“Manifest being” is a thought which works for me as a kind of union between mysticism – the quest for ecstatic union with the hidden essence of the Divine – and phenomenology, a philosophy that reduces human experience to our awareness of the phenomena of being.
I believe God has two aspects: a part that is perfectly hidden and a part that is universally manifest. Neither is God alone. His essence depends upon His manifestation to be known as “God”, while His manifestation depends upon His essence to exist at all. Both of these taken together constitute a basis for referral and relationship, but either taken apart would have no meaning for us.
Consider a phone call from a dear friend. The moment she calls it lifts my heart and I feel flooded with happiness. I may have been waiting all day for that call. When it comes, it transforms me from a being bereft to one who is full. However, what is happening? My phone is just a composition of plastic and metal, and the voice I hear is a modulation of air pressure using magnets and a vibrating cone. That electronic voice relates to hers in a way, but she herself is nowhere to be found in the physical ingredients of the conversation.
And yet if someone asks me, “Is that so-and-so you’re talking to?”, I would answer, “Yes, it’s she”, and the answer would be perfectly reasonable. She’s not there, and yet she is there. The phone has become a medium to express contact with someone who is actually far removed from me.
Likewise my own voice, face, and behavior express to my friends a soul that even I cannot point to. Though I’ve been many people since birth – infant, child, teenager, adult – my family and I both feel them to be instances of one person. A “Johnness” hides behind all of these many forms, yet the forms are the only way to know Johnness. The visible is a means of communion with the invisible.
Further, the invisible cannot be reached directly. Without a phone, I can’t converse with a friend who is hundreds of miles away; without my outward form, I would be no more accessible to others than those spirits who have passed beyond the pale. The medium and the message are so inextricably linked that although the mind can separate them, the heart does not. My friends who look at my body genuinely think they are seeing me. In fact, my body is as much of me as they’ve ever known, so its shape stands for “me” in their thoughts and memories. When they pray for me they might mention my name, or recall my face, but neither of these is related to me except as a form of expression. And in the end if I stand in the form of my body and ask, “Am I not me?”, they would all affirm it. The medium is, in the sense of its relationship rather than its being, coequal with the message.
The same holds true with the phone. We believe we are talking with a person on the other end when in fact we’re talking to a phone. The identification of caller and phone happens subconsciously, to the point that we transcend the physicality of the medium and imagine ourselves communing as if directly with the person on the other end. The phone in this case is a manifest being, a collection of phenomena, yet this does not inhibit transcendence toward what the phenomena represent. It is so natural an action that we needn’t think of it for it to happen.
These examples imply a deeper question: What about phenomenal reality itself? Is it the medium for an ultimate Message? Is it, with all of its changes and plurality, the manifest being of a hidden essence so great, it requires such plenitude just to give us a taste of its manifold possibilities? If this is so, then life itself, and living it, is like being in a constant conference call with the Divine – except that our own being is both receiver and speaker. And it is because the connection is so intimate and universal that we often miss entirely that any message is being conveyed at all.
Many of the people whom I speak with about “God” refer exclusively to His hidden being, or the aspect of Divinity forever removed from human experience. Though as I speak with the them my own soul is removed from direct experience! They sit and talk with me, having a relationship with this hidden being of my soul, at the same time as they imagine God utterly beyond contact. Perhaps they are conversing with Him even then, as they are with me, but the subtlety of the connection clouds the matter. They hold the “phone” while telling me that the Caller is infinitely far away, yet fail to put the receiver to their face and realize that His voice is as close as their own ear.
“Manifest being” means that everything I see is God, without its being God per se. A photograph of a friend is that friend, without its being them per se. The concept of “is”, while perfectly true in the dynamic sense of providing relationship, is false in the static sense of identicality of being.
If everything is God, then everything is a message, a token; but even more than that: just as my heart collapses medium and message into one experience with regard to a phone or a person’s character, so this same collapse, or unification, should be possible in how I experience the world. The tendency to separate Messenger from Message with respect to God – and then to focus only on His hidden aspect, believing Him forever distant from the experiences of everyday life – seems an artefact of social upbringing.
The idea that nearness and communion are immediately accessible at all times is so confounded in the mystical literature, no wonder we doubt such a basic fact of our perfective reality. It is this doubt which has created the feeling of perpetual distance, because we have been looking at the answer all along, right before our eyes, but we keep hearing the refrain, “No, that’s not it, keep looking.” And if we keep looking for what we already have, not believing we have it, there will never be an end to that search.