Diving Into the Wreck

Almost exactly twenty years ago, on a raw spring day, I took my then 2-year-old daughter to see the Disney version “Alladin” at our neighborhood movie theater in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.   It was meant to be a big day for baby Alex, her first big screen movie.   Yet after all these years, I realize there is a scene in that movie that became a big deal for me: a key slips into a lock and the entrance to a cave slides open to Alladin.  What seemed to be barren desert is revealed to contain wonders, treasures, the boy who seemed to have nothing was being offered riches beyond comprehension.

That cartoon scene became an emblem of a dream I once had in college—of a ghost town on the prairie, shuttered and lifeless, and under it an ancient city, an extraordinary structure with arches and pillars, inlaid with intricate patterns inlaid with brilliant jewels, veined with canals filled with dark, flowing water.   I traveled through the city in a kind of gondola, amazed that such a world could exist under a place that seemed so bleak and godforsaken.  I felt like that ghost town back then, parched, stranded in school.  I despaired that I let my parents down.  I could never have articulated it at the time but I really actually despaired that I would ever find what I was seeking (although I didn’t know I was seeking.)  Without daring to admit it, I suspected there was another world within this world, and that some beings found their way to it—Alladin, for one.

It is misery to suspect such a thing without knowing which way to turn.  Yet after all these years,  I have come to realize that being lost and bereft is part of the journey.  Somehow, these contrasting experiences—being lost and found, striving and being open to receive –turn the key in the lock and reveal the cave of wonders.  On Sunday evening at my local meditation sangha, I read a bit of a poem “Diving into the Wreck” by the late, great Adrienne Rich.   I thought it was a wonderful description of what it can be like to go on retreat or sit down on a meditation cushion to meditate:


First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,

I put on

the body-armor of black rubber

the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this

not like Cousteau with his

assiduous team

aboard the sun-flooded schooner

but here alone.

 

There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

We know what it is for,

we who have used it….

 

I go down.

Rung after rung and still

the oxygen immerses me

the blue light….

 

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

I stroke the beam of my lamp

slowly along the flank

of something more permanent

than fish or weed

 

the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth

 

To me, the poem captures the difference between the intention and the reality, words and the thing itself.  But my sangha friend Michael asked a powerful question:  “Why do we need as this stuff, the book, the mask, and flippers? “  He explained that he longs for the experience of sitting in the sun without equipment, just sitting, just breathing, just being.  He had climbed a mountain earlier that day and brought some of that experience into the room—that very fresh and direct contact with reality.  I would feel the vibrant life in his question.  Why do we need the book of the dharma or any other wisdom tradition, the techniques and rituals, the equipment?   Why can’t we have the thing itself and not the myth?

On one level, we need maps, even though it’s not the territory.  And we need all the help and support we can get.  But on a deeper level, I also sense now that there is a mysterious necessity in our wrong turns and posturing, our clumsy and ludicrous putting on of masks and flippers, even in our giving up and despair.   We can’t see it or experience it at the time, but those moments lead to a subtle turning. In the midst of doing that wrong things, there can be a longing to live a different life, to undo all my conditioning, to receive instead of striving, to listen and watch and not know, to descend instead of rising.  Counter to all appearances, diving with all that ridiculous equipment can lead us to the unconditioned.  The beggar boy can find his way to the cave of wonders.

Comments

  1. Having just returned myself from a short excursion in search of “inaccessible places” I can agree that all the seemingly foolish/wrong/unnecessary steps and trappings are vitally necessary.

    We were working to be present to ourselves and took an exercise together of remaining in contact with the sensation of our whole body as we simply raised and lowered one arm. It is surprisingly difficult because one sees soon that I am either going out to the arm or staying back with the torso, not both together. During each movement of the arm I return again and again. No one effort yielded anything, yet afterwards when we viewed a film I clearly saw myself avidly going out to clutch and take in the film and remained for a time free and aware of myself.

    Our situation is that we are conditioned, partial beings.

    The great leap we would like to make into a cosmic awareness is impossible. We can only make efforts within the reality of what and where we are now, our finite present moment. These efforts appear puny, pointless. They must, since they are also part of our conditionedness. But they make new possibilities which cannot be foreseen or calculated.

    I believe it was Rumi who said that if you take one step toward God He takes 100 toward you.

    The marvel is that our present moment is not a point but a small volume. There is some latitude and possibility of movement and choice within our situation.

    Joy and sorrow, loosing and finding are like two feet. Mr. Bennett said it was difficult to try to get anywhere always hopping on the joy foot.

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    • Hi Bruce, Very useful way to think of it–that the present moment is not merely a point but a space with room to move. I was thinking after I wrote (I did not even proof read, sometimes I have to skip that and live with the embarrassment of typos and bad word choice to outwit the vicious inner critic)….anyway, I was thinking that sometimes without our head knowledge our experience turns us very slightly in a new direction, so that something can be received.

      But I have another question. As wonderful as work weekends are, I have a question about following a long-established form vs. trying something new. It’s a question of balance, and sincerity. I mean, is being on the kitchen team more revealing than writing?

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      • Because I have some manual skill and experience I almost always get assigned to some sort of maintenance or building activity. In this it is easy to slip into well worn automatic behaviors and I often do. Once I was in the kitchen and I found that I could chop vegetables as automatically as I could solder pipe.

        I think the ‘who’s in charge’ question is more vital than the ‘what are we doing’ question. Our external activity is not important. Are we cultivating compassion, finding ways of entering other peoples’ experience and seeing ourselves as others see us? Do we work at inner things practically?

        Forms of study and practice need to correspond to conditions and the aim of the practice. I don’t see the value of hierarchical forms. The new world which is coming, which we are striving to give birth to, will resemble more the time of Ashiata Shiemash where no one wished or aimed for power and leaders and advisor-specialists became such when they were sought out and pushed forward by those around them who saw that they had the necessary inner qualities.

        I think that vigorously rotating all tasks and duties so that everyone must try their hand at everything is the most corresponding to our situation where none of us possess any real being. We need to get rid of our hierarchical ways and habits of either hiding from responsibility or lording it over others.

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      • Hi Bruce, I wonder if people ever really give up power voluntarily….a few great beings have for sure. But not most people.

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      • I don’t think we can completely give up power, and it may be necessary for certain things, but I am convinced there are more productive and efficient methods of obtaining our aims in the realm of interactions with other people. What is important is to shift our own focus to open, inclusive and respectful ways and to study how we behave with each other.

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  2. Traci in this reality of form and consequently dimension we live through our mind which is an energy pattern and as a result has limitations. We can stretch that consciousness like an elastic and we certainly have fabulous models namely prophets whose teachings definitely expand the conscious mind. However no matter how much we awaken or expand our mind , which is our builder , it needs structure or pattern and focus to come to terms with the vast energy which we are all part of.

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    • Hi Falk, I agree, we do need to find and connect with larger patterns. It’s a marvel that we find them…blunder into them, often during our wrong turns and dark nights of the soul. Otherwise, we’re blinded by our own smug visions of what should be.

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  3. “When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know that it is really a door.” Simone Weil

    Hi Tracy. You wrote
    On one level, we need maps, even though it’s not the territory. And we need all the help and support we can get. But on a deeper level, I also sense now that there is a mysterious necessity in our wrong turns and posturing, our clumsy and ludicrous putting on of masks and flippers, even in our giving up and despair. We can’t see it or experience it at the time, but those moments lead to a subtle turning. In the midst of doing that wrong things, there can be a longing to live a different life, to undo all my conditioning, to receive instead of striving, to listen and watch and not know, to descend instead of rising. Counter to all appearances, diving with all that ridiculous equipment can lead us to the unconditioned. The beggar boy can find his way to the cave of wonders.
    *************************

    Simone Weil wrote

    Excerpted from a letter Simone Weil wrote on May 15, 1942 in Marseilles, France to her close friend Father Perrin:

    “………..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……………”
    **************************

    You want to descend and Simone wanted to ascend in the direction of the world of forms from which the phenomenal plane manifests. Is this an apparent contradiction that can expose a door?

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  4. Hi Tracy, you wrote

    Hi Bruce, I wonder if people ever really give up power voluntarily….a few great beings have for sure. But not most people
    ****************************
    Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that man’s conscious evolution is connected to the evolution of the earth. As we are, the wretched man, the Great Beast, it would be impossible for the Beast to give up power. The guiding force of the Beast is “prestige.”

    There are those who intentionally give up the ability to rule for the sake of furthering the energies necessary for conscious human individuality and the ability to become oneself. But they are a rarity. The great majority are guided by the need for “prestige.” This natural attribute of the Great Beast assures everything will remain as it is regardless of the finest platitudes.

    The Devil tempted Jesus with power from the mountain top but Jesus chose to serve a higher reality in the direction of man’s conscious evolution.

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