Good morning! How is that for a liberatingly unoriginal first sentence? I’m sitting here drinking a good, strong cup of coffee, watching the sky brighten and thinking about our gathering, Parabola Live, at New York Insight at 28 West 27th Street in Manhattan this afternoon. I’m not nervous, or not too nervous, because I’m looking forward tobeing with others and sitting with other people. I once asked a good friend, the now departed Jon Rothenberg, how we were going to find our way forward into the future. “If we just keep sitting together we’ll be alright,” he said.
Last week, Iscrewed up my courage and undertook the experiment of having nothing with me except a guide book. It’s not like there are no books in Oxford, but I decided to take advantage of being in unfamiliar surroundings, of being a stranger in town. All week long, I kept glimpsing the true state of affairs, the way I’m a kind of cave with the wind blowing through it, the way I’m always trying to fill the unexplored depths of emptiness with ideas and stories. The image of Kate and Leo clinging to that spar of wood in the last scene of Titanic comes to mind—the way I was trying to find something solid to grasp to keep me from sinking down into nothingness. Naturally, I would find certain repetitive thoughts to cling to–I ate my porridge and stared up at the august and ancient portraits of men of substance in the Trinity College dining room, I just let myself sink and know that I was without substance. At moments I felt quite alone–alone in front of the unstoppable truth of impermanence, of time passing, of Alex growing up and passing on to a new life, and me? And yet, in the midst of that sadness there were moments of lightening and warmth. There on my own, wandering down cobblestone streets in dreamy Oxford, I realized that it is ok to let go of striving to be someone and sink into our common human nature. In a sense, what we aspire to is rooted in our origins.
Back home again, I happened to find this in The Reality of Being: “Each of us is alone and in our self must be alone–alone in front of our understanding, in front of the call of the divine and the fact of our human person. I become linked with others when I begin to recognize my original nature and see that we all have the same difficulty realizing it with the whole of ourselves. This brings a special energy, which allows the action of a finer, more subtle nature. The energy has the power to call and to irresistibly attract. This represents the true help that we can bring to each other.”
Madame de Salzmann was referring to special conditions, but what she says is true on some level whenever people gather and sit together with the intention of consciously giving and receiving. A special energy can appear, a sense of freedom to be ourselves. A friend of mine called Parabola a kind of spiritual National Geographic, reminding readers of this truth from Jesus, quoted in the Gospel of John: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” (She used the modern translation which substitutes “rooms” but I prefer the koan-like mystery of many mansions being in a house.) Whatever we think the Truth is, as the Buddha said, it is other than that. It is larger than any human philosophy–yet it dwells in us. There is something in us besides thinking, a seeing, a receptivity, an awareness, a bodhi mind, that can relate us to this.
Last week, another friend told me he was very excited to learn that the word Buddha was derived from the word “bodhi,” which in Pali and Sanskrit means “awakening” and also “to Know.” He said “to Know” as if this kind of knowing was capitalized. I googled it myself and confirmed that the definition did capitalize “Know.” To my friend, this seemed to confirm that the Buddha was in on the same Gnosis, the same deep knowledge that Jesus and great human teachers from Pythagoras to Gurdjieff knew. He was excited to think that there is one Truth. For him this was a hint that there is one Light and one Way. I don’t know.
But I do know that giving up all hope of escape from my basic human nature frees me. I know that being with others and sitting with others is a good thing, and sometimes when I sit I feel I am sitting with the ancients. I know by now that I will never get over my thinking and dreaming and stories. But sometimes something more real seems to swim up through the dreams. There is a glimpse of something glittering up from the depths. Opening to receive it, I become capable of giving. I think this is what the great photographer and Parabola contributor Minor White was on to, when he said:
“Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms you presence.”
Come join us if you can! And come as you are.