REALITY AND TIME
© Ian Lawton 2005 & 2008
[This paper was first drafted in 2005 but has been substantially revised in 2008 to bring it into line with The Big Book of the Soul.]
The propositions that a) physical reality is merely an illusion, b) multiple worlds exist and c) our many lives are playing out concurrently have been put forward by spiritual, philosophical and now scientific commentators for some time. And they are undoubtedly attractive to spiritual seekers of a more intellectual persuasion. But how well does each stand up to close scrutiny?
Creating Our Own Reality and the Idea of Illusion
Broadly speaking Rational Spirituality does endorse the idea that we create our own reality. In one sense the crucial lesson from this is that it is our mainly unconscious and ingrained thoughts, emotions, intentions and attitudes that direct our experience via the 'law of attraction' or, more simply, of 'cause and effect'. But the obvious implication is that we should learn to 'consciously create' our own reality by concentrating on those things we do want.
The idea that we can create any reality we like at any time is supported by most modern advocates of 'positive thinking', 'cosmic ordering' and so on. And some commentators go further, suggesting that the physical world is only an illusory set of perceptions that each of us creates for ourselves in isolation. However there are a number of problems with these ideas:[i]
* How does any given outcome we consciously desire relate to our life plans? What if one objective of our life plan is to cope with disappointment? Or what if we consciously desire something that is completely at odds with our life plan? Most commentators suggest that our own higher selves or our spirit guides are actively involved in bringing our thoughts and desires into physical manifestation. But they can also provide prompts to help us to keep on course with our life plan. So why should they not sometimes intervene a little to prevent us from doing something that we might think is really important at that time on a conscious level, but which they can see from a higher perspective is less than ideal? Remember that what we think we want is often not what is best for us, especially on a spiritual level.
* As we will see in the next section we live in a unique, collectively created physical reality, so not only is this not merely our own individual illusion, but our desires can sometimes be in conflict with those of someone else.
* One of the biggest problems with deliberately creating the outcomes we desire is that we often have negative thought patterns on a largely subconscious level that act as blockages to their creation. Indeed, all of the most profound spiritual sources suggest that we have to do plenty of hard, therapeutic, inner work on these blockages and less desirable traits before we can really start to become 'conscious creators'. Related to this, they also suggest that there has to be an element of 'divine purpose' in our attempts to positively direct our own reality if they are to be really successful. Admittedly they all suggest that the leading of a happy and abundant life is our birthright once we have learnt to see through all the nonsense that can distract us in the physical plane, but this will not be in an exclusively materialist context.
* Related to this is the issue of how specific we should be with our desired outcomes, with the alternative being simply to 'go with the flow' and completely surrender to the will of higher powers that include our own higher self. With appropriate meditation and so on this approach should keep us on our planned life path without the constant need to worry about what this actually is, or whether we are still on it.
In fact, probably one of the greatest tests we can face is to work out why the outcomes we sometimes so fervently desire do not come to fruition. The lessons we learn from this, whether they involve having faith and patience that the outcome will emerge in the end, or instead analyzing the dynamics behind why it should have remained unfulfilled – and often only understanding and fully appreciating these dynamics after a considerable interval – arguably provide one of the most important vehicles for soul growth.
Also, where in this worldview of seemingly instant cosmic gratification is the scope for striving to achieve an objective that is important to us – whether that be to develop a sporting skill, a hobby, a business, a relationship or a happy and successful family? Where is the scope for sheer graft and hard work, and resilience against sometimes huge obstacles, over prolonged periods of time? Again this is one of the most rewarding and enriching of experiences on earth.
One interpretation of quantum theory favoured by a minority of physicists is the 'many worlds' hypothesis first put forward by Hugh Everett in 1955. This suggests that there are multiple physical worlds all playing out in parallel.[ii]
Various proponents of this theory have attempted to place restrictions on what would cause a new world to come into existence, but arguably somewhat unconvincingly. So when taken to its ultimate conclusion this theory would suggest that the quantum probability wave does not collapse into one outcome, but instead an infinite number of alternate realities are generated by each point on each probability wave of each quanta in existence at each moment. Crucially, these alternate realities tend to be discussed in terms of them having the same status and validity as the 'reality' of the 'physical' plane that we are all consciously experiencing right now, which would mean that each of us would actually be only one version of an infinite number of minutely differentiated selves. But can this really be true?
Interlife regression evidence suggests that during the past-life review, and in other ongoing interlife exercises, we can go back and replay past events but taking different courses of action.[iii] In some contexts we appear to do this alone, or perhaps just with a guide, so that any others involved in our re-enactment act more like imprints or 'thought-forms', and not with the fully interacting consciousness of the souls concerned. But it also appears that we can role-play events in our past lives with the active cooperation of other members of our soul group. This does appear to have more of the characteristics of accessing genuinely interactive alternate realities, and there is nothing to suggest that there is any theoretical restriction on the number of alternatives we can play out – even if in practice diminishing returns would accrue from excessive role-playing.
So it certainly seems that alternate realities of a sort are available for us to experience in the interlife, and from a learning perspective they appear to have a comparable validity to our actual experiences in the physical realm. Nevertheless they are clearly not the same as the unique, fully interactive experience of the physical that we collectively and spontaneously create as we go along using free will. Not only that, but there is absolutely no mention in interlife regression evidence of the idea of multiple selves or realities playing out at the same time. Indeed the whole idea of an infinite number of minutely differentiated, parallel worlds is extremely inelegant from the perspective of spiritual philosophy, precisely because this would be an incredibly wasteful way for the Source to gain experience.
So it seems that, rather than an infinite number of homogenous selves and realities operating in parallel, our one true self experiences what it likes. On the one hand it participates in the collective physical venture we call incarnation, and on the other it explores a potentially infinite number of possible alternatives, sometimes in conjunction with other souls – but only retrospectively, and only in the psycho-spiritual context of the light realms.
Many commentators ancient and modern have suggested that on a fundamental level time does not really exist, and that it is merely a mechanism that allows us to operate effectively in the physical plane.[iv] Certainly interlife regression evidence suggests that elapsed time is experienced very differently in the light realms – just as it often is in dreams, for example. So interlife periods of, say, several hundred earth years can appear to flash past in the blink of an eye, while panoramic, vivid yet detailed past-life reviews can appear almost instantaneous. Of course interlife subjects are still using their conscious, human brains to process the information they receive in trance, so even these descriptions are almost certainly limited compared to the underlying reality. Admittedly the interlife experiences for any given subject between any given pair of lives do appear to have some differences, but even then some subjects refer to the interlife state, probably accurately, as an 'eternal now'.[v]
All of this has led some commentators to claim that all incarnate lives – past, present and future – are happening concurrently, and that feedback between them can and does occur.[vi] If time somehow flowed in cycles or loops, then events that appeared consecutive would also have a degree of concurrency. This is the basis of the endless speculation about time travel in science fiction books and films; and the reason that it causes its proponents such logistical problems is that they attempt to apply it exclusively to the physical realm, as if such loops would allow someone to actually go back in 'physical' time and act differently, thus setting off a whole new chain of events quite distinct from those that happened first time round. But this is related to the multiple worlds hypothesis, and again if the collective, fully-interactive experience of physical reality is unique then it cannot be subject to retrospective alteration or incorporate parallel strands.
Nevertheless, there are other ways in which feedback from past events can loop into the present. On a purely prosaic level when we revisit past events in our conscious minds we often think about what we can learn from how we or someone else behaved, or even what would have happened if we or they had done something differently. This is a forerunner to how we replay events during past-life reviews with far greater clarity and understanding, seeing them from other angles or even putting ourselves into one of the other characters' shoes. Any of these exercises can produce a change in our perceptions that allows us to learn and grow. Indeed we have seen that from the light realms we can even go back and alter events to see how things would have panned out differently. But we have also seen that this does not alter the original, unique reality that was collectively and interactively experienced by the parties involved in the physical plane, and nor does it alter those other souls' original experience. So it is only in this psycho-spiritual as opposed to physical context that the past is ever with us, and able to feedback into our learning-experience loop. And that is a long way short of the contention that our genuine past lives are occurring concurrently with this one.
What, then, of our future lives? Are these somehow being played out concurrently so that they too are part of the feedback loop? Interlife regression evidence suggests that there exists a concept of a 'tapestry' in the light realms in which, at any one moment, a complete and total future for all life in the universe is envisaged.[vii] Only in this way can we, for example, plan and choose the major probabilities of our next life during the interlife. But that future at any one moment will never be actualized in the physical plane, because choice and free will alters it from moment to moment. On that basis it seems clear that future events or lives in the physical realm do not already exist except as mere probabilities. This is also why the practise of attempting to hypnotically progress subjects into their future lives is arguably useless at best and downright misleading and unhelpful at worst.[viii]
So, while our current actions are influencing our probable future all the time, the reverse is unlikely to be true – except perhaps in the sense that the major future probabilities that already exist for our current life, from the interlife plan we made before birth, exert a degree of influence 'in advance'. But our future incarnations beyond this one do not already exist in any definitive physical sense. And even to the extent that they exist in the tapestry as probabilities of which we are currently unaware, if they were allowed to provide feedback into our current life this would surely prejudice our attitudes to such an extent that the operation of free will would be severely impaired.
[i] For more on these see Lawton, The Big Book of the Soul, chapter 8, pp. 254-7 and The Wisdom of the Soul, Question 4.1.
[ii] For more on this see The Big Book of the Soul, chapter 8, pp. 234-5 and The Wisdom of the Soul, Question 4.2.1.
[iii] The Big Book of the Soul, chapter 6, pp. 165-6 and 175.
[iv] For more on this see The Wisdom of the Soul, Question 4.2.
[v] The Big Book of the Soul, chapter 6, p. 153.
[vi] For more on this see The Wisdom of the Soul, Questions 4.2.2 and 4.2.3.
[vii] The Big Book of the Soul, chapter 6, pp. 175-7.
[viii] For more on this see the separate paper on hypnotic progression.