Introduction to A Geography of Consciousness by Bruce G Charlton
William Arkle is not well known, indeed he could justifiably be called obscure; yet I regard him as the most recent representative of a lineage of Romantic authors and artists that could include William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Owen Barfield, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien in England; Goethe, Novalis and Rudolf Steiner in Germany; and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman in the United States.
As a spiritual philosopher I see Arkle as fully worthy to stand with these illustrious names – because he brings something original, different and vital to the conversation. He provides something that we would not want to be without.
But although a writer of memorable paragraphs, an unique and elating painter, and an innovative composer; Arkle is not the match of his great predecessors in artistic achievement. He reaches his highest attainment in the abstract realms of metaphysical philosophy, which is always challenging to read. If you persevere with this book you will discover much that will stay in your recollection and enhance your life – but to gain this you must be prepared to work hard.
My part in the matter…
A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle is a book of concentrated wisdom and enlightenment, which can make a very positive difference to life; it would perhaps be my first choice as a ‘desert island’ book – but it is also a difficult book that requires slow and focused study. My task here is to persuade you to make the sustained effort required to obtain the great rewards that this text offers!
Perhaps an account of my own experience with the work of William Arkle might serve as a bridge? At the age of eighteen I discovered Arkle, from a local BBC TV documentary; I learned that he was a painter and spiritual philosopher, a religious thinker, and something of a ‘guru’ who had attracted disciples from abroad. I was amazed to find that he lived only about a mile from me, through the woods and on top of the hill in Backwell, Somerset, England.
At that time I was a young atheist, training in science, aiming at medicine; and so, while I felt a fascination drawing me, I made no attempt to contact Arkle. Instead I asked a few questions about the family (my sister knew them, slightly); and tried, but failed, to find his writings in the Bristol bookshops or library system.
A year later my family had moved to Scotland, and I was pleased and surprised to find a copy of A Geography of Consciousness in the Edinburgh City Library; which I borrowed and read for the whole of the summer of 1978; but eventually it had to be returned. Yet there were parts of the book that made a permanent impact, lodging in memory – especially the image of awakening on a sunny morning, from the Foreword; which must have come to mind hundreds of times through my later life.
I was also fascinated by Colin Wilson’s assertion (from his introduction) that Arkle did not just write about the world of higher consciousness: he really lived it (confirming my impression from the TV programme). As the years went by I began to recognise how very rare this was; and how most writers and artists, including the very best, utterly fail to live-up-to their works. This made Arkle special, in the way that William Blake was special (and the comparison between Blake and Arkle was one that Colin Wilson had made).
However, I found myself put-off by Arkle’s use of geometry and physics as a metaphorical description – I just could not battle through these abstractions; because of my suspicion that on the other side was something that I could not accept from my atheist-scientist perspective. I was also averse to Arkle’s confident discussions of God and divinity (which, at that time, I could not even entertain as a possibility). In the end, A Geography of Consciousness instead made me attracted to the work of Colin Wilson. I began reading Wilson (starting with The Outsider) and have never stopped since! Yet I now regard Arkle as the greater man; a deeper and more important thinker, who went beyond Wilson.
I happened to be very good friends with Arkle’s nearest neighbours up on Backwell Hill, and after leaving Backwell I began to revisit and stay with them. One memorable evening I visited William Arkle’s son, Nick, to see his music studio and hear some of his compositions; and during this visit I briefly said hello to William, or ‘Bill’ as everyone called him.
If Bill had been alone and had had free time, perhaps this might have led to something (despite my continued suspicion of spiritual and religious matters); but he was walking from one place to another with a small group of people, clearly busy; so the entirety of my personal contact with William Arkle amounted to a brief introduction, an exchange of pleasantries! This non-event has long been a source of regret to me; although in my more realistic moods I acknowledge that I was then not ready for more.
But I do recall being very impressed by the house, and its vast ex-chapel covered with Arkle’s strange but evocative paintings; and evidence of all manner of creative work afoot. The place was buzzing, even in the evening; yet buzzing in a pleasant and meditative way, like a bumble bee... Arkle’s seemed like some sort of ideal life; secluded study, meditation and convivial living with his family and some friends and pupils. My brief experience confirmed Colin Wilson’s statement that Arkle lived in accordance with his ideals.
My life then entered the early adult phase of focusing on work; in my case as a psychiatry researcher, lab scientist, literary scholar, and then a university lecturer. I lived at the other end of Britain and pretty much stopped visiting Backwell; and my interests became mainstream, and materialistic.
But although I still failed to engage; Arkle did not go away. Whenever I was in a second-hand bookshop, I would take a look to see if I could get my own copy of A Geography of Consciousness. And eventually, some considerable time later, I was walking through Bloomsbury, London and saw a strange ‘mystical’ looking shop that I thought might possibly be carrying a copy. I walked in – and there it was, right in front of me! So I bought it, and began to feel (at the back of my mind, almost unwanted) that there might be some synchronicity drawing me to Arkle.
Even so, things did not really get-going until 2008, some thirty years after that first encounter; when I discovered extensive web pages (hosted created and hosted by Michael Perry) containing most of Arkle’s writings and paintings. This led, by stages, to a more and more intense engagement with Arkle’s writings; until some five years ago they took a place at the centre of my spiritual life.
Arkle is a Christian. He is, however, a very unusual Christian – as are several of the other Romantics I listed above – such as Novalis, Blake, Steiner and Barfield. One certainly does not need to be a Christian to get a great deal from Arkle - but I would say that Christians could potentially get the most from him; if they can get past the fact that he is non-denominational, unorthodox and heretical. But if not a Christian one does need to be someone who is at least prepared to entertain the possibility that we live in a creation, not a universe of merely accidental causal forces. The reader also needs to think it is at least possible that this ongoing creation originated in a loving personal God; such that each individual’s life has a purpose and a meaning.
If the reader is prepared to accept – at least hypothetically - the assumption that our reality was created by a loving God – then he is ready to start reading A Geography of Consciousness.
So, what can the reader expect to find in this book? In what follows I will draw-upon my understanding of Arkle’s philosophy, integrating information I have derived from the full range of his available prose works, as well as conversations with some of those who knew him.
The assumptions of A Geography of Consciousness
William Arkle lived by the belief that he had direct and personal knowledge both of the nature of reality of God the creator and of his own true and divine self. Knowledge of both God and the ‘real self’ was the basis upon-which his entire ‘system’ was built, and which guided his life. If Arkle’s writings could be boiled-down to a single, but two-pronged, piece of advice it would be that we all could live like this: if we so choose.
Where does our real-self come from; and why is it valid? Arkle’s answer is that it originates as a fragment of the divine, a droplet of the ocean that is God, or a little flame from the cosmic fire that is God. This is the basis of the real self, and it is why we are literally children of God, since we inherit a part of God. However, the real self is also the product of our own, unique personal choices and experiences, and how we have learned from them.
For Arkle, this uniqueness is vital. God wants each of his children to be different, to be unique, to be an expression and development of his or her own nature. In sum; for Arkle the real self is both universal, because it has a part of God; and individual, because it is the product of unique experience.
Our destiny, our purpose – should we choose to follow it – is therefore also both universal and unique. Universal because we may all work together on creation and create for each-other in a spirit of love; unique because each person (God, human, angel) brings something absolutely distinctive and irreplaceable. Each ‘player’ has his own part in the symphony of the universe and adds a specific new voice to manifestation.
Arkle assumes, I think correctly, that all of our knowledge is always and necessarily built upon this basic intuition – if we are honest and rigorous enough to follow things to their root.
Most spiritual writers will, at this point, recommend some method or technique of meditation in order to achieve such intuition; but not Arkle. Arkle insists that there is no single method, but to the contrary each individual must ‘quarry out’ his own path for himself, by trial and error, by doing his best and learning from experience. Since the self we aim at is meant to be unique; the method for attaining it is likewise unique. Arkle emphasises that the difficulty of learning for oneself is not an accident, but part of the process, built-into God’s plan; because this is the best way to learn.
What we learn ‘the hard way’ is learned better – indeed, it is often the case that tough lessons are the only ones that work. And, for Arkle, this is the basic nature of this created world. This is a world where we get the lessons, some pleasant some tough (whatever works), individually-tailored for each person (as much as possible), that are needed for us to learn and grow toward higher levels of consciousness, higher levels of divinity.
For Arkle, this is a well-designed world; a world that is trying to teach us what we most need to know. But what is the purpose of this world – what is it trying to help us grow towards?
Ultimate purpose: God’s yearning for grown-up friends
Arkle believed that God’s reason for creation was to manifest a universe in which his children (humankind and also angels) could develop towards higher levels of divinity, and eventually grow-up into what might be termed mini-gods – at the same level of development as God the creator.
For Arkle the ‘master metaphor’ – and indeed a literal reality at the spiritual level – is The Family. The ideal human Family (which we can imagine, even if we have not personally experienced) is the model for the universe; and provides an understanding of the goal of the universe.
At this point we need to recognise that for Arkle God is both Father and Mother: God is a ‘dyad’ of primal Heavenly Parents, whose children include all of humankind (and all the angels, whom Arkle regards as God’s children who begin in Heaven as helpers of God, and who work ‘down’ through incarnations away from divine influence and towards greater materiality; developing in the opposite direction from Men, but getting the same various life experiences in the end).
Because we are all members of a single Family; ultimately God, humans and angels are all of the same kind, and have the same ultimate possibility. We can all become creators, eventually – perhaps working with our Heavenly Parents and within our Heavenly Parents creation; perhaps manifesting other new creations.
So the Big Problem for God is how to create a universe in which spiritual children can grow-up to become mini-gods, on a level with our Heavenly Parents and choosing to work in harmony with our Heavenly Parents in continuing the work of creation. Behind all this is the very ‘human’ motivation of God to have others of his and her kind at God’s level, with whom to be friends. Thus God wants children, and hopes that at least some of these children will develop to spiritual adulthood, and choose to become God’s grown-up companions and collaborators.
For Arkle, the word friend is loaded with significance – he sees the loving friendship of divine people as the highest goal of reality, and the highest form of relationship; because it is chosen voluntarily, and because it happens between those of equal stature. As an ideal, it is something at best glimpsed during this earthly, mortal life; but we can get an analogy from imagining the best possible outcome of a child growing-up in a loving family.
A child born into an ‘ideal’ family will be immersed in love, mostly passive and automatically responsive to the environment, and not fully conscious. As a child matures through adolescence into adulthood; he may achieve complete spiritual independence from the parents – a state of agency, of being an independent agent. At this point he becomes potentially ‘free’, and able to live consciously from his own inner knowledge and motivations; that is, from his real self, which is divine. Arkle’s concept of a ‘friend’ is when such a grown up, free, conscious child voluntarily chooses to return to a fully loving relationship with his parents; but now on a level (but complementary) footing, as one adult with another.
Both the young-child and the adult-child love the parents; but only the adult love is the freely chosen love between different-equals. Further, as with mortal humans, the parent-child relationship will always be maintained. God is creator of this reality; we grew inside this creation; so even if or when a human rises to the status of a mini-god or divine friend, and works with the Heavenly Parents on the continuing development and creation of this reality; it will be in the context of God’s already-existing primary creation.
It is in this sense that God has set-up creation, and hope that at least some of us humans will have experiences, make choices, learn and develop; and ultimately choose to become divine friends with the creator – still God’s children, but now grown up to share the same stature as our divine parents.
Growing-up to become deities - reincarnation
Arkle envisages this process has being, typically, a long and slow one; involving multiple smaller steps (which are described in some detail) and multiple incarnations (perhaps in several or many different ‘universes’).
So, Arkle is a proponent of reincarnation – in one of its many versions. For Arkle, the need for reincarnation comes from the very large gulf that initially exists between Men and God; and the extreme difficulty, thus slowness, of our learning all the many things we need to learn to ascend this ladder.
For Arkle, this process of learning is something that happens best when we are incarnated, that is when we have bodies rather than being spirits. The reason seems to be that the incarnated life, in the solid and resistant environment of earth, best provides the resistance we need to push against in order to develop.
It seems that Arkle also very likely had a direct apprehension of his own multiple reincarnations, although he does not mention this in his writings. At any rate, reincarnation is a significant element in his scheme; which he explains by the analogy of multiple ‘universes’ or ‘universities’, in ascending layers, in each of which the reincarnated spirit may learn different types of lessons.
But why does God want us to do go through all this prolonged process?
God wants colleagues and friends; not servants or worshippers
Traditional religions have usually asserted that God wants humans to be his obedient servants and glorifying worshippers. Arkle, by contrast, regards such attitudes to God an man-made, somewhat immature, and (unintentionally) wounding to God.
He asks us to consider that an ideal and loving human parent does not want his grown-up children to adopt a servile and worshipping attitude to his parents; no more does God – although as younger children obedience is necessary and some level of hero-worshipping almost inevitable. Arkle then makes the point that neither human beings, nor this world we live in, seem to be designed to encourage servile obedience and worship – indeed, there would not be much point to having mortal embodied life if these were the ideals; since it would surely be better for us to remain in Heaven, as angelic spirits, surrounded-by and immersed-in the love of God; taking it all for granted; and with no reason to disobey or assert ourselves.
However, since instead this world is actually full of temptations, challenges and suffering; and since we ourselves are so varied and prone to mistakes and sins; and since we already know that this world was made for us by a loving God; by a kind of ‘reverse engineering’ (of inferring purpose from design) all this implies that temptations, challenges, suffering, variety, error and (even) sin are ‘part of the plan’ for our own learning and development towards that ultimate aim of becoming God’s divine friends.
In other words, if God had merely wanted Men to be obedient ‘puppets’, this could have been easily achieved by designing all men to be identical, making us perfectly obedient and consistent by nature, and putting us into an environment that ensured we would always do what was asked of us. The fact that we are – in contrast – unique individuals, intermittently rebellious, inconsistent, and live in a world of temptations and suffering means that God must want us to experience, learn and develop; by a messy ‘trial and error’ process.
But the ‘mess’ and the ‘errors’ are in fact part of God’s plan! If God wanted servants and worshippers, he could make a tidy world that would stamp-out great populations of clones – either all identical, or perhaps a few groupings of types (e.g. the ‘Medieval’ classes of warriors, priests, craftsmen and peasants; or the Hindu castes).
But friends are each unique – each friend is a one-off, and valued as such. We know this from our own aspirations. We want a friend to be an independent person, who can surprise us. We want each friend to be himself or herself – and the more themselves they become, the better. Each (deep, lasting) friendship is therefore being continually energised, developed, self-renewed by interaction in dyads and small groups.
Therefore, to understand the nature of this world, we need to recognise that it is ultimately a world of unique individuals, who are intended to become even more individual as they move to higher levels of evolution. The great hope is that such individuals will choose to become allied by love, will choose to become real, deep, divine friends; and harmonised by this love (as an ideal family is harmonised by love in its aims and activities) will work together in the work of creation.
Our attitude to God
From this, Arkle argues for a very different attitude to God from that of traditional religion.
In particular, we ought not to behave as if God were malicious; for example by assuming that God requires propitiation and sacrifices to satisfy his demand for submission; or by assuming that we must engage in rituals of obedience and worship to prevent God becoming angry at our presumption.
Instead, Arkle would like us always to bear in mind that God is our loving parents, who want the best for us - both as a whole (all the children of God), as well as each and individually; and who are working ‘behind the scenes’ to help us learn and grow spiritually. But for this to happen, we must acknowledge that this world is indeed a place of learning; which is to say that this is a meaningful world – a world made of communications telling us things we need to know.
This world, and indeed our-selves, are not meant to be ‘perfect’ – because perfectly-designed people in a perfectly-designed world – who were perfectly happy; could not learn and develop. People start-out and would end-up all the same, and stuck in the state of happy but un-free puppets.
God’s task was the difficult one of making a world in which there could be learning and development; and our task is the difficult one of learning and growing, step by step, towards spiritual adulthood. As we may recall from adolescence; such development is intrinsically difficult, indeed painful; and is not a smooth, uninterrupted upward ascent but more of a zig-zag – indeed somewhat like a game of snakes and ladders. But Arkle repeatedly reminds us that it is vital to recognise that the hardships of life we personally suffer are never from God’s malice, but always from God’s love (if we could but understand the Big Picture behind our own specific situation); working towards our attaining the highest possible level of deity. There is no ‘easy way’ to do this – just as there is no easy way to get through adolescence, learn mathematics, or how to play a musical instrument.
Ultimately, all real learning is active; it is a self-learning; and Arkle says that God will always try to let us work our lessons for ourselves – only intervening when our situation is hopeless or we become ‘stuck’ – and as soon as possible handing responsibility back to us. If we are to become fully-developed individuals, this is how things must be.
Our attitude to God, Arkle says, is therefore to approach God as (ideally) a growing child regards his loving parents, having absolute trust that our parents always want the best for us, and know far more than we do. The parents have a long term view, with the aim of nurturing grown-up, independent, and loving children.
Such parents (whether human or divine) do not seek to maximise the immediate pleasure of their children, nor to alleviate all instances of hardship, pain and misery; nor to give their children whatever they want or ask-for, here-and-now - the ideal parents main loving-concern is that we learn and grow; and to give their children what they need, taking into account the long-term. Therefore children are (by stages) given the greatest possible freedom, including freedom to make mistakes and do wrongs, and take the consequences of attitudes and actions; in hope that they will become responsible agents; will learn from their mistakes and the bad outcomes of wrong-thinking and wrong-doing.
For similar reasons, a life of development cannot be a life of continual pleasure or bliss; since this would stultify learning. The ideal life of learning is varied, and contains a mixture of novelty (new challenges) and cycles of repeated challenges that we have not yet learned-from. And such is, indeed, the nature of our actual lives, as we observe them.
A world of communications
Arkle regards the whole world as meaningful, therefore potentially telling us important things. He rejects such concepts as randomness or luck; and instead sees all of life as a conversation between ‘beings’ who are in relationships.
Behind this lies his core belief that nothing is absolutely ‘dead’, everything is a being (or part of a Being) that is alive and conscious – but with widely varying degrees of life and consciousness.
So that humans and dogs are more conscious than trees, and trees more conscious than mountains – but everything shares in a vast web of inter-relationships and communications. This means that, in reality, we are never alone; nor do we ever lack the potential to understand and learn-from our situation.
However, most people, for most of the time (and, apparently, some people for all of the time) have decided that everything except humans are unconscious and most are not-alive. That is, we assume that we are ‘alone’ in a materialist universe instead of a creation, and a world mostly of ‘things’ rather than beings. We assume that – ultimately – things ‘just happen’, life means nothing and is going nowhere.
In A Geography of Consciousness, Arkle shows us that these are no more than assumptions – and mostly they are unconsciously adopted. If, instead, we become conscious about the fact that these are assumptions, we can examine them and may decide to reject them in favour of an understanding of a living, conscious reality – and, what is more, a living conscious reality made ‘for us’ such that we can potentially know and learn-from it.
So, for Arkle we are never alone, never cut-off from meaning, purpose or love. He urges that we recognise that we are immersed in a ‘sea’ of communications; of information and guidance; and that behind everything is our Heavenly Parents who are doing their best to enable us to learn what we most need. They are not trying to make our lives always easy and pleasant; but instead worthwhile and educative.
When we suffer – as so often happens – this is because (in an ultimate and long-term sense) sometimes suffering is the only thing we will respond to. For instance the alcoholic who sometimes must reach rock-bottom, and acknowledge that fact, before he can overcome his addiction. We might suppose ‘in theory’ that we should be able to learn important lessons without need for suffering – but experience suggests otherwise. For that specific individual, the addiction experience, and overcoming it, may contain vital lessons he personally needed to learn, but which he would not learn by any easier or more pleasant way. And that individual might learn the truth of this directly from God, and learn what God intended by it – but we, as detached outsiders, cannot know more than there was some important reason of some sort relating to someone.
But why are such insights not more common, and what stands in our way when we try to live in accordance with them?
The problem of false selves
If our true self is divine in origin (developed from a fragment of the living God) then one major theme of A Geography of Consciousness is to explain the various other more superficial and less fundamental selves that tend to dominate our lives; sometimes to the point of almost completely imprisoning and neutralising the true self.
Arkle terms these selves ‘entities’ and explains that they often serve useful purposes – for example in performing vital and useful functions automatically – so (once the function has been learned) we do not need to think about walking, catching a ball, or driving a car. There are many such processes, with varying degrees of dominance – and many will clash, and point in opposite directions; so that people are very inconsistent and self-contradicting in their behaviour, according to the functioning of one, then another ‘self’.
Therefore, to a variable extent, all humans are something like automata; but if we wish to become more divine then we need to become free; and that entails reaching a higher, coherent, integrative form of consciousness in which we are aware of what we do, and consciously choose to do it.
So, a basic problem is that most people, most of the time, do not know their true selves, and are not living from their true selves; but are instead (more or less unconsciously) simply doing and thinking whatever the process of these superficial selves are churning-out. It is this which makes it counter-productive always to ‘do what comes naturally’ – since what seems ‘natural’ to us in this modern world is very often artificial, inculcated by propaganda or malicious intent, evil, terrorising, despair-inducing…
For Arkle, to be free is to be conscious. We start by knowing (both from our divine self within, and by divine guidance from without) what is the right thing to do, in the exactly specific situation that is developing; taking into sufficient account all the other relevant beings and the purposes of creation; and continue by choosing to do that – when we could choose otherwise.
The problem of suffering and evil – The problem of ‘free will
The importance of Arkle for a modern reader is that he provides answers to the two major and linked problems for Modern Man when confronted by traditional Christianity: these are the existence of pain, suffering and evil in the world, and the existence and importance of ‘free will. Traditional Christianity has, of course, provided solutions to these problems since very early in its history (for example Boethius, who died in 524; in his famous The Consolations of Philosophy). But it is fair to say that most people who know them do not find these explanations satisfactory.
Traditional Christianity insists that God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing); and creation is essentially a thing ‘finished’ and already-existing out of Time. This model of reality seems to leave no space to fit-in genuine free will of Men, leaves no significant role for men in the work of creation; and seems to make God directly responsible for everything that happens, including the worst evils.
The traditional theological answers to such questions entail a view of God existing outside of Time, that undermines the significance of our mortal lives; and indeed seems to render Jesus irrelevant - an omnipotent God seems to have no need for the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus to accomplish his designs; and no need for such varied Men to live such variable lives on earth. It would seem to make more sense to create Men directly into the timeless static perfection of Heaven – and leave-out mortal life and earth altogether…
Arkle’s explanation is completely different; since it regards God as limited in power, still creating through time by an ongoing, open-ended, never-ending evolutionary process. Men and women are being already free, but need to become more-free by attaining higher consciousness. We need to decide our own fate, as much as possible; and learn from these decisions. The assumption is that at every stage, men have chosen to do what they do: we are incarnated by choice, because we want to learn to become more divine. But as already stated; learning is not easy, and often requires extreme situations. In order to learn, therefore, this world must be real to us, and the problems (pains, sufferings, etc.) must also be real.
God’s hope is that some Men will, from love, make the necessary choices, and learn the necessary lessons, to enable them eventually to become friends and companions of God. Since each such exalted and deified Man would be unique, he or she would be able to bring genuinely-new perspectives to the work of creation, and to make creation something it otherwise could not have been.
Pain, suffering, failure, evil… all these are aspects of reality that the developing man or woman needs to know – and to know from personal experience – if he or she is to become able to participate in the work of creation. These are aspects of reality, and always will be to some extent; because not everybody (not all men and angels) will choose to favour and participate-in the work of creating; some will (from their genuine freedom) oppose and try to destroy the ongoing creation.
So anti-creative forces are real, inevitable, and we need to learn to recognise and overcome them – recognise and overcome them in our-selves and in others. It is not enough to know about; we must know from experience. It is not enough to know only the positives (love, hope, faith…), we need also to know, experience, overcome the negatives (fear, despair, resentment…).
In a nutshell; for Arkle, God is wholly Good and wholly Loving, but limited in power, and the work of creation is continuous and never complete. We are ultimately divine in our innermost selves, but we also have multiple other conflicting selves – including false selves subject to temptation, errors, evils etc. Our task is to navigate and learn-from this difficult but highly ‘educational’ environment, which is designed to teach each of us (from experience) those specific lessons he or she most needs to learn.
There is no genuine ‘problem’ of pain – my suffering is in some way a part of God’s loving long-term plan for me and God’s other children, to which I personally agreed before incarnation. This understanding of ‘my’ suffering is open to anybody and everybody, by means of direct knowledge from God; assuming we ask the question with the proper assumptions, and if we will accept the answer given. We can each know the meaning of our own suffering.
What we cannot know, is the meaning of every individual person’s suffering, or the suffering of groups or classes of people – elsewhere in the world or in history. Indeed, even to ask such a question is an error. Why? In the ideal family that we can imagine, it would be possible for each child to know why his own loving parents had made such and such a decision entailing suffering; but if that child demanded to know why such-and-such suffering happened to some remote fifth cousins whom he had never met, knew very little about, and cared even less – then we can see that such an understanding of the reason for specific suffering would be extremely unlikely – especially if the question was phrased such as to expect a short answer! Even less likely could there be an answer when the question ‘why this suffering?’ is asked about some remote and vague ancestors, or some hardly-related person in some remote part of the world.
Yet this is exactly what so many modern people demand! They ask something about some suffering happing to someone somewhere; and they demand a short, snappy, wholly satisfying response to be fired-back at them! For example they ask why some hundreds/ thousands/ millions of people were subject to genocide; or why some specified remote person (read-about in the mass media or a history book) had to suffer in the way they (reportedly) did…
Indeed, typically this is not an honest question; because the person asking has already decided that there is not, and cannot be, any ‘good reason’ for suffering – because they already have assumed that everything that happens is random or mechanically determined, and therefore has no ‘reason’.
Arkle is an antidote to such false expectations. He gives pain and suffering their full place in life, but does not despair in the face of it because he knows why, and he knows that behind the Everything of all-creation, there are our loving Heavenly Parents. Arkle does not despair because he does not expect mortal life to be easy; because it is meant to be about learning, which is difficult. And he refuses to be distracted by vague demands and generalisations, in a situation when each person and situation is unique - and in which the intention is that we should each become more unique.
The graphs and geometrical diagrams… the physics metaphors
As I have already emphasised: A Geography of Consciousness is not an easy book. One of the strangest and most difficult aspects is that Arkle presents his ideas via a series of elaborate metaphors that are illustrated by graphs and geometry diagrams. This is a considerable obstacle, a stumbling block, for readers who have come to the book because of interest in the spiritual content.
These mathematical and scientific analogies presumably arise from Arkle having been trained as an engineer in the Royal Navy and continuing this scientific interest in later life. This was an unusual background for a spiritual philosopher and painter – although Rudolf Steiner shared a similar root in science, and also used geometrical diagrams to illustrate his lectures.
Surveying his writings, it seems to me that Arkle quite naturally thought using abstract models and comparisons – he apparently found this an effective way of clarifying his established understanding, and creatively pushing it into new understandings.
In other words, Arkle’s mathematical and scientific abilities were a source of strength, and a basis for his major insights, as well as making life more difficult for his readers! What Arkle is doing in A Geography of Consciousness is to show the arguments, the trains of thought, leading up to his spiritual conclusions. That is, Arkle is ‘showing his workings’; rather than simply stating conclusions (as he does in some others of his writings).
I think this reflects the two ways Arkle worked: he reasoned like a scientist from premises and assumptions that he had reached by direct intuitive apprehension; and he also sought direct intuitive confirmation of the products of his logical reasoning. When these two methods agreed, he could be more confident in the truth he had reached.
My advice to those who are put-off by the graphs and diagrams is just to continue reading as best they can, skimming to get the ‘gist’ of the points, as required. It is often easier to come back to the graphs after you understand where they are leading; the pictures can then help to make the key points more memorable.
Furthermore it is important to remember that Arkle’s key metaphor is much simpler and more accessible than science or geometry; it is The Family. Arkle repeatedly points-out that The Family is a microcosm of the whole of creation. That is, the ideal family is a group of beings in a loving and creative, open-ended relationship; and so is The Universe.
Almost everyone has an innate understanding of The Family – what it could be, and what it should ideally be – and this can serve as a Master Key to unlock a true understanding of God’s creation and our place in it.
Levels of consciousness – how to live life
Colin Wilson’s introduction from the first edition describes and discusses Arkle’s interest in higher levels of consciousness; so I will be focus mainly on the bottom level of consciousness: the physical or material level, the level of ‘matter’.
Arkle regards it as a huge and harmful error that modern Man has come to regard ‘matter’ as the only real reality. Only that is real which can be perceived, detected, measured… everything else (including, ultimately, truth, beauty, virtue; the spiritual and the divine) is imaginary, an illusion, an epiphenomenon of material processes. This is sometimes termed positivism, materialism, reductionism or scientism – but it is the normal, mainstream, public and official world view in the developed world (and has been for several generations). It is also how almost everybody now regards their lives and the world.
We (nowadays) therefore live in a world that is both privately and ‘officially’ made from dead matter. From our-selves; we look-out upon dead matter that is passively acted-upon by other dead matter, in processes of passive causality or random occurrence. A world of dead matter is a world without real meaning, a world going nowhere in particular; a world in which the small and brief human self feels overwhelmed and crushed by the vast mass of meaninglessness and death that is the cosmos…
No wonder that so many people are so bored; and perpetually seek to forget their situation by plugging into stimulation or obliterating consciousness with intoxication. If whirling matter is the only reality; since we have only ultimate disease, degeneration and death to look-forward to; not-thinking and unconsciousness seem the only rational response.
Yet, if Arkle is correct – if we take his perspective to be true, we are actually dwelling in a meaning-saturated universe, a creation; whose existence and purpose encompasses our own unique selves, in the context of all other persons and beings! Our task, then, is first to recognise this reality. We need to reject the ‘model’ of a futile, material ‘reality’, utterly indifferent to our selves and our concerns. And instead need to realise that we actually dwell inside a vast and complex multitude of communications; surrounded by messages that we could be reading and learning from – instead of denying and ignoring.
Arkle’s second hope is that we may allow such a recognition to permeate our lives; overcoming the false selves that smother us and the false ideas that impinge upon us. Then we shall experience this living, conscious, communicating reality – at first seldom and weakly, later more often and with greater strength.
It is vital to recognise that for all his aspiring idealism, his infectious hope; Arkle is a tough, hard-nosed thinker! He promises a life that will include struggle, hardship and adventure; not a life of continuous bliss or ecstasy (which would be useless for learning). Since we are here by choice, here to learn, and learning is work; we must expect that we shall experience whatever most helps our own learning. Experience whatever we need in order to learn – and we may be one of those people who resist learning what we most need. And if so, extreme situations may be required.
Furthermore, Arkle envisages a very ‘human’ life – including all the usual errors, weakness, inconsistency, wickedness and other genuine flaws to which we are all inevitably prone – since we are only very-partially-developed divine beings, with a long way still to go, much to learn. When properly understood, and properly responded to, all such lapses from our ideal behaviour will become learning experiences, and sources of exactly that spiritual development which is our purpose here on earth and in these mortal lives.
So, even the toughest and most miserable life can, if we do indeed learn its lessons, yield cosmically significant - eternally significant - fruits for our-selves.
And this is the basis of Arkle’s most obvious and distinctive attribute: his optimism. He is tremendously positive about life; and he actually lived in accordance with his ideas optimism and positivity to a much greater extent than most people achieve – as Colin Wilson describes, and has been confirmed by my own enquiries.
Arkle’s optimism shines-through his writings; and also his paintings, poems, music and his other creative works. From this book we can discover that this was a tough optimism based-upon reality; an optimism which we can potentially share ourselves. That is why A Geography of Consciousness is such a very important book.