There is a gap in the cold. Tomorrow the Ice Age returns, but today I’m going walking. I once read that Thoreaux liked to walk three hours a day to feel balanced and connected to life. I may not be out three hours but I will take a good long walk. I am such a slow walker that my daughter refuses to ever take a walking trip with me, which is a dream of mine. But I don’t care. Walking helps me feel connected to nature and the ancestors. Everything is misty and wet and I know I will marvel at those who came before us, who came to know what it takes to keep the fires lit, no matter what the conditions.
Years ago, many years after I imagined that brave prehistoric tribe of Nordic Indian Yogis I wrote about in “Fierce Warriors,” I sent a scraping of cells from inside my cheek to the National Geographic “Genographic Project.” This genetic population study is attempting to chart the migrations of earliest humanity based on the marking that sometimes get notched onto our DNA as it gets copied and passed down through generations. How astonishing it was to receive a world map of one’s matrilineal DNA and see a red line that begins in East Africa and a human being who lived about 150,000 years ago, our common genetic Eve. Incomplete and flawed as this study may be, it is still rich evidence that each one of us–everyone everywhere, in every possible condition of life–is related. It turns out that our sense of separation from one another is as Albert Einstein said “a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”
Einstein knew that we are inextricably part not just of each other but of the whole universe and that urged people to free themselves from the prison of separation “by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” I used to think that compassion was a matter of allowing the heart to open (not that this is simple). But I’m beginning to learn that this practice of compassion–this practice of allowing the sense of connection in–takes letting go–moment by moment–of all that we identify with and cling to as “me” and “mine.” We have to be willing to know nothing, to be no one, to begin to know how inseparable we are from the whole that is.
The very same map contained another surprise. It turned out that my grandmother,who was born and raised in Denmark, had DNA that had a rare “X” maker found in only two percent of the European population–but in many more Lakota Sioux, Ojibwa, Navajo and other indigenous North Americans. This seemed to be tantalizing proof that my wild imaginings had, well, a cellular basis. My map contained a red line that left Africa and crossed Siberia, the Bering Strait, the Great Plains and…trailed off. The notes included with my map said my “X” type was controversial. Much was still unknown. For example, how did that “X” turned up in Denmark? I had my own theory. I pictured fierce Lakota warriors sailing across the storm-tossed Atlantic waters in open boats, teaching prehistoric Vikings how to build great long ships and sail back to North America. I confided to friends that I may actually be a missing link in our understanding of the evolution of our humanity– “me” personally. “You’re not a missing link,” quipped one friend. “That lovable little monkey face of yours just makes you think so.”
The day after my mother died, I dreamed of a Viking funeral. I watched a ship containing her body glide out into still water at sunset as I stood on the shore. This became more evidence that something in me that came from the deep past, from those who have crossed great waters. In cold weather, and at all times I have had to weather adversity and fear, when I have had to face the unknown, I think of my mother and Danish grandmother and a long line of human beings who had faced the unknown and found a way to keep the fires lit.
Sometimes I think of those among them who came to know more. I think of those who painted the Paleolithic paintings found in a series of interconnected caves in Lascaux in southwestern France. I remember reading that great spiritual teacher Gurdjieff visited Lascaux and reportedly looked up in wonder at the figure of a great stag with many antlers and other figures of bisons, horses, cows, and at least one Sphinx or unicorn-like imaginary figure–figures layered on top of one another as if by succeeding generations. Gurdjieff reportedly said that the depiction of an imaginary looking creature was the emblem of a sacred brotherhood of seekers of truth that appeared seven or eight thousand years ago, and that the stag with many antlers was a way of depicting attainments in consciousness and being. Gurdjieff strongly disagreed with the commonly accepted claim that the art was possibly 20,000 to 18,000 years old (a Metropolitan Museum essay dates them at possibly 15,000 B.C.E.). The quibble about dates meant nothing to me. What stayed was the impression that the prehistoric cave painters were humans who knew something extraordinary about our human possibilities.
Ever since humans arose, there have been those who knew and could express our connectedness with life, who sensed that something Greater that animates life. Does that come to us as a genetic legacy also? By now, I realize it can’t be realized through the imagination alone. I know that clinging and attachment to any map is a way to miss the wild unknown of the present moment. The truth really is a pathless land. More and more, I think of human beings in circles rather than lines. When I sit or walk or pray, I feel the presence of those who have come before.
19 thoughts on “Truth is a Pathless Land”
I have always been fascinated by some of the Old Ways, that celebrate a closer connection with nature, like Cernunnos, and how this has been protrayed in literature. It does point us towards an expanded consciousness.
Some of these images, stories, and peoms touch us at the deepest level, like a genetic memory of sorts it seems. I’m thinking now of the work of Robert Graves, and his classic book on The White Goddess, which has never been out of print.
It is very possible to feel the presence of those who have come before us. Just as it is important to understand the metaphorical language that used. Perhaps I am wrong, but don’t they all point to a dying and a rebirth.
They do point towards a dying and a rebirth–and a whole path…to the pathless. Maybe it’s time to open The White Goddess (esp. being such a white winter in the NE).
Quite beautiful. I too am looking up at this great, golden, orb in the sky, absent for so long, I have forgotten it’s name …
I know what you mean and I distantly remember seeing it, a great bright fire in the sky….
It’s quite warm here now in Houston, and the sun is shining brightly. I’m ready to go home and put on some shorts later.
Which is not what you want to hear I’m sure. Still, there are times when I long for the winter and a covering of fresh snow on the ground. There is a solitude you may feel in such a winter landscape that is good for the soul.
Solitude and communion….
sounds sacramental ;-)
I’ve always been sensitive to the idea of levels of reality.
I’ve sensed for example that a forest is one level of existence within which all trees exist at a lower level. They are like a part of a ladder within which they are equally necessary.
Perhaps we are an atom of Man. If a drop of water can be an atom of water, why can’t an individual be an atom of Man that exists as ONE at a higher level of reality.
Perhaps the atom and Man are both necessary from the perspective of universal need and the real problem is their lack of connection.
The obvious question is why atoms can be so hostile towards one another and what could connect them.
What would this post be without a laconic Simone remark? :)
“The combination of these two facts – the longing in the depth of the heart for absolute good, and the power, though only latent, of directing attention and love to a reality beyond the world and of receiving good from it – constitutes a link which attaches every man without exception to that other reality. Whoever recognizes that reality recognizes that link. Because of it, he holds every human being without any exception as something sacred to which he is bound to show respect. This is the only possible motive for universal respect towards all human beings.” Simone Weil “Draft for A Statement of Human Obligations” SIMONE WEIL, AN ANTHOLOGY ed. Sian Miles
I believe she is right but also that we are incapable of it nor is it normally needed enough to become capable. Without the conscious connection between above and below, everything must remain as it is regardless of the most wonderful platitudes.
Solitude and communion….
Where does it go?
“In solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being.” Simone Weil “Attention and Will,” from Gravity and Grace.
To make matters worse, is Charles Schulz suggesting me? Now a comic book character is beginning to make sense. Is there no end to these indignities I must endure?
“I love mankind…It’s people I can’t stand!!” Linus (Peanuts)
Reality which underlies all our destructive make-believers, to the tranquil wisdom which is always there, in spite of ignorance in another form. Knowledge is an affair of symbols and is, all to often a hindrance to wisdom, to the uncovering of the self from moment to moment. A mind that has come to the stillness of wisdom “shall know being, shall know what it is to Love. Love is neither personal or impersonal. Love is love, not to be
defined or described by the mind as exclusive or inclusive.
Love is its own eternity; it is the real, the supreme, the immeasurable.
St. Paul writes..”Only the Spirit” “Gives Life the letter kills.”
Master Eckhart “why do you prate of God? Whatever you say of God is untrue…And at the other end of the world
the truth was never preached by Buddha, seeing that you have to realize it within yourself….
So it remains..”Truth is a Pathless land.”
It all appears wonderful Tommy. The question is why we don’t do it. Perhaps real wisdom is understanding why it is so. The path is the means to attain a conscious human perspective that can be an expression of wisdom. From Simone Weil
If you do not fight it—if you look, just
a moment when you cannot do it,
if it is evil;
if good, a moment
when you cannot
Perhaps the problem isn’t details but rather our inability and lack of desire to receive them and put them into a sustained conscious human perspective but instead prefer either escapism or self justification.
Oh No….In lite of why we don’t DO IT…Is that we are asleep
to our conditioning…Our Collective Consciousness and it’s Content has to be Smashed..The illusion…..It starts now with you and me…..Peace…..
What is there to smash? When you wake up in the morning, does something have to be smashed for you to awaken? What would perform the smashing of your conditioning if you are asleep?
Instead of smashing why not shine the light of conscious attention on the manifestations of sleep? Rather than anything being smashed, illusion just dissipates. Imagination is what takes the place of conscious attention which is an attribute of balanced Man. It fills the void in the absence of conscious attention. Imagination is the result of psychological sleep and Conscious attention leads to awakening.
“There is no detachment where there is no pain. And there is no pain endured without hatred or lying unless detachment is present too.” Simone Weil
The key is detachment but we both know how hard it is and how quickly we fall into hatred and lying. Instead of smashing the results of hatred and lying which as we are we cannot do since they continue as part of a mechanical process, I believe the key is the experiencing external life with detachment through the practice of conscious attention as an expression of the whole of ourselves. It could allow us to experience without the need for the acquired habit of self justification which must lead to inner lies and hatred.
I’ve come to believe that consciously experiencing life as it is doesn’t smash anything but rather reveals imagination as unnecessary and inhibiting.
good stuff Nick….Smashed was probably not the WORD to use.. Even when it boils down to whose asleep…”Who am I.?
The dialogue between Nick and Tommyg was intriguing to read and then suddenly I remembered an exercise a few of us have been trying. It is quite simple, “How am I now?”
“Know thyself” that’s all!
artxulan wrote: “How am I now?”
tommyg wrote: “Know thyself” that’s all!
Can we begin to know thyself without the intermittant relative experience of how we are now?
Yes! The desired response is EGO…Transcending beyond in the NOW…As is gravity as I understand it to pull me back to the source….Deathless Spirit..I am, that I am..That’s all..