Friday, November 30, 2007

Achieving Communion with the Divine

All my life, I have been conscious of a need to attain some sort of nearness to the Divine Presence. Even as a young child, I loved churches but always preferred to be alone in a church when the lights had been dimmed and the crowds had departed. To me, it was in silence rather than noise and in stillness rather than motion that the Divine could be encountered, even if it were no more than the brush of an unseen feather or the shadow of a shadow.

When I first visited the virtual reality called Second Life, I immediately perceived a powerful means by which concentrated meditation could be achieved. To me, that promised nearness to the Divine, if only one could create the right mood.

Art of every kind always has been utilised by religion to bring people closer to the Divine. There is some evidence that even in neolithic times, cave paintings were part of an interactive religious experience by which individuals could blur the lines between ordinary and extraordinary consciousness and being.

Second Life has all the elements required to create a potent vision through which the soul can move closer to another state of being. Visual components are merely one of the tools by which the experience is achieved and it is not only through landscapes and objects but through the avatar as well that the drama is enacted.

These are photographs of an avatar at prayer. The chapel was created by Wolves Bain, one of my favourite builders in Second Life. It is a private chapel and I therefore am able to add any objects that I desire to create the mood that I seek. I placed an evergreen in one corner because the Christmas season is upon us. The kneeling bench or prie-dieu always has appealed to me. It is intensely personal, a solitary mode of worship. Whenever I visited huge cathedrals, I have been drawn ultimately to the small side chapels, although the grandeur of the main church never fails to impress me.

Candles possess a very unique power that speaks to many different senses. Visually, the flickering of live flames creates life in inanimate objects by giving the illusion of movement in the interplay of shadow and light. Fire is warmth as well as light, and the many tiny tongues of flame in a votive stand are a message of warmth and life. If the lights in the church are dimmed, the flames of votive candles become even more significant.

It is well-known that the flame of a candle provides an excellent focus for meditation. Candles always have been a part of religion and magic. The scent of beeswax and incense are conducive to a spiritual experience, especially when they are used again and again in ritual.

The final component of any experience is sound. Sound is very much a part of Second Life. Where the chapel stands, 'environmental sounds' are part of the land. During the day, songbirds and insects can be heard. In the hours of darkness, owls and the howling of a wolf provide a nocturnal symphony with night insects. Beyond this, however, the harp magically plays Celtic tunes. It seemed only appropriate to place a stained glass depiction of St. Cecilia, patroness of music on the wall near the harp.

It may be a virtual reality, but when my avatar kneels at the prie-dieu, I can pray and meditate as effectively in Second Life as anywhere in this world. In fact, in some ways, the experience is so detailed and perfect as to allow me to surrender completely to it and briefly to divorce myself from all the mundane concerns that plague me in this world.

Another element is added by taking a photograph of the moment. It allows me to create a memory to which I can return at any time, even when I cannot return 'bodily' to Second life.

I always wished that I could paint, but I believe I lack the determination and talent ever to become a great artist. My imagination creates very powerful images, however, and I would like to have the power to manifest them somehow in some form. Second Life gives an individual a means by which visions can be made concrete.

A prominent Second Life builder uses his abilities in Second Life to attempt to recreate memories of past lives. When he told me this, I instantly recognised the incredible potential that exists here to allow individuals to reclaim lost or unfinished visions and memories.

Total immersion in an experience is very easy in a virtual reality like Second Life, provided one makes the effort to create the necessary elements that will bring the individual to the moment where illusion is transformed to reality. Most of our lives exist in the mind in any case. Whatever we see or do in our lives is filtered through our perception and ultimately given a home in our minds.

Traumatic dreams or nightmares often are as significant and influential to us as actual events and experiences. Fear is an emotion and yet fear can influence our actions and thoughts far more than any single act. This being the case, is there any reason why we should not shape our own realities through virtual experiences?

Virtual reality is an incredible resource for the human mind and spirit. We barely have scratched the surface yet. Painters once created frescoes along every wall in a building to create a virtual experience for those who entered. One almost can believe that the frescoes are real and yet, how much more real is a truly interactive art form like Second Life?

Television and film went one step beyond written narrative, and video games introduced us to interactive film. In Second Life, however, we can create our own landscapes and our own plots. It is possible therefore to be whatever one wishes to be and to transform vision into reality. Even if it cannot be translated directly into our 'First Life', it must have an effect on the psyche. It surely is possible to utilise this incredibly potent tool to improve our emotional and spiritual welfare through such aids as relaxation, meditation and contemplation. If that is possible, then one should be able ultimately to reach a higher state of being through virtual reality, if one only has the determination to do so.

In any case, it is worth an attempt.

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