Do You Matter?
A lot of us have spent a lot more time at home this year than we expected. Out in public, if we are hidden behind a mask and keep ‘respectful’ distances from each other we are still not meeting and being together as we are used to being. Adhering to the ‘rule of six’ we miss those gatherings where we meet new people and gain unexpected perspectives. Left to ourselves like this a lot of people are feeling they do not, really, matter.
My own journey through this year has gone from disbelief at the news coming in from China to acceptance that this is becoming a global experience. On to recognition that this fulfils certain prophecies I learnt from Rudolf Steiner in my 20s, and then on to feeling real peace under the quiet skies and by a quietened motorway that passes my studio. I talked with more neighbours than ever before as they took their exercise round the block, not off somewhere, now forbidden. Then, as I learnt of the extraordinary powers being taken by the government, the power to enter private homes, to take away anyone suspected of being infected, the permission for agents of the law to commit crimes, I began to feel more fear than I had of the virus. I have struggled with that fear all through the summer and feel it still.
Courage brings us back to ourselves. So many people in positions of knowledge have taken that courage, have said “I do matter, I do have to speak out” and have posted videos and papers on social media declaring that their hospital is empty or that their use of ventilators is not helping people but hurting them, or that their department is falsifying figures. Many have lost their jobs, resigned or had their careers stalled. Censorship has now become more prevalent than it was behind the Iron Curtain. A German doctor visiting Britain to speak was arrested and imprisoned until after the event. His phone and laptop were taken by the police, all for speaking of research and experience that did not fit the political agenda. Each of these people has been in a position where taking courage to speak out changed the view for many hundreds of thousands and changed the course of their own lives. They felt they mattered, that what they knew mattered.
What does it mean, to matter? What does ‘matter’ mean? Taken from the Latin for Mother this word means both ‘Substance’ and ‘of importance.’ We generally take matter to be the single most real experience of our lives. We stand on the earth. We grasp hold of a stick, we see a wall, we eat solid food three times a day. Matter is so fundamental to our lives one can see why it is called after the Mother, from whom our material body came. All and every experience of matter comes through our senses. Our senses give us this experience of solidity. We cannot pass our hand through the wall, we cannot breathe water, we see the location of things we then reach out to hold. These experiences are so reliable, so genuine we no longer even ask if that matter is really there, we only ask ‘of what is it made?’ Science has answered this in immense detail. Working on the premise that matter is made of smaller pieces of matter we ‘discovered’ atoms, electrons, positrons, quarks, and a myriad more. Every discovery created more new questions than it answered and we began to realise that these smaller particles were not really matter, they appeared and disappeared depending on what questions we asked, sometimes appearing as waves, sometimes as dots on a screen. We began to become familiar with the idea that subatomic particles are both there and not there, like Schrödinger’s cat-in-a-box that you cannot know whether it sleeps or has died unless you open it. Being that we get different answers each time we look we have to accept that it is both. Today those working with these wave/particles simply call them events. Working with incredibly expensive and massive machines, they launch an experiment that lasts less time than it takes to sneeze. Then they take months trying to agree what actually happened. By now we know that there is far more space between things than there are things but it takes us a little longer to accept that the things are not in fact there either. They are events.
The whole of this year’s panic is an event. This does not mean it does not matter. Whether there is a virus or not is as debatable as whether there is an atom or not, but the experience of matter remains and the experience of Covid matters.
The question we started with is whether you matter, whether I matter. Like me, you are an ‘I.’ We all are. No matter what name we agree to be known by, to me I am ‘I.’ For how long I will be an I, I do not know. Like these tiny not-quite-particles, I am an event. I appeared a few decades ago and, in fewer decades I will have disappeared. Does this mean I do not matter? Not at all. Like those “subatomic particles” the event of my existence is creating the world. This ‘I’ that lives as me and as you is as valid as this matter that lives as myriad not-really-existent particles. Everything that is, is an event. Some insects live one day, some plants live one year, most elephants live one century, some trees live one millennium, mountains live longer than I know, but they, too were not always there and will one day no longer be there. Everything is an event.
When I reach out and touch the table. When I look up and see a cloud, when I smell a flower, each of these is an event. Each of these gives rise to an experience in me. This single fact is really important. I have an experience. When I bite off a piece of bread and cheese I feel different textures, I find substance in my mouth. The flavours of both are immensely complex and during the experience of chewing and swallowing those flavours become more complex. This experience is massive. If I actually pay attention to this, not rushing on into interpretations like good or bad, cheddar or brie, but pay attention to the experience itself I find the root of all existence happening within me.
The whole of science is based on the question: What is really happening here? Everything, from cosmology to chemistry from archaeology to zoology is asking: What is causing this experience in me? Defining things is one way of trying to answer that question. Yet defining things divides them up. Thus we discover, in every branch of science, as in every human experience, the answers we get create more questions than we started with. Maybe this is because we forget to return to the baseline question. What am I actually experiencing? Instead we start to ask: what is this ‘thing’ that I am experiencing. This slight deflection from the experience to the assumed cause introduces assumption and we all get lost.
The experience is real. This we can be certain of. Our senses are speaking to us all the time. So much so that we switch off and miss a great deal of what they say. Otherwise we would be like the two-year-old who has to pause every step to check out the next brick in the wall, this amazing bit of litter on the ground, that poor dying flower in the grass. If matter is the mother of our experience who is the father?
The experience is real. It arises in us following the sense impression. Not as a judgement, they come later. First just as an experience. All sense impressions, whether we notice them or not pass through our bodily systems, leaving change behind them. Science has confirmed today that though the sense organs are mostly in the head the heart actually registers the impression before the head does. It may be that science will go on to confirm another of Rudolf Steiner’s observations, made from pure conscious investigation, without the machines used today, that every sense impression falls from the head, through the heart into the gut (the large amounts of grey-matter in the digestive area are sometimes referred to as the gut-brain) where they cause changes we have not yet tracked before rising again through the head and out into oblivion. Steiner compares this to our physiological animal-nature when he described the impression as coming from the eagle-nature of our head/sense organs, falling into the lion-nature of our heart/lung rhythms and on into the bull/bovine nature of our digestive system. Ruminant animals like cows have four stomachs. They eat a little then they lie down to chew over that experience before rising to repeat. They are the dreamiest of animals. Out of this contemplative dream the experience rises like a butterfly, wafting up again through the body until, unless we catch it, it floats out into the cosmos. Did you know that clouds of butterflies have been seen from aeroplanes? High above the clouds. Our unconscious dreaming is like that, way off in the clouds. Only if we catch the butterfly do we notice that we had a sense impression at all. Otherwise they go right through us leaving physiological changes without touching our conscious mind or our memory. When we catch the butterfly, we begin a whole new process. Tests done at the Centre for Heart Math confirm what Steiner invited us to discover, that once the mind forms an image the heart (and the gut) get involved a second time. The reverberations of our sense impressions, the image we form of them and the judgements we make about them resound through our body again and again. In this way our body becomes an instrument for consciousness. Notes plucked through our sense impressions resound through us with added harmonies and dissonances from the judgements we make of good and bad, desirable or fearful, beautiful or unpleasant etc. If the harmony we find in nature is a reflection of the Cosmic Harmonies of the Universe then the individual notes that come to our attention through the ‘butterflies we catch’ or impressions we notice are like notes sounding in us from this cosmic harmony. Matter may be the Mother of all experience, but surely the cosmic consciousness, reverberating within us is the Father.
This meeting of the Father and the Mother within us is what has fired those who spoke out. When the sense experience from their own lives and professions met with the inner realisation that truths were being distorted, they realised that their own experience mattered. They brought together the father of their insight with the mother of their perceptions and drew material courage from the offspring.
My own experience matters. Between the necessary basis of all life: Care for the Self, and the ideal of being human: Compassion for the Other, this is the central principle, that my own experience matters. If we give away our sense of truth to our education, as we are taught to do, or if we retreat into a belief that all of life is an illusion, either way we lose what we were born with, the awareness that our own experience matters. Given that our experience is two-fold, both the sense impressions and the responses to them, how do we regain this realisation that our own experience matters?
The answer lies with the father and the mother and with our own point of attention. In those moments when we still that point of attention and hold in its quiet hand, the butterfly that passes through us on its way to the heights then we have both the mother and the father dancing in the moment. When we are able to notice what we just perceived and not rush to judgement or projection then, in truth, we are at the love-making of nature and spirit within us. That scent that is wafting past, what rises up in me when I notice that. I might recognise it as supper, or the guy in the next seat, or mushrooms in the forest here, but that is already a projection, it is a decision, an answer, a cap on an open question and not a perception or awareness in itself. If I just feel into my bodily awareness (body=matter/Mother, Awareness=consciousness/Father) I will notice feeling-forms arising in me. When I feel those feelings, I connect consciousness with substance. The ‘chemical wedding’ happens right here, within me and my Presence in Matter is affirmed.
Like with any meditative exercise this requires both focussed attention and opened awareness at the same time. One has to open one’s awareness to the moment of the butterfly passing then pluck the string, sniff the rose or whatever and notice the response arise within you. One has to close one’s awareness to the interpretations that arise. Like and dislike, desire to act, naming, in a thousand ways, all set the experience outside of the moment and leave one with knowledge bereft of experience. This strengthens the father-image we carry as concepts and weakens the mother-touch we live as relationship. Staying with the moment, with the question: “What am I actually experiencing now?” brings them both together.
The more I do this close-attention thing, to each and any of the senses, the more the realisation arises in me: “Yes, I do matter.” It arises as a kind of side effect. The fact that ‘I am’ is a material fact. I am of matter, my experience is real. I distinguish this from learned knowledge, I distinguish this from interpretation and judgement, my experience matters, I am here, I do matter.
The practice of this ‘butterfly-catching,’ this ‘chemical wedding’ (as Alchemist call it) brings us home to our own experience.
The question/feeling ‘Do I really matter?’ only rises up in us when we become divorced from our genuine experience. Education can do this to us. Hierarchy can do this to us, the media can do this to us. All them say “Your experience is anecdotal, it is not true, your opinion is uneducated/inexperienced, you do not matter,” whereas the practice of truly noticing how our own awareness responds to matter itself makes us realise that not only do we matter but our own experience also matters.
The world itself is built up in exactly this way. Whether the ‘events’ of the transient ‘particles’ of matter exist or not is a human decision. The theory of their existence is a human theory. In response to our experience of matter we have evolved the idea that matter is made of smaller pieces of matter (do you detect any lack of imagination there?) We have built up images of the world that have allowed a stupendous technology that now appears to threaten the very existence of the earth itself. We have done all that on the presumption that matter is real and that we need to know what it is made of. That presumption leaped over one profound hurdle. The hurdle is this: We have an experience and in place of recognising the reality of the experience we presume a reality of a substance causing the experience. This one presumption is already a massive leap, we leap over the experience itself, the experience we are having, as if that experience did not matter, as if ‘matter’ was the matter-ial of the issue in place of the experience. Science thus begins by denying that we matter, denying the experience that matters and placing the matter-ing outside of us. Once we bring it back inside, we begin to notice again that we do matter. We matter a great deal.
Just how much we matter becomes apparent when we ask again: Who is it that is asking these questions? The only valid answer we can come to is that it is I who is asking. Many people down many years have been given credit for some interesting and useful answers. Obviously, they experienced these questions too, and refined them and thought about it, and tried out, and observed, and thought some more. Within each of them the same force was at work, the force that in me says: “Who am I?” The I itself, enquiring after its own experience, asks again and again, in myriad ways: “What is this that I am experiencing?” This is the question that has formed, and is still forming, the world.
Look around you now. What is there within your field of vision that has not been changed by the hand of man? Look out through your window, no matter how far you can see there is nothing there that has not been formed/changed/affected by the hand of ‘man.’ Were you looking out on the snowfields of Antarctica the patterns visible to you are as they are because of weather that is influenced by the hand, the technology of humankind.
But we can look deeper than that. What you see wherever you look is formed within your conceptual consciousness. Without concepts you would not be able to see snow. Snow is a concept put together by experience. The lack of colour, lack of distinction, connects you to experiences of a lack of warmth, scintillating crystals, and suchlike built-up concepts that together express the idea of snow. When your eyes take in these very indeterminate outlines and subtle blue/yellow whites the idea of snow forms itself in you and projects onto the view. The same applies to everything you look at, you take in sense perceptions that are in themselves a medley of indeterminate colours and you make of them: Table, Tree, window, desk, screen. You are, in the moment of conceptualising your sense perceptions, creating these objects. Without human experience there would be no tree. That life-form is only called tree because we give it that name. The wood or bark that forms it is only visible because we have given it that name. It consists of cells that consist of chemicals that consist of atoms that consist of subatomic “particles” that are only passing events, without definable substance or energy. Just a ‘happening’ somewhere between the two. Somehow, from all of this we have a genuine experience and we conceptualise that experience until it becomes real. Any explanation scientists put forward for why we cannot pass our hand (mostly space between events) through a wall (mostly space etc) will be found by other scientists not to hold true under other conditions. We live amidst an extraordinary mystery and we make of it a genuine and solid experience. We it is who create the world.
It is we who create the world. In that space where the Mother experience, arriving through our senses, meets the Father experience of our innate awareness and gives birth to a conceptual life that allows us to form words, in that space the world as we know it is born.
Sit down, take it slowly. Prepare a fundamental sense experience or simply observe those occurring all the time, then pluck that string, sniff that mustard, stroke that carving and notice, inside you what arises to meet the sense experience that rushes into your inner space. This is the chemical wedding. In this moment of conception, the world comes into being. You are creating it.
Of course you matter. “I Am,” the God, is living in you.
Once we awaken in this centre. Once we realise that there is nothing in this world that we are not already in relationship with, before we even notice its existence, where then is the push for safety at all costs that has characterised the politics of 2020? When we recognise who is awakening within us, how Mother-Nature through our senses meets Father-Consciousness within our awareness and gives birth to The Word or ‘naming-awareness’ in our three, thinking/feeling/doing brains, the idea of hiding away from a virus no longer makes sense. The entire web of life is relationships. Without relationship there is no life. We walk the narrow way between excitement and fear in everything we do and giving in to either isolates us and reduces the quality and the quantity of life. We came here to live. We arrive within ourselves through these realisations and see, once again that the only real choice is life. Any attempt to preserve life in place of living it is comparable to keeping fresh air in jars, the vary act defeats the intention.
Not only do you matter to yourself but you matter to us all. Everyone here needs you. You are creating the world. Between you and me, you and everyone you care about, the network of relationships that IS the world itself is strung. Awake, take up your bed and walk. We all need you.
Coming to Centre is the title of the training Tobias is running in South Devon.
This will be a committed, community-forming group, monthly weekends, Sept – June