I had no idea to what extent I could trust my internal guidance. At certain moments, I would feel that I was being, almost physically, swept off by an ocean. I would then be overcome by two contradictory types of nostalgia: the first, for the solid earth of my childhood, and the second, for this ocean’s other shore. Growing wider by the day, it felt as if a hole had opened in my solar plexus, through which currents would pour, taking billions of my atoms with them. There did not seem to be any top part to my head. There were days when I didn’t dare to look at the horizon. I feared that it would eat me.
I should probably have searched for a spiritual teacher. I had no interest in religious cults though, and I tended to associate the one with the other. If I ever did manage to locate such a creature, would they see me as more than another ghost, and how would I manage to test them? There were other, more important reasons that I didn’t bother to search. I wasn’t good at following orders. If I was newly aware of the limits of my knowledge, I was still self-protectively arrogant. I did not mind making mistakes, and I had a strong desire to begin from where I was.
The key issue, though, is that I already had a teacher, of a kind, although it would probably be more accurate to refer to this shadowy presence as a catalyst. In dreams and out of body experiences, he was less of a calming, parental figure than a threat, just as much of a trickster as a guide. In one dream, for example, I plummeted like a comet from the sky and hit the ground. Contrary to what some researchers claim, it is quite possible to feel pain in a dream. ‘Am I dead?’ I asked this guide. ‘That is a matter of opinion,’ he said.
Then, in 1973, at the age of 19, I had the first and longest of a series of dreams that would stealthily reshape my relationship to time, that would lead me to see our theories of history as absurd, defensive structures. In this ‘dream’, which lasted for five hours or six hours, off and on, my guide and I had rolled aside a large stone in what seemed to be the Cappadocia region of Turkey to then enter a winding tunnel. This tunnel led to what would be the uppermost of a long series of collapsing cultures.
This tunnel led to what would be the uppermost of a long series of collapsing cultures.
We would wander, unseen by the local populations, through marketplaces and theatres and academies and governmental buildings and cult centres and sonically attuned circles, observing with wide eyes, only to have to escape, at the last minute, when these strata were destroyed by meteors, floods, fires, earthquakes, and invading armies. A crack in a wall would open, or we would jump into a well, or a stairway would lead down. On certain strata, the chaos was there from the beginning, with the swirling of crowds, the storming of encampments, the burning of gardens, the random smashing of works of art, the extermination of tribes, the massing of unknown forces in the distance, and always, we would, at the last minute, just barely manage to escape, going down, then further down.
So, this dream, if you could call it that, planted the seed of my later orientation towards deep time. In 1995, when Klaus Schmidt began his excavation of Gobekli Tepe – a vast temple complex dating to at least 10,000 BC and then deliberately buried circa 8000 BC – I was not in the least surprised. That is, I was not surprised that the site was there. What was surprising was that it had taken so long for an archeologist to take an interest. As I found out later, the site had actually been discovered in 1963, by University of Chicago and University of Istanbul archeologists, and then promptly written off. Were those the tips of 14-20-foot Paleolithic T-stones? No, probably just some medieval rubble. Why would anyone think otherwise?
Even now, some 59 years after its discovery and 26 years after the excavation began, only five percent of the close to 300 megaliths have been uncovered. Funding has been sporadic, at best, and most academic theorists seem none too eager to readjust their models of human development. Shortly after Schmidt’s work was publicised – i.e., after the conventional timeline for civilisation had been doubled – journalists, academics, and the public at large rushed to refer to the site as ‘the world’s first temple’, without pausing to consider that a few other sites may have been missed, perhaps because we were not looking.
How awkward it was when Karahan Tepe, an 11,400-year-old site, was discovered. And then there were such sites as Hamzan Tepe and Harbetsuvan Tepe and Nevali Cori, all dating to the same era. How inconvenient it was, too, in 1997, when satellite photos showed that a Manhattan-sized city was located in the Gulf of Cambay off the coast of Gujarat, 25 miles from shore and some 20-35 yards below the surface. Side-scan sonar images reveal an intricate pattern of streets, and artefacts from the city have been carbon-dated to the period of 11,000 to 9,500 BC. Once again, mainstream archeologists seem none too eager to wrestle with the implications, or even to acknowledge them in passing.
How far back do human civilisations stretch, and is there a trauma of some sort that prohibits us from looking too closely at this issue? For the past 200 years or so, we have been led to believe that all evolution, both biological and cultural, proceeded, in more or less straight lines, to the present. It has been assumed that this evolution followed the same pattern, that primitive forms gave rise to complex ones and that only chance moderated the relationship of humans to the cosmos. Few ancient cultures agreed.
While there are descriptions in ancient myths of humans living in primitive conditions, without tools or arts or fire, such descriptions almost always occur within the framework of larger time-cycles. Some catastrophe has occurred, and then a group of primordial teachers – usually seven or eight in number – will arrive to transmit, in coded form, the knowledge from the previous cycle. Key word roots and cosmological concepts can be found in widely separated parts of the globe.
While we are aware of certain time-cycles, such as the 25,800-year precession of the equinoxes, we do not tend to associate any archetypal meaning to them. We do not see them as being connected to the rise and fall of cultures or to our role as actors in service to the cosmos. How could the life of an individual or a culture be connected to such cycles? What should we make of the Sumerian king list, for example, in which Aulim was said to rule in Eridug for eight Sars, or 28,000 years. Alalngar was then said to rule for ten Sars, or 36,000 years (the length of a ‘Great Year’ according to Plato), before Eridug fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira. At Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-ana then ruled for 12 Sars, or 43,200 years. Such numbers seem nonsensical.
We could, perhaps, explain such ‘life-spans’ in reference to the Tibetan concept of the tulku, in which a spiritual leader chooses to consciously reincarnate, one generation after another (the Dalai Lama is the most well-known example of a tulku). Even if we do think in these terms, however, we are no closer to connecting the vastness of such periods to our theories of human development. Why would Sumerian astrologers indulge in such baroque extrapolations? If the Sumerians were, as our history books would have it, the ‘creators of civilisation as we know it’, why would they be driven to conceptualise more than the few hundred years before them? What would these Antediluvian rulers rule, and where, and why would our ancestors, just barely clothed and concerned only with hunting, shelter, and sex, even bother to take notice?
We might then proceed to look at the Vedic concept of the yugas. A complete yuga cycle, or Mahayuga, is said to be a staggering 4,320,000 years, or 12,000 divine years. This cycle is composed of a Satyayuga, of 1,728,000 years, a Tretayuga, of 1,296,000 years, a Dvaparayuga, of 864,000 years, and a Kaliyuga, of 432,000 years. Each yuga is said to represent a decline in moral purity, breadth of vision, lifespan, and the ability to harness supernatural energies. Quite curiously, however, the Kaliyuga is said to have begun on February 18th, 3102 BC, a date very similar to that of the Mayan calendar, which began on August 11th, 3114 BC, as well as that of the Jewish calendar, which began in 3761 BC.
While mainstream Jewish tradition is not concerned with any larger time cycles, it is commonly acknowledged in Kabbalah that other ‘worlds’ preceded our own and that the date of 3761 BC only marks the beginning of the current cycle. (In Hebrew, the very word for world, Olam, means ‘hidden’ or ‘a concave space conceived as a cycle of time’ or ‘beyond the edge of the horizon’). Exoteric Judaism tends to focus, almost exclusively, on this current world, while Kabbalists are more concerned with the vertical axis between worlds. Aside from the general concepts of Tikun Olam, or ‘repair of the world’, and Olam Ha-ba, or the ‘world to come’ – the atemporal world that contains all others – Kabbalists are not especially concerned with linear sequence.
On the other hand, Vedic tradition often focuses on cycles that are inconceivably vast. Given that a Mahayuga is said to be 4,320,000 years, it is certainly odd that the Kaliyuga began so recently and on such a specific date – on February 18th, 3102 BC. I once asked my yoga teacher how much longer the Kaliyuga would last. She answered, ‘Around another 426,904 years’. Perhaps in order to awe and overwhelm, certain lesser cycles would seem to have been deliberately removed. If such measurements are, in fact, more than picturesque abstractions, what does this imply about the archaic relationship of humans to the cosmos? We imagine that we have evolved, but perhaps we have descended, if not in our current human bodies then perhaps in some primordial version. If the human body exists at one scale, both spatially and temporally, it might also exist at others.
There are no straight lines in nature, not that go for any distance – only lines that seem to be straight. At this time of converging crises – the depletion of oil reserves, the drying up of rivers, the melting of the Arctic, the imminent flooding of coastal cities, the extinction of tens of thousands of species, the collapse of faith in political systems – we still believe ourselves to be following a long line of ascent. Each day and in every way we are getting better and better. All past cultures will soon enough converge upon our iPhones. If we are still not travelling in flying cars, we have only to fix the last few uncooperative laws of physics. Yet, as the Tao Te Ching informs us, ‘That which nears its zenith will soon end’.
If we travel far enough in the direction we are going, we may find that time, like the Earth, like space itself, is curved.
If we travel far enough in the direction we are going, we may find that time, like the Earth, like space itself, is curved. When we speak of cycles, we tend to think in terms of the seasons, of winter solstice and spring equinox. Calendars may have had some mystical connection to the stars, but they were no doubt designed to tell farmers when to plant. This was their primary use, or so we prefer to imagine. We were born to a family, a tradition, and a place, and we were subject to sowing, to cultivation, and to reaping. If only things were so simple. We are this, but also more than this, and other. We are defined not only by our connection to the seasons but also by our connection to ever vaster and more occult cycles. We are beasts and second cousins to the gods, both creatures and creators. If we ever did have a home, it is not one that stays put. Something calls us to the records that we once wrote on deep space. To try to bury our nostalgia only causes it to grow.
In August 1990, I underwent an initiation in Kundalini Yoga, and I was forced to radically revise my concept of what a human body is. During the initiation, my teacher, Anandi Ma, crushed a rose on my head. She then somehow reached down through my skull and spinal column to squeeze my heart until it almost stopped. I had no choice but to surrender to the sensation, which felt like impending death. I was aware that something had changed. In the weeks that followed, fingers of heat seemed to force their way, quite painfully, into various organs, nerves, and muscles, and I found that lungs were not the only organs that could breathe.
Wherever I went, a luminous one-inch sphere would follow, sometimes growing dimmer, sometimes flaring to full brightness. Then, a month later, I had a dream in which I was standing in a barn. Next to me was a kind but terrifying presence. Somehow I knew that it was Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, Anandi Ma’s teacher, who was 106 and lived in Gujarat. There was some sort of an old-fashioned drop-hammer contraption set up in the middle of the floor. From the height of the rafters, an enormous stone cylinder would, over and over, come crashing down on a head-sized rock. ‘Do you know what that is?’ asked Dhyanyogi. My mouth felt dry. A sinking fear spread upward through my stomach. ‘I think I do. Is that supposed to be my head?’ ‘Of course it is your head, you idiot! I’ve been working day and night for the past three weeks to break it. It really is very hard’.
Shortly afterwards, I realised that space does not exist, not, at least, as we normally conceive it. I felt that I had been sucked to the edge of HD1, the farthest known galaxy, to the edge of an infinitely vast and yet strangely intimate sphere, from which it was somehow still possible to view my tiny self on Earth. ‘This sphere may not be different in size,’ I thought, ‘from the Bindu that’s been following me.’ If I was here, in a way that I had not been before, I was also elsewhere, in a way that did not contradict my being here. My vantage point was simultaneously that of looking up and looking down, of looking in and looking out, but these terms did not mean what most people thought they meant. Gnostic and Sufi texts speak of a transition from the eighth sphere to the ninth, as the point where space flips inside out, as an edge from which one can gaze at the concavity of time. The sky cracked like an egg, from which came the Preexistent.
A similar, if not exact, way to envision this reversal of perspective is through our relationship to the Earth. When standing on its surface, the Earth appears to be flat, to be composed of warring elements, of billions upon billions of beings struggling to get their share of the planet’s resources. From the outside, however, the Earth can be seen as a single volume, within whose body all lesser bodies are subsumed.
If space is an egg that cracks, then time is a womb that one can enter, and then exit, without, in fact, going anywhere at all. I had not in any way ceased to be the flawed and limited and sometimes silly creature I always was, but it became possible to examine my life in terms of a series of interlocking scales. I came to experience myself as part of a single and yet discontinuous body, a body that had, for the past 12,000 years, hidden somewhere around 97 % of its memory from itself. But just as space does not actually exist, time does not actually pass. We do not necessarily become less than what we once set out to be – the undercover agents of the cosmos – and yet a certain price has been paid.
In this essay, I have made no attempt to prove any of the theories I have argued. Rather, I have tried to invite its readers to engage in a process of ‘as if’, both at the time of reading and in the months to follow, a process which, if followed to a sufficiently labyrinthine extent, might at some unexpected moment result in an ‘Aha!’ This is the process that I have followed since that night in 1973, when a five-to six-hour dream first subverted my relationship to time, when at the entrance to a series of tunnels in Cappadocia, my guide and I first rolled away a stone.
Brian George’s recently published book of essays Masks of Origin: Regression in the Service of Omnipotence is now available through Untimely Books: untimelybooks.com/book/masks-of-origin/