John Alexandra, author of The Wisdom of Being, answers questions for Buzzword Books:Buzzword: E. M. Forster famously described fictional characters as either 'flat' or 'round'. Or, we could say, two dimensional or three dimensional. For instance, Dickens wrote flat characters or caricatures - creations founded on a single characteristic. In the realm of self-awareness and self development, we have heard you mention the need to live in four dimensions, not just three. Does Forster's insight have relevance here?
J.A.: Not really. Besides, time is generally considered the fourth dimension. And there are higher dimensions. In the psychological realm, talk of dimensions is relative only. To provide a more useful analogy, we live in a world or mode that is linear or horizontal. And vertical living is also possible but rarely discovered and certainly not generally accessible. From this aspect, we already live in the fourth dimension—that is, time. But verticality requires the timeless.
Buzzword: So verticality is the fifth dimension?
J.A.: As good a definition as any. You have the symbol of the cross - the two lines intersecting. The place to be in oneself is where the lines intersect.
Buzzword: Interesting. So what's the door to this fifth dimension?
J.A.: That's almost impossible to understand without extensive preparation. Which is why things so easily go wrong when people approach this question. At the moment we are affected by things around us and the reactions occurring in us. We are like machines, driven by every event and problem. Like snails, we withdraw when prodded, or, like crabs, attack when threatened. Fight and flight, honed over thousands of years into fear and desire by a now highly sophisticated ego which is, at base, a self-defence mechanism. Everything is self defence, including the less obvious forms such as shyness, humility, self degradation and charity - that is, helping others so that one can feel better, special or superior and so on. The ego is a wily beast. And if, by accident, we come to see this process a little—this identification with everything within and outside us—it disgusts us. The one thing we can't bear is to see ourselves objectively. Yet that is precisely what is needed to reach the threshold of the door you describe.
Buzzword: So what hope do we have?
J.A.: Hope is another trap - another reaction or compensation shutting us off. Objectively we have no hope in this direction at all. In fact, things are arranged so that the vast bulk of humanity is blind to the possibility of fifth-dimensional living. If it were more accessible, a whole lot of necessary processes that humanity exists for would be negated. Some say this would be fatal for the earth.
Buzzword: We now seem to be discussing Cosmology. Are you saying the earth is a living being?
J.A.: Yes. And the thin film of life on earth acts as a kind of nerve ending for it.
Cosmic formations live and die as we do—but of course on a vastly greater time-scale. We see the earth as a globe. But seen from higher dimensions, this view will be wrong. It is like looking at a minute segment of a vast spiral and taking it as the whole. It completely ignores movement, the differing aspects of time and much else. For instance, looking in the other direction, the life of an electron is minute compared to ours. And, on a vastly larger scale, the frantic ant may experience more in a second, by its particular speed of perception, than we do in an hour. 'As above, so below' relates to scale and different perceptions of time. Everything is one—but aspects of that one. Our perception is too limited to see things as they really are. Can an atom in your big toe have an overall view of your body or its purpose?
Buzzword: I think we're getting off the subject a bit. We were discussing the door to the fifth dimension.
Buzzword: And you said that the first thing is to see that we are nothing but reactions?
J.A.: An essential first step. And it needs to be completely seen and constantly remembered. Which is almost impossible without external help.
Buzzword: And when we see it, what then?
J.A.: You go too fast. You're ready to skip over a lifetime of self-study and inner effort.
Buzzword: What inner effort.
J.A.: There are many formulations for that.
Buzzword: Such as?
J.A.: Psychological death. Suchness. Purposelessness. Self-remembering. Mindfulness. The Silence. Emptiness. Nirvana. Hara no aru hito. The Void. Every authentic tradition has its particular terminology. But no words convey the sense. It is very easy to take words for experience and for the wrong experience. Such as self-satisfaction. Hence the various New Age delusions and the morass of spurious Gurus with their gullible, anxious, defensive disciples.
Buzzword: So the door isn't easy to find?
J.A.: The right door is hard to find. Because there are many imitation doors—most opening onto bogs, cliffs, self-delusion and bankruptcy hearings.
Buzzword: So what hope does the average person have?
J.A.: None. Because he's not looking for a door. The right door is for those desperately looking. The lukewarm never find it.
Buzzword: Does this relate to the old yogi saying: "When the disciple is ready, the Guru appears?"
J.A.: Yes. That's a true statement, no matter how improbable it seems.
Buzzword: So what is the nature of the authentic disciple's desperation?
J.A.: The authentic disciple is someone who knows life well and finds it not enough. He asks, "Is this all there is?" and "Why am I here? What is my purpose here?" And sometimes, "Why is there anything? What's this all about?" He has a burning question to do with himself and life. Although he doesn't know it, in his core he is already what he seeks, so feels the possibility of something else—a truer way of living. He has an intimation of Being. He is seeking his true self.
Buzzword: And finds the door?
J.A.: He has the possibility of finding the door. He may be killed in a war or car accident. And possibility is not yet practice. Such a seeker has direction but not yet a method.
Buzzword: And the method is?
J.A.: That's a lifetime's study and emerges only slowly. It begins simply, expands and deepens. In a sense, you can start anywhere with something practical and true. Like the spokes of the wheel, all paths lead to the hub. But the hub has to be empty. Otherwise the wheel wouldn't turn.
Buzzword: All very mystical. Not much to hang your hat on there. Can you describe a simple starting point?
J.A.: Very well. Remain apart. Or as one Sage said, 'Accept everything but be very careful not to become attached to anything whatever.'
Buzzword: That's impossible.
J.A.: You can't approach the supernal by doing what is possible because it doesn't create enough energy. It requires energy of a particular intensity.
Buzzword: So it comes down to intensity?
J.A.: A particular type of intensity. You may have seen the ancient symbol of Janus—the god with two heads. He is looking in two directions at once. Like all objective symbols, it has an inner meaning. Janus is looking at himself as well as outward—looking in two directions simultaneously. This is what's needed. And it's a lifetime study that never becomes automatic. Because real effort never becomes easy. It has to be voluntary and repeated. Easier methods such as the famous religious obedience are too slow and uninformed. They half-work but miss the mark.
Buzzword: Is there a simple formulation for all this?
J.A.: There is, but it doesn't help much without a guide.
Buzzword: You said, 'Remain apart.' Can you expand on that?
J.A.: Can you remain apart from your thoughts? Your physical tensions? Your conditioning? Your emotions? Resentments? Opinions? Relationships? Problems? Likes? Dislikes? Hopes? Fears? Every reaction you have?
Buzzword: Of course not. You've have to be dead.
J.A.: Exactly. Psychological death.
Buzzword: But wouldn't that be selfish and totally unbearable for everyone who cared for you?
J.A.: Yes. So you would have to act yourself on the surface to avoid the external criticism - while remaining apart inside.
Buzzword: Which sounds not only impossible but totally egotistical.
J.A.: Egotistical in the right way. And no one says you have to do it. A voluntary discipline is voluntary. And, yes, it is impossible until you learn to be thoroughly dead. And that can take a lifetime.
Buzzword: So, right at the end of your life, you learn how to live?
J.A.: Yes. Because human metamorphosis is inner, not outer. Consider the butterfly. It spends up to seven years underground as a grub, emerges as a chrysalis and for the last three weeks, is able to fly and fulfil its function. Just three weeks after years!
Buzzword: So how do I remain apart?
J.A.: You're here - sitting here, thinking, leaning forward, tense. Now, physically, know it from within. Don't think about it. Know it through sensation. Know, for instance that you're frowning now - and breathing - and your foot is tapping. Can you manage it?Buzzword: A little. Just for a moment, when you mentioned it.J.A.: And now? Were you aware that your hand made this gesture just then.Buzzword: Well, no, to be honest. I was thinking about what I'd say next. And that took me entirely. I guess I was back in my thoughts, my head.J.A.: So, the challenge is right there. How to exist behind one's manifestations? In other words, how to do the impossible?Buzzword: That's my question to you.J.A.: Well, this is a long way off, but since you ask… You have to discover something in yourself more important than your little ego. Then listen to it as often as you can. Every moment when you don't is, objectively, wasted. Lost! And yet, paradoxically, the only time you have is now. Now includes both vertical and horizontal. Or could. If you're tuned. And it brings the ability to live two lives at once - to live in both eternity and time, rather than just exist. You're looking puzzled.Buzzword: I am.J.A.: You see how hard it is to hear real things?
You can find John Alexandra's book The Wisdom of Being here.