine environments are unspoiled by any quality opposed to those of perfection, and if we had been born and kept in an environment of perfection we should not have any means of discovering the meaning of any of the qualities of that perfection. We would have been 'imprisoned' in beauty, love, harmony, joy and all bliss, and we would then have had no chance of knowing about the opposites of these qualities from which to gain an understanding of their significance.
Since our life would have been one of perfect harmony and ease, and the nearness of the character of God’s nature so close to our observation, then we would have felt no reason or urge to express a character or individuality of our own. Such character as we might have, would have to be imposed upon us as a ready made thing.
In our experience of the world, the way it is, we find that our nature and expression suffers opposition at every turn. We find that we not only have to discover each of our possible characteristics one by one, but we find that we have to strengthen them one by one.
We need not mistake this for a quantitative ambition since we come to recognise that a large number of acquired characteristics is the proper and only way of reaching a larger aspect of overall individual character. And we recognise that strength is not the same as power, but is the ability to maintain good values in the face of resistance. Without this ability we do not possess those values, for they do not truly belong to us until we have become unable to lose them.
This strength is not acquired in order to dominate others, but in order to live out our true self for the sake of others.
As we learn to care more about this higher friendship we realise that it becomes concerned about what it can offer to others. The value of any friendship must also be a measure of the depth of character and understanding that each one brings to it. It can be said that only a small or thin friendship can be experienced with another whose character has not been developed or worked upon.
In contrast, it is with people who have had much experience and had much character development that we can expect to have the most enjoyable and fruitful relationship.
So if we learn to care about one another, in ways which make us wonder how we can best be a friend to one another, we realise that we must concern ourselves with gathering as much character as possible. This will mean living in an environment which is not too easy, and setting ourselves tasks which are in line with our highest valuations, and consequently the most demanding and difficult ones to realise.
It is then discovered that there is a fundamental change in our attitude towards growth; we discover that we do not want it to come to an end. We discover that our idea of perfection has changed also, for the perfect creative friend is a very different sort of person from the perfect being who lives only in a pristine condition, without pain or effort.
It can now be seen that the image of ourselves as well as of God is taking on a radically different look. For we can picture ourselves as being engaged in a process of experience which is preparing us for friendship and companionship, rather than a process in which we are simply trying to survive by turning ourselves into the image of someone else, even the perfect someone which God is.
And this God is looking upon us with a longing for our potential friendship and companionship, not with an eye to eliminate our unique character, but to enhance it. In fact the weight of the character we take home with us at the end of the day will be taken by our God as a measure of our affection and appreciation of Him.
This gives us a view of God and of His initial love for us which to me is very much more beautiful and attractive than the one I get from the idea of a tricky God who gives us an obstacle course to struggle through before absorbing us back into his nature again in a condition of eternal bliss. Such an obstacle course must always seem like punishment for a crime we do not feel ourselves to have committed.
Now this idea, that we have been given our 'being' to make something of, leaves us with the realisation that initiative has got to come from us much of the time. Not only have we to take a full part in the development of our individual character, but we then have to choose those people with whom we wish to share it, and this has to include our Creator as well as our fellow men and women.
If the price of our ultimate eternal being depended on whether or not we choose God as our friend, then that friendship would have a very dubious basis, and it would seem to me to be a very wrong use of friendship.
But if that same God arranged things in such a way that we could choose Him or not, as we wished, then to me this would be a most important factor in the whole structure of creation, and it would signify to me that all that is good, in my understanding of values, was being upheld.
Thus I see it as imperative that our God allows us to decide and to choose how we grow towards His personal being, and He must offer some other way, which is less personal and less friendship-based, than the one we have been looking at. Since each of us has, as a part of our nature and understanding, a quite impersonal area which is also full of interest, beauty and delight, I see no reason why we should not choose to develop this side of our nature; and develop it to a stage where it can be harmonised and integrated with a similar impersonal set of characteristics which I feel is a part of the Creator’s being also.
In this way we can propose that there is a full spectrum of the Creator’s nature offered to us, ranging from the most personal to the most impersonal, and each of us will find ourselves relating to different combinations of these two extremes. I am sure we have all come across religious understanding which expresses both of these ways of development. For instance, we know of the Buddhist who tries to eradicate all sense of individual existence from his understanding and who then blends 'his' nature with the one life; who has to identify himself with 'the Absolute'.
Then there is the follower of Jesus who describes to us a most personal and intimate way into the relationship we have with our God, so that we may become the child of this God if we wish. And, if we value the endeavour, we can grow past the stage of child with this God. But this further growth is not forced upon us, and we may return to this Creator as a child and enter our home again as a child, if we so choose.
What must be true, is that we discover we love many of the qualities of 'true being' if we are to become a part of the eternal life to which it belongs. It would be foolish to think that we can take any quality back with us to eternity, for qualities which are foreign to its nature must be rejected, and us along with them. Eternal life must be at pains to maintain its proper condition for all our sakes, but within this condition there will surely be a vast area in which our individual characters will be able to express and develop themselves.
We know that many people have reached an inner experience of profound oneness, completion and bliss which makes all the foregoing statements of no account. To me this is quite possible; they have become one with the nature of the Creator’s beneficent emanations, and the impulse to know the person of the Creator behind them has not been felt. This seems entirely proper to me, for I cannot imagine the nature of this Creator demanding that we love Him personally as a friend, before we become a part of eternal life. Such an attitude would be foreign to the meaning of love and affection, as well as to the concept of creative friendship, which I feel are the deepest motives in existence.
My feeling is that we must discover the nature of the Creator’s person to be so loveable that we try to read the heart of His being in order that we may delight and fulfil its longing. This is what real friends forever do for one another. It leads them into an ever growing and open-minded situation which seeks to be always new in its expression, endeavouring to surpass the quality and value which has already been reached.
How can a Creator be content with a static, satisfied condition? He must surely have an on-going attitude that will always seek to surpass itself, even if we do not see it or wish to become a part of it.
For us, whose spirits are so often weary with the difficulties of the world the release from anxiety and frustration which comes to us if we enter any sphere of relative bliss, must seem to be enough. There must be few who would look back over their shoulder and observe that an element in their nature had not been properly read and understood, and thereupon give up such bliss to return again to the resistances of the outer fields of experience.
There are many people who have experienced this blissful aspect of their nature, so it is not out of place to ask why the Creator, or if they prefer it, the One Life, did not arrange for them to be born directly into this blissful state, if reaching it was the sole purpose of creation.
Why should there be any physical manifestation, with all the accompanying effort, if blissful nature was only concerned to become blissful nature again, and paid no heed to individual characteristics to further its intrinsic purpose?
Such a reality would not support the demonstration and experience of values which we, as men and women, continually stumble upon. There is no room in such an enclosed system for the individual courage, integrity and affection which we know exists.
Or if these qualities exist in our experience, they become in this reality only a dream and a game, and their significance is insubstantial. I should not choose to take part in such a game willingly, and the bliss of such a reality has for me already taken on a quality which devalues itself, as well as what I have unwittingly mistaken to be myself.
And, furthermore, if it is thought that this blissful oneness is in fact furthering its purposes through the artificial manifestation of our human nature, it would still behove us to return to this world of experience rather than to remain in the completed state that blissful consciousness represents.
Such a system could be imagined to be collecting experience of itself through the experience of many different centres of being which each of us represents. These centres of being thus, not having a reality of their own, but being a series of differently placed windows for the collective consciousness to look out from. If we become aware of the trick, we then proceed to correct the sense of separate identity and re-become a part of the whole again.
Thus, in becoming God, we cease to fulfil the purpose of this God, which is to continue to know itself more completely through 'windows'.
I feel sure that the picture we have just drawn is one which many people hold when they take up the pursuit of the spiritual path; and at the same time feel that the idea of a real God, to whom we can relate, is an immature and childish attempt to sustain the reality of our wishful thinking. They would say that an idea of a personal God is 'anthropomorphic' and, in our present climate of thought, this is expected to be automatically a damning criticism.
The answer I would like to give to this is simply to state that the anthropomorphic condition can be taken the other way. That is, it can be taken as a supreme compliment on the part of the Creator who has endowed us with an image which conforms to His own image because He has such high hopes of us.
In a cynical age this simple and most beautiful attitude is the hardest of all to uphold.
In a materialistic climate the human image is mistaken for the purely physical attributes of our personality; the higher and less tangible abilities of moral fervour, integrity and loving affection are overlooked, and the personal God very easily assumes the qualities of despiritualised humanity.
To imagine a God in the image of degenerate man is one thing, but to imagine man to be capable of living and upholding all the most valuable qualities of God’s nature is quite another.
This gift to us of ourselves, as something which can sustain comparison with that of the Divine nature is exactly the gift which I believe our Creator is endeavouring to bring about. The gift is of such a nature that it cannot be handed to us on a plate ready made. It is a most subtle and difficult thing to give, and it can only be given if we can enter into the spirit of the process and consciously and creatively take it upon ourselves.
The gift is of such a nature that it contains a great burden within it, namely the burden of objective understanding and the integrity which such understanding requires of us. The weight of this burden is also an exact measure of the absolute value we carry in terms of the creatively understood friendship which we can offer one another and our God.
To know and to accept the gift which we are being offered is to know the nature of complete responsibility. For we cannot relate to each other, in the context of true creative friendship, until we carry the sense of responsibility for all qualities and thus the sense of responsibility for all people. We cannot relate to each other in complete friendship until we consciously carry the attitude which is at the heart of the nature of the Creator Himself. If this sort of affection is given the name of Divine Love then I am happy about that term, but I would loathe to settle for something less.
I do not want to give the impression that I am arguing against endeavouring to experience oneness with God. Very deep spiritual love and friendship must achieve a 'oneness of being' which is impossible to less spiritual orders of consciousness. I am trying to look carefully into the nature of this Divine oneness in order to understand more clearly the wonders that it holds, and to make the loveliness of its nature and its purpose more apparent by discovering the beauty of its motivation.
Whether we come to this oneness in a more personal or impersonal way, I would like to emphasise that our response to it is of the utmost value and that we can remain 'us', and It can remain 'It' if 'we' wish to make it so; or we can submerge our identity and cease to 'stand on our own feet', if that is what we choose.
I feel I am trying to point out, very specifically, that our God is a fully beneficent, loving, giving God who does not play tricks with us, and who is offering layer after layer of possibilities within the nature of His and our being. The measure of the gifts being offered to us is only limited by our ability to see them, understand them and receive them. The more we can accept, the more fulfilled is the longing of our Creator’s heart.
But who are we, and how much are we confused in our spiritual endeavour by the ambiguity of our sense of identity?
If we have not achieved the integration of the separate interests and attitudes of our nature, we find we have many sub-personalities whose identity we become confused with. It is not possible to feel much value in the foregoing arguments if the strongly valuable aspects of our nature are diluted by lack of certainty.
Conversely, deep and strong feelings of certainty often come to us gratuitously, and these have the ability to further the integration of our attitudes and enhance the sense of 'a centre of self' which carries our most valuable understandings and intentions.
The spiritual path for many of us is essentially a way of intensifying the values and attitudes of our nature and learning to recognise, through this intensity, the unified self who is present to all of them, and who understands all of them. This self who is common to our best responses and aspirations, and who wishes to leave nothing of value out of its world, is our real self.
Since we have a physical, emotional and mental nature, and since each of these natures has a masculine and feminine aspect, we should expect to find that we have many sub-personalities. When these are integrated, we have a true personality which is an expression of, and a vehicle for, the true self. This is the self that can feel and know and enter into the divine life and choose to relate and respond to our Creator as 'Friend' or as 'God'.
It seems to me that, in either case, the blissful nature of our encounter is one of great 'gladness'. This is a special sort of gladness that is love, and yet an on-going love which takes it into a creative condition, and which results in what I have already described as the highest form of friendship. Here the nature of creation is continued in an open-ended, ever widening potentiality for which the polarity of 'me' and 'thou' is absolutely necessary. If either polarity, or individual Being, 'gives up', then the creative tension or vortex between the two vanishes, and the possibilities for endless living experience vanish with it.
I am afraid that I have to use the term 'personal' in trying to describe this Divine relationship and this may cause a confusion of understanding. The higher meaning of the term 'personal' refers to the nature of the individual Divine Being that is the reality of the Creator as well as our own reality. The Creator, it is suggested, has given us all a 'chip off the old block' or a 'spark of His Divine Flame' to be the basis of our separate individual identity. Between this chip, or spark, and God, who is the giver, can grow a divine friendship. This comes through a response to what I have called the personal end of the spectrum of possible Personal and Impersonal options. We will all respond to a different mixture of these two extremes.
In talking about God as a person, it is not necessary to picture Him/Her as having head, arms, legs and trunk, and sitting on a celestial cloud. If we picture God as a beneficent point of ambient light, we may still feel the personal response of this centre as being a real, sensitive, affectionate awareness, which can take on any form and be anywhere as He may wish.
But God can communicate the nature of His love and the many sides of His beneficent nature, by taking a form which acts as a language. A beautiful face that is smiling at us with loving eyes will probably carry more meaning for us than a bright light and atmosphere of love. So while this is true, God may well choose to use a form to make Himself known to us. When such a form becomes a hindrance to communication, then no doubt it will cease to be used. If we do not wish to know God in that form, then it is likely that He will never confront us in that form.
It is not possible, then, for us to know the real nature of friendship until we act from the nature of our real Self.
Secondary selves can only know the quality of secondary friendship which is largely a situation in which the one is supplying the deficiency needs of the other. When the supply stops so does the friendship; dislike and resentment take its place, and thus prove that it was not real in the first place.
The love of real friendship can never diminish. It makes no demands and can never suffer resentment. But it is sensitive, so it must be able to be hurt, but I would think that this was confined to the formative stage, after which the divine resonance between the individuals would be so complete that even hurt would become less possible.
When we know we are being our real Self, we may notice that at that very instant we are aware how much of that Self is unfamiliar to us.
As we may expect that God’s nature is like a mansion with many rooms in it, so is our own nature. We are mansions within the mansion of God and learning to understand and appreciate the content of our rooms and His/Her rooms. The thing that we notice and enjoy about the rooms of God we duplicate in the building of our own mansion. It is possible that we may make some little thing of our own which God also duplicates for the furnishing of His mansion. I like to think that there is a keenness on the part of God to delight in so doing.
Since attaining higher levels of consciousness is so difficult an activity; when we try to do this, we will be put into contact with other members of that group most suitable to help us; an 'invisible college' which shares our particular outlook and aims.
Thia may seem to happen by accident, or may be recognised as destiny - but it will happen.
The members of the invisible college will include unknown people whose contact is imperceptible, it may include people in our environment whom we meet often - but also those who, while they remain alive and in-conact post-mortally, come to our attention via books, music, or other long-lasting artifacts and communications.
Our invisible college has the following characteristics
1. Recognition of other group members is immediate - although wordless. The real relationship is at a higher psychological level than is usual.
2. Group members are engaged in work with the same quality of outlook, and the same quality of consciousness - although generally with different methods and using different forms.
3. The function of groups is to stimulate and inform one another - perhaps directly (person to person), but often in roundabout ways - and potentially in imperceptible ways. In other words, communication among the invisible college is direct and participative - and not dependent upon the partialities and imperfections of physical communication.
4. As time goes by, and with the consent and in line with the wishes of members; the groups tend to become closer and more intensely and mutually helpful. Also they become more effective in bringing help and guidance to the world - in line with their special function.
5. These groups share a 'religion' - which is natural, unconditional and wide - this religion is mutually felt, but seldom something explicit or recognised in the world.
From the above criteria I can recognise some living people in my own invisible college of divine work - some known personally, some known-of but never met, and some who are numbered among the (so called) dead: in literature JRR Tolkien, Colin Wilson, Blaise Pascal, Thomas Traherne; in music JS Bach and Glenn Gould; in science Einstein; in religion John the Apostle and Evangelist.
(As well as people; I feel a similar collegiality about certain places and philosophies, metaphysics, theology... But these may well be a different kind of phenomenon.)
From this partial list (supplemented by people among the living), I can see something of the shape of my own main business in life.
The above is summarised and somewhat extrapolated from Chapter Six 'The Problems' of William Arkle's book A Geography of Consciouness (1974).