On Independence Day, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. We didn’t plan to do this. My daughter, my friends, and I were headed downtown to walk around revolutionary sites. But we emerged from the subway right where the walkway starts, and those iconic arches looming above us, inviting us to cross over to the Great Holy Land of Brooklyn. Like many unplanned things, it turned out to be rich with meaning.
I call it Great Holy Land of Brooklyn because walking around the Heights and Cobble Hill used to fill my now-22-year-old daughter with nostalgia—a fierce longing for her what she regards to be her true home, the place of her first and happiest decade of life. Yet, as a recent college graduate she now also understands what it is like to long for the future, to have a sense of anticipation about finding her true place in the world.
We dwell in the midst of the unknown. We know this, or rather the body senses it. The physicist Stephen Hawkings defines “synchronicity” as nostalgia for the future. This makes sense because synchronicity is shot through with the uncanny sense of being given a clue from another level, of following a trail of cosmic breadcrumbs towards a deeper meaning. Even if our rational mind has talked us out of it, the body feels that there is a greater truth to be revealed, a greater pattern or whole. Synchronicity delivers the little shock that reality is alive.
Walking in Brooklyn was charged with synchronicity for me. I didn’t long for the future in the way that a 22-year-old longs for the future. A middle-aged person just can’t get as excited about what life will be like in twenty years—we naturally start focusing on the journey rather than the ultimate destination. The synchronicity I felt was a longing to find a path or a way to be part of a larger life.
My body knew the way through the brownstone streets, remembered the old haunts, the bookstore, the park, the cafe. I felt the ghosts of old experiences, old loves and sorrows and certainties. And that was just it: they were ghosts, no longer alive. I had lived in Brooklyn cocooned in my own little bubble of experience–and my experience had flowed on.
It was as if I had been drawn to Brooklyn to find clues about what the Buddha (or his early followers) called “the three marks of existence”– that everything in our lives is characterized by emptiness, impermanence, and the suffering or unsatisfactory feeling that comes as we experience how everything and everyone slips through our fingers.
My friend told me she thought I seemed to be walking around Brooklyn in a trance of memory, but I was actually experiencing the feeling of longing to wake from a trance. The trance-like look I may have had to do with realizing the insubstantial and fleeting nature my experience–even formerly intense experience. I realized I had been independent those ten years there, and now I longed to know my interdependence–to really feel and know a connection with a larger world.
In an upcoming book An Unknown Earth, which will be excerpted in the new issue of Parabola, philosopher and author Jacob Needleman describes discovering (or rediscovering) a feeling for the Earth and the Sun: “Such feelings are quite prior to, earlier than, feelings for one’s mother or father. They are written into the being of man.” Needleman does not stint on portraying the scale of the world that science is discovering—“not only the infinity of stars, but the infinity of galaxies and clusters of galaxies…Levels and levels of worlds—worlds within worlds within worlds.”
We dwell in midst of the unknown. Some among us in all cultures and times, from shamans to the Buddha to Socrates to the great modern philosopher Immanuel Kant, have seen and explained how the structures of the mind shape our experience of reality. How we, ourselves, are the deepest unknown. Below the level of consciousness, in the body, we feel this. Our popular culture reflects and projects our fears and wonder at this knowledge.
Can we break out of the bubble of our own experience and come to know a greater reality? All the contributors in the upcoming issue of Parabola encourage us to deepen our awareness of just this question. Nipun Mehta describes a pilgrimage to India: “our goal was simply to be in a space larger than our egos, and to allow that compassion to guide us in unscripted acts of service along the way.”
Can a feeling or a wish to see beyond the known be a guide? In the course of their pilgrimage into the unknown, Mehta and his wife find a way to see life in a new way–as a gift, not a means to an end. Contributor Barbara Berger describes suddenly seeing the magic and possibility in the negative space of a great painting. Her recognition is full of that primal feeling that Needleman describes: “My own un-knowing wasn’t a weakness after all, not a symptom of something wrong, something to fix or solve. It was part of a greater mystery….”
8 thoughts on “Interdependence Day”
Jacob Needleman describes discovering (or rediscovering) a feeling for the Earth and the Sun: “Such feelings are quite prior to, earlier than, feelings for one’s mother or father. They are written into the being of man.”
knowledge of this type I know of as a priori. According to Plato it is soul knowledge. Our involvement in life produces a personality that relies on conditioned interpretations of sense experience producing dominant habits and opinions and are called a posteriori. There are a minority that seek to “remember” soul knowledge or the source of opinions but it seems most seek self justification.
Can we break out of the bubble of our own experience and come to know a greater reality?
Perhaps a rare few can remember sufficiently to not have it devolve into self justifying imagination but it seems the defense of our pre-conceptions is too important.
Can a feeling or a wish to see beyond the known be a guide?
Again, maybe for a few but in most cases this wish becomes a part of “wonderful thoughts” that deny the experience of the unknown,
“For us, this walk was a pilgrimage—and our goal was simply to be in a space larger than our egos, and to allow that compassion to guide us in unscripted acts of service along the way.”
This is where I part company with much of New Age thought. The ego is seen as the villain and yet I understand it as the victim. It has been corrupted and it is precisely the ego that can consciously connect our inner world with the external world. Why kill it? Why not heal it?
Gurdjieff said in Ouspensky’s book “In Search of the Miraculous:”
Know Thyself: In order to be able to help others, one must first learn to help oneself. Only a conscious egoist can help others. Nothing is possible as long as a person remains a slave both inwardly or outwardly. Liberation from inner slavery – i.e. ignorance – involves self-knowledge and understanding of one’s own self, how one works/functions. Without this self-understanding one will always be the plaything of the forces acting upon one.”
Simone Weil wrote: Man would like to be an egoist and cannot. This is the most striking characteristic of his wretchedness and the source of his greatness.”
Both Gurdjieff and Simone Weil seem to value the conscious ego which many seek to kill from only appreciating ego in its corrupted form. Perhaps the conscious ego is the means by which a person can put into practice the a priori soul knowledge that is “remembered?”
How to become a conscious egoist for those who recognize its value? A good question.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to reading Prof. Needleman’s ideas on the human condition.
Thanks, Nick. Remembering soul knowledge, interesting. The only part I differ on is your reference to “New Age.” The New Age has always been with us, esp. in America. There have always been revival shows, etc. But Nipun Mehta is deeply sincere and is reporting seeing something real. Peace, T
In many ways, most perhaps, we are memory, history. And yet, each thought leads us inevitably to the next moment of our life. Life Is a Conversation –
Your walk was a conversation with your memories from that time, but didn’t it also lead you into the next moment?
In a way it was a conversation with the past…but also more. Sometimes, at least at moments, a deeper wish can appear–and a greater awareness– in the spaces between the thoughts. There is an attention which is not thought.
Sometimes why we think we know what we know is not why we know it. There is consciousness and then there is what is happening before cognition. In crossing the bridge and being in a familiar place, there are thoughts and then are bodily sensations and there are even changes in heart rate that communicate to the brain. It is as if we are a world within ourselves and are only partly aware of the countries within us.
But what I love about this reflection is the complexities of experience. What part of the experience is triggered by thought, sight, smell, touch, taste, memory, moment, oxygen consumption, heart rate? What is happening within us when we cross the bridge and how much of what is happening do with really understand?
I confess that I have been reading a book on the art and science of delay and reading these studies on responses and movements that occur before full cognition and it is making me realize how much of what we tell ourselves is only speculation; is only a story.
In that famous marshmallow study about children delaying gratification in order to get two marshmallows instead of one, there are new studies suggesting that this ability to delay gratification has more to do with the ability to regulate heart rate than cognition. These studies also find that babies raised in very peaceful environments are better able to regulate heart rate than other babies.
All of this makes me wonder what is really happening within us when we feel something very strongly.
I guess I will just have to wait to find an answer. :)
Many need the sweet smiles and pacification but I believe the world needs the awakening efforts of the exiles like Simone Weil regardless of how weird society as a whole believe them to be.
Parabola’s Summer 1985 issue: Exile We are all dreamers, asleep to the reality of our lives. We are all exiles on a planet in exile (planet: wanderer, from Greek planan, to lead astray), a globe trapped halfway between heaven and hell. We see our “dividedness” wherever we look: one moment we prattle of love, unity, inner peace; the next moment we spit on our neighbor and vilify ourselves. Recalling the legend of Richard the Lion-hearted and faithless Prince John, we realize that these royal figures strut across our interior stage: there, too, the true monarch is abroad and upstart subordinates–our lusts, our fears–control the throne. We can, if we wish, heap the blame for our state on modernity, on the collapse of tradition, which causes our psyches to warp as we grow toward adulthood. We can indict modern science, which stripped God naked, or modern religion, which dandified him with dogmatic finery. Whatever our culprit, it’s clear that we are acceding, in a variety of contemporary and ancient languages, to the concept of a pan-human degeneration from a golden age, to Eliade’s idea of “beatitude before the Fall.” Our misery springs from our felt privation. –from “Living in the Rift” by Philip Zaleski Cover: Detail from “Expulsion from Paradise” by Masaccio
Elizabeth, what you say about heart rate, breathing and other sensations reminds me we are almost never aware of these aspects of ourselves. Mostly it is our thoughts, dreams really, or emotional reactions that occupy our normal consciousness. We need a very keen and precise and yet broad attention that is not deflected by our impulses. Then we can possibly SEE what is happening in us. Gurdjieff taught that one must begin with the sensation of the body.
Hi Bruce, I’m beginning to understand why an awareness of sensation of the body, not just thoughts, is so important. See my ghost story….