Beloved on the Earth

I was at a summer picnic on a beautiful day at a home on a hilltop in the Hudson Valley recently, when out onto the veranda walked a group of people dressed in black, fresh from the funeral of young woman who died suddenly a few days before.  You couldn’t help but be struck by the grief on their faces.  At least one of them had been up for days, creating a moving memorial montage set to Bach, and all of them looked stricken and pale, especially against the blue sky.  You would catch their eyes staring off into the far distance, not resting on the rolling hills that spilled out around us, but as if they were searching for something that wasn’t there.

One of the group sat down next to me.  She spoke of how fragile life can seem, and also how wildly random. “I don’t know whose driving this thing,” she said, speaking of this rattling old heap of a cosmos of ours.  “But I’m pretty sure they’re drunk.”   I started to say something and trailed off, realizing that what I was about to say was just, well, a thought–a nice thought but just a thought.   Then a real question arose.  “Knowing life can be like this, how should we live?”  She repeated the question and told me it would require some reflection.  Then she got up and fetched a drink.

Life can be like this, utterly beyond our knowledge and control, random.  Things can come “out of a clear blue sky.”   Recently, I wrote about how much I love the sound of the bell on meditation retreats, the way it seems to call us to a greater way of life, a way clear of the confusion and strife.  When I’m meditating or alone in nature sometimes, there can be a glimpse of the stillness beneath thought, of a state that is not emotion or even a very fine feel but of obedient, watchful receptivity.  Being the type I am (which is not much of a cook) words come into my head from Thoreau:   “My truest, serenest moments are too still for emotion; they have woolen feet” ….Thoreau goes on to describe this state, which the Buddhists would call samadhi, as being like a lake untouched by a breath of wind.  It is a state when all is calmed and clarified “by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws,” and  the unknown depths of life and of ourselves are revealed.

But what about when the lake is not calm?  What about when a gale is blowing or you find yourself in the midst a perfect freaking storm?  What about when there no “all-just laws,” just ice cold turning of cosmic wheels?  Leave aside the heart-rending tragedy of the sudden death of a child.  Just working in the kitchen and getting the message that you aren’t so swift at it can break your heart and make you feel like crazy Mrs. Rochester raging around in the attic.  I mean, in such instances you can see yourself and your life as a collection of broken parts–and what in better moments may seem to you free consciousness is grasping at broken little spars of thought or images or memories,  anything to keep you from sinking into that wreck and that stormy lake.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves,” said good old Thoreau, who admittedly did not travel very far, at least in an outer sense.  We understand that we are in pieces, every of us, and at the mercy of unknown forces.   What can possibly help us then?   Years ago, when I was in the place my friend is now, I noticed something.  I was beyond all comforting thoughts, even grand ones from great beings.   I was beyond hope.  I sat in a numb way–no, I think I was even lying down, staring.  Suddenly, I noticed a small light inside me, a very weak light like a night light.  You would never notice it in the blaze of full sun and good times, only in total darkness.  It occured to me that even though it seemed to be very weak there was something indominable about it because it didn’t depend on outside conditions–it wasn’t a mere reflection.  My so-called thoughts and dreams and hopes were all up and down on the wheel of life, slavish things, but here was this little glow that kept on, serene as Thoreau’s wilderness lake.  Recently, I saw a quote from my old friend and teacher William Segal who described seeing the same little light when he meditated.  He called it our own life force and said it is our salvation–which he described as living beyond ego.   Think of it as living beyond devastation, after the power grid has collapsed, and you are powered by a tiny solar battery.

You can’t see far on such a light but you can see to the next step, or to the next person who is also equipped with their own solar-powered life force night light.   We can pool our light, and together we may be able to make out a greater light behind the forms and happenings of this world.  The light that gave us our light, a light that is not separate from love and compassion, that binds us and all things together.  And here is a scrap of proof that.  There are people who stay up three days making memorials for young women who die suddenly.

When the great writer Raymond Carver knew he was dying from lung cancer he wrote “Late Fragment”:

And did you get what

you wanted from this life even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

The young woman who died was beloved.

May all beings know that they are beloved on this earth, even when they are in darkness.  May all beings find the light.  May all beings be free.

20 thoughts on “Beloved on the Earth

  1. Dear Tracy,

    What a beautiful homily for Interdependence Day. Thank you! And yes, yes, Amen.

  2. The still moments are always there , as the stars during the day or the sun above the clouds, even in the times of greatest turmoil.

  3. Hi Tracy

    “Always behave like a duck: keep calm & unruffled on the surface, but paddle like hell underneath.”

    How to be an conscious duck? How to remain conscious of chaos, both external and within, from a higher level of reality just as the duck is different above and below the water line?

  4. Tracy, Thank you for such beautiful Words Heart Felt…

    And as a Retired Chef I understand your Pain in the Kitchen..I was trained by French Chefs and remember the time I was told to peel a Mushroom .
    And when I asked where was the peel? I knew I was in trouble then on.

  5. Tracy, this post wakes up in me the following material from “Gurdjieff, Essays and Reflections on the Man and his Teaching”, p. 282. Gurdjieff is replying to a question about our second being-food, air, and how to extract the most from the air we breath for ourselves and for those around us.

    “In order to be able to assimilate the involving part of air, you should try to realize your own significance and the significance of those around you. You are mortal and some day will die. He on whom your attention rests is your neighbor; he also will die. Both of you are nonentities. At present, most of your suffering is “suffering in vain”; it comes from feelings of anger, jealousy and resentment toward others. If you acquire data always to realize the inevitability of their death and your own death, you will have a feeling of pity for others, and be just toward them, since their manifestations which displease you are only because you or someone has stepped on their corns, or because your own corns are sensitive. At present you cannot see this. Try to put yourself in the position of others – they have the same significance as you; they suffer as you do, and like you, they will die. Only if you always try to sense this significance until it becomes a habit whenever your attention rests on anyone, only then will you be able to assimilate the good part of air and have a real “I”……………………….From realizing the significance of your neighbor when your attention rests on him, that he will die, pity for him and compassion toward him will arise in you, and finally you will love him………..”

    The few times I have been able to approach this exercise with even a modicum of sincerity, I come into the moment, into the NOW, into the present, and time stops, the Listening increases, intensifies, and I then know my place.

    The Stillness, as Karen mentions above, is always there, always around me, no matter what the outside world is dishing out in that moment.

  6. Thanks for this, Don. There is something really transforming about realizing the impermanence of our lives and the lives of others. It does shift us into the NOW…and reveals the lovable, maybe even heroic striving under the vanity in us all.

  7. Have you ever wondered how someone can be beloved on the earth and hated by the world at the same time.

    John 15:

    18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’[b] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

  8. “How should we live”?
    Last week, Barbara said; “Oh, it is so tricky, isn’t it, to discern where the healthy balance (between introversion and extroversion) will be for ourselves, in our own path of awakening.”
    This week, Tracy, you have said; “Suddenly, I noticed a small light inside of me… didn’t depend on outside conditions.”
    But do the outside conditions depend on that small light? Perhaps a healthy inner balance finds resonance with a healthy outer balance of introverted and extroverted actions. Thus a Simone Weil exerts some of her last stores of inner energy to outwardly write “The Need for Roots”, for a potential France that she would never corporeally see, and a friend rises out of his inner grief to assemble an outward memorial montage to Bach.
    Maybe we have to live with our feet in both worlds, allowing inner and outer realities to responsively reinforce each other through dialogue, like a canon.

  9. Nick, you may want to look into the two books by Maurice Nicoll, The Mark and The New Man, which explore the Gospel parables, like this one. Just a thought.

    My experience is that they almost never mean what they literally say, and what I was taught as a little kid in Sunday School on the South Side of Chicago, but need to be absorbed into the mind and then after a time into the subconscious. These two Nicoll books were astounding to me when I first read them. The meaning in these parables exploded after the Nicoll readings and I saw that I had not wasted my time becoming familiar with the Bible stories as a child, as I once thought.

    In a way, the parables such as this one are comparable to the Gurdjieff/deHartmann pieces. They’re kind of OK as music, even trite in some cases, until they start working their magic inside one.

  10. Hi Donald

    I own both books and have a deep appreciation for Dr.Nicoll. Those two books had a deep affect on me as well. I even plowed through “Living Time.”

    One thing I believe has been lost is what Gurdjieff meant by “pole star” both in the external world and in our inner world. Without its direction, I don’t think we can discriminate between positive and negative emotions as Dr. Nicoll explains in the Commentaries:

    Now, to return briefly to the
    title of this note–namely, “Negative
    and Positive Emotions”. All positive
    emotions come from Higher Centers–
    and that is why we have to work on
    negative emotions. Their quality is
    such that they have no opposites in
    them. That is, they are Third Force,
    or, as the Gospels say, “Holy Spirit”.
    They are “Yes AND No”–not “Yes OR No”.
    No one can create, call forth, make a
    positive emotion. So Mr. Ouspensky
    said: “Positive emotions come as
    rewards.” That is, if you have
    privately, solitarily, and in
    the loneliness not of your
    negative self but your own
    spirit, decided, made a
    decision, to work on YOU
    YOURSELF as regards some
    source of negative emotion–
    if you, all alone, in this
    solitary place in yourself,
    full of the integrity of your
    most Real “I,” have decided, made
    a decision, not to identify or feed
    a particular negative emotion–if, in
    short, you have shut the door and entered
    into yourself (as it is said in Matthew:
    “enter into thine inner chamber, and
    having shut thy door, pray to thy
    Father, which is in secret”) then,
    “your Father, which seeth in secret,
    will reward you” (Matthew vi.6)

    What is the reward?

    You will taste positive emotion
    for a brief moment–something blessed–
    that is, filled with such bliss that
    NOTHING of human love-hate emotions
    can be compared with it. What we
    regard as positive emotions,
    feeling fine, feeling fit,
    and on top of the world,
    self-admiration, etc.,
    can turn in a moment
    into negative emotion.
    Such emotions, such pleasant
    emotions, are not positive
    emotions; these never
    change into their
    opposites but
    visit us and
    then withdraw.
    This recent war against the mind has come to include the contemplative mind. Its quality of consciousness is what protects the heart from confusing negative with positive human emotions. The result IMO is often the adoration of a quality of emotions considered spiritual in the world. If that is all that is wanted then it is OK. I’m just glad for these others that help me to appreciate the reality of the human condition including the weakness of what Gurdjieff called suggestibility.

  11. Hi Nick,

    I appreciate what you say. I think of those higher emotions or states you describe as moments of insight, moments when real seeing or clarity appear. They are moments of seeing the way life is, containg positive and negative. The minute I claim them as mine, down I go into the usual emotions.

  12. Hi Tracy

    Would you say that “seeing” is primarily a function of consciousness or emotion? I say “primarily because I believe at a higher level they are connected. Simone Weil writes in what has been called her “Spiritual Autobiography” which appears in the “God” issue of Parabola:

    “In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God I had vaguely heard tell of things of this kind, but I had never believed in them. In the Fioretti the accounts of apparitions rather put me off if anything, like the miracles in the Gospel. Moreover, in this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part; I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile on a beloved face.

    I had never read any mystical works because I had never felt any call to read them. In reading as in other things I have always striven to practice obedience. There is nothing more favorable to intellectual progress, for as far as possible I only read what I am hungry for at the moment when I have an appetite for it, and then I do not read, I eat. God in his mercy had prevented me from reading the mystics, so that it should be evident to me that I had not invented this absolutely unexpected contact.

    Would you call this experience of higher conscious love primarily “seeing” or objectively “experiencing?”

  13. Hi Nick, I would call it seeing as receiving–a state where seeing becomes a very deep kind of experiencing.

  14. Hi Tracy

    Hi Nick, I would call it seeing as receiving–a state where seeing becomes a very deep kind of experiencing.

    Perhaps our differences are largely semantic but I distinguish between the seeing of consciousness and the experiencing of higher emotions.

    Higher emotions for me is the experience of relative quality. It is what draws the maturing soul to return to its source. Consciousness opens us to the vertical space, the inner direction of ascent and descent, involution and evolution.

    Normally we are unaware of it and just continually react along a horizontal plane of existence. Consciousness reveals the vertical direction within which the objective “quality” of the moment (as above, so below) is experienced which can invite the experience of higher emotions.

    Imagine a quality of emotion through that arises where there is no conflict. It is like the midpoint of a horizontal line between extremes. It vanishes as soon as the balance is lost.

    Now extend lines from the two ends of this horizontal line of extremes vertically so that they can meet in the middle forming a triangle. This midpoint is a higher level of reality with a corresponding higher quality of emotion that consciously reconciles extremes. Of course we are incapable of it as we are yet it is what Jesus did on the Cross. He reconciled the extremes of the attraction to consciousness and the pull of the earth.

    I believe consciously “seeing” and experiencing these opposing attractions in the perpetually moving context of what Gurdjieff called the Law of Triamazikamno requires a sustained quality of consciousness and emotion we have as a potential . It is only through imagination that we believe we are capable “understanding” and have actualized this potential. It is not too flattering to remember that we are in Plato’s Cave.

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