Regions of Unlikeness

Last Saturday, a group of us sat around a big wooden table in an art room in the Westchester Community College Center for the Arts,  practicing writing stories of things that touched us or shocked us as fast as we could and all in one long, breathless sentence.  Before we started, we practiced sitting with eyes closed for a time, allowing the body to be present, allowing ourselves to really be aware the breathing and the mysterious life in us that links us with the distant past and with worlds beyond us. We tried writing as we had meditated, allowing everything to happen, accepting what arose knowing that no thought or feeling was final.  A few people decided to read out loud what they wrote and we were amazed at the beauty and life in what we heard.  It seemed extraordinary evidence that we have the rhythm of story in us just as surely as the rhythm breath–and more: There were places in a couple of stories that opened up and let through a flash of pain and majesty of the greater human story, of loss and love and going on.  It was quietly thrilling, like seeing the moon and stars through the parting clouds.  I came away recognizing how important it is to be with others and exchange with others.   Through others, we can recognize our own deeper possibilities and finer qualities–we can glimpse something real.

In the afternoon, full of the sense that there was everything to be gained by leaving my winter-imposed solitude and seeking out the work of others–and work by living humans, not museum pieces–I drove down to Manhattan.  Braving the icy wind off the Hudson and the sense that I don’t know anything about art, I walked around the art galleries of Chelsea.  I came to a full stop at the show “Regions of Unlikeness” by the artist Celia Gerard at the Sears Peyton Gallery.   Gerard’s abstract, geometical works in black and white have the power of making a viewer stay.  “It’s amazing how they unfold,” said my friend, and I agreed. The triangles, spheres, and cones open into landscapes and unknown worlds in deep space.  What is really uncanny about the works is that they unfold the viewer, waking up the energies in the body and opening the mind and heart.   I felt like I could see and feel the ongoing search in the work, and it had the effect of calling to search along with the artist.   Gerard’s work woke me up, yet made me feel very concentrated and still, like looking inside a vast crystal or up at a mountain, or inside myself.   It gave me a feeling of nostalgia for places I have never travelled, a longing for a quality or state that is still unknown yet essential…home.

“I want to unfold/ I don’t want to stay folded anywhere/ Because where I am folded,/ There I am a lie….”  These lines by Rilke echoed through my head as I drove home from Manhattan last night, and this morning when I woke.

13 thoughts on “Regions of Unlikeness

  1. Hi Tracy

    I came away recognizing how important it is to be others and exchange with others. Through others, we can recognize our own deeper possibilities and finer qualities–we can glimpse something real.

    I think you meant to be with others. I know what you mean and appreciate the good sense of it yet it is not emotionally attractive to me. I am more a loner. I have to admit that I don’t like being part of a group.

    At the same time I like being a keyboard player/vocalist that plays for groups.

    I once had a standing joke where I said if I were in the hospital with something bad I only wanted attractive women in bikinis around for inspiration to get better and chess players to keep my mind active. The idea of several people looking worried but acting cheerful and trying to say the “right” thing is not something I would want around me when I can’t escape.

    I have to thank Simone Weil for reminding me of the word “metaxu” used by Plato. In her book “The Need for Roots, She describes a human being as like a plant. For the plant to be healthy it needs both good soil and sunlight. Nourishment enters the plant both through its roots and through its leaves

    For a person, culture serves the purpose of the soil for a plant. Good soil or culture nourishes the soul through our roots, traditions, encouraging healthy leaves, our higher parts, that can receive the help of the light of grace as the plant receives sunlight.

    She described metaxu as every separation being a link, which she illustrated with the idea of: “two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but it is also their means of communication.”

    Simone asserts the physical world as both the barrier and the way through to the spiritual world. Metaxu is as an intermediary representing the “quality” of this barrier. Metaxu is a bridge as Plato described.

    I am attracted to this idea of “group” but not what I normally envision as a group. I wonder what a culture would be like with a high quality of metaxu where people really gained from each other on the inside. Perhaps Atlantis was such a culture. Who knows?

  2. Tracy and Nick,

    In reading what you both has to say, what you Tracy said, and then Nick’s response, I am stuck by the importance of our relationships within any life.

    It is out of those relationships that our identity and our sense of self arises, even when there is a not-self, that is constantly changing as my Buddhist friends tell me.

    What is important to note here is that everyone of us is shaped by these relationships.

    “No man is an island” in the words of John Donne, Anglican Priest and Poet.

    No man is an island, entire of itself

    every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

    if a clod be washed away by the sea,

    Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,

    as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were

    any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind

    and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
    it tolls for thee.

    — John Donne

    This is my question for all of you.

    Do you know for whom the bell tolls?

    Do you hear it, can you hear it?

    I think that you do.


  3. Hi Ron, you said:

    “What is important to note here is that everyone of us is shaped by these relationships.”

    That’s the trouble. The social metaxu is such that we willingly become part of the “Great Beast” residing in Plato’s cave as suggested by Plato and Simone Weil. That being the case, we lose our potential for human individuality.

    It is only individuals then that begin to see that a human being is more than just a cog in the wheel of the Great Beast.

    This is a hard concept for anyone not familiar with it. It doesn’t feel good. But for any readers that are concerned with what those like Plato and Simone were concerned with, read this article. It is much food for thought.

    So for me the bell tolls for people in Plato’s cave of which we are a part and the cyclical horrors this slavery produces on a large scale. It also tolls for individuals that have begun to see the light and endure their struggle with themselves in their need for inner psychological freedom from the limitations of the Beast. The bell tolls for both the physical and the spiritual death.

    Can a society sustain a quality of metaxu where the physical and spiritual deaths are objectively related rather than through fantasy? Who knows. Apparently since wars appear necessary regardless of the finest speeches, we collectively just know life in Plato’s cave.

  4. Nick,

    I can only say that I believe that any one of us can develop an inner life that arises out the relationships you have with others and within the context of a sacred community, wherever you may find that community.

    Something does happen when people come together with a holy (being whole) intention, they can learn to create a heaven on earth, or the Reign of God if you wish, even if that is only for an hour or two each week when you join with one another in meditation and prayer.

    The deep seeds you are planting then with help from one another will build up that Kingdom and help to create that reality.

    You can be in the world and not of the world. You can learn to let go of these distractions, sorrows, sin, desires, etc., and move into a new creation. In short, you can change your life and the lives of those around you.

    Luke 17: 20-21 – And when the Pharisees had demanded of Him when the Kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with outward show. Neither shall they say, `Lo, it is here!’ or `Lo, it is there!’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

    God as Spirit is truly with me, in me, through me, wondrously alive in me, as the source of compassion, of loving-kindness, and wisdom, all through my life and the people I find sharing that life. And when we come together in and through a spiritual community and connection with one another, we become and act together as a “People of God.” This is the promise that Christ brings to us when he says; “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” or when Christ tells us “I came that you may have life, and have it more abundantly”.

    In my mind you don’t need to be Christian to experience this, you just need to have a heart that is open to this great potential of love and healing within all your relationships. Anyone who is open to this mystery will come to know God through love and through their relationships with others. These relationships can be transforming and they can help you transform your own world.

    Sorry if this sounds like a sermon; that was not my intent.


  5. Hi Ron

    We have to agree to disagree.

    Have you ever considered the difference between Thelema and Christianity for example. I’m convinced that Thelema has become far more attractive to people and they are not even aware of it. It is far more attractive to pull the sacred down to the level of egoistic imagination than to admit the human condition and become willing to sacrifice imagination for the possibility of objectively experiencing the sacred.

    Thelema would have its concept of a sacred community as would Christianity. Which would be closer to the truth of the human condition and how many even recognize the difference?

    That is one reason I hold Simone Weil in such high regard. She understood through personal experience the human condition in the context of the potential for human being as well as anyone. Those like Simone allow a reader to temporarily experience the difference between the attraction to imagination and the glimpse of something real. Many cannot take it. I appreciate getting my inner ass kicked by such extraordinary people. It’s like losing a hundred chess games in a row to Kasparov and not feeling insulted. It is a learning experience for a person capable of humility one is grateful for.

    From the linked article:

    Towards the end of her very brief life of thirty-six years, having suffered so much with the world and humanity, Weil died of tuberculosis in England. Her spiritual goal, the insight that saturates her writing, is aptly summarized by the poem that concludes “Decreation”:

    It is necessary not to be “myself,” still less to be “ourselves.”
    The city gives one the felling of being at home.
    We must take the feeling of being at home into exile
    We must be rooted in the absence of a place.

    To uproot oneself socially and vegetatively.
    To exile oneself from every earthly country.
    To all that to others, from the outside, is a substitute for decreation and results in unreality
    For by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality.

    She understood what the East knows as attachment. Where Christianity would recognize self justification for the prison it is and the importance of experiencing the truths our deeper psychological preconceptions deny us, Thelema would argue that it should be our goal with the potential even to be one with God.

    The question for those concerned is how to know the difference bewtween the truth and the lie within oneself?

    Not so easy. It requires IMO to have the need and the courage to “Know Thyself.” I’ve found these people to be extremely rare.

    WAR Against Sleep


    1. Nick,

      I would hold that what Simone Weil was doing, the path she chose to follow, is a path of kenosis, the Greek word for emptiness. It is not an easy path to follow, most of us probably cannot make such an intense journey, to empty ourselves so completely. Kenosis is a very special thing, a letting go of ourselves so that we might serve others.


  6. Ron, if you were in the NY area, I’d invite you to attend a day for Simone Weil I am organizing that is scheduled now for 11/5/11 at a spiritual center. Once it begins to be advertised in the summer, I’ll announce it here. Now it is just too early. Anything can happen.

    The title of the day will be “Simone Weil: The Need for Truth.

    Kenosis doesn’t lead to losing oneself but rather becoming oneself.

    Gurdjieff’s question: “What is the sense and significance of life on earth in general and of human life in particular?”

    Simone Weil wrote: At fourteen I fell into one of those fits of bottomless despair that come with adolescence, and I seriously thought of dying because of the mediocrity of my natural faculties. The exceptional gifts of my brother, who had a childhood and youth comparable to those of Pascal, brought my own inferiority home to me. I did not mind having no visible successes, but what did grieve me was the idea of being excluded from that transcendent kingdom to which only the truly great have access and wherein truth abides. I preferred to die rather than live without that truth.

    Kenosis serves to separate the wheat from the tares within ourselves for the sake of the truth that answers these questions. We profit from it. Others may also because we are cleaner on the inside and more open to the reality of the human condition that effects us all.

    When one takes an enema, its primary purpose is to clean oneself out rather than the person next door. It is the same with kenosis. Decreation is separating the wheat from the tares within ourselves; eliminating the results of slavery to imagination. It leads one to the experience of what truth offers.

    This may lead to the experience of objective morality in relation to humanity but this experience comes first from cleaning oneself out of the BS.

    1. Nick,

      I’m not sure I fully appreciate the metaphor, but, yes it is like that. Kenosis does lead us into a deeper relationship with the divine and it is a type of letting go of the chafe, to discover the true kernel of the self. It is learning to serve something higher than yourself, to serve others in a Christlike way, even a type of Bodhicitta in a sense.

      In Christian theology, kenosis is the concept of the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God and God’s perfect will.

      Philippians 2:5-11

      “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

      And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

      Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

      When I read this scripture or any others within a similar context, I do not view it as an exclusivist statement, but rather as a path we must all follow of selflessness, a path of compassion, a path of loving-kindness, and a path of wisdom; Karl Rahner’s theology of an Anonymous Christian which so influenced the Second Vatican Council fully supports such a view. This is “the way” of Christ, “the truth” of Christ, and “the life” of the Spirit that Christ asks each Christian to practice.

  7. Tracy and Everyone,

    Here is the full text of Rilke’s poem.

    “I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
    to make every moment holy.
    I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
    just to lie before you like a thing,
    shrewd and secretive.
    I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
    as it goes toward action;
    and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,
    when something is coming near,
    I want to be with those who know secret things
    or else alone.
    I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
    and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
    to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
    I want to unfold.
    I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
    because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
    And I want my grasp of things to be
    true before you. I want to describe myself
    like a painting that I looked at
    closely for a long time,
    like a saying that I finally understood,
    like the pitcher I use every day,
    like the face of my mother,
    like a ship
    that carried me
    through the wildest storm of all.”

    — Rainer Maria Rilke

    To understand the self in such a way is marvelous thing, and to unfold, reveal, and smooth out a bit all our folded, bent, and weakest places is marvelous too. These are the hidden parts of the self, sometimes the most wounded parts. They are parts that shape our character and give us character.

    Still, it is precisely these small imperfections that make perfect our compassion? We are all a bit bent and folded, fragmented and complex, exactly like a fractal, a perfect snowflake formed from beauty and grace, a bit of fire and ice too.

    Like fractals, human beings are messy and complex, none of us resemble a straight line or even a single elegant curve, we are not so boring nor so predictable. This is how we grow into the fullness of humanity, our fullest potential to love, and it is damn hard work.

    It least for me it is. ;)


  8. Everyone,

    This is a bit off subject, but something to consider is this flame algorithm link that uses fractals to create beautiful images, this is very much a late 20th to 21st Century metaphor, one that a poet like Rilke or many other philosophers would not have had exposure to in their time. An they use the image of a parabola all the time, repeated over and over again.

    Think how far technology has come in just the last twenty years, the internet for instance. I wrote my first HTML code and created my first web site in the early 90’s, it’s still out there on the web. And at that time science had only begun to work with fractals, the reason your cell phone is now so small is because someone discovered the value of fractals in creating an internal antenna, fractals drive all sorts of technology today and some pretty amazing textiles.

    What does this have to do with any of us, well we are made up of fractals, the world is really. And understanding the math involved is akin to understanding the Golden Mean and what it adds to art and symmetry.

    Sorry to go off subject a bit, but here is an interesting link.

    What you may want to note is not only how these images are art, art that reflects nature and mathematics, but art that reflects transformation as well, even the infinite. It is art that make you wonder what if, art that is even a reflection of our relationships with the divine.

    I’m sorry, I’ve said far to much this week; I’ll be silent now. ;-)


  9. Hi Ron

    When I read this scripture or any others within a similar context, I do not view it as an exclusivist statement, but rather as a path we must all follow of selflessness, a path of compassion, a path of loving-kindness, and a path of wisdom; Karl Rahner’s theology of an Anonymous Christian which so influenced the Second Vatican Council fully supports such a view. This is “the way” of Christ, “the truth” of Christ, and “the life” of the Spirit that Christ asks each Christian to practice.
    You seem to be concerned with what we do. There is nothing wrong with this. There have been many great words written about what we should do. Yet we would agree that history proves that everything continues as it is. Why? Perhaps it is because since we are as we are everything is as it is.

    This is why I’ve come to believe that it isn’t a matter of thinking wonderful thoughts about what to do but becoming able to experience that we are the Wretched Man as described by Paul in romans 7.

    “People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.” Meister Eckhart

    Secularism and the secularization of religion stresses what we should DO. The essence of Christianity is concerned with what we ARE.

    “We can only know one thing about God – that he is what we are not. Our wretchedness alone is an image of this. The more we contemplate it, the more we contemplate him.” Simone Weil

    She expresses in her usual laconic fashion, the importance of witnessing the human condition as it is without the hearts and flowers.

    She is hard to take but for those like Simone that seek the “Pearl of Great Price” they have to become willing to “Know Thyself” as the foundation upon which understanding can be built.

    I find the young ones today in a difficult position. They are attracted to technology and la la land which leaves them with a hole in their hearts that no amount of wonderful thoughts will fill.

    There is an aternative. Become disgusted enough to be willing to “know Thyself” regardles of how much it hurts so as to experience human meaning and purpose.

    “Do you wish to know God? Learn first to know yourself. –“Abba Evagrius the Monk

    Simone contributes to this alternative which is why she is such a vital influence for these young ones that no longer need to rebel in blindness or dwell in wonderful thoughts.

    “Thomas Merton records being asked to review a biography of Weil (Simone Weil: A Fellowship in Love, Jacques Chabaud, 1964) and was challenged and inspired by her writing. “Her non-conformism and mysticism are essential elements in our time and without her contribution we remain not human.”

    We need that “non-conformism” she inspires in the face of blind open hypocrisy. My guess is that more young people would be open to what a healthy non-conformism actually is and how both individualism and society benefit by these rare peple who become capable of it by working on what they ARE.

    On a lighter note, you’ll probably get a kick out of this:

    “A Russian legend has it that there were three holy men who lived on an island, engaged in constant prayer and works of compassion. The bishop under whose jurisdiction the island fell was informed that these men were completely ignorant of the doctrines and rituals of the Church. He found this fact scandalous. He visited the island and spent some time teaching these men the basic creeds and prayers of the Church. He then left the island. As his boat was getting away from the island he noticed, to his amazement, that the three holy men were following the boat, walking on the water. They reached the boat and explained that they had forgotten the words of the Lord’s Prayer. The bishop told them that they should not worry about this – they did not need these words” Peter Berger joke from his book (Questions of Faith, page 113).

  10. Great joke Nick, and a good lesson. Thanks. I don’t know about you, but I’m still dog paddling, and certainly not walking on water yet. Have a great weekend. My wife Joanne will soon be home, I hope with dinner.

    Peace – Ron

  11. Hi Ron

    Tracy wrote: “I want to unfold/ I don’t want to stay folded anywhere/ Because where I am folded,/ There I am a lie….” These lines by Rilke echoed through my head as I drove home from Manhattan last night, and this morning when I woke.”

    My limited eperiences have indicated to me that this “unfolding” can only come through the willful impartial experience of oneself. I think it is necessary in order to “know thyself.”

    I’ve found that as beneficial as it can be for those seeking truth at the same time everything in the world is against it.

    This is why I am so wary of New Age feelgoodism and lofty altruism. If that is all that is wanted, that’s OK. Yet when I read about Simone and how she treasured the truth at the expense of her vanity and societal pressures, as a man I have to be touched by this quality of higher emotion that seeks the “good” with such purity, and dedication.

    She invited this “unfolding” in ways that is repulsive to our egotism. Yet her influence provides something necessary in the world for those that are serious about unfolding and experiencing the truth of oneself so as to grow into the benefits of unfolding.

    I haven’t walked on water either. Yet I can respect those that have come closer to it. Simone Weil wrote:

    “You may not realize what it is to conceive your whole life in front of you and to take the firm and constant resolve to make something of it, to orient it from one end to the other with will power and work in a chosen direction. When one is like that — I am like that, so I know what it’s like …”

    I am not like this yet I can respect these special people and their value to humanity who have for some reason the capacity through humility of continually appreciating the value of conscious attention and will in this process of unfolding necessary to reveal the “pearl of great price.”

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