To Dance On Knowing Ground

Lucie Shores

First printed in the Institute of Noetic Sciences Review, Winter Issue 1999/2000

I have waged a lifelong battle on what I call the 'knowing ground', i.e. the ground of reason, rationality, empiricism and proof. This battle between 'gut feelings' and intellectualism, between word and image, between speech and silence, still holds me at bay on the edge of the culture. 'Other ways of seeing' have been treated as many things in this culture, from talent to anomaly to delusion. Post-literate' as someone recently called me, I have never been satisfied with the ability of words to describe experience. Language is not the best tool for passing on vision, but I want to evoke images of what I, as a non-academic, am neither able nor willing to define.

Since I was a child positions opened whether I was qualified or not. At six my teachers gave me a small class where I taught phonics in 'my own way'. At age 9, I started studying piano and began teaching when I was 15. At 19 I was married, traveled to Vienna and was offered a job at the people's opera the same year. I returned to the states and was teaching at the college level by the time I was 20. At 24 I returned to Austria and was hired to teach at the American International School in Vienna, although I had no teaching degree. The next year I was hired at the Conservatory of Music and began writing, conducting and recording for a theatre in Vienna.

Something was having a huge impact on my life; as if something was overriding my consciousness, making it necessary to play out life scenarios I had never planned. My abilities, talents, handicaps, whatever we call them, propelled me into life unprepared. I developed a huge case of what I now call 'insight fatigue'. Eager to find some way to interpret this way of knowing I decided to enter seminary. While in seminary, I was convinced to call a 'clearness committee' in the Quaker tradition, to discern if I was delusional, talented, or just a 'vision junkie'. The committee used the word 'prophet' to describe how I perceive and act. It was an overwhelming suggestion at the time; at last I fell into a category, even if it was one for misfits. But even historical ways of seeing do not guarantee access to truth. The institution I was preparing to serve has never welcomed 'prophets', so, following graduation, I was motivated to search for others who could confirm similar experiences and affirm this way of seeing.

In the excerpt from his book, The Cosmic Serpent*, Jeremy Narby makes an assertion about the possibility of discerning truth at the molecular level. He suggests this was done by means of hallucinogenic drugs which may have allowed the brain to perceive weak photon projections by DNA of color saturated, 3-D images. The result is a collection of shamanic illustrations from around the world depicting a level of awareness of the origins of life and the realities of invisible properties of the surrounding environment.

In my opinion, this suggests seeing is not a gift for a few but a symptom of being human. The forms and shapes we experience through our limited senses are only symptoms of the underlying nature of life. When the senses connect with the sub-conscious, input of a numinous kind is translated into awareness using a range of criteria of which we are only dimly aware. In essence, a submissiveness to the influence of the environment must be cultivated and then engagement with what is revealed, in terms of questions already present. This experience has something to do with neither being afraid nor ambitious for the outcome, but open to whatever happens. In the absence of fear or ambition there is more leeway for a relationship with the subject.

I have not dipped into the 'ayahuasca' cup of the shamans and I remain somewhat in the dark about why all of us are not seers. If it is inherent in everyone, our systems must be effectively shutting us down at some level. My own memories have suggested nurture as a possible defense against the influences of the culture. My mother covered the walls of the farmhouse with mythmaking designs on which we were invited to expand. I was over thirty before I realized she had, consciously or unconsciously, done what mythologist Joseph Campbell has described as 'cave-painting'. We created a mythology of our own that celebrated nature and a universal consciousness, rather than buying into that of the culture. Every impulse was given outlet, every fantasy looked upon as a chance to explore the reality that existed within the self as well as outside with no judgment attached. When children are continually drawn out and encouraged to remember, to dream, to discuss insight and depend on intuition as a matter of course, the maze between conscious and sub-conscious levels of knowing is easily retraced. The key to calling what we know into consciousness is, first, re-call what we knew as children. Then train the ability to recognize ontological truth when we experience it and take risks in using what we know, rather than making judgments.

Our culture lacks communal symbols for understanding other ways of knowing so it overrides personal experiences of truth. Language is no aid in this dilemma; it is by nature, linear and precipitous. In the process of allowing crystallization of awareness, language must be used with great restraint until images are clear. If we try to name things that are still unclear, we name less than the truth. How will a culture, which co-opts scientific language for use in the most inappropriate contexts, (such as 'If you love me, prove it,') ever accept multiple paths to perception? In my opinion, no single discipline can validate experiences that deal with synthesis rather than analysis. Adherence to a scientific method that demands all existence conform to its measures will reduce the universe to so much stardust. If evidence points to a human capacity for seeing at the molecular level, we can begin to let go of proofs and begin to trust other ways of seeing in ourselves and each other.

If the brain apprehends knowledge at the molecular level by means of hallucinogenic processes, what is to prevent those accustomed to a lifelong awareness of inner perceptions, from seeing reality in a spontaneous way? Those who live with conditions such as ADD, autism and dyslexia and other so-called anomalies, all possess abilities of perception that set them apart. Others who see 'differently' from the dominant culture are artists, children and women, and all of us repress the altered states we experience almost daily; dreams, imagination, even empathy.

"Altered states of creative flow are brought on not by the drugs of shamans, but by energies tapped through meditative immersion in one's own resonant process."

We all know someone who is 'severely gifted' standing on the edge of society for lack of recognition. Some had insights of historical proportions; Copernicus, Columbus, Da Vinci, Newton, Einstein. They passionately immersed themselves in the elements of their questions; just as children do, until the culture wraps them in its crudely woven rationalism. The shamans did not hold the world at arms length as an object to examine, but lived within it and even took it into themselves, becoming one with it. An example of this idea from the popular culture is how the super logical Mr. Spok of Star Trek fame uses the 'Vulcan Mind Meld.' In spite of his devotion to logic, the ultimate tool within his make-up is his ability to unite himself with a given entity which otherwise defies understanding.

In my own experience, a path for seeing exists in creativity. It is a powerful tool for crystallizing perceptions and seeing meaning. Altered states are brought on, not by the drugs of shamans, but by energies tapped through contemplative immersion in one's own creative process. Being wholly present to process allows one to become a 'neural ground' for awareness of the realities underlying the symptoms of the human condition. Totally flexible media allow the senses and the subconscious to connect, inviting expression of the profoundly ineffable. We can re-present what we see through the personal, symbolic language of the arts. Giving attention to such images in a communal way can provide us with meaning and ontological truth.

Retaining a holistic way of seeing is an uphill battle. My sons, by virtue of gender, are at high risk of isolation in this culture. I started noting their thoughts early. When our oldest was four, he let me know, "Dying is like losing a tooth, you just lose your body". Seated quietly in our kitchen our middle son was also four when he noted pragmatically one day, "You always are who you're gonna be; you just don't know it yet." Our youngest complained at about the same age, "Adults tell us to pretend, because they think what we're doing isn't real, but pretend is the same as real in your brain." Today, in spite of a system that teaches only what the culture needs them to know, they are still able to access personal insight for guidance.

I have stopped wondering what I will do next, in favor of looking for relationships I will be part of. We have moved to the country and live in the north, close to the earth. I've founded a 'creativity think tank' leaving behind the battle in favor of what I call 'dancing on the knowing ground'. Like bees, others recognize actions, words, images, shapes and sounds as symptoms of underlying reality. The dance is universal; revelation happens.

Parker Palmer* writes, we can 'know as we are known' at all levels of existence. Our purpose is to recognize and develop the seer in all those who want to recover their own way of knowing. Passionate involvement with whatever we include in our lives provides something more profound than truth; it gives us human ways of being that coincide with the dance of the universe.


Jeremy Narby, "Cosmic Serpent," Noetic Sciences Review, (April-July 1999), pp.59-61

Parker Palmer, "To Know As We Are Known," (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1983).

Back to top

E-mail inquiries to SALT.

Last revised 2006