As I was writing this blog on my laptop—which happens to be about how oblivious we usually are to our interconnection—the sofa started to shake. “Earthquake,” I thought, suddenly really aware that I was in was on the earth and that it was trembling beneath me. I thought of the earth shaking in recognition of the Buddha’s awakening. It was as if the earth knew that Buddha was awake and fully perceiving its life.
“It is fairly obvious by now that life on earth forms a vast interconnected and interdependent network,” writes Christian Wertenbaker in the “Seeing” issue of Parabola. This really has become general knowledge. Most of us accept (however grudgingly) that we live inside an ecosystem—and that we ourselves are ecosystems: just as birds keep a hippopotamus clean, intestinal bacteria help us digest. We are used to hearing by now that the building blocks of life—carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and the rest—“were formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars and distributed by the explosions of supernovae, as part of vast cosmic cycles of stellar formation, growth, and death.”
We are deeply embedded in life and we are made to participate in life. Most of us get this, yet Wertenbaker reminds us that something more is possible. We are also capable of resonating with (and therefore discovering) the underlying mathematical forms or laws of reality. Wertenbaker draws on Gurdjieff who draws on a very ancient idea: By perceiving consciously instead of in our usual state of unawareness “we are, or can be, part of a great cosmic ecology of consciousness….” Just as our bodies are made of atoms, our inner life in the form of our conscious perceptions and reflection connects us to the Whole.
Many of us resonate with this. Yet many of us treat having an inner life as a solitary pursuit, something we keep to ourselves. Is that not strange? I wrote last time about being young and learning that it was best to be a kind of secret agent, to keep my innermost thoughts and perceptions to myself, to keep my vulnerability hidden under a cloak of cool (or at least an attempt at cool). None of this is unusual in this culture. Nor is the love I had of outlaws who were secretly pure and innocent—from the Kerouac to Count of Monte Cristo (who was intent on revenge for his wrongful imprisonment, but that’s another story). This is a pretty standard part of growing up. But it is also intensely ironic, because even these romantic figures (certainly Kerouac) were seeking a sense of interconnection and resonance with higher laws.
Solitary as the spiritual search might seem, there inevitably comes a moment when I find myself sitting with in a shadowy hall somewhere. Wrapped in shawls or yoga blankets, sitting still with backs straight on cushions, we look like the earliest humans, at least as I imagine them. Or maybe we just look like earliest humans in the sense of being like children again, facing life with our whole beings. At those times, I know that for all my shyness, all the defenses I have picked up over the years, I am still capable of real connection with the others, all of us coming so far to be together—and not just New York and California but through all kinds of difficulties. And all of that common effort made just to risk trying for greater awareness–for a consciousness that isn’t attached to memories and feelings and views, that isn’t separate from life by being attached to being a particular “someone” who needs to be defended.
“There is no way out; there is only healing,” a teacherwho really knows what she is talking about said to me. There is no escape from our situation. Everyone has their reasons, their wounds. There is nowhere to go but down into our common humanity. There usually comes a moment when I am sitting in a room full of fellow humans, all of us drawing our attention to the breathing (among the most basic and easy to track exchange with the outside world), when we can feel like we are descending into a vast subterranean cave full of forces and energies unknown to the ordinary thinking mind with its obsession on protecting and defending.
When I go on retreat (even if it is just a moment of turning inward during the day) I see that my own attention was weak, just a kind of dim, flickering light, but I am always certain that if I just keep following it, leaving the known world of my thinking for the unknown, I may come upon wonders. In such a moment, I begin to grasp something that the great spiritual traditions teach, that we and our ancestors all the way back to the beginning of humanity are one. They exist in us. We resonate with the same rhythms: the day and night, the heartbeat, the breathing. And some of us we have another possibility also, to resonate with the laws under reality, to be the eye that reflects the Whole.
13 thoughts on “Feeling the Earth Move”
beautiful post, tracy. what you write about that moment in meditation when “when we can feel like we are descending into a vast subterranean cave full of forces and energies unknown to the ordinary thinking mind with its obsession on protecting and defending,” i thought that this is the same in the writing process. which is why it’s a practice for me, akin to sitting.
Hi Joyce, I feel the same about writing. I feel I have to descend to a place where I can feel a certain pulse or vibration, otherwise I get horribly caught in thinking. And I do regard it as a practice, akin to sitting.
I like that, writing is a practice, a spiritual practice. I’d have to say that is true for me too. Have a great day all. Peace – Ron
I meditate on the Horsehead Nebula,
to real-ize our relation.
remove all labels,
open the tao
(back to Eden)
no need . . .
Writing can be a wonderful spiritual practice…as this meditation on the Horsehead Nebula (and so many of the comments in this blog space) reveals.
It seems that we’ve come back to the relationship between solitude and community. As you know I am wary of community because as the “Great Beast” it sucks the life out of individuality. However you suggest a type of community that allows for the growth of individuality.
I do believe that the ability for solitude allows one to live in society but not become a willing part of the Great Beast which is society itself. They can live in the world but not be of it. I think we largely underestimate how difficult it is.
“To bear the manifestation of others is a big thing. The last thing for a man.” Gurdjieff
“Difficult as it is really to listen to someone in affliction, it is just as difficult for him to know that compassion is listening to him.” Simone Weil
I’ve experienced how difficult this is If the aim is “to be,” it does seem that we must be capable of solitude to avoid becoming just another part of the Great Beast.
“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.” Simone Weil
The ability to open to solitude seems a prerequisite to be of benefit to and benefit from community.
Socrates explains in Plato’s cave analogy what it means to be in community from the perspective of one who has “seen the light:”
[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.
[Glaucon] But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?
[Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.
[Glaucon] True, he said, I had forgotten.
[Socrates] Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the cave, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.
The point here is that such a person has acquired the conscious ability to be of benefit as you describe. They have become free of the imagination that normally makes it impossible. Their capacity for solitude makes it possible. Wonderful thoughts are replaced by experiential knowledge.
As Simone wrote: “The wise have to return to the cave, and act there. One has to reach the stage where power is in the hands of those who refuse it, and not of those whose ambition it is to possess it.”
You wrote of the value of descending. I believe that the real objective benefit is only possible for individuals and society through the influence of those that have ascended in the direction of the “Good” the “Source” so as to acquire the potential to put the darkness of cave life into a conscious perspective during the process of descent.
These are very rare individuals. We are not them but at least we can honor their value and humanity regardless of how they are scorned.
Hi Nick, I think you are right about solitude. But strange as it may sound I think what you describe requires getting over yourself, completely losing interest in your own imaginings, as you put it–being more interested in life than self.
Who are those rare individuals who have ascended, besides Jesus and Buddha. Simone? Can people ascend for a moment?
How much of us really wants to get over ourselves? My guess is the great majority of our common presence prefers to justify ourselves.
Does getting over ourselves mean the denial of self or striving towards the potential for self as inner unity: “to be?” It requires separating the wheat from the tares, the real from the acquired within, But how many either need or want the truth?
“Here there are neither Russians nor English, Jews nor Christians, but only those who pursue one aim — to be able to be.” Gurdjieff
I read this as acknowledging being ONE in our striving “to be” rather than being ONE as we are.
I don’t put Simone in the same category as Buddha and Jesus who I see as messengers from above. My only explanation for Simone is that she was a partially developed soul that needed this incarnation intentionally free of “buffers” for the sake of her need to experience reality in order to advance through purification. People like her stir everything up and then leave. They serve as alarm clocks and their presence is vital as awakening influences in the world.
Gurdjieff IMO is another prime example of one whose consciousness had ascended beyond the limits of Plato’s Cave and descended in turn back into the world.
I think people can consciously ascend even if just for a moment. The desire to experience gnosis is the desire to experience the unity of ascent
Plotinus asserted that gnosis, through contemplation, was the highest goal of the philosopher. It led towards henosis or “oneness.”
Simone Weil wrote that “Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity.” Light in this sense means grace. Gravity in this sense means the involutionary descent into creation, into diversity while grace is what makes evolution, the flow of life forces ascending towards inner unity possible
Ascent is freedom with the help of grace from the laws normal for a lower level of reality that we respond to mechanically in order to become capable of consciously serving fewer mechanical laws normal for a higher level of reality.
Does conscious humanity exist? Are there human beings capable of serving as a conscious middle between higher and lower levels of reality: heaven and earth? Do they have the ability as a conscious middle for receiving from above and giving to below? I don’t know? How would we recognize them? Would they be saying the “right things” and wearing the “right clothes?”
“The only people who can give the impression of having risen to a higher plane, who seem superior to ordinary human misery, are people who resort to the aids of illusion, exaltation, fanaticism, to conceal the harshness of destiny from their own eyes. The man who does not wear the armor of the lie cannot experience force without being touched by it to his very soul.”
– Simone Weil
How many can be touched? How many can acquire the quality of solitude so as not to need the armor of the lie
Hi Nick, Thanks for your reply. Gravity and grace: in one way we are defined by the body and conditions we have descended into–gender, color, class, temperment and talents, etc. — and in another way we are other than any of that; we are free. Sometimes, for a split second (especially sitting or in solitude) I feel I can be both–child of God and child of man.
I what Buddha meant by the path is a way of living that might allow a person to live that kind of double life, to dwell in the relative and the absolute at the same time.
Be safe and well, T
I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knwoelgdebale?
Thank you, Eve. I am a writer and editor.
This “way to living” can easily be misunderstood as I believe it is in modern Western Buddhism and in New Age circles. Instead of inviting the direct experience of a contradiction, These ways of living consider the contradiction disruptive and seek to avoid it at all cost..
It is a natural misunderstanding but IMO just serves the same purpose as good scotch which is fine if that is all that is wanted.
Both Gurdjieff and Simone Weil invited the experience of raw contradiction as necessary for them to acquire “understanding.”
“I wished to create around myself conditions in which a man would be continually reminded of the sense and aim of his existence by an unavoidable friction between his conscience and the automatic manifestations of his nature.” —G.I. Gurdjieff, ca. 1913, when first envisioning the foundation of his institute
“When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know that it is really a door.” Simone Weil.
I know I only welcome the experience up to a point so can easily appreciate the attraction of good scotch. Can I become able to welcome and learn from the contradiction without any lovely trimmings even though I sense its value? Another contradiction. :)
Here’s to the contraditions, Nick. A toast to you and all your aspirations this New Year’s Eve.