Reality by Peter Kingsley

All of Peter Kingsley's books are a pleasure to read, but especially his book called Reality, which is a title that takes not a little nerve to give to a contemporary work of non-fiction. (since we live in a relativistic culture where everyone is entitled to their own version of reality). Here, he takes up the subject of the kind of attention required to be able to perceive the “what is”, as Krishnamurti used to call it.

Krishnamurti spent the entire 50 plus years of his career describing in excruciating detail the no-exit paradigm of the invisible-to-us ego consciousness, attempting to show how, no matter how convincing the trompe-l'oeil exit doors we paint on the walls of our prison, there is no escape as long as we are trying to ascend to a spiritual state beyond ego, because unbeknownst to us we are motivated by ego in our spiritual exertions..

Peter Kingsley is speaking to us about the differences between the kind of consciousness we all take for granted—a dualistic, self-referential, mundane consciousness—and the ecstatic shamanistic kind of attention to the energies underlying the manifest world that existed at a time in Western civilization when it could have become the foundation of the world we now inhabit, but which also co-existed with systems put forth by our heroes of rationalism who were beginning to gather their forces to impose their own world view, a view that did not include “altered states”.

More than any writer I know, Peter Kingsley is able to talk about what those altered states of mind were and are, and how essential their perceptions of reality are to any culture. If shamans are more than simple “witch doctors” trying to heal individuals fallen afoul of some invisible force or other, but rather sensitives who heal tears in the fabric of the anima mundi, we would do well to value their contribution to our civilization.

When we look at societies that have remained in equilibrium with the earth over long periods, we notice that they always carefully preserved a mystical perspective and a consciousness of the oneness of the energetic foundations of the created world. The problem for us is, we have completely forgotten our “original instructions” and we no longer have anyone who can access them. Such people were not able to survive in a culture that created the Inquisition, that burned witches at the stake.

I don't know if Peter Kingsley is an mystic who has applied his formidable skills of scholarship to proving the existence of our civilization's ecstatic origins, or if he is a scholar who was able to see the whole picture because he found and assembled more pertinent pieces of the historical puzzle (I suspect the former rather than the latter), but whatever the case, he speaks with great cogency of our current predicament and its origins.

And yet he gives you the feeling he's sitting right next to you telling you about ideas and events you find more and more far-reaching and fundamental. His style is more akin to fireside story-telling than a scholarly treatise, He writes in simple but fluid language, painting a picture of far distant times that brings them close and makes them real in spite of the foreignness of the cultures he is discussing.

In the end, his stories always revolve around the theme of how qualities of consciousness create civilizations and what kind of consciousness created ours. It's practically impossible to describe the ecstatic state of consciousness except in negative terms, by telling what it is not, but he manages to give a sense of both what it is and what it isn't.

There is a discussion of “metis”, which Parmenides (a Greek philosopher Kingsley explores in the book) insists is the kind of attention we must cultivate and maintain in order to have a real life and a viable culture, again strikes me as similar to Krishnamurti's insistence that a holistic attention to the what-is without escape leads to a true and deep interest in the miracle of reality, of which we ourselves are an unexplored part (because we assume we already know what we are).

When we let ourselves watch ourselves in action, from the inside out, we suddenly see an unrecognized creature that we have been purposely avoiding looking at. Astounded, we begin to take an interest in this creature that we are, like some unexplored continent, and that quality of true interest can lead to dissolving to some degree the ego-constructed world, with its narrow focus, that we have been trapped in. A new energy is released that can apprehend the whole gestalt we live in. This at least is how I understand it.

Peter Kingsley's books are down-to-earth, humane, and warm. He is offering a Western spirituality that revises and corrects the cold path of rationality that has cut us off from our hearts and therefore from our natural manifest context. His contribution is in both his insights as well as the graceful and warm voice he communicates in. His ideas are seminal and his books are works of art.


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