graphic: MetaSelf Logo

The human body is the best
picture of the human soul

— Ludwig Wittgenstein




Avoiding Over-Specifying the Transcendent

The MetaSelf model deliberately uses the open-ended phrase "beyond space and time" and the word spirituality in order to avoid narrowly specifying a transcendent god and to include everyone's fundamental beliefs about reality. It also leaves open to discussion the possibility that there is nothing "out there" beyond the walls of the room. People will come to MetaSelf with various beliefs that are very personal and contentious. But, if they do participate in discussion of their beliefs, perhaps the MetaSelf model can serve as a visual aid, an open-ended spatial framework for explicating the metaphors that express the different points of view.

The following are merely some suggestions
  • For the atheist of a scientific bent, that vacant Space 1 outside the room, from the Front/Back Axis illustration (displayed on the Home page, and on both the Big Picture, and Front/Back Axis pages, on MetaSelf Basics menu), can serve as a reminder that there are no final, indisputable manmade truths; we are all working with evolving theories and changing contexts.
  • For the mystical or religiously inclined, this same space can be viewed as a symbol of the Mystery that is an aspect of the divine, or as the groundless Emptiness of a non-dual reality.
  • To others of a more literal bent, perhaps, the space above the room could be the heavenly home of a god that cannot really be named or pictured, while the space below the room could be some sort of hell.
  • By contrast with the unknown, possibly transcendent space outside the room and the various spaces inside can have other more specific spiritual meanings. These are attached to different segments of the front/back axis of the model and the body as it faces into the world.
  • For example, an immanent god such as Martin Buber conceives as emerging through dialogue between people would be represented in the MetaSelf model as occupying Space 8, What's going on between us (from the Front/Back Axis illustration).
  • A god or spirit of reason might be represented by the geometric, almost axiomatic truths and virtues found in the three axes of the body (the contrasts up/down, front/back and left/right or center/side in the Front/Back Axis illustration). We can't see these axes, but we can see very clear evidence of them in, for example, a carpenter's plumb bob and level. We can make measurements and predictions using them.
  • The god or spirit that moves us in the heart and is felt in the energy of the body would be signified by the segment of the front/back axis that passes through the body (Space 4 in the Front/Back Axis illustration).
  • The god that stirs within our unconscious and our dreams as a mysterious, sometimes confused potential would be represented by the shadowy Space 3 at the back of the mind. This may also be how we experience feelings that arise from our connection to nature or the transcendent Beyond.
  • The walls of the room (Space 2) can symbolize any social system one treats as a sacred community or nation. And, finally, a god of nature (ranging from the local spirit of a small ecosystem, to Gaia on a global scale, to the whole natural universe) would be symbolized by the walls, ceiling and floor that surround us on all sides.
    In this interpretation of the z-axis, infinite Spirit would be outside the room, "beyond" space and time. Its movement along the axis into the room would be incarnation, while transcendence can be imagined as a movement from the world (inside the room), outward in the opposite direction.
  • Years ago I stumbled upon a metaphor for the spirit that I like. It summarizes much of what we have understood about metaphor and the way they use the body's three right-angled axes to describe the nature of the mind, consciousness, empathy, and the virtues. And it specifically employs the idea of motion back and forth. The metaphor is this: We are Tightrope Walkers.
  • The tightrope itself is the front/back axis; the body balancing upright on the tightrope is the vertical axis; and the transverse pole held in the two hands of the tightrope walker is the left/right axis. We live our lives constantly trying to stay flexible, agile and mentally focused enough to remain upright. At times we need, to sit or lie down on a flat surface, rest and be comforted. At other times we need to consciously move back and forth on the tightrope, from one metaphorical location to another, both within ourselves and others. We need to step forward, pivot and look at ourselves from the other person's point of view, trying to understand each kind of deeper meaning outlined in the Front/Back Axis illustration.

A Metaphor for The Spirit

My impression is that the Spirit is thought of as more disembodied than consciousness. It is elusive (but sometimes locatable) and has the power to move around (though it may sometimes refuse). And Spirit has a power of understanding greater than our own. The phrase "as the spirit moves me" suggests that the Spirit is distinguished from the Subject and simple consciousness by being "beyond" our individual will (which is usually centered in the Subject) and capable of appearing and exerting force anywhere unexpectedly, breaking through barriers and thereby transforming a person or persons, a situation or even the whole world.


Spirit can certainly be disruptive. But in the end, by definition, if it is a good spirit, it resolves conflicts by creating more integration among the parts of the self and its world. It brings them into accord with the eternal values and principles represented by the space beyond the world we know, that is, beyond the room.

There is little, if anything, we can finally know about what is beyond the room when it is taken on the grandest scale. We may express this as not knowing what God or the Goddess in his or her infinite wisdom wants us to do. Ultimate reality is "beyond us," and our view of it is always partial at best.

We describe the relationship between what is inside the room and what is outside in many different ways. A few that resonate with me:  The whole (outside the room) is greater than the sum of its parts (inside the room). The greater good vs. individual selfish interests. Win-win solutions instead of zero-sum solutions. Ought (outside) vs. Is (inside).   It is often a very emotional experience when we are moved by the Spirit from being concerned only for a part to a concern for the whole, from zero-sum to win-win. Our world is jarred, or we have slipped, but we keep our balance. We realize, for example, that we must sincerely apologize, we do so and are forgiven and move on in a more positive way. We have become a "bigger person," and our part of the world has become bigger and more integrated. We have grown.

The action of the Spirit often seems mysterious, since it operates partly outside of human will, which might suggest that the Spirit is really not embodied at all. Lakoff and Johnson assert that Spirit is often viewed in this disembodied way, but they issue a call for an embodied spirituality instead (Philosophy in the Flesh, chapter 25).

How are we to understand Spirit as something that has the power to change people but which is partly outside of human will and yet also embodied?  I suggest that we can resolve this conundrum in the following way: the metaphors that we base on the body have the force of a logic deeply embedded in the body, in what Lakoff and Johnson call the "cognitive unconscious." 

We are unconscious or only semi-conscious of the workings of many metaphors, including those virtues based on the three axes of the body in gravity that we have outlined in the discussion of Balance and Ethics on the Philosophy menu (courage as facing directly, etc.). But these metaphors greatly influence us and have a creative force of their own, and that is why, when the Spirit operates through them, it is something beyond our will, although it is still at the same time embodied in us, still rooted in our bodies. Because the logic of the cognitive unconscious has a power of its own, if we follow it consistently and with awareness, it can help us lead lives that are spiritually integrated and virtuous. I believe we can nurture virtue and consciousness of the spirit by becoming more aware of our metaphors, which are rooted in our bodily spatial structure. That is part of the point of MetaSelf.

The Beam of Light

To capture the mysterious quality of the Spirit as something that is both outside our will, "beyond us," and also embodied in us, I like to envision the Spirit as a beam of light along the front/back axis, which not only extends beyond our world (or comes from beyond it), but also runs through it, through our physical bodies' front/back organization and through all the metaphorical spaces we have spelled out. Spirit manifests itself differently in each of the spaces along the axis.

The beam of light belongs to the whole cluster of metaphors around vision and light, which we use in speaking about consciousness, awareness and knowledge. A beam of light has a direction, it moves, but it is insubstantial. We require light for vision, and when we newly understand something, we speak of "seeing the light" and having our "eyes opened."  

Of course one cannot walk on a beam of light, but one can poetically combine standard metaphors such as light and balance with the structure of the body to create an image that reminds of our nature as human beings with bodies, minds, virtues and spirits.

We are tightrope walkers on a beam of light.