Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Fascination with Ancient Wisdom

A close friend of mine with whom I often talk about esoteric subjects once commented on how I get to positions that require leaps of faith. He said I work from a place of rationality first, and go as far as I can with scientific or factual notions, and then I extrapolate inside to a place that cannot necessarily be validated scientifically, but which grows within me truth.

That's why I loved the Da Vinci Code and am looking forward to reading Brown's latest work, The Lost Symbol. Last night I watched Stargate for the first time in years, and had forgotten the beginning, where a discredited Egyptologist (James Spader) suggested that the Great Pyramid had no hieroglyphics, wasn't a tomb at all, but instead a repository of ancient wisdom inspired by visitors from somewhere—when someone said the word "Atlantis" everyone walked out of his lecture.

My own fascination with these notions began in my early twenties. When I worked in Cancun a bellman at my hotel actually turned me on to a book about the Great Pyramid by a Mexican writer, Rudolfo Benavides. This was incredibly ironic since I was daily dispatching my tourist clients on tours to see the Mayan pyramid, and the Pyramid of the Sun (Aztec) was in a nearby state.

My young friend fascinated me with speculations about the various mathematical and astronomical relationships encoded in the massive structure, which I later supplemented by reading the incredible Secrets of the Great Pyramid, by Peter Tompkins (author of The Secret Life of Plants and also Secrets of the Mexican Pyramids).

By now of course there has been massive publishing on this topic and notions of the pyramid shape as doing everything from sharpening razor blades to serving as a power plant in ancient Egypt and supplying some sort of electricity of light bulbs that let them work in the dark.

For those who don't know the various measurements that Egyptologists have taken over the centuries and what they imply, here are a few examples of what the various dimensions of the Great Pyramid may represent:

  • The perimeter divided by 2 x the height of the pyramid is equal to pi - 3.1416
  • The number Phi – or Golden Mean (used in the work of Michelangelo and the basis for the Da Vinci Code) - Φ equals 1.618 and represents a series of numbers (Fibonacci sequence) – 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89 and so on where each number is the sum of the previous two. This famous sequence is also found in nature and is the basis for much of biomimicry – engineering that replicates these relationships in human structures.
  • Aligned to North – knew mass and circumference of the Earth – latitude and longitude
  • Set in the precise center of earth's continental landmass
  • Accurate measurement of the day, year, Great Precession (almost 26,000 years for axis of earth to realign)
  • Measure of foot and cubit based on earth's rotation and actual scale

And on and on. Tompkins' book has an Appendix by a noted mathematician expounding on these relationships, and there is additional reference material suggesting that the 3 pyramids represent the constellation Orion, and that the Great Pyramid is aligned with various stars including Sirius, the North Star, and the constellation Pleiades.

At around the same time as I discovered Tompkins' work, Erik von Daniken became a worldwide sensation with his book Chariots of the Gods, which went through a long series of ancient monuments and speculated that all of them must have been built or inspired by greater intelligence of space visitors; in many cases they only made sense when viewed from the sky.

Not long thereafter von Daniken was discredited in the mainstream media for various financial shenanigans, and both he and Tompkins, along with their many more recent authors about the pyramids and similar subjects have been the butt of ridicule by conventional scientists and archeologists—just as James Spader's character was at the beginning of Stargate.

But very little of this really mattered to me—I used my travel privileges to go to Cairo and see the Great Pyramid and regardless of its actual measurements, its scale blew me away.

The fact that it is just THERE is enough to make you gasp. It's like when you take a deep breath and stop to think, why is all this here? What is the point of existence itself?

This experience was described by Jacob Needleman, a philosopher and writer, at the beginning of his book, A Sense of the Cosmos: Scientific Knowledge and Spiritual Truth. He describes walking past a news stand and seeing a photograph on the cover of National Geographic taken by the new (at the time) Hubble Space Telescope. He briefly read the caption and walked away, but returned a moment or two later when he realized that these weren't stars – they were galaxies with each tiny speck representing billions of stars. (Also credit Carl Sagan…)

Needleman writes if you stand out at night in a place where you can actually see the stars, and look up, you simply cannot get your "head" around this at all. He responds with the notion that "we need to rediscover how to join the attention of the heart to the powers of the mind and the perception of the senses." This becomes a stimulus or a pointer to a higher level of being or understanding.

It's like following the Fibonacci series out to infinity, or trying to conceive of the largest prime (indivisible) number – which it took a supercomputer to calculate but which obviously cannot "really" be the largest…

When you do this, you reach the limits of your left brain – your analytical mind – which science has made the ultimate arbiter of what is "real" in today's culture.

But at this point you sense in your gut with complete certitude that you've just scratched the surface of something far vaster and ultimately incomprehensible to our limited set of senses and neurons.

It is my feeling that by getting "a taste" of these kinds of experiences that our own capacity to know beyond reason can expand – not so much to explain something that our logic cannot truly comprehend – but perhaps to connect with it on some level.

What makes Dan Brown's books so entertaining is that he fits these puzzles into a genre where the supposition is that there are humans who possess this knowledge today, and who use it, and do not share it with everyone else. This is the basis of esotericism and it is impossible to prove one way or another.

In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown introduces a character who works with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (an actual organization in northern California). Of course she is ridiculed by conventional scientists.

According to IONS, "Noetic Sciences are explorations into the nature and potentials of consciousness using multiple ways of knowing—including intuition, feeling, reason, and the senses. Noetic sciences explore the 'inner cosmos' of the mind (consciousness, soul, spirit) and how it relates to the 'outer cosmos' of the physical world".

What was so fascinating about Stargate was that a particular alignment of symbols could pierce the physical universe as we knew it, and open a dimension into its other side.

Today's renegade Egyptologists (the James Spader character) propound theories of the time of the Sphinx pointing to the existence of human wisdom far before recorded history. Writers like Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval and John Anthony West suggest that striations at the base of the Sphinx prove erosion—so that it existed in "pre-sand Egypt" – before the area became a desert.

(The DVD version of television special on West's theories was narrated by Charlton Heston).

Their work has been greeted with the sort of derision by conventional Egyptologists as the lecture by the James Spader character at the beginning of Stargate—but it is literally mind-boggling in its implications.

And now that there are numerous books and movies about the Mayan calendar and the significance of December 21, 2012, many peoples' minds are being boggled—albeit with catastrophic predictions of the End of Days that make great fodder for special effects.

I still remember an incident when I was travelling in Europe and fainted. While I was "out" I remember inhabiting many worlds and strange places but somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to get back to my parents and friends in the present – and this desire enabled me to reconstruct a "set of facts" which constituted my location in space (Copenhagen) and time (a date in the 1970's) and when those facts clicked together like the tumblers of a huge combination lock – my eyes opened, and I was back.

Immediately my rational mind reinterpreted this experience so that it "made sense" as being simply "unconscious".

It is my belief that these ancient monuments and the wisdom behind them provide the means for us to explore and experience consciousness itself—by taking us beyond what we "know" to be real to a place beyond "knowledge as we know it"—in a space of breathtaking silence and awe when confronted with an immensity and yet a factual existence that we cannot rationally explain or comprehend, but which is simply there and speaks to us at a much deeper level of meaning.

This is the boundless space of existence itself—of nature, mathematics, music, symbol and true wisdom—manifest physically for our senses to experience briefly but for our limited rational minds to ultimately recognize their limitations to comprehend, and leap off into place or time we cannot as yet explain, and perhaps never will.