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Some otherwise sympathetic readers will suspect my description of Sacred amounts to wishful thinking.  The world really is meaningless. Ultimately everything is simply an object in relation to other objects.  So it seems to many minds thoroughly socialized by the modern outlook. They do not see a way out of secular nihilism.

But socialization is a kind of hypnotization; necessary, unavoidable, and at the same time it facilitates us it blinds us.  Because people normally take shared rules and world views for granted, socialization gives people a framework within which they can cooperate with one another more easily.  They share a common frame of reference.  What does not easily fit into what we ‘know to be true’ we often do not even see.  But that does not mean what we do not notice does not exist.

Two examples reported by Roger Highfield from recent research in perception are particularly suggestive of this point. [1]

In one experiment, people who were walking across a college campus were asked by a stranger for directions. During the resulting chat, two men carrying a wooden door passed between the stranger and the subjects. After the door went by, the subjects were asked if they had noticed anything change.

Half of those tested failed to notice that, as the door passed by, the stranger had been substituted with a man who was of different height, of different build and who sounded different. He was also wearing different clothes.

Despite the fact that the subjects had talked to the stranger for 10-15 seconds before the swap, half of them did not detect that, after the passing of the door, they had ended up speaking to a different person.

 

In another better known example, subjects were asked to count ball passes by one of the teams while watching a tape of people playing basketball.

Around half failed to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walked slowly across the scene for nine seconds, even though this hairy interloper had passed between the players and stopped to face the camera and thump her chest.

However, if people were simply asked to view the tape, they noticed the gorilla easily. The effect is so striking that some of them refused to accept they were looking at the same tape and thought that it was a different version of the video, one edited to include the ape.

Prof Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire recently repeated this experiment before a live audience in London (as part of his Theatre of Science, performed with the author Dr. Simon Singh) and found that only 10 per cent of the 400 or so people who saw the show managed to spot the gorilla.

 

In both these cases, and in many others, people did not see ‘obvious’ changes in shape, color, and even interaction, because they were so unexpected.  Often we do not see what does not fit with what we ‘know’ to be true.  Our conscious perceptions are much more “theory laden” than we are usually aware.

This problem extends into science.  For example Alfred Wegener presented his theory of continental drift in 1912.  The evidence included identical fossils from different sides of the Atlantic and tropical fossils in currently arctic environments, mountain ranges of the same age and rock in Africa and Brazil meeting like a jig-saw puzzle when the two continents were fitted together, provided powerful evidence that today we know to have been accurately interpreted.  Yet in the scientific community Wegener’s theory was all but universally ridiculed.

In the 1950s discovery of continental drift explained how continents could move.  Evidence that had been in front of everyone all along was finally seen to fit together, and that Wegener had been correct.  Even in science, what people see is predicated on what they expect to see. If they cannot imagine how it happened, it did not happen.

For hundreds of years Western society has increasingly emphasized we exist in a world of discrete objects whose borders are defined by  with their physical boundaries.  As a society we also now relate to anything but human beings and our pets as objects. The reality of our radical isolation in a world of objects and equally isolated human subjects now seems obvious to most of us.

But our perceptions that this is so results from constantly reinforced socialization.

Here I will describe how to see and feel the densest of the ‘energy’ fields surrounding us, fields that continually interpenetrate with similar fields surrounding other people and things.  Seeing this ‘energy’ or “chi” as it is known in China, does not mean we are having a spiritual experience.  The spiritual realm is a realm revealing intrinsic value as at the core of reality.  Seeing ‘energy’ is more like seeing color.

However, unlike seeing color, seeing ‘energy’ demonstrates we are truly interconnected and that our bodies do not exist in isolation.  When we see and feel this field it is easier to take seriously arguments asserting our intimate relationship with the world.  It  offers visual and tactile evidence that the assumption we are radically separate is mistaken.

Not everyone can learn to see energy, at least I have been unable to teach everyone I have tried.  But I succeed far more often than I fail.

 

Exercise I

Hold your hand and fingers in front of you. Spread your fingers comfortably.  You want at least two of your fingers to make a wide “V.” Keep them in focus, but do not stare at them. A relaxed but focused gaze is ideal. I call it “permissive viewing.” Keep your hand as flat as comfortably possible. While holding your hand with fingers spread, focus on the plane along which your hand lies, but not on your hand or fingers separate from that plane. Your fingers will be in focus because the plane along which they lie is in focus, but you will not be attending to any particular part of it.

As passively as you can and with minimal expectations, allow your gaze to notice the largest triangle of space between a ‘V’ formed by your opened fingers. Move your hand slowly and smoothly back and forth along the plane on which  it lies while keeping that plane in focus. Doing this helps reduce any attention you might pay to the background, to what is behind your hand. Think of how you tune out the background when you focus on drops of water on the windshield of your car.  That’s the kind of focus you need – except do not stare at where your fingers are.  It’s as if you focus on the windshield as a whole, not on the individual drops.

It is helpful to do this exercise with your hand in neither bright light nor deep shade.  Very bright light in particular  is disruptive to what I am trying to show you how to see  because the energy field is subtle and strong light can distract us.

Now, “notice” the space extending out from your fingers about 1/8″ to ¼”, outlining them like a glove.  Again, do not stare, just pay attention to that space.

Is the ‘texture’ of this space any different from the space farther from your fingers? It might appear somewhat like a mini version of a heat wave rising off a road. Perhaps it possesses a faint outer boundary. If so, notice whether the boundary is lighter or darker than the space closer to your fingers. Does it have a color? For most of you, especially initially, this effect will be very subtle, but in my experience most people, particularly young people with fewer years of conditioning to over come, learn to see this field fairly quickly.  The major impediment is that it often seems so faint as to be appearing simply through the power of suggestion.

It is not.

If you can see this field, called the “etheric film” in some metaphysical writing, I recommend practicing until it is relatively easy to see. This is the first best way of demonstrating to yourself that we are not just reacting to my power of suggestion (such as it is).  Some people have seen this field all their lives, but either ignored it or chosen not to talk about it until the subject arises. (One of my brightest university students, a mathematics and economics major who graduated with highest honors, told me she learned “to keep my mouth shut.”)  Others learn to see it relatively easily. (That’s me.)  Some people, however, seem unable to see it. If you are one of them and have read this far, continue reading as there are other ways to perceive this ‘energy,’ especially exercises 3 and 4.

 

Exercise 2

Go outside and look at some trees. For your initial experience the best subjects are large trees with prominent trunks and relatively few branches for at least five to six feet. Longer thicker trunks are better than shorter thinner ones. This exercise is particularly easy to do in the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground, because there are fewer distractions.  The more complex the background the more “noise” interferes with seeing something quite subtle.

Look at the tree trunk the same way you looked at your hand. This is often easier if you are walking slowly on a sidewalk (so you can take your path for granted) and the tree is far enough from you so as not to seem to be moving very much, but nevertheless is slowly shifting vis-à-vis its background. That way you can “notice” the plane the trunk lies on, particularly the space to either side of the trunk, without being distracted by the background, just like when I asked you to move your hand slowly so as to help disconnect from the background.

Notice how the field surrounding the trunk is to some degree similar to what you saw around your hand, but also is different. In my experience it differs most noticeably in being thicker than what surrounds the hand. If other trunks are farther away, notice how the fields around them are smaller, as befits looking at something farther away.

Once you are able to see these fields around trees, look at other things. Things with well-defined physical boundaries are the easiest. Even a lamp pole has a field, although in my experience one considerably smaller than that surrounding an equivalently thick tree. Here is evidence what you are seeing is not simply an aspect of our visual process.

With practice, for many people, and for some simply because of the blessings of having the talent, you will be able to see these fields extending far beyond these initial boundaries, but with gradually increasing subtlety until they appear to fade away or enter into the general background network of fields within which we all live.

While walking through a forest your energy boundaries interpenetrate those of the trees.

 

Exercise 3.

Now try and feel this energy.  Many Tai-chi and Qi-gong exercises are great for this, but my suggestions will be separate from these and do not work as deeply with the energy.  For Tai-chi and Qi-gong, work with a qualified teacher.

Sit quietly, with a clear relaxed mind.  Do not use alcohol or other substances.  Having a good but relaxed posture is important.  Once you are comfortable, with an erect but not military-stiff spine, breathe in, visualizing a beautiful clear blue light going through your nostrils into your heart.  Do this for a while until the visualization is pretty solid in your heart or center of your chest. It helps if you visualize it as having qualities of peace, harmony, perhaps love.

As you exhale, visualize the energy spreading from your heart down your arms.  Breath in – being in the blue light to your heart.  Breathe out, and as you do, send it down your arms.  Send it slowly. Perhaps you can feel it moving down.

When you can feel it in the palms of your hands, usually as warmth or tingling, perhaps even an involuntary moving of your fingers, let your palms cross over one another, palm in front of palm.  Move them side by side so as to minimize feeling any heat that also radiates from them.  Keep them 2 or 3 inches apart.  See whether you can feel when they cross.  If you feel nothing, rub your palms together briskly, to stimulate and enliven them, and repeat this exercise.

Try it in different directions and at gradually increasing distances, to try and get a better sense of how this is not simply body heat, and of what this ‘energy’ feels like.

 

Exercise 4.

Ask a friend to sit in a chair.  Stand behind them and raise one palm until it is a foot or two above your partner’s head, and off to one side, a bit beyond their shoulder.  Rub your hands together briskly, as in Exercise 3.  Hold your hand out with your palm facing the floor.  Ask your partner to close his or her eyes.

Now pass your palm slowly over the top of your partner’s head, perhaps a foot or two above it.  No closer! You do not want to be distracted by body heat. See whether you feel a distinct difference when it crosses directly over their crown.  Ask your partner whether they can feel when your hand has passed over the crown of their head.  They will feel a kind of interference with the ‘energy’ rising out of their crown, perhaps as a faint pressure. In my experience many people can feel this exercise even if they are sitting below the moving hand.  But some others cannot.

 

Exercise 5.

If you can see energy, as I described it in my earlier exercises, allow the fields to touch one another, one from each hand.  See whether you can feel when that happens.  Finger tips are good for this because they minimize ‘noise’ from body heat.

You can also try this exercise with a friend, touching his or her densest part of their field with your own, but not touching their physical body.  See whether you both can feel it.  Even if your friend cannot see the field, he or she may be able to feel their contact.

 

Implications

The point of these exercises is to introduce you to the actual perception that we are immersed in fields, that we are not truly isolated individuals and that this claim is experientially based.  We can see and feel energy fields, and these fields interpenetrate.  Once we are aware of this immersion, the secular modern ideal of isolated individuals engaged in a promethean quest to impose their vision and meaning on a neutral world can begin to dissolve, not through argument, but through something stronger: our personal experience.

These experiences shed light on some intriguing findings in other fields of knowledge.

Immersing ourselves in Nature is good for us in ways that science can actually measure.  In the late 1990s, Frances Kuo, director of the University of Illinois’ Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, measured two groups within the same massive housing development.  One group could see a courtyard with trees, grass, and flowers out their windows.  The other saw parking lots and basketball courts.  The former group performed better on many standardized tests[2].  Nor were these findings alone.

Gary Snyder has observed that the spirit of place is the total of all the energy fields present in a place.  Those of rocks and water, soil and air, plants, animals, fungi, people – the whole ensemble. I think he has it about right.

In the natural world we are immersed within a energetically richer environment than in artificially simplified environments. We evolved in these fields, and our DNA carries a probable awareness of them over a billion years of development.  Of course we can choose to deaden our awareness, and the modern Western world does an excellent job in doing so. But deadening our  awareness of other senses is certainly a loss, and so is this.  Perhaps this is why we are now discovering that the health benefits of being in Nature are not trivial and can be measured.

Many non-Western healing traditions know these fields are influenced by our minds and so use them plus focused attention to help others who are sick or injured. In the United States the best known approach using this awareness is Dorothea Hover-Kramer’s work.[3]



[1] Roger Highfield, Did You See the Gorilla? www.telegraph.co.uk, May 2004, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/3322642/Did-you-see-the-gorilla.html

[2] The science suggests access to nature is essential to human health, Lab Spaces, Feb 17, 2009. http://www.labspaces.net/95646/The_science_suggests_access_to_nature_is_essential_to_human_health

[3] Dorothea Hover-Kramer, Healing Touch: Essential Energy Medicine for Yourself and Others,  (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc., 2011).