On Being the Hero of Your Own Story

“Everybody has to be the hero of one story: his own,” wrote P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, in the first issue of Parabola.  I just ran across a version of this quote in the little book The World is Made of Stories by the contemporary Buddhist teacher David Loy.   In Buddism, the underlying story we tell (in constantly updated versions) is the story of the self.  In Buddhism the self is experienced as not being completely separate from the world around us since it depends for its self sense on our perceptions, feelings, and consciousness of itself and the world it inhabits through myriad worldly features (hearing takes physical ears, etc.)  “Different stories have different consequences,” writes Loy.  We take actions (including thoughts) based on the way our feelings pull us this way and that.  Actions become habits, and habits become character–and finally destiny.  This is karma.  As David Loy writes:  “Karma is not something the self has but what the sense of self becomes, when we play our roles within stories perceived as real. As those roles become habitual, mental tendencies congeal and we bind ourselves without a rope.”

As we get older, even those of us who like to meditate or pray or be alone in nature or otherwise find ways to be still, we learn there is no end to this storytelling tendency.  It is an intrinsic to being alive as breathing.  There are moments when it stops, when we can stand still and be astonished or so touched a great stillness comes over us.  But before too long the narrative resumes.   We couldn’t function or relate to one another if it didn’t.  Still, what might be possible if we related to our stories in a new way?  What if we consciously looked at or listened to the stories we tell ourselves as if we were listening to a fairy tale or myth?   What might me learn about where we (or something in us) thinks we’re going and where we have been?

P.L. Travers essay was published in the first issue of Parabola in the winter of 1976.   The whole issue was dedicated to the Hero’s Quest–since that is the template of a search for meaning, even for Buddha who left a palace to strike out for the unknown.   Travers admitted that taking yourself as a hero did seem, well, awesome in every sense:  “All those dragons–give them whatever name you like; those journeys to our own dark underworld, all those imprisoned princesses to be rescued.  One would shrink from such an obligation if the alternative was not also so awesome.  Not to be the hero of one’s own story–could one agree to that? ”   In upcoming months, I’m going to be writing and even leading some writing workshops on just this subject.

42 thoughts on “On Being the Hero of Your Own Story

  1. Thinking of our options in this way is useful. It suggests that we don’t “have to” be the hero of another person’s story, just our own. I was born with my unique situation and you were born with yours. What do you do with yours and I with mine? It’s not like we’re competing to be the best hero of all since there is no standard of heroism. It is all based in each of our unique stories. At the end of a life, has the person cleared away the debris they were born with or have they accumulated more of it? Heroes need not be famous or highly accomplished by any objective measure. It is our task to clear the unique personal debris that goes with our particular story. Even though that story may not be “real”, it is what we get to work with, the hand we are dealt. We are not all born into royalty having to leave the palace to find more about the truth. Some are born into squalor or other kinds of tragedy and can find wisdom via these paths, much as the Buddha gained wisdom through his path. And, while we’re clearing the debris, it is useful to remember that even the debris is not real, though clearing it can help us open up the path.

    Understanding it this way is useful in seeing why psychotherapy can be helpful as long as one accepts the paradox: don’t take the story too seriously on the one hand, and take it very seriously, on the other. Studying the dharma enables me to continue to see the value in my work as a psychologist while also accepting that the theories underpinning it will always be limited.

    1. Susan said: “And, while we’re clearing the debris, it is useful to remember that even the debris is not real, though clearing it can help us open up the path.”

      Seems right to me. But the big obstacle is in coming to the experience, in verifying that the debris is not real, but I think it would be more accurate to say the debris is relatively unreal. That is, the substance of which my ordinary thought, emotion, imagination are made is of rather slow dense matter and its existence is uncertain after the death of the physical body. It does have some reality because it is energy and matter but there are finer energies available to a human and these have a life that can endure even after the death of the physical body.

      Then, of course, the question of how to clear the debris must be faced and not assumed that we know. Only a direct attention on how I am, how I manifest can bring the transformation, the clearing of debris, about which we are exchanging. It is not “I” in any of my selves or characters that will or can clear the debris. A higher force, another energy, another attention must be invited, allowed to work on me.

    2. I think this is a wise and balanced approach, Susan. We are all picking our way along our own paths in a sense. And it can be very helpful to discover our own stories. T

  2. I like how you summed this up Tracy.

    “In Buddism, the underlying story we tell (in constantly updated versions) is the story of the self. In Buddhism the self is experienced as not being completely separate from the world around us since it depends for its self sense on our perceptions, feelings, and consciousness of itself and the world it inhabits through myriad worldly features (hearing takes physical ears, etc.)”

    It is another way of saying that the self or our sense of self is constantly changing, based upon the relationship that sorround us all and that make up or lives. I would not be the same person that I am, had I never read Parabola for instance, or even your blog. We really are that interconnected with one another, even though we have never met.

    “Bone of my bone, Flesh of my flesh.”

    1. Or to quote Fritz Perls (Gestalt Therapy) …

      “Learning is the discovery that something is possible.”

      “To mature means to take responsibility for your life, to be on your own. Psychoanalysis fosters the infantile state by considering that the past is responsible for the illness.”

  3. Tracy said, “But before too long the narrative resumes. We couldn’t function or relate to one another if it didn’t.”

    Not true. The only real, not mechanical, not asleep, not in dream way of relating to another is when I am quiet enough for another attention to appear and it is then possible to have a real relation with another person or animal or tree for that matter. When the narrative stops, becomes quiet, and the narrative includes not just ordinary word thought but emotions and physical postures as well, then it is possible to hear another, to feel another, to think of another. The functions become what they were meant to be and not mindless robots with whack software installed.

  4. Art, I may be wrong but I believe Tracy is referring to how we are now. Gurdjieff explained to Ouspensky about how ignorant we are of our inner lies.

    Jeanne de Salzmann explained the same in a very direct fashion.


    You will see that in life you receive exactly what you give. Your life is the mirror of what you are. It is in your image. You are passive, blind, demanding. You take all, you accept all, without feeling any obligation. Your attitude toward the world and toward life is the attitude of one who has the right to make demands and to take, who has no need to pay or to earn. You believe that all things are your due, simply because it is you! All your blindness is there! None of this strikes your attention. And yet this is what keeps one world separate from another world.

    You have no measure with which to measure yourselves. You live exclusively according to “I like” or “I don’t like,” you have no appreciation except for yourself. You recognize nothing above you—theoretically, logically, perhaps, but actually no. That is why you are demanding and continue to believe that everything is cheap and that you have enough in your pocket to buy everything you like. You recognize nothing above you, either outside yourself or inside. That is why, I repeat, you have no measure and live passively according to your likes and dislikes…………

    It seems that before being capable of sustaining truth, we have to witness our lies that maintain our image and our relationships between people from a higher more conscious perspective.

    1. Tracy said, “But before too long the narrative resumes. We couldn’t function or relate to one another if it didn’t.”

      Notice the second sentence which states that we couldn’t function or relate to one another without the narration.

      I stand by what I said. Would you read it again please. I am not disagreeing at all with what Madame says. Actually she is also saying that in order to really relate to all of our life including other people, animals our body, our emotions, our thought the narration that goes on continuously must stop. As long as the narration is gobbling up all the energy and blocking out every very needed fine impression we can have no real relations. We and our relations will remain mechanical.

  5. I agree with Nick and with Madame. But I also think that watching/experiencing the way the mind and heart work we can begin to discover more and more subtle layers of narration at play–including the story of waking up.

  6. Tracy (and others),

    Thank you so much for this conversation. I was just lying in bed this morning thinking, “Does this ever stop, this endless narration of my experience, concerns, justifications, tender condolences, noting everything, missing more, constant mediation of the mind that includes this very thought, this very wondering about itself?” I expect the answer won’t come with words.

    Ahhh…to discern and honor the demands of reflection and the relation that is possible when it exhausts itself.

    All I know is that good company is a delight.


    1. Jasmine,

      I think we are narratives, that is our sense of self. The narrative is fluid and dynamic as are we. Thus, I think it dost never stop…


  7. Hi Tracy

    You’ve reminded me of a personal concern on my part that is difficult to justify because of the limitations of language. I call it my battle against loveliness.

    Gurdjieff referred to the evil god of self calming and the power of imagination. Of course Simone lived a life in the effort to be free of it and our attraction to imagination. I have gratitude and admiration for their efforts to be genuine rather than being caught up in “loveliness” where everything becomes “just wonderful.”

    When I read the word “hero” used in this way, my red light “loveliness” warning went off. Now I know it is not intended since you are aware of these ideas. I can always be exaggerating because of limitations of language However, some writers seem to be able to avoid this “lovely” connotation for me. Gurdjieff did.

    When I met Stephanie Strickland at the American Weil Society colloquy, she told me that when she first read Simone, she was hooked. Stephanie is a gifted writer. Somehow Simone gave something pure. From her web site


    People like Madame and Simone write in a way that doesn’t arouse the “loveliness” warning. It seems that they write from their being rather from just their head which has a different effect on me..

    As a writer, have you considered how a writer writes from a different, more genuine place in themselves? How is it done and is it even possible before having become more open to it? I’m a lousy writer so I’m not being critical but it seems that there is a communication going on beneath the literal meaning that certain people become capable of. I guess it is also what distinguishes some objective qualities of art.

    As an aside, Stephanie lives in Manhattan. Let me know your workshop schedule and I’ll invite Stephanie to come down with me and meet you. It is good for gifted people to know each other.

    1. Hi Nick:

      Thank you for all your comments. I understand what you mean about loveliness. I reflect on it all the time. For me, it has to do with authenticity, for lack of a better word. I never heard Gurdjieff speak, but I did hear Madame de Salzmann. The way she spoke, and the way she wrote, one had the impression that she meant exactly what she said.

  8. Hi Jasmine

    Ahhh…to discern and honor the demands of reflection and the relation that is possible when it exhausts itself.

    Here is one of these disarming short Simone Weil excerpts that reveal something important and also our distance from it. It requires letting go from a well protected place in ourselves I felt a jolt when I first read it. From “Gravity and Grace”

    “Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it We must continually suspend the work of the imagination in filling the void within ourselves.”
    “In no matter what circumstances, if the imagination is stopped from pouring itself out, we have a void (the poor in spirit). In no matter what circumstances… imagination can fill the void. This is why the average human beings can become prisoners, slaves, prostitutes, and pass thru no matter what suffering without being purified.”

  9. Nick!

    Thank you.

    I think this is lovely:) “Grace fills empty spaces”

    She goes on to say “if the imagination is stopped from pouring itself out”, and how is the imagination to be stopped?

    I suspect many of us wrestle hard with our imagination (and everything else–or is it all the imagination?) to stop it, change it, release it, re-imagine it, so as to let the grace fill the void. Is not the hero’s journey this very thing?

    Maybe we can’t stop our imaginations, but maybe if we are lucky we are awake when the void rushes in…


  10. Is this discussion something like: “Be still and know that I am God……… Be still and know that I am…….. Be still and know…………..Be still…. …Be.”?????
    As for me, I have a long way to go…or “be”…in that sense.
    I am really enjoying all the comments.
    Thank you, all!

  11. Hi Jasmine

    This isn’t something that can be explained in a post since it has to do with this idea of Man asleep. It is the same as Man being in Plato’s Cave, or in the Buddhist parable of the Burning House.

    If true, it means that we are governed by imagination. An awakened human being would be capable of conscious attention. Sleeping Man is not. The loss of conscious attention leads to the dominance of imagination.

    The question then isn’t how to stop imagination from pouring out but rather how to sustain conscious attention. Conscious attention and imagintion are mutually exclusive.

    It doesn’t seem like much since our imagination doesn’t allow us to grasp what sustained conscious attention could lead to.

    Thoreau wrote in “Walden:”

    “The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”

    We cannot really appreciate this. Living in imagination, we are like beings functioning in Plato’s cave. That is why I prefer the value, at least in theory, of the realistic to the lovely.

    “A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.” Simone Weil — Gravity and Grace

    She had the need, courage, and will, to live for the sake of awakening to reality and the experiences it offers, to live towards the direction Thoreau was referring to through the conscious experience of life’s vivid impressions and their initial effect on our scattered collective being. Nothing cutsey pooh here, just an invitation to consciously experience beyond the pleasant that conceals it for the sake of “awakening.”

    It seems for me anyhow that the Hero’s Quest, begins with the realization of my nothingness. Not good for inflating my ego but more realistic. There are many proofs

    “The abdomen is the reason why man does not readily take himself to be a god.” Nietzsche

    No justice. How many insults must a man endure? :)

  12. I see another paradox in attempts to fight against imagination. Though some may think I am deluded, I admit to finding considerable wisdom in imagination. If I listen to it, and play with it, without taking it too seriously, it seems to often provide clues to mysteries. While I see the benefits of knowing when one’s imagination is cluttering the space, I also grow from welcoming it and hearing what it has to tell me. Did the Buddha do this when he listened to his mind and concluded that much of what he was finding was Mara? Before reaching that conclusion, he had to allow in this internal dialog or face his demons.

    It appears that embracing it all, including his imagination, enabled him to kiss goodbye what was not longer useful. This enabled him to put an end to his individual suffering.

    In the broadest sense, most of us only have glimpses of the difference between imagination and reality. What made the Buddha’s story so remarkable is that he was able to sustain awareness of the difference.

    1. Is imagination ‘making images’? On rare occasions I have experienced ‘images’ which are unlike any others I’ve known. They come when I am very quiet, often when I am physically very tired. They happen by themselves, have color and movement and a sensation, almost, of electricity. The least attempt on my part to interfere in any way causes them to instantly vanish. They have a life of their own and are not of my doing.

      I have questioned others over the years about this and only rarely does someone seem to have had similiar experiences.


      1. Artxulan,

        I think of imagination as allowing images, rather than as making them. It is a lot like what happens in dreams. Your description seems similar to what I am saying here. They seem to come from nowhere. Yet, they come from a deep place inside us. That’s why I welcome them like a visitor. I think of them like a compass that is pointing the way.


      2. Art,

        I have had images or visions or whatever you want to call them. They always come when I am alone, usually in quiet reflection or meditation. A few of them have been what I see as responses to prayer or a sought union with God or Christ. Sometimes they just pop into my head at odd times, often I think in response to a deep resonance in myself to things that are going on around me.

        I have talked to my therapist about them and he just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Who knows?” For me, the most important ones are those that seem to arise out of a union with God…sometimes they function as guideposts in the road, sometimes as a manifestation of God’s love for me, sometimes as answer to prayer. Mysterious and illuminating…and always gentle.


      3. Scott, your experience is very similiar to mine. I suspect that your therapist doesn’t understand because he has never experienced them. Over the years I’ve spoken with a number of people and rarely can people understand.

        Is this a special quality/gift that only a few of us receive?

        They are always filled with a beauty like no other. Unfortunately it has been some time since I’ve experienced any of these visions or living images … I really have no word for them.

        I looked for you on Facebook but there are a number of Scott Pitz’s there and I had no way of knowing if you are one of them.

      4. Hi Scott and Art: I had a vision the day after my mother’s funeral. I saw a Viking ship gliding out to sea. The sky was awash in goregeous twilight colors. It was as if I was standing on the shore, watching it go. I was full of sorrow but also profound feelings of love and deep connection. I told some people about it and they told me they thought it was a dream or my imagination. But it was no dream, nor any kind of daydream. It felt as if it had a very deep source. I thought of Jung’s descriptions of ancient collective human race memories. An ancient Viking funeral was being performed in me–or between us.

      5. Art and Tracy, ahhhh, mystical stuff…

        Art, I have had many of these experiences over the last ten years of my life but there are much less frequent these days. I have had Dr. Bonnie Thurston as a teacher (you can find her on Google – a fine Christian writer on prayer, a Marcan scholar and a contemplative) and it is her belief that when we are beginning our spiritual journeys, God calls us with big things that are hard to ignore. As we mature in our faith, there is less need for the big things and more need for denial to draws us in more deeply…the dark night of the soul. And as Mother Theresa experienced, finally you come so close that you can’t sense God anymore for you are in Him (sorry for the male pronoun but God is not an it but neither has God have gender…a conundrum…)

        I suspect there are many of us that have these images and visions but there is not really a safe place to talk about them. Paul himself talks of being transported to the third heaven but he was loathe to speak of his mystical experiences. It is risky. We can only speak of them in humility as a divine grace, a gift from God bestowed upon us through no gift of our own. God comes to each of us in the way that we can perceive him. For the three of us, he has come in visual, tactile, real ways.

        I used to struggle greatly with what to do with these visions, aware of their uniqueness and power but having no desire to be Messianic. Again, Paul says we are all given gifts for the uplifting of others, specifically, for raising up the Body of Christ. I am a Christian so that is my frame, my hermeneutical lens. A friend of mine in a homiletics class tried to tell me that I have a responsibility to tell others of these visions. I think less about them today but I will try to be aware and sense when it is time to pull these out and talk about them. Maybe we should write a book.

        Tracy, that is a powerful image. At times of death and grief, only symbols speak into the depths of those emotions. A chaplain can say nothing to a dying patient but to talk to them out of those deep symbols such as “Lo, tho I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.” There are no words for the passing of your mother but a deep symbol of leaving the shore of life in a timeless ritual. What profound grace comes out of such symbols and imaginings.

        Jung was a deeply spiritual and hopeful man. I have come around to a belief that we exist in a reality, God’s creation, that sits side-by-side with other dimensions where Jesus and others exist, bodily but in different mainifestations. C.S. Lewis (more Christian stuff) talks about the new Creation that already exists and that eventually will transform our reality. Jesus is the first born into this reality, see Paul. This reality will remain all it is but it will become so much more, more full, more blessed, more full of God’s Shalom.

        So, given that sense of multidimensionality, it necessarily follows that it is possible that there can be “inbreakings” into our reality, that God or Jesus can come to us in grace for their purposes and at those times when we need them the most. Tracy, your vision clearly came at the right time. I had a vision six months after my marriage ended and shortly after I lost my job where I was in a profound state of desolation. I called out in grief, “How can I possibly bear this.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow figure sitting in my favorite easy chair. I looked directly at the figure and it was gone. I looked away and it was there in my peripheral vision. What or who was it? I think it was Jesus come to be present with me in my desolation, letting me know that he was with me, no matter what. Words were of no help, but Presence was. Now I know that heaven is right there, just around the corner of our vision…

      6. Hi Scott:

        I have heard that also, that these kind of visions happen at the beginning and that as we go they cease. It’s as if seemingly humble feeling capacities are emphasized, patience (to be with) and faith (there is a Buddhist term for faith that means keeping the heart open in the darkness of the unknown). Mother Theresa’s experience fascinates me, reminding me that Meister Eckhart said (paraphrase) that in the end even God must be left behind. The heart must embrace and give with no visual or conceptual supports at all because God is always other than that. Still, being a an ordinary person not far on the path, the vision thatappeared to me after my mother’s death really touched me. It reminded me that there was a deepand mysterious connection between us and between all people. It reminded me that there are other levels of reality (my daughter is a huge C.S. Lewis fan, even though at the ripe old age of 20 she thinks he can be “priggish”). It reminded me that we have hidden capacities of feeling and vision (hidden by ego and illusion) to glimpse it.

    2. Hi Susan:

      Allowing imagination, images, stories to appear and learning what there is to learn from them–that’s what I was trying to articulate. Excluding less from the field of consciousness, judging less. Welcoming everything that arises as a possible source of guidance…even, say, the need for loveliness (as Nick) said could be investigated.

  13. Dear Nick,

    No insult intended. Only humor. I am with you in your words as best I understand and take them in.

    “The question then isn’t how to stop imagination from pouring out but rather how to sustain conscious attention.” –May I always be reminded and know this.

    I am going to go down to the library in the village and take out “Gravity and Grace” by Simone Weil.

    My heart sinks to my abdomen.

  14. Hi Jasmine

    I knew you were just being humorous which is why I added Nietzsche.

    If you have the recent “God” issue of Parabola, it includes Simone’s letter to Father Perrin shortly before she died. It is very moving. It was taken from her book “Waiting for God.” Waiting is really a weak translation for “attention.”

    Both books are really just compilations of letters, articles, and excerpts from her notebooks. The only book she wrote was “The Need for Roots” which contained ideas related to rebuilding France after Hitler’s devestation.

    Her influence is vital in the world since she is one of the few that makes the unification of science and the essence of religion understandable. She had the mind and heart that enabled her to live it and to write:

    “I believe that one identical thought is to be found–expressed very precisely and with only slight differences of modality– in. . .Pythagoras, Plato, and the Greek Stoics. . .in the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita; in the Chinese Taoist writings and. . .Buddhism. . .in the dogmas of the Christian faith and in the writings of the greatest Christian mystics. . .I believe that this thought is the truth, and that it today requires a modern and Western form of expression. That is to say, it should be expressed through the only approximately good thing we can call our own, namely science. This is all the less difficult because it is itself the origin of science. Simone Weil….Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life, Random House, 1976, p. 488”

    Gurdjieff Aphorism 19: Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West—and then seek.

    I’m convinced the world needs more people capable of this “quality” of understanding and the Work is a means for developing it in the West for those needing the experience of objective human meaning and purpose.

  15. Perhaps the flip side of recognizing that you are the hero of your own story is the recognition of the right of another to be the hero of his/her own story: the beginning of compassion.

  16. Hi Tracy

    Allowing imagination, images, stories to appear and learning what there is to learn from them–that’s what I was trying to articulate. Excluding less from the field of consciousness, judging less. Welcoming everything that arises as a possible source of guidance…even, say, the need for loveliness (as Nick) said could be investigated.

    That reminds me of a topic worth coming to grips with: the connection between the obyvatel and conscious humanity. They are related to the hero or becoming oneself. One can lead to the other.

    I don’t think loveliness would necessarily get in the way of the obyvatel being the “good man” and being compasionate to others. However, if Gurdjieff’s description of kundalini is accurate, then awakening requires not being identified with its satisfactions.

    This is one reason I respect Simone as I do. She is one of the few in life I know of that was willing to live a life that inspired her “awakening.”

    From Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous.” P. 227

    Kundalini is a force put into men in order to keep them in their present state. If men could really see their true position and could understand all the horror of it, they would be unable to remain where they are even for one second. They would begin to seek a way out and they would quickly find it, because there is a way out; but men fail to see it simply because they are hypnotized. Kundalini is the force that keeps them in a hypnotic state. ′To awaken′ for man means to be ′dehypnotized.′ In this lies the chief difficulty and in this also lies the guarantee of its possibility, for there is no organic reason for sleep and man can awaken.

    Theoretically he can, but practically it is almost impossible because as soon as a man awakens for a moment and opens his eyes, all the forces that caused him to fall asleep begin to act upon him with tenfold energy and he immediately falls asleep again, very often dreaming that he is awake or is awakening.

    Obviously from this perspective, the identification with loveliness denies the impartial experiential reality of our human condition.

    I don’t think we can understand what this means anymore than a caterpillar can appreciate a moth. They are two different qualities of being. We are drawn to the “light” not understanding what it means.

    I laughed when I first read this excerpt from an interview with Dr Jacques Cabaud since I thought that with most I would just write it off as French BS. But with Simone, who knows? Maybe she was a partially developed soul that stirred things up during an incarnation necessary for its evolution. Maybe the person having the experience just somehow made an interpretation of a momentary connection with a higher reality. I don’t know. I just try to keep an open mind. Anyhow, don’t laugh.

    Dr Jacques Cabaud is Simone Weil’s first biographer. His book, “Simone Weil: A Fellowship in Love,” is published by Harvill Press London, 1964. This is a transcript of the full interview with Jacques Cabaud speaking to Lyn Gallacher from his home in Germany.

    Simone Weil’s life and work has played a big part in your life. Could you perhaps, give us a brief anecdote to end with?

    Well, here is an astonishing story. Though it has to do with Simone’s after-life, am not making this up. I tell it because it has illustrative value.
    A man had a dream… He dreamt that he entered into a building, took an elevator up to the top floor, where he found a door and pushed the buzzer. Upon being invited to enter, he walked across an apartment and reached a room where he saw a large table at which someone was seated, who looked as if she might be a scholar.
    “You must know many languages”, he told her.
    “Where I am, we speak only one language”, she answered.
    At this point, the man woke up. The language in question he guessed to be that of love.
    Some time later, after he discovered the writings of Simone Weil, he made by telephone an appointment with Mrs Selma Weil (Simone’s mother), and proceeded to number 3, rue Auguste Comte in Paris. When he came to the building, he recognized it. And he entered the very elevator he used in his dream, reached the same floor, saw the same door, walked through the same apartment and came to the same room, where stood the same table. On the wall, he noticed a photo which was that of the very same person he had seen in his dream. The books of Simone Weil he had read had not been illustrated. Thus he saw there for the first time the features of the person he had met in his sleep.
    Since this story was told to me by the man himself, a reverend and furthermore a psychiatrist, and “there are more things in heaven and earth” than our philosophy can think of, I did not doubt his tale. He is dead now, but I hesitate to mention his name. The gist of the matter however is that this story brings home a point which was made by Pascal: “C’est le coeur qui connait Dieu.” “It is through the heart that we know God”. And, may I add: “And everything else also.”

    1. Thank you for this amazing story, Nick. It corresponds with what I also believe…sense…intuit…about the central role of the heart.

      1. I agree. Plato called what you speak of as “soul knowledge. For Plato, inner morality is remembered rather than learned. External morality is learned by a part of our plurality which is why it so easily becomes its opposite.

        This raises the question of will. Perhaps will in contrast to desire is just the conscious recognition of and participation in what is normal for evolved human being.

        “To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself.” Simone Weil

        Typical disarming Simone. I see how far I am from the hero. Paul said a man can be all things to all people. I am primarily a personality that governs my life and gives orders. A hero could adopt whatever personality was necessary at the time without being identified with any or them.

        Letting the light shine on the problem and illuminating it is, I believe, a necessary step.

  17. Yes to all comments that have been made.

    But the most important work, observation, transformation, growth of Being, for me: where is, of what quality, of what scale, of what sensitive is Attention – even while unsure at all that the Attention is ‘mine’.

    Nonetheless it is possible for me, a human type being, to notice and practice allowing the functions, the narration, to become quiet, to be passive so that something higher can become active within the inner world of my body.

    Then what comes out of this as manifestation in word, physical gesture or human action is not from ‘me’ only but comes from guidance that remains mysterious; this guidance includes the influence of Love. But without intellect Love is useless. What is our responsibility as humans who may have seen something, experienced something. Not to preach, certainly, but how.

    We can point to the greats for guidance, but Gurdjieff took great care that no one worshiped him – and for good and compassionate reason.

  18. Tracy said in the OP:

    “Karma is not something the self has but what the sense of self becomes, when we play our roles within stories perceived as real. As those roles become habitual, mental tendencies congeal and we bind ourselves without a rope.”

    Artxulan asked:

    What is our responsibility as humans who may have seen something, experienced something. Not to preach, certainly, but how.

    Well from a Christian perspective it is awakening to the distinction between experiential Christian love that furthers awakening and esoteric Christianity in contrast to conditioned proselytizing which furthers Christendom or man made Christianity.

    The trouble is that what satisfies our ego is much more attractive than reality so a person genuinely having received something is obligated to share what is not wanted by the world.

    From Plato’s cave analogy:

    [Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

    Poor Hassein. He learned the hard way in Beelzebub’s Tales … Chapter 8, not to be too honest. Humanity would be very offended.

    Jacob Needleman explains in a discussion with Richard Whittaker:


    Richard Whitakker: Not too long ago I heard Lobsang Rapgay, a psychologist and Tibetan Buddhist from Los Angeles speak. One thing he talked about was “a tremendous fatigue of thinking that prevents us from thinking aesthetically.” He said this way of thinking makes it possible “to transform a numinous experience and share it”… To be shared, he said, “it has to be transformed in a way that someone else can understand and learn from.” He said, “What I find most painful, even within spiritual communities, is an inability to translate a numinous experience…” This caught my attention, and it struck me that Rapgay chooses the word aesthetic as the necessary form of transformation. I wonder if you might have some thoughts about that?

    Jacob Needleman: [long pause] I think there may be many things to clarify before we can approach this. The question has many roots. One root is that we really don’t know what we’re communicating most of the time. If I try to communicate to you just in words, even aesthetically–however you want to put it–I don’t really know what I am communicating. I don’t know on the very simplest levels. You can say something to somebody and then you hear that person speak about what you said and you realize that, just on the level of simple declarative sentences, they haven’t heard you, and far less in regard to very subtle or inner experiences. So one of the biggest roots of this big issue is the awareness that we don’t know what it is that we are communicating. Of course-as the “communicatee,” if you like-I don’t know when I am taking in what the other person has said or instead, how much I am imposing my own associations.

    So, in a way it is a very profound thing he is saying, but it covers over a lot of other things that have to be unpacked before we can really dig into it. From one point of view it sounds like a great re-expression of the meaning of art, and probably, it is.

    What does he mean by a “numinous experience”? In Plato’s Republic there is the famous Allegory of The Cave. Socrates says that the person who finally comes out of the cave and sees the Truth-the reality of the sun-is obliged to go back down into the cave and try to help the cave dwellers. He is obliged. That doesn’t mean it’s nice to do that, it means it’s part of the law. You don’t keep it for yourself, you must share it. Then that touches on the question of skillful means, which is another root of this question-a big root out there, having to do with the transmission from one person more attained to one less attained. This is matter of communicating in a way that actually helps you feel something, touch something, glimpse something in your heart and your intuition. It troubles you in a right way, intentionally. So skillful means. I’m just trying to expose the roots of this question.

    RW: Yes. It is helpful.

    JN: The Buddha goes to help people who are suffering in hell, and in order to communicate to those who are living in hell, he has to speak in the form of a lie. He speaks the truth in the form of a lie because they would never understand the truth as it is. A famous example of that is called “the lie of kama” which is love. “The Kamatic lie” which is how you communicate the truth. People are asleep. People are deluded. If you tell them really straight out what the situation is… He likens it to a house being on fire where there are children in the house on the second or third floor. You’ve got to get them out but they don’t know the house is burning. You might try to scare them, you could try to plead with them, but they might not listen to you. You have to say something that will really make them listen. You tell them there are toys in the street. Jump! They would be afraid to jump, that you might not catch them. There are many toys down here! And so they jump and you catch them. They see then that there are no toys, but their lives have been saved. So you have to communicate knowing the levers that you have to press. Skillful means could be called, aesthetic communication. That could be part of the roots of this whole big question. Do you know Kierkegaard’s thought at all?

    It seems like it is hard enough for us to be open to the reality of the hero not being a construct of our imagination or the super ego.

    To make matters worse, contributing to keeping the conscious influence alive in the world as we are obligated to do, requires skillful means not just to make it meaningful but to avoid being killed in the process.

    This is why I’d rather raise questions with Simone rather than provide answers. How do we honor the search of someone with an evolved heart and a scientific mind that is willing to live the search at the expense of what the world offers? Some find it attractive but do not feel capable of it. It is both attractive and repulsive. Now what? What is square one that allows us to approach the inner hero we are attracted to in smaller, more digestable steps?

    1. I don’t relate at all to such exchanges as the one quoted above between Richard and Jerry. Jerry sometimes speaks as if he is writing another book and Richard saying “aesthetic as the necessary form of transformation. I wonder if you might have some thoughts about that?” What does that mean?

      I didn’t understand Richard when I spent a week with him and Jerry in July and I don’t understand what he is speaking about here either.

      1. Hi Art

        I understand the aesthetic as they are discussing it to mean a sensitivity to objective “quality.”

        We often define quality in a linear fashion.

        “Algebra and money are essentially levelers; the first intellectually, the second effectively.” Simone Weil

        She is referring to measures of linear quality established on the same level.

        But if Plato is right and we do function in response to shadows on the wall then objective quality is a measure of freedom from the cave. Art can provide this momentary emotional experience of objective quality when it is received consciously. It is a vertical emotional experience as opposed to our usual linear appreciation of quality.

        Gurdjieff Aphorism 10. Do not love art with your feelings.

        It took me a while to begin to appreciate the depth of this remark and also made me more aware of the problems with “loveliness.” Our reliance on Mechanical emotional responses deny us the opportunity for a more objective emotional experience.

        “A work of art has an author and yet, when it is perfect, it has something which is anonymous about it.” Simone Weil

        Aha! Art without quotation marks has the ability to transmit something that does not originate with our interpretations and can invoke a higher quality of emotional response that reveals the inner direction we are called to.

        Identifications with life keep us attached to linear measures of quality. The aesthetic if pure can, if we become consciously open to it, serve to transform our emotional nature. Yet if taken wrongly, it can just as easily justify self deception.

  19. I really value the exchanges that take place here. It is our aim and intention to create a community. So in that spirit, please express yourself but be mindful about length–quoting really long passages is not necessary. Also, be kind.

  20. Hi Scott

    I suspect there are many of us that have these images and visions but there is not really a safe place to talk about them. Paul himself talks of being transported to the third heaven but he was loathe to speak of his mystical experiences. It is risky. We can only speak of them in humility as a divine grace, a gift from God bestowed upon us through no gift of our own. God comes to each of us in the way that we can perceive him. For the three of us, he has come in visual, tactile, real ways.

    Is this the passage you refer to concerning Paul? If so he was referring to someone he knew:

    2 Cor 12

    2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

    Simone Weil described her experiences with what appears to be the same thing though for a limited time. It is not something I can appreciate with my limited power of attention but she seemed to acquire it through her extraordinary power of attention. I think I know what she means but also see how so easily I can diminish its meaning through imagination. Anyhow, in an excerpt from a letter Simone Weil wrote on May 15, 1942 in Marseilles, France to her close friend Father Perrin:

    ………….Last summer, doing Greek with T-, I went through the Our Father word for word in Greek. We promised each other to learn it by heart. I do not think he ever did so, but some weeks later, as I was turning over the pages of the Gospel, I said to myself that since I had promised to do this thing and it was good, I ought to do it. I did it. The infinite sweetness of this Greek text so took hold of me that for several days I could not stop myself from saying it over all the time. A week afterward I began the vine harvest I recited the Our Father in Greek every day before work, and I repeated it very often in the vineyard.

    Since that time I have made a practice of saying it through once each morning with absolute attention. If during the recitation my attention wanders or goes to sleep, in the minutest degree, I begin again until I have once succeeded in going through it with absolutely pure attention. Sometimes it comes about that I say it again out of sheer pleasure, but I only do it if I really feel the impulse.

    The effect of this practice is extraordinary and surprises me every time, for, although I experience it each day, it exceeds my expectation at each repetition.

    At times the very first words tear my thoughts from my body and transport it to a place outside space where there is neither perspective nor point of view. The infinity of the ordinary expanses of perception is replaced by an infinity to the second or sometimes the third degree. At the same time, filling every part of this infinity of infinity, there is silence, a silence which is not an absence of sound but which is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after crossing this silence…………………..

    1. Nick,

      Thanks for both filling in Paul’s citation and the direction to Simone Weil. I look forward to studying her writings in the future.

      This is not a big bone to pick but I believe that it is generally understood that Paul is speaking of himself in the passage quoted above. Paul, a master rhetorician of his time, tries to constantly skirt the line between being a servant of Christ and having authority himself as an apostle. There are other passages in his letters where he allows his resentment towards the original apostles and witnesses to Christ to show forth. His claim to the mantle of “apostle” ultimately rests on his Road to Damascus experience, his dedication and success in building a Gentile church and his martyrdom as a witness to Christ. The passage you noted above comes in the midst of a discussion of how Paul boasts in Christ, but not in himself for then he would be nothing but a fool. Within this vein of self-deprecation, he can then claim authority and authenticity by virtue of his mystical experience, couching his mysticism within humility.


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