An Alighierical Tour of Heaven and Hell
Besides, does anyone go to college anymore in order to navigate the soul, expand the subjective horizon, colonize the nonlocal mindscape, and venture across the great divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the celestial beings and household gnomes?
I didn't think so.
Dante was one of the great pneumanauts -- spiritual explorers -- of all timelessness. He cannot be confined to western civilization, but is an example of what I was referring to in pp. 182-187, in the deuscontinuous transition between Mind and Spirit. For illiterate readers, a hint is provided on p. 183, which depicts Virgil leading Dante to the toppermost of the poppermost, where you can see the tail end of heaven dangling from above:
The world is, to put it bluntly, a trap. Or, one might say that it is a wall for the tenured, but a door -- or picture window at least -- for the Raccoon. It is not just a room with a view but a womb with a pew, meaning that life is a kind of pre-natal experience, with all this implies: conception, gestation, risks, complications, contractions, labor pains, all of it.
Which is why one must be born of water and of spirit. In one way or another, one must be born again from above, which is why you might say that this blog specializes in midwifery.
A particularly dangerous situation is the breeched birth, in which one is spiritually upside-down and trying to come out ass-first. This explains countless people one meets in this life.
Back when Mrs. G was pregnant, there would be anxious moments when the baby didn't make its presence known by banging on the cave walls. We had an incredibly nice doctor who would treat these as emergencies, take her in right away, and do a quick doppler in order to reassure her that all was well.
Now that I think about it, post-uterine life involves three trimesters. There is childhood, followed by "outer" adulthood, and then "inner" adulthood. At first we are taken care of by others, until we reach the age of maturity, at which point we become independent, get a gig, raise a family, and care for others.
But in the east -- and really, in any spiritual tradition -- there are two sides to adulthood, each no less important than the other (at least from the Raccoon perspective). And bear in mind that while we can distinguish between the two, we cannot actually separate them, any more than we could make a sharp division between planting -- or even just tilling the soil -- and harvesting.
It is one continuous process, even though the human station allows us to recognize abstract and rather puzzling discontinuities of various kinds and degrees. For example, nature knows no discontinuity between, say, physics and biology, whereas human beings are able to categorize the two. It is the same with "spirit" and "matter."
Anyway, as I was saying about Dante, he was clearly a pneumanaut par excellence. To treat him as a mere "literary figure" is to miss the point entirely, unless it is simply to emphasize that he was able to express perennial truth in an especially beautiful -- which is to say, truthful -- manner (beauty being the radiance of the true). Here's what he says upon reaching the edge of the exterior frontier:
We mounted upward through the rifted rock,
And on each side the border pressed upon us,
And feet and hands the ground beneath required
Where we were come upon the upper rim
Of the high bank, out on the open slope,
"My Master," said I, "what way shall we take?"
Life is that rocky road, but the road has a purpose and a destination. Absent a destination, then it is just a kind of trap, which is why, if one is an atheist, it makes perfect nonsense to simply take the leap into infrarational absurdity, à la Nietzsche. In other words, for the atheist, all roads lead nowhere, so why take one?
Thankfully, we have a gallery of esteemed saints and sages to show us the way up, in, and out: "[A] few of the trapped ones, by following a newly discovered current of being through to its nonlocal source upstream, far away from the terminal moraine of the outward-turned senses, did eventually identify a passage hidden in plain sight, through which lay yet another surprising but felicitous discovery: a Mighty Strange Attractor at the...
Drum roll please....
"... end of history -- Woo hoo!!! -- the One True Being ontologically prior to existence and from Whom existence itself is derived."
Yes, "by merely fooling around with the software of their own minds, these inward explorers -- eccentric psychonauts mostly unfit for conventional existence or simply unwilling to accept the slave wages of normality -- identified a trap door into a vertical dimension, and found there a return-route to the forgotten country from which humans had set out Before the Beginning" (the ainsoferable B'ob).
Please note that the structure of the Divine Comedy proceeds from hell to purgatory and on to paradise. One might say that spirit plunges down to the very depths of existence, in order to recover and redeem as much reality as humanly possible: "Dante's apparent descent into Hell is really a spiritual ascent, not a damnation..." (Upton). Really, it's a kind of circle, more on which later.
Note that Dante's ultimate guide is true love, represented by the figure of Beatrice. Upton makes the critical point that "Many a person has reached the threshold of spiritual Truth by starting from the thinking function, only to have that Truth destroyed in this life through false feeling. True feeling, on the other hand, can be a 'homing' faculty, drawing us toward the Center almost faster than we could travel on our own initiative" (emphasis mine).
Thus, when we refer to O as the Great Attractor, we are not just having a little pun at your expense. We mean this literally: we are attracted to this Oming deivoice, and voice versa. We call this attraction love: the love of truth, of beauty, and of virtue. The good man loves these things with all his heart, mind, and strength, which frankly isn't difficult to do, unless one has attended college.
Just getting warmed up. To be continued....