Abbey of Villelongue, France
Photograph by the author
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
—King James Bible, John 14: 2,3
I’ve been interested, over the last week or so, about how impressions blend within us in order to create what we call our Being.
This is a cumulative process that follows us over a lifetime; and yet, at any given instant, I think we generally fail to sense the totality of impressions that are coming in, and the way that they blend with everything that has already happened. In each moment, consciousness consists of this and only this; to argue about whether it actually “exists” or not is a moot point. We inhabit consciousness; it is a residence for the soul.
It’s not a thing, it’s a place: it’s where we are.
Perhaps it seems strange to refer to this sense of ourselves as a place that we live, rather than what we are. Yet this was precisely what Christ meant when he said, “my father’s house has many mansions.” The idea of awareness of the soul is presented as a residence here: and it is presented as a very personal residence, a house. A house is, traditionally, a place inhabited by a family or small group of people. The word is intentionally used here, because it implies a very personal residence: a place of personhood.
Yet in this deceptively simple text, an expansive proposition. This “house,” which is God’s personal dwelling place, has many mansions. Consciousness, the residence for the soul, is thus likened to a large, impressive residence; it has the capacity to contain many persons. Here we are introduced to multiple metaphysical concepts in a single phrase. The most important of them is, out of many, one. The “many mansions” are the astonishing varieties of consciousness which arise throughout the Megalocosmos — what Gurdjieff called the Multiverse. All of them are part of the great unity of Being within God, which occupies the “house,” the very personal place — as Swedenborg would’ve explained it — which is God’s very own Being.
In this passage from John, Christ goes to “prepare a place” for us. In other words, Christ is a mediating force (again, a person, that is, a personal force with its own unique identity) who has both the authority and the ability to enter this residence of consciousness—the Father’s “house,” God’s own personal consciousness— and prepare a place, that is, open up a mansion, a vast place for residence, so that we may enter. By receiving us into himself, we are invited to take up residence in this place of consciousness: and the consciousness is distinct from what we are, because our identity is, in a mystery that can only be probed through experience, not just consciousness itself, but that greater force of awareness which is not of consciousness but perceives through consciousness.
This, of course, is a relatively overwhelming scale of concept. Yet we cannot grasp the action of our own impressions, the way they blend, and how we experience our own awareness and consciousness (two different things) unless we appreciate the action of our inward impressions of life.
In this place, we inhabit the mansion: only we aren’t aware of it. The mansion has countless rooms (memories of past impressions and their consequent associations, combined with our impressions of now) which blend together to create an entire “mansion” which we reside in. The Biblical distinction between awareness and consciousness is covered in many parables about the Lord of the house and its servants; it is an unusually (for any age) sophisticated psychological teaching about the nature of impressions and the way that they function. Our impressions and associations, our memories of our lives and the events and people in them, are, in this analogy “servants;” they form a collective body of many different beings, awarenesses—what Gurdjieff would have called “I’s”—that inhabit this mansion.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.