If it is unlikely that we consciously remember our time in the womb, let alone our past as some prior form of being in the ocean, it seems even less likely that we recall the unified state of all things prior to the Big Bang. Billions of years ago that explosion inaugurated a series of steps that resulted in reality as we know it. Perhaps at some subconscious, unconscious, or collective conscious level we remember and resonate to a pre-Big Bang cosmic unity. It could be that everything is a bit homesick for participating with everything else in an infinitely squished together realm.
Some seem to suggest that a return to a distant past, perhaps even to the pre-Big Bang paradigm, has its draw. Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade, for instance, considers the notion of periodic return to the moment of creation. In The Myth of the Eternal Return Eliade notes that periodic return is a good and necessary thing.
“In the ‘lunar perspective,’ the death of the individual and the periodic death of humanity are necessary, even as the three days of darkness preceding the ‘rebirth’ of the moon are necessary. The death of the individual and the death of humanity are alike necessary for their regeneration. Any form whatever, by the mere fact that it exists as such and endures, necessarily loses vigor and becomes worn; to recover vigor it must be reabsorbed into the formlessness if only for an instant; it must be restored to the primordial unity from which it issued; in other words, it must return to ‘chaos’ (on the cosmic plane), to ‘orgy’ (on the social plane), to ‘darkness’ (for seed), to ‘water’ (baptism on the human plane, Atlantis on the plane of history, and so on).”
Eliade’s repetitive, multi-level, cosmological view is intriguing. I am not certain whether most scientists would agree that the cosmos periodically explodes and implodes. However, even on a more modest level-our earth or galaxy, for instance — perhaps a periodic regeneration is necessary to ensure vitality and vanquish cosmic boredom. In any case, so far as remembering any given past is concerned, it is curious to consider whether our collective memories are connected to such cosmic phases of reunion or re-absorption.
There are certainly aspects of the here and now from which we derive a heightened sense of union or communion. For many of us, the arts and nature inspire an expansion of our personal boundaries.
ART AND NATURE
The pleasures of art and nature can provoke reflections on the relationship we have with all things, both now and prior to our individual births. The vitality we experience in connections with nature and art are notorious for transporting our states of mind to new levels and in opening us up to new modes of participating in and responding to the world. We find delight in being transfixed and inspired by such pleasures and are sometimes transported into a state of expanded awareness of and appreciation for existence.
In this vein, noted Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank, in Art and the Artist, identifies a unity inherent in the relationship between the artist, the work of art, and those responding to the artist’s creation. In doing so he suggests how aesthetic yearnings relate to the prenatal conditions.
“The art-work, then, as we have seen from our inquiry into the nature of aesthetic pleasure, presents a unity, alike in its effect and its creation, and this implies a spiritual unity between the artist and the recipient. Although certainly temporary and symbolic only, this produces a satisfaction which suggests that it is more than a matter of passing identification of two individuals, that is a potential restoration of a union with the Cosmos, which once existed and was then lost. The individual psychological root of this sense of unity I discovered (at the time of writing The Trauma of Birth, 1924) in the prenatal condition, which the individual in his yearning for immortality strives to restore. Already, at the earliest stage of individualization, the child is not only factually one with the mother but, beyond all that, one with the world, with a Cosmos floating in mystic vapors in which present, past, and future are dissolved. The individual urge to restore this lost unity is (as I have formerly pointed out) an essential factor in the production of human cultural values.”
For some of us it is not the arts but the awesome splendor of nature that most inspires union with the divine.
American author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in the mid-19th century, was particularly interested in the relationship between the natural world and the human soul. Emerson viewed the natural world as infused with a divine presence that inspires and calls out to people. Emerson links the aesthetic appeal of art, nature and divinity in Nature where he says “…the noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual and strives to lead back the individual to it.”
Writing centuries before Emerson, noted Christian philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo was most poetic about the impact the natural world can have on spiritual communion:
“I asked the earth…the sea and the deeps…heaven, the sun, the moon and the stars…. My questioning of them was my contemplation, and their answer was their beauty…. They do not change their voice, that is their beauty, if one person is there to see and another to see and to question…. Beauty appears to all in the same way, but is silent to one and speaks to the other…. They understand it who compare the voice received on the outside with the truth that lies within.”
For some, perhaps including Augustine, aesthetic and natural pleasures, while inspirational, are paths to communion rather than final destinations. As Emerson puts it, again in Nature, “But beauty in nature is not ultimate…and is not alone a solid and satisfactory good.” For many loving relationships with others serve as a most powerful force of attraction and resulting union.”
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