Reflections on The Path – Part 11

– a fleeting brush with another reality
-a thread through the labyrinth
-but it’s not just my beliefs about the big questions that are so changeable
-when do I exist?

But how can my beliefs about such fundamental things vary so much? It’s almost embarrassing to be so lacking in “seriousness”. Am I really like a leaf blowing every which way in the wind? Please don’t feel I’m presuming to speak for you, or anyone else. Perhaps you are certain and unwavering in your convictions. Congratulations, but I am simply describing my own experience in these matters as truthfully as I can. Worse, when I’m being honest, I must admit that the vacillating nature of my beliefs about this fundamental problem is not the only thing in me that is far from constant, or even coherent. 

Here’s a huge example: occasionally as I go about my normal activities I suddenly and unexpectedly become aware of myself here and now. “What? Me here? How?” It is extraordinary! Everything is like it is always, but everything is different… then I become overly focused on myself, or I stub my toe, or realize I’m hungry, or I remember the tasks still waiting to be done, whatever, and once again I’m lost in the stream of my daydreams and internal chatter in the middle of the unfolding events of my daily life. Like my beliefs, I myself seem to come and go. I may eventually discover that I don’t notice that “I’ve vanished” until the next time I reappear. How could I? If I noticed I’d still be there.

Paradoxically, that deepening and growing self-awareness means I more frequently realize that most of the time “I don’t exist”, “I’m not usually here”, “no one’s at home”. What’s normal is that I’m very far from my center, lost inside my daydreams, or sucked totally into the unfolding of events. My awareness is like a dull night-light rather than a laser beam, or even a flashlight!  

And there are other moments that seem closely related to those sudden experiences of my own existence (and necessarily of my apparently much more frequent non-existence). In The Inner Look Silo gives us a few examples in the chapter Intimations of Meaning. These include such weird experiences as being shaken by an immense joy, or overwhelmed by feeling of total comprehension, or an ecstatic connection to everything.

In those moments of unexpected inspiration, assuming I have reached a point where I am able to recognize and remember such states, my memory may tell me, the whole thing lasted only a moment, however long or short somehow, I woke up! And clearly this is not just a kind of intellectual awakening. My emotions also woke up and joyfully embraced that new reality which, unbidden and unexpectedly, I felt part of… Of course, when I recall them (if recall them) I am unable to remember exactly what it was that happened, what I felt, or why it seemed so important. 

Everyone has had some such experiences though perhaps only very occasionally and usually for very brief moment. You might be surprised to consider that not everyone welcomes such “flashes”. Some people are ashamed that they are “weird” or “unwell”. More simply ignore these eruptions or perhaps think of them as meaningless “brain farts”. For most people (most of the time) their vision of reality, what they’ve been taught to see and to value, leaves no place for what feel like encounters with another reality, and so that little moment of inspiration immediately trickles away… “Oh wow, what was that… sure is a beautiful day… what’s for lunch?”

Very few people take those fleeting states as clues to how they might live. Most don’t dedicate themselves to finding where those feelings come from, or why they come at all. But over time it can happen that one starts to value those moments, to feel that they whisper of a deeper meaning, and perhaps even to find that they leave a kind of echo, a sort of residue in one’s daily life. 

I’m sure that most of my friends reading this text will have discovered that while such moments can be pursued, like a wary, wild animal, they flee when they are approached. Rather than capturing them, one needs to discover the conditions that are favorable to them. What conditions make these types of phenomena more likely to occur? What conditions seem to keep them away? 

One might observe for example, that grasping, and aggressively pursuing ends (rather than doing everything as an end in itself) drives them away. Even where the ends being pursued are these interesting phenomena themselves. Even simply trying to hold on to such experiences seems to drive them away; just as does focusing on yourself. 

On the other hand: letting go, relaxing deeply, focusing on the wellbeing of others, lowering the noise in your head, simply enjoying what you are doing, the gentle effort to be aware of the world around you but not lost in it, these are among the things that create conditions that seem to effortlessly attract that elusive quarry. No wonder some speak of the path of the open hand. It’s a weird way to talk but is no less true for that. 

If we were going to sum up, we could say that these experiences are characterized by certain feelings. When I try to be more precise about that I find myself focusing on the profound internal peace that I feel extending to the world around me; a sense of being at ease with myself and connected to others; a powerful joy which is connected to the endless horizon that opens up; a sense of vitality of being energized by, and also part of a force which moves me and all beings. So, if these experiences are rooted fundamentally in registers of peace, force and joy, then no surprise that violence and suffering are their negation. And so, I come to understand that the direction leading off of the roundabout of nonmeaning and suffering requires moving away from the endless internal war with myself (contradiction) and toward a deep internal agreement between what I think, what I feel and what I do (unity, cohesion). 

Greater lucidity, developing a center of gravity that is neither lost in the “external” nor the “internal”; a growing connection to others and the world; the feeling of a deepening connection to this vital force. All of these become the road signs that guide my path. It might seem like a long list of things to keep track of! Except that these seemingly disparate goals are all, if not different manifestations of one same phenomena, fundamentally tied to increasing internal unity and overcoming contradiction.

So, at last we return to the idea of bringing into “agreement what you think with what you feel and what you do. All must advance toward coherence, toward unity.” But how does that relate to what I believe about death?