Jan van Eyck
Diptych of the Annunciation, right side
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
You must remember that there is nothing dead or inanimate in nature. Everything in its own way is alive, everything in its own way is intelligent and conscious. Only this consciousness and
intelligence is expressed in a different way on different levels of being—that is, on different scales. But you must understand once and for all that nothing is dead or inanimate in nature, there are simply different degrees of animation and different scales… All the matter we know is living matter and in its own way it is intelligent.
—Gurdjieff, as reported in In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky, P. 317-18
Under the right set of inward conditions, the inner workings of the cells improve in such a way that the cells themselves gain an incrementally but steadily increasing consciousness of themselves and their activities; in other words, this level below us acquires a new consciousness in relation both to itself and to us, as we are, at our own level of consciousness.
These two awarenesses, due to the expression of these new molecular structures in the cells, furthermore acquire awareness of the level above them, that is, they develop the capacity to receive the sacred.
The development of our own cellular sensation, and our consequent awareness of it, is an exact and direct fractal model of what takes place on the level above us. We function, in relationship to the levels above us, in the same way that cells do in relation to us. Our own awareness forms a metaphysical type of DNA which encodes the makeup of the sacred; and in our life actions we either express or don't express the "proteins" that engender the activities of the sacred on the level above us. We can, in short, learn a great deal about our relationship to the angelic levels of Being by understanding our own relationship to the cellular level of Being.
The angelic and heavenly levels of Being are connected by these subtle threads all the way down to the molecular and atomic levels of Being. It is sometimes possible to physically sense these threads, whose energies are mediated, within the range of our own consciousness, through our nervous system. Encoding (the preservation, imparting, and exchange of information) takes place throughout this structure on every level; and all encoding is ultimately spiritual in nature, even though it finds its expression through the mediation of natural forces. Due to his strong background in the sciences, Swedenborg had a firm grasp of this principle, although he expressed it a little differently than I have here.
Every inner effort we make is communicated down to the cellular level throughout the body. Cells, in response to the impressions that are received, immediately respond by expressing a range of proteins which they assume to be appropriate to the impression. Thus, an impression of muscular relaxation causes cells to express proteins different than one of muscular tension; meditative states cause the expression of proteins different than the ones in a cheering sports fan; and so on. When Gurdjieff said that "everything is material" he was referring, in many ways, to this phenomenon. Our attention to ourselves, in other words, has an immediate molecular effect on our bodies, and on our level of Being.
The action of mindfulness, or attention, is thus an action directed at our cellular Being. It may have gross (noticeable physical and psychological) results, but the actions engendered by attention and mindfulness begin at the moluecular level. Developing the capacity to sense the moluecular (as opposed to the psychological) nature of Being thus forms essential part of a deeper, inwardly directed understanding.
So what, then, of the idea of man's "two natures"—the natural and the spiritual nature—and the eternal metaphysics of mankind's struggle between its angels and its devils? Does it all come down to nothing more than folded strands of DNA nestled against one another, spitting out proteins? Is enlightenment nothing more than a form of inner molecular enhancement? And if so, does God end up as nothing more that a sequence expressed in base pairs?
I think it helps here to begin with the idea of information. The word itself implies that which is intelligent, which both contains and potentially confers understanding; and it also conveys the concept of that which is inwardly formed. It is, in other words, both intelligent and embodied.
Information contains instructions about state, which is, arguably, the most fundamental question of spirituality; and at the bottom of all reality, such as we understand it, lie the base elements of information in the form of energy.
Consciousness arises as a result of aggregates of information; and comprehension arises from consciousness. DNA rests at the top of the atomic and molecular food chain, yet at the bottom of the food chain of evolution, life, and awareness; it forms a bridge between passive matter and matter with agency. Although its constituent elements are, taken individually, passive matter—by themselves, adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine, and uracil exhibit no agency or reproductive capacities—collectively, in relationship, they undergo a seemingly impossible transformation. They become active matter.
Jeanne de Salzmann's interesting characterization of mankind as essentially passive, in its ordinary state, places us at a similar juncture between the passive state of the material world and an active state in the spiritual one. There is, in other words, a potentially transformational state available to mankind in which a human being passes from the passive world of the dead—"let the dead bury their dead," as Christ said—into the world of the living: this, a new world of active spiritual agency. In transformational terms, one can no more say that this new world of the spirit is the same as the old world of the natural as one can say a rock is the same as a worm: they are both lowly and material, but of entirely different orders of Being.
The fascinating thing here is that the potential for this spiritual Being is inherent; in the same way that the potential for DNA and its engendering of life is built into physics and chemistry from the ground up, our spiritual nature and its full potential exists within the structure of DNA from the ground up.
The old joke goes that it's turtles all the way down; but what is forgotten whenever the joke is told is that it's turtles all the way up, as well.
God is, hence, in and of all things; ubiquitous as ever, in forms of agency and nuances of expression that transcend any final material understanding.
Oh, and, yes...
We are turtles.
PS. Extracurricular reading for today:
Swedenborg and Ibn al Arabi, on man as a perfect embodiment of God's nature and Being
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.