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Adam and Eve, the Serpent and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Image: Wikicommons

The skewed identity and its over-involvement in the manifest world opens up the meaning of one of the most seminal texts in the western religious tradition, namely the account of the fall of man found in the opening chapters of Genesis.

One way or another the Genesis story, with its potent symbolism of Adam and Eve, garden, tree of life, river, serpent and forbidden fruit, has formed the nucleus of a thick tangle of religious and moral belief systems. The Book of Genesis is, after all, the first book of the Bible and therefore seminal to both 5000 years of Judaism, 2000 years of Christianity and 1500 years of Islam (or also 5000 years, depending on how one interprets the origins of the Muslim religion). And, because of this, it can be difficult to view the story except through the lens of either those belief systems and traditions — or our reaction to them. But if we look at this story with fresh eyes and peel off all those layerings of interpretation what we find underneath is an original masterpiece. A remarkable coded message not so much about events in the long distant past, but about how we think and create our worlds in the present.

For here in this ancient story we find the same insight into the dual nature of our field of conscious awareness, only now instead of the careful and evolved vocabulary of consciousness from the Tibetan and Indian languages (much of it developed out of the original Sanskrit) the meaning is explored through dramatic narrative and vivid symbols. And while the essential insight into consciousness is the same, the intense symbolism of this story adds features that develop the meaning further.

Adam and Eve were placed in a garden planted ‘eastward in Eden’ to ‘dress it and to keep it’. They were the stewards of the garden, but something goes awry in their experience — they eat fruit from a forbidden tree — and the garden is lost to them. This action and its result is known as the ‘Fall’. The word ‘fall’ does not actually occur in the Genesis text but comes from the apocryphal second book of Esdras: ‘O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants..’ Here is the implication that the fall of Adam and Eve impacted not only themselves and their environment, but all their ‘descendants’ — the succeeding generations.

The condition of the fall, the loss of paradise, is evoking the same experience Lama Govinda describes of being ‘bound to the world of the senses’. The same problem that Ken Wilber terms ‘flatland’. In other words, being over-involved in or ‘negative’ to the outer world so that we lose the sense of connection to the inner world because we are repelled from it:

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disconnect from inner means we ‘fall’ into outer

In the Genesis symbolism, we ‘fall’ into that outer world. This means that we also ‘fall’ into a lesser sense of identity, losing the sense of the deeper dimension and flow which brings that outer world alive.

Adam and Eve are driven out of the garden, and a flaming sword is placed at the eastern end of it. The flaming sword represents the positive, radiant current that they are now repelled from because two positives repel one another. This means that the garden is still somewhere about, but is no longer being experienced. In other words, the garden or paradise state simply represents the experience of being in the flow, or ‘liberated from’ over- dependence on ‘the world of the senses’.

The Genesis text describes the ‘garden’ as ‘planted eastward in Eden’. ‘Eastward’ means that which comes first, the place where the sun rises, the energy matrix that precedes physical form. Eden symbolizes earth, planet earth, the Cotswolds, our worlds — whatever they are. But the garden that is planted ‘eastward in Eden’ is the experience of Eden — the world — when we are hooked up to the flow. “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden.” The river of life, the flow of higher order energy that brings the world alive. This garden hasn’t actually gone anywhere, but it needs our consciousness to reveal it. This is how we ‘dress and keep the garden’ — by remaining polarized in the flow that makes our worlds flourish.

The events that comprise the story of the fall are found in chapters two and three of Genesis. In chapter two, Adam is created, formed ‘of the dust of the ground’. And a little later on, the animals and birds are also created: ‘Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air’, and then brought to Adam to be named: ‘and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.’ Soon after Adam names the animals, Eve is formed out of his own body: ‘.. and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, ..’ Adam and Eve are symbols, more than they are ‘characters’, and while they can be interpreted as meaning man and woman, they also symbolize masculine and feminine as generic energies. In the context of consciousness they can be interpreted as meaning the mind and the heart — the intellect that ‘names’ things, labels, sorts, focusses on what is manifest; and the feeling nature, based in body and heart (the ‘rib’ over the heart), that connects directly with the transcendent. And when we correlate mind and heart with masculine and feminine, we create a new language with which to describe and understand the dual nature of consciousness. Instead of ‘intuitive mind’ (‘manas’) and ‘intellectual mind’ ( ‘mano-vijnana’) we can say more simply the feminine — intuitive — aspect of ‘heart’ and the masculine — intellectual — aspect of ‘mind’. And therefore we can describe the field of conscious awareness as formed by the twin poles or centers of heart and mind:

The intuitive nature of the heart or feeling perceptions are ‘closer’ to the inner, transcendent realm; while the intellectual nature of the mind is ‘closer’ to the outer, manifest realm:

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This symbolism expresses the Buddhist’s concept of ‘intuitive mind’ that is a balanced state between two poles of heart and mind, able to draw on both the transcendent and the manifest. It also elucidates the Heartmath Institute’s findings that the higher order holographic blueprints form a ‘flow of information’ which we experience as ‘intuition’. Intuitive or emotional intelligence is the capacity that can ‘read out’ this flow of information, and in this way often sense things before they happen. The intellectual quality that I am now calling simply ‘mind’ is more to do with observation and analysis of what has already happened or manifested.

Adam and Eve functioning together in relationship symbolize the dual function of the field of conscious awareness. Like the two poles of a magnet, mind and heart express themselves as complementary aspects of the same field. And when they are in relationship in this way, the mind dominantly whizzing about looking at the manifest world, having a million thoughts and ideas a second; and the heart dominantly referencing the flow of feeling perception from the transcendent realm, all goes well. It is a creative and harmonious relationship. But it turns ‘dysfunctional’ if the intellectual aspect of mind starts to take over, and the feeling perception of the higher order flow becomes diminished.

The subtle beginnings of this kind of ‘dysfunctional behaviour’ in our consciousness is what is being depicted in that infamous conversation between Eve and the serpent, when the serpent successfully ‘tempts’ Eve into eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve have been told by the Lord God that they can eat fruit from all the trees in the garden except this one:

‘for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ Genesis 2:17

This does not mean ‘in the instant you eat this fruit you will drop dead.’ ‘In the day’ means a cycle of outworking, a walk through the Cotswolds, a decade, a lifetime. And ‘die’ means the opposite of ‘live’ — not doing so well, not feeling generative or confident. Ailing — the experience of the diminishment of life as opposed to the increase of life.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil grows in the center of the garden. But so does the tree of life:

“the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ Genesis 2.9

Both trees grow in the ‘midst of the garden’. In fact, they are the same tree, or two different aspects of the same process. One tree is of the transcendent dimension, the other is of the manifest; one is in the realm of cause, the other in the realm of effects. But both are essential aspects of the same dynamic. This is indicated a little further on in the Genesis text when Eve describes only one tree: ‘the tree which is in the midst of the garden’. The repetition of the phrase ‘in the midst of the garden’ emphasizes the central importance of this understanding.

Why should eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil cause the diminishment of life? Because we are only taking into account one aspect of the tree. We are starting to became oriented in the outer manifest level, in the realm of effects. What is being described is once again that same imbalance in consciousness whereby the outer realm becomes dominant at the expense of the inner. And the more involved in the outer we become, often the more frenetic we grow, and the more awareness of the tree of life recedes.

Despite the warning from the Lord God the serpent is able to talk Eve into eating the forbidden fruit: ‘And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die’, in fact you will become ‘as gods’: ‘ For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ The literal-minded interpretation of this passage is that God didn’t want us to get as smart as him, but to keep us in a state of naive subservience. Or something along those lines. But reading this as a parable about consciousness, the phrase ‘as god’ carries echoes of the Buddhist analysis of skewed identity when we mistake our partial self for the whole self, or, in Bohm’s words, when we see ourselves as ‘the universal ‘I am’ beyond all limits of time, space and conditions.’ The serpent is telling Eve that this is how she is supposed to operate.

The serpent is described as ‘more subtil than any beast of the field’. The word ‘subtle’ is defined as ‘discerning or keenly perceptive’. Author John Anthony West, in his book ‘Serpent in the Sky’ explains that in ancient Egypt the symbol of the winged or flying serpent represents: ‘that faculty by which man discriminates’. The serpent is also a symbol of duality, having a forked tongue: ‘The serpent, seemingly a unity, is dual in expression’. What is this starting to sound like? The dual nature of ‘manas’ or ‘intuitive mind’. The overlapping field of conscious awareness that can operate in both ‘worlds’ or dimensions:

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When consciousness can move freely between both worlds of the transcendent and the manifest, it is the ‘winged serpent’. But when it becomes ‘defiled mind’ (‘klista manas’) it loses its wings!:

‘upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life’ Genesis 3.14

Awareness ‘falls’ into only one level or dimension — the ‘dust’, the earth, the manifest, and suffers a corresponding shift in identity.

Once ‘intuitive mind’ is lost, and ‘defiled mind’ emerges, the emotional wisdom can become overridden or confused. Eve starts to listen to the serpent of inflated identity. And then, once convinced, she gives the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to Adam — so ‘intellectual mind’ goes along with the show as well. And in this way the false self — the serpent — presides over a heart and mind — Eve and Adam — that no longer sense the transcendent realm.

The winged serpent who falls upon its belly recalls the figure of Lucifer who defies God and falls from heaven, turning into Satan:

‘How are thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!’ Isaiah 14:12–14

This fall was said to be due to arrogance, the sense that this inflated sense of self, with its extraordinary faculty of perception, could rival the understanding of the whole that created it:

‘For thou has said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…..I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.’ Isaiah 14:12–14

Satan means adversary, the devil and his cloven hooves, the sense of treachery and duplicity. But Lucifer means ‘light-bearer’, and was a Roman name for the morning star (the planet Venus) that heralds the sunrise. And so it symbolizes the mind as light bearer, as the means of bringing illumination, conscious understanding into our lives and the lives of others. Lucifer or Satan, the morning star or the serpent crawling on its belly in the dust — these are images that depict graphically the difference between ‘intuitive mind’ and ‘defiled mind’.

But they also depict graphically two very different kinds of identity. In other words the fall in perception is also a fall in identity. We’ve all experienced the mind as the light bearer, as the conduit to what Emerson thought of as the ‘source of highest knowledge’. Sometimes, if we’ve remembered to trust that ‘flash of insight’, we’ve known it in ourselves. This was happening to me when I was walking the Cotswolds. I’ve also known it in others, those who have been a source of inspiration. In some of the famous speeches of great leaders of the past, like Churchill and Martin Luther King, but also in lesser known figures who have played the role of spiritual mentor to me. Their words, whether written or spoken, move like a life-bringing flow through my consciousness and world. There is content, insight, context — but it is something more than this that quickens me, something upstream from what they are saying. It is the place from where they are speaking that carries the potency, the source of the flow of meaning. A feel, or tonal resonance that pertains not to the content of their words but to a quality of being. We could call this a transcendent quality and yet it is very tangible and grounded and even familiar to us. In fact it is so electrifying precisely because it amplifies that same quality in ourselves. This quality of being is the sun that the light of the mind is heralding. Lucifer, the light-bearer, bears witness to the higher order of energy and intelligence which is the core identity.

It is this quality in leadership that is trustworthy — worthy of trust — because tonally it is ‘true’. That is to say, it is aligned with the transcendent intelligence, with the flow, and is beneficent, generative, seeking the greater good. It is sourcing a more integrated vision, and it is calling that out in others.

What is striking about the image of the winged serpent, the mind that can move easily between both dimensions, is that its nature is not then dual in the sense of duplicitous, double-minded, saying one thing, meaning another, but dual in the sense of knowing both worlds and weaving them together.

The story emphasizes that both inner and outer worlds, both aspects of the tree, are valuable. In other words the ability to let vision and possibility take shape out of the living of life, to learn from but not be limited by our experiences so that out of the interaction between vision and experience we evolve practical and creative ways forward.

This style of leadership is creatively ‘dual’ but not ‘polarized’ — in ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’, this view but not that view. It doesn’t see in ‘black and white’, it doesn’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil only, in fact it produces fruit from the tree of life. ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ — that is how you can tell the quality of their leadership. What effects do those ‘fruits’ have? Are they generative in their turn — ‘seed-bearing fruit’? Do they lead to other opportunities and expansion? Do they have lasting value?

The fall can be understood then as an entrenched habit of identity in which we experience a kind of profound dislocation of self. Instead of ‘hearing’ ourselves in stereo, we have been compressed into a mono, one-dimensional experience. Even though that flow is still moving, and is right inside us, we are not in alignment with it. We can no long access its easy joyous power. And so we seek compensation from ‘out there’. Here is the beginning of that ‘unbridled greed’! But the problem is, we are out of step with the higher, generative order of our own inner potential and therefore the actions we take lack the coherence and inherent ‘fruitfulness’ that would form out of that potential. We lose the sense of the living inner pattern, of what really fits in the moment. And instead we tend to function on the basis of pre-recorded tapes, memories and habitual behaviors and patterns of reaction. And this syndrome, as the Genesis symbolism is not hesitant to point out, brings about a systemic ‘fall’ in the wider world.

Written by

British/American poet and writer who draws on archetype to explore our identity. Author ‘Coherent Self, Coherent World.’

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