For the past twenty years, I’ve been teaching the practice of meditation and guiding people into the experience of spiritual awakening. When I started the Transdimensional Fiction imprint it was because I wanted to write and publish works of fiction that would enhance my work as a spiritual teacher.
In this post, I'll share my current definition of transdimensional fiction up front, and then spend some time explaining the nature of that form of fiction and the source of its transformative power.
Here’s the definition:
Works of transdimensional fiction are stories that invite us to question our existing understanding about ourselves and reality by presenting alternative possibilities with the power to carry our hearts and minds into the infinite expanse of reality beyond the three dimensions of space and linear time that we are customarily limited to.
Story, Identity and Transformation
The goal of spiritual work is transformation and for a long time it has been obvious to me that those who seek real transformation cannot reliably find it through studying mystical ideas or engaging in spiritual practices alone.
A person can hold a wealth of understanding about the most profound and subtle mystical perspectives and still remain largely, if not entirely, unchanged by that understanding. Likewise, people can engage in spiritual practices for years, even decades, with very little visible effect on their fundamental character or outlook on life.
The question that I have always engaged with is, what actually makes real and lasting transformation possible?
I’ve come up with a powerful metaphor that I think helps explain the answer to that question. You see, spiritual understanding and spiritual experiences create fertile ground for transformation, but transformation is not an understanding or even an experience. Transformation is a transition from one self to another. When our sense of self changes we have transformed. After a transformation, we are not the same self, we are not the same person that we were before.
And here is the all important key to everything that I am about to explain, the self is not a thing, it is not a feeling, it is not even a set of behaviors. The self is a story about us. It is a story we live through. It is our identity. We are a story about ourselves. Transformation occurs when that story, that identity, changes. When that happens we are not the same person that we were before.
Understanding, Experience and Transformation
It is important from the start to make a clear distinction between spiritual understanding, spiritual experience, and spiritual transformation. Of these, it is spiritual transformation that is most profoundly significant and what true seekers are ultimately looking for.
You can gain profound understanding about spiritual matters, and even powerful experiences of higher states through study and practice, but if these don’t lead to spiritual transformation their full potential to benefit human life will not be fully unleashed in the world.
Understanding is spiritual knowledge that has been integrated into a coherent story about ourselves and the world. The accumulation of spiritual facts is not particularly valuable, but when those new facts are gathered into an alternative worldview, a new story about reality, they become, at least potentially, transformative. It is important to note that these stories are more superficial than the story of our identity, but we’ll get back to that a little later.
Spiritual experiences generally occur either spontaneously or indirectly through study or practice. Spiritual experiences can be mild as in the case of our more common “aha” moments of insight, or they can be dramatic, sometimes leaving us with a radically altered perception of reality lasting for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Spiritual experiences, especially of the dramatic variety, are bursting with transformative potential, but no matter how powerful they are, they seldom, except in the rarest of cases, lead to profound and lasting transformation.
Many people have acquired deep spiritual understanding and many have had powerful experiences of spiritual breakthrough, but only a few of these seem to be transformed. That means that the person they become as a result of the understanding or the experiences is not the same person they were before. They are different. In fact when we meet a spiritually transformed individual we become aware that we are meeting someone who is not only a remarkable person, but an extraordinary example of a different kind of person altogether.
Development vs. Transformation
It is often recognized, at least within spiritually and psychologically informed circles, that we live inside of stories. We all have stories about ourselves and about the world, about what is possible and what is not possible, about what we want and what we don’t want, about what we are capable of and what we are not incapable of. These stories become the self-fulfilling prophecies that define who we are and what is possible for us.
In short, our understanding about our self is who we are, and if we change our story about our self we’ll change our self as well. Most people reading this are not likely to find much to argue with in this assertion, but there is a depth to the stories that hold us that is much less often examined.
In our psyche, at levels that are deeper than all the stories about who we are and what we are capable of, there are beliefs about the fact that we are an entity that has such stories. These beliefs are so deeply held in consciousness that they’re intertwined with the very fabric of reality itself. At this depth, story and reality become virtually indistinguishable; reality is contained in stories, and the stories are real. At this profound depth of our individual and collective being, we find the most unconscious stories of selfhood, cultural stories about the nature of reality and myths that reach into the present from our ancient past to continually shape human life.
The ordinary stories that we hold about the person that we are, stand on the peak of a veritable mountain of stories that shape and define our existence.
When we change the more superficial stories about who we are, we develop. We continue to be the same person, but we change certain characteristics about ourselves and expand what we’re capable of.
When we change the deeper stories about what it means to be human we undergo a profound transformation that not only changes who we are, – it makes us a different kind of person altogether.
Changing the deeper stories that are buried in the murky darkness of layers of personal, cultural and mythic unconsciousness, is how transformation happens.
The Dissolution of the Self
Since my interests are primarily in the realm of spiritual transformation, I want to say a few words about the nature of transformative spiritual work.
In spiritual work there has always been a path of deconstruction sometimes known as the ‘via negativa'. The Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill expresses this path with vivid examples from spiritual literature in her remarkable essay The Mystic as Creative Artist.
The work of the via negativa involves continually pulling the rug out from under all of our conceptions of ourselves and reality. Every possible belief that we hold about ourselves or reality is questioned until we fall into a glorious state of not-knowing who we are or what is real. We enter the mystery of being, free from false conceptions of self.
The via negativa is rooted in the recognition that the ultimate truth cannot be known and held in the mind as a fact. Since it is not something you can know, we are closest to the truth when we know nothing.
There have been some rare number of mystics, sages and adepts whose destiny was to abide more or less continually in this deep state of not knowing and presumably close proximity to the mystery of divinity. I think of the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi in this regard. At the age of sixteen Sri Ramana laid down on the ground in order to discover what it would be like to be dead. He let go of his sense of worldly existence and catapulted himself into a recognition of the deathless state of Absolute Being which by all accounts left him transformed for the remainder of his life.
Another example of that exceedingly rare instance of transformation, is that of the contemporary author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. After suffering for years from acute depression Tolle woke up one night feeling that he could not bear to live with himself any longer. In the midst of this terrible feeling he asked himself a question. Who was it that could not live with himself. With this question, all notions of self fell away leaving him in a deep recognition that there was no self, and again this powerful realization seems to have led to lasting transformation.
Transformation for the Rest of Us
There are and always have been those rare and extraordinary individuals who have been propelled into more or less permanent abidance in the mystery of being beyond limited ideas of self, but they are rare and extraordinary. The rest of us seem to need more guidance along the way. And I think this is one way to understand the constructive aspect of spiritual work or the via positiva.
Some mystics taste the extraordinary vastness and then either by choice or destiny, and I don’t know if anyone can tell which, they return offering visions of their journey. In their creative offerings and teachings they gesture toward a possibility that we can experience for ourselves and ultimately live into.
For the rare few, one explosive experience shifts them into a new story about reality. They are transformed. They don’t identify with the old story anymore. They are living a new story now.
The rest of us may need to work at it. We might need to make an effort to let go of our old story and identity and step into the life of a new story. The sacred writing and art that come to us from those who have tasted the beyond and returned, are offered to help us formulate a new story of an awakened self.
Of all the creative forms that can be used for spiritual inspiration the story is one of the most powerful. Think of the story of Jesus and how many millions of Christians it has inspired throughout the ages. Or the stories surrounding the Buddha, or Mohamad. Think of the myths of all cultures. Story has always been a powerful vehicle for transformation.
Works of transdimensional fiction are stories created to support readers to transition into an awakened story about themselves and existence itself.
The Self is a Story About a Self
Earlier I said that the self is a story. Our self, our identity, is a story that we live through. Now I want to make the subtlety of this point as clear as I can.
Any way that we speak about the self story tends to be misleading. We might say that the self is a story about a self, but this is misleading because when we hear the word story, we tend to think of it as something we have, but at the depth of story that I’m speaking about, there is no one to have the story. The self is a story, period. At the depth where story and reality become indistinguishable there is no one having the story.
Story is reality, and there is no one outside of the story to have it. I realize that this gets pretty weird, and there is no way to explain it that can completely avoid the fact that we will always relate to these words through our identity as a seemingly separate entity. We will always hear the word story and think of it as something that we have, not something that we are.
In our moments of deep revelation many of us have recognized at least for a moment that the self that we have always thought we were is not real. It is just a story about a self that does not actually exist. I will share here a quote from a journal I kept during a time when I was having deep recognitions of this kind of nonexistence or no-self experiences.
…Jeff is ended. He is not enlightened. The tendency to personalize, to create the apparent reality of the separate individual remains, but that does not matter. Jeff is dead: he is unreal, even if the tendency to believe in him continues.
What I’m referring to in this passage as the tendency to personalize and create the apparent reality of the separate individual is what I mean by living into and through a story.
The Self as a Living Story
Remember, any way that we think of the self-story as a story that we have, will miss the point. If the self is a story that we hold, then who is holding the story? The self is not a story that we hold about our self. The self is a living story, and that living story includes the idea of being a person with a story.
Think for a minute about your experience of a good story. You’re watching a movie or reading a novel. Initially you’re very aware of sitting in a movie theater or holding a book in your hands. But as the story pulls you in, you forget your normal surroundings and begin to inhabit the world and characters of the story.
You start to live through the lives on the screen or in the pages of the book. You feel what the characters feel, you anticipate what is coming next, you are no longer watching a movie or reading a book, you are living inside a new story. That is the power of fiction.
When you were born you didn’t know who you were, but gradually you were invited to live into a story about yourself. You were told that you were a girl or a boy and that you had a name. You were encouraged to do some things and not others. Eventually as your command of language increased you developed goals and aspirations. You became completely captivated by the story and totally invested in the character that you had learned to identify with.
You are a story about someone; or we might better say that in the universe a story emerged about someone who thinks they’re you.
Transdimensional fiction offers alternative stories that invite you to live into them. As you encounter ordinary people (like yourself), having extraordinary experiences, (like you’ve probably had), and living into a new reality as a result, (which you may or may not have done already), you are invited to question the reality of your current story and shift into a new one.
If you accept the invitation, you will not only become a transformed person, you will become a different kind of person. A different kind of story entirely. We could say that you have transformed, but of course that would be misleading because it implies that you are still there. It would be better to simply say that transformation has happened and a new story has been born.
Weirdness and Awakening: A Look Ahead
So this brings us to the conclusion of the first part of this exploration into the nature of transdimensional fiction. I hope you’ve had a taste of the transformative power of fiction. Of course, I realize that there are many more questions to answer before this is clear, which is why this is only the first part of a longer exploration.
In future posts we will explore the weirdness in both spiritual work and fiction. I plan to explore the roots of transdimensional fiction in its close cousin, the genre of weird fiction that H. P. Lovecraft wrote about in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.
We’ll also see how transdimensional fiction has very direct progenitors in the writings of Philip K. Dick, Terrence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and other writers of the psychedelic revolution. These mind and reality bending authors are explored in the book High Weirdness by Erik Davis. And in looking at them, we will see how reality and fiction commingle to reveal the weird nature of existence.
Lastly, we will explore the strange ways that consciousness and culture endlessly loop into one another in the dance of creation that we call reality. I will draw insight and inspiration from Jeffrey J. Kripal’s book Mutants and Mystics and we will explore how memetic codes containing a roadmap for human evolution are implanted into our psyche through popular culture.