Part of the human journey is the occurrence of experiences that stick with us, that burn in our minds eye forever. A few months back, when I interviewed Brant Kingman, a Minneapolis-based artist, he spoke of an experience he had over 30 years ago, though he still remembers it vividly. It was a dream he had while visiting Mayan ruins near Chichen Itza. It’s a memory which has guided him in the work he’s done as an artist for the past 25 years.
He calls the dream “The Ritual Path to Power.” It was a Mayan hotel worker who narrated the dream to him. The worker came into his room and whispered to Brant that he was going to tell him how to construct a ritual path to higher power, meaning the “totality of awareness available to an individual in one lifetime.”
Brant recounts two cycles, the Cycle of the Individual and the Cycle of the Community, both consisting of 4 steps. In order to reach one’s highest power, all eight steps must be engaged simultaneously. Think of each step as a number on a combination lock. The steps must be engaged in order and simultaneously for the path to open. But for the purposes of this writing, we’ll focus on the first cycle, the Cycle of the Individual.
The first step is Play. This stage is characterized by total immersion in the present moment, being guided by pure interest for fascinations’ sake. Enjoying something for what it is, enjoying the moment for what it is, expectations set aside, is a beautiful thing. The gift of Play is Fun and enjoyment is the gateway to discovery, the beginning of noticing the effects of one’s actions. This is the bridge into the second step.
“Experimentation is the step of transformation… This step is itself a bridge because it “removes the traveler from total immersion in the moment… and brings in memory (of the past) and expectation (of the future).” In Play, we discover the potential of our actions. Through Experimentation, we begin to actively cultivate that potential. Through experimentation, we begin to see what was once not visible. Purpose begins to emerge from the haze of the unknown, and principles begin to take shape. We begin to see our role in Creation.
We interact with the world with an eye toward what works and what doesn’t. We ask “why?” and are propelled to seek answers. We recognize that we’re in pursuit of something. Perhaps we don’t know what it is we’re pursuing, though it’s clear it is a search for that which makes sense. It’s the pursuance of meaning.
“Playing is spontaneous and largely unaware of its consequences.” Play is the pursuance of amusement by unfettered abandonment of deference to ramification.
“Experimentation introduces the surprisingly complex concept of ‘something else.’” The idea that actions beget results is made known and thus, we begin our experimentations.
In our experimenting, we have a choice to take a plunge into the unknown. The funny thing about taking this plunge is that our experience thereafter is largely determined by the attitude we adopt. Fooling ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do is the sustainer of arrogance, the destructor of civility. We must adopt humility.
Brant talks about The Pyramid of the Sun in the Mesoamerican city, Teotihuacan, and how it was constructed with this in mind. The individual steps leading to the top of the pyramid are quite shallow, and offer only enough room to fit half of the human foot. The heel hangs out over the edge of the step, symbolizing the idea that in our journey through life, we progress only by balancing the known with the unknown.
It is in the step of Experimentation that “we combine the world we imagine with the world that exists. It is the forging of that combination that initiates the third step.
The third step is Mastery. After enough experimentation, we gain a proficiency; we become highly capable. But the interesting thing about mastery is that it’s not static. “While Mastery signifies progress, it cannot be achieved without constant regression,” Brant says. “No one will master an art who cannot play with its materials, [who cannot] process and experiment with different things which will result in suffering the disappointments and enjoying the surprises of finding.”
Achieving mastery is no excuse to stop playing, to stop experimenting. Egoic mastery maintains that by becoming a master, we’ve become god. But mastery doesn’t imply control, only an admirable sense of awareness, consciousness. “Though mastery appears to imply domination over a certain set of acts, it is the opposite that is true. The fuel of Mastery is surprise.”
The difficulty of the Mastery stage is the heightened presence of the ego. “The very substance of mastery may tend to seal off progression. If one becomes enamored of one’s progress, one fails to continue experimenting, the second ritual dies and progress stops… Certainty must somehow be countered by intentional ignorance.”
It’s easy to stop at this third stage, but there’s another. Although we live as individuals, we don’t live as islands. We must give in order to receive; we must sacrifice, the fourth step. “It’s a returning to the world the gifts it has given us…What was initiated by Play, practiced in Experimentation, and focused through Mastery is returned by Sacrifice.”
Brant sees teaching as a sign of sacrifice, which embodies characteristics of the other three steps. “It’s spontaneous and playful, it’s willing to experiment and suffer failure and celebrate success…, and it’s masterful in its conception and execution.”
What’s been laid out here is the Cycle of the Individual. But through sacrifice, a community is built. It’s the Cycle of the Community that comes next…