The Great Unknown

I went for a walk in icy rain this morning and for some reason I thanked God to be having just that experience.  I wasn’t trying to change my attitude or reframe my thoughts, changing “miserable” into “bracing.”  I actually turned back when the rain grew too heavy.  But my vision opened up for a moment and a mechanical, ordinary thought–“At least it isn’t snowing again, thank God”–became the much less ordinary recognition that it was thoroughly good to be alive, to be feeling the sting of rain drops and smelling melted snow and the faint smell of earth, of coming spring.  Just for a moment, I tasted how life opens up when we don’t judge.

It’s a pretty good guess that the revered spiritual teacher Jeanne de Salzmann, who is not infrequently mentioned here, and the writer of popular books about addiction Melody Beattie have never been mentioned in the same sentence–not to mention Buddha and Jesus (just for good measure).  But here is something all have in common:  a sense of the crushing negative force of of our own judgements.   Judge not lest ye see little more than your own limited projections about life.  De Salzmann  teaches how judging what we see ends seeing, ends the effort to connect withhigher forces and a greater reality and–at the risk of bringing some severe judgements into this blog space–I have to say that there is a similar intuition behind some bestelling books on the secret laws of the universe and making miracles.  Admittedly, those secret and miracle books get off the track and into high weeds but, BUT, authors like Beattie have lived or otherwise stumbled upon a very powerful principle:  Not resisting our experience, learning to be thankful for everything, to receive everything without resistance, can be, well, miraculous.

Is it possible to see what is, even our own most cringe-worthy manifestations, and accept it without judgement, without repression?  Of course, I don’t mean acting out in violent ways or tolerating awful behavior in others.  It’s a good idea to come in out of the rain.   After all these years, I’m beginning to understand that way towards freedom and peace and happiness has to include freedom from self-judgement and self-repression…and that includes judging our own irrepressible tendency to judge all the time.  Last summer I was at a gathering where a friend spoke of what it is like to think you are going to die.  Years ago, doctors told her she was going to die.  Yet, laying in her hospital bed waiting to die, she discovered something extraordinary.  Her fear and concern about her self fell away and life became beautiful, fascinating, endlessly interesting and, well, life giving.   Knowing that there was no hope for things to be otherwise, she lost her concern about herself.  She stopped worrying about fixing this and covering up that.  She put herself in the hands of the Great Unknown.  This is the Way.

Of course what I’m proposing goes against the grain of habit.  But I’m really interested in practicing letting my experience in without feeling like I have to do anything about it. What if we learned to hold what arises in the light of awareness and compassion?  What if we actually regarded ourselves as my friend did in the hospital, as human, flawed, mortal…and in the hands of the Great Benevolent Unknown?


22 thoughts on “The Great Unknown

  1. Yes. Much of what you say is in accordance with my own experience.

    You also said “Not resisting our experience, learning to be thankful for everything, to receive everything without resistance, can be, well, miraculous.”

    This is true too. The only question is the word ‘learn’. I have never felt that I ‘learned’ how to be thankful, to receive everything. In a moment of this I am in a different state of consciousness and in fact in a very real higher world where matter and energy are finer and I am free of some laws under which I exist when inhabiting (in a lower state of consciousness) a world of denser matter and therefore more laws. So the question for me is not about learning to accept but somehow miraculously it becomes a part of my Being (to some extent) because for moments I have experienced acceptance, receiving. But this experience cannot be ‘taught’ to another. I can ‘tell’ but I cannot thereby give the ‘way’ to it to another.

  2. I agree with you. It does feel like entering a new leverl, a higher world that is less dense. Yet I’ve learned that we can also learn to practice nonjudgement right here and right now, and this leads to those moments of liberation. We can prepare to receive grace.

  3. This essay is especially pertinent for me at present. I find that the more often I can break my deeply imbued habit of judging, the more frequently I can stay in love, in God presence. I am able then, to hear the “still small voice” that so frequently evades me. Judging is so different from discernment.

  4. How to become capable of receiving the impartial food of impressions? Perhaps it could make us capable of objective judgment.

  5. Tracy, your essay and the comments made make me think of this passage from 1 John 4.

    1 John 4:16-48

    “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

    God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.

    There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. ”

    I do believe that love can help us to stop judging our life and others, to help us see beyond the veil, the illusions we surround ourselves with at times. I’m happy to call it a redeeming love, even an enlightenment, a wake up call, a call to holiness even. But, more importantly, a call to forgiveness that is simply a part of the love, born out of the love.

    What if it’s also about forgiveness, learning to forgive.

    What if indeed …. “What if we learned to hold what arises in the light of awareness and compassion and forgiveness too? What if we actually regarded ourselves as my friend did in the hospital, as human, flawed, mortal…and in the hands of the Great Benevolent Unknown?” Who offers us such forgiveness through grace, unconditionally.

    And this brings me full circle, back to Paul Tillich the theologian, that at some point we can all come to “accept that we are accepted” in the fullness of our humanity, with all our flaws. With a keen sense of our own limited self, where we have learned that it is our human imperfections that make perfect our compassion for others and the world.

    In Christianity, this is the whole story of the Incarnation, it’s what gives the Incarnation a powerful presence within the world, even now, especially now.

    It’s why most orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Spirit (God’s Divine Presence) is not only actively at work within the world now, in this very moment, but that the Holy Spirit also lives within each of us. You can take this last part literally, not symbolically; this mystery does live within us at some level.

    I believe that; I feel that presence keenly.

    Does this make any sense to anyone?

    Romans 8:26-27, 38-39 (RSV)

    26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    This part is long, but another of way of seeing and saying this can be found in these words from Arthur Miller’s play, After The Fall. Listen to the words, they are words of forgiveness.

    Arthur Miller – After the Fall – Copyright 1964, Renewed 1992

    Taken from the acting version of the play, as performed by the Lincoln Center Repertory Company, and from one of my father’s sermons that he first preached when I was a boy of 11 or 12, the words have remained with me all through these years like an old friend.

    “After the Fall, was first performed in the Lincoln Center Repertory Company, New York City, on January 23, 1964.

    The action takes place in the mind, thought, and memory of Quentin, many say this is Arthur Miller and Maggie was Marilyn Monroe, his former wife.

    Except for one chair there is no furniture in the conventional sense; there are no walls or substantial boundaries. The setting consists of three levels rising to the highest at the back, crossing in a curve from one side of the stage to the other. Rising above it, and dominating the stage, is the blasted stone tower of a German concentration camp. Its wide lookout windows are like eyes which at the moment seem blind and dark; bent reinforcing rods stick out of it like broken tentacles.

    On the two lower levels are sculpted areas; indeed, the whole effect is Neolithic, a lava-like, supple geography in which, like pits and hollows found in lava, the scenes take place. The mind has no color but its memories are brilliant against the grayness of its landscape. When people sit they do so on any of the abutments, ledges, or crevices. A scene may start in a confined area, but spread or burst out onto the entire stage, overrunning any other area……”

    We must understand that often life begins only after a moment of despair and even destruction, after we have reached the very depth of hell, after, after the Fall. So it is with the play throughout and as it comes to the end. Maggie has died of an overdose. Quentin is searching for his own being in the midst of this tragic death and the death of all those who died in the concentration camps. He speaks to Holga, one of the characters in the play, but he seems to be speaking to all of us.

    Quentin speaks:

    “But love, is love enough? What love, what weave of pity will ever reach this knowledge—I know how to kill?…I know, I know—she was doomed in any case, but will that cure? Or is it possible—He turns toward the tower, moves toward it as toward a terrible God—that this is not bizarre…to anyone? And I am not alone, and no man lives who would not rather be the sole survivor of this place than all its finest victims! What is the cure? Who can be innocent again on this mountain of skulls? I tell you what I know! My brothers died here— He looks from the tower down to the fallen Maggie.

    …And that, that’s why I wake each morning like a boy—even now, ever now! I swear to you, I could love the world again! It’s the knowing all? To know, and even happily, that we meet unblessed; not in some garden of wax fruit and painted trees, that lie of Eden, but after, after the Fall, after many, many deaths. Is the knowing all? And the wish to kill is never killed, but with some gift of courage one may look into its face when it appears, and with a stroke of love—as to an idiot in the house—forgive it; again and again…forever?”

  6. Beautiful essay that spoke to my creative soul. when we truly become like little children eventually the split will occur. like the velveteen rabit it usually occurs when your hair is gray & your teeth fall out! Parabola was a big part of my destiny and opened my eyes & my heart to return to my christian tradition. Thank You!

  7. I am so impressed with God’s love and the way that Metta Meditation helps me to reach this realization.
    Truly our Christian faith resonates in Buddhism’s philosophy….even though there is in God in this teaching.
    Thanks so much, especially Tracy and Ron for helping me to stay on the path.

  8. Hi Tracy, you wrote:

    Of course what I’m proposing goes against the grain of habit. But I’m really interested in practicing letting my experience in without feeling like I have to do anything about it. What if we learned to hold what arises in the light of awareness and compassion? What if we actually regarded ourselves as my friend did in the hospital, as human, flawed, mortal…and in the hands of the Great Benevolent Unknown?

    You touch on something here which I believe can be very meaningfull but also easily lovelied to death. What is the “love of God” that I believe is implied in the “Great Benevolent Unknown?” How does it relate to compassion and conscience? I believe this is a far deeper question than normally considered.

  9. It is a vast question Tracy but I believe also an increasingly important one.

    As you probably know, the Open Center in Manhattan will host “Gurdjieff and the Crisis of Our World” in May

    Adding Simone’s observation to the theme makes the practical significance of the question in relation to what the love of God means more important for me. She wrote:

    “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

  10. Nick has asked ..

    What is the “love of God” that I believe is implied in the “Great Benevolent Unknown?” How does it relate to compassion and conscience? I believe this is a far deeper question than normally considered.

    It is a vast question and an important one.

    I love a good question, because ultimately it points us back to the truth that we may all find in life.

    Indeed, why not ask, what is life?

    Do you love your life? Are you in love with life? Is your life full of abundance and richness, and not the material kind.

    How do you view the other person, as a part of yourself?

    What or who have you fallen in love with today?

    When was the last time that someone or something broke your heart wide open to help let in some light?

    More often, than not, we think of God as being noun.

    What would happen if you thought of God as a verb whose love is working in and through you?

    Whose love is at work withing you.

    What would that say to you? Where would that thought take you today? Now?

  11. Hi Ron

    Do you differentiate between the love of God (truth) and the love of the World?

    This isn’t a trick question. At one time, a lot of what Jesus said seemed to be very cold. Once I learned of the distinction, I began to believe that what appeared cold was just common sense in the context of levels of reality.

    Tracy wrote of our difficulty with the Great Unknown. Simone Weil described it:

    “To love truth means to endure the void,”

    Talk about the ultimate approach and avoidance conflict! I am attracted to and repulsed by the same thing: “truth.”

    Is the love of the World and the love of Truth the same for you?

    1. Nick and Ron,

      You speak of Love as if it is something that we do, that we have, that belongs to us. The source of Love is not our insignificant self. It comes from the Source, an emanation of the Source. The best, the most that we can do is be under its influence.

      Those who speak about how to Love, what to Love indicate only their lack of understanding

      1. Hi Artxulan

        Maybe it is not so simple. You know of course of the distinction between romantic and conscious love. You seem to be referring to romantic love that does move through us. Do we have the potential for conscious love?

        “Real love is the basis of all, the foundations, the Source. The religions have perverted and deformed love. It was by love that Jesus performed miracles. Real love joined with magnetism. All accumulated vibrations create a current. This current brings the force of love. Real love is a cosmic force which goes through us. If we crystallize it, it becomes a power—the greatest power in the world.” -G.I.Gurdjieff – from Meetings at 6 rue des Colonels-Renard, Paris -1938

        Can we become capable of conscious love when we are always under the spell of romantic love; a process where love moves through us towards what attracts it.

        That is how I distinguish love of the world from the love of God. Love of the world is striving to experience romatic love. The love of god makes conscious love possible.

        I am always at a loss here. I want to support those who have both a scientific and spiritual calling. Love has to be put into a perspective that is not so sugary as to turn off the man of logic yet not so cold as to turn off the spiritual. This is rough. Yet I know that there are many young people who need it.

        That is why Simone is so valuable and why I strive to make her better known. She was both and had this way of communicating their union. She allows us to question that maybe we’re missing something from both heart and mind.

        Consider a man like Thomas J. McFarlane. He is a spiritual man and a man of science who also appreciates Simone Weil. Definitely not fit for polite company but still, when I read his essay on love and knowledge, I see how far I am from the experience of the love of God and what it calls some to.

      2. No Nick, I am not referring to romatic love. I am referring to the only Love that deserves the name Love. Romantic love is nothing more than emotional addiction. You are saying the same thing I said. Where is the confusion?

  12. Artxulan — that has been my experience as well — Love comes from Source and is not under my control.

  13. artxulan

    I meant that we can be a source of conscious love as a power. It is a potential for “I.”

  14. Now here is the crux of the matter,
    “But I’m really interested in practicing letting my experience in without feeling like I have to do anything about it.”
    This is well put Tracy, I resonated with this very strongly. It is such a struggle; our habitual mechanical nature is so fast, so relentless, and frightfully natural.
    But the possibility of your wish exists. I have seen it in rare moments, when by something not much less than miraculous, I was able to receive an impression clearly and directly and without any concerns.
    Thank you for reminding me of that.

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