Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VI

151. It is one thing to have a sensitive and well-stocked mind, and another thing altogether to have one that is disciplined and under our watchful supervision.

152. My body: it seems to have a mind all its own!

153. My intuition tells me that bliss is not the ultimate triumph of pleasure over pain—but rather, what is left over after pleasure and pain cancel each other out. Bliss, while intrinsically pleasant, should perhaps be thought of as the reward that accompanies liberation from those cruder categories—pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain, remember, are concerned with desire and fear. Bliss, therefore, is born from the death of desire and fear, the primary engines driving human thought, action, and reaction.

154. It is much easier to steal people’s attention than it is to earn their respect.

155. So long as our thrusters are burning at full tilt, it can be extremely difficult to mentally step outside of our powerfully propelled trajectory and see through it into its emptiness (from the standpoint of the dis-illusioned Self). Therefore, it is only as we begin to run out of gas—to burn out our last fuel—that we are sufficiently freed up from our momentum to view things quietly. Thus, a kind of melancholia often accompanies the getting of wisdom. There is, however, a silver lining to this cloud: it requires a lot of thrust to break free from Earth’s gravitational grip—but once in space, very little fuel is needed in order to traverse vast distances.

156. I am but a rod or a cone in the eyeball of God. Or, is it the devil? And, might these two share more than a little DNA? Do they not, in fact, merge into one another, once all distinguishing masks have been removed?

157. In the West, the veil of Maya has been elevated and deified into an arch-principle known familiarly as ‘materialism.’ In the East, despite the tsunamic onslaught of Western values and ‘dialectical materialism,’ the veil of Maya (or, in China, ‘the ten thousand things’) continues to be regarded with the instinctive suspicion reserved for all grand deceptions.

158. One could do worse than conceive of the ego as a ‘self-consuming artifact.’ Or, if you want to put a more optimistic spin on it, you might say that the ego is a ‘self-resolving equation.’ But then, you’re back to square one, since pessimism and optimism necessarily cancel each other out in the end.

159. There are insights that come to us, if at all, only at certain points in our life, when—as with auspicious astrological events—the inner and outer conditions are suitably aligned for those insights. When these conditions change or are outgrown, such insights (which are as indigenous to those conditions as are the fauna and flora to an ecosystem) inevitably undergo a corresponding change in status. There would appear to be a tiny handful of insights that refer not to incrementally changing conditions but to perennial and abiding ones. These—and perhaps only these—are the insights worthy of our greatest sacrifice and effort. They constitute the wheel upon which the bones of the personal ego are broken—pulverized into iron filings that are utterly obedient to the magnetic field produced by the spirit, which bloweth where it listeth.

160. Letter written to an old friend: ‘The old bridge between us was becoming rickety and unfit for use—at least on my end.  Therefore, I have pretty much demolished the old structure and I have begun construction on the new.  I can only meet you halfway.  You will need to build your half if we are to reconnect in the middle.  But be forewarned: the finer materials from which the new bridge is constructed are not cheap.  I have found that I cannot cut corners, as you will no doubt discover if you undertake this project from your bank.  I look forward to rejoining you in the middle when our two ends meet.’

161. In full self-realization, there is no longer an other to perform for, or to save, or to worship, or to talk to. This is why the prospect of dissolving the personal ‘I’ (which is correlative with the ‘other’) is so utterly terrifying to us. For even the most selfish and ungenerous of egos needs to have ‘others’—if only to mistreat, or to run away from, or to exploit, or for entertainment, etc. Egolessness (or Self-realization), then, is simply out of this world.

162. One puffed-up American individualist teenager to another: “Go ahead and try out for cheerleader if you’re that insecure! I have to be completely and utterly true to myself! That’s why I’m going Goth.

163. A man’s honesty is founded upon his store of courage. He will allow himself to admit only as much as he has the courage to bear. There are persons who experience sporadic eruptions of courage, during which fleeting episodes they honestly dredge up many buried thoughts about themselves, about their fellows, and about life itself—thoughts they will abruptly and thoroughly forget about, and even deny, as soon as the momentary spasm of bravery wears off.

164. Are there two utterly incompatible value-systems at play, depending on ‘who’ happens at any given moment to be behind the wheel—the daimon or the ordinary human (who serves as a kind of host or vessel for the indwelling daimon, or soul)? Are we not concerned here with two quite distinct ‘fields of operation’: the ‘underworld’ of psyche and soul-making, on the one hand, and the ‘dayworld’ of collective consciousness in the mundane realm, on the other? Shouldn’t they perhaps be kept distinct and not forced to merge in the interests of some ideal form of integration? Does the heroic Hercules really have any rightful place in the Hadean underworld of immaterial shades and images—and doesn’t moist soul quickly wither and desiccate in the parched, over-heated dayworld of sun-like consciousness?

165. Peeps or Pimps? Why do we call them ‘people’? We should do better to call them ‘pimples.’ They are eruptions or bulges that appear on the surface—upon the facial skin of life. They are produced when pores, blocked and begrimed with soil and soot, begin to fester upon that skin. Some pimples are big and they leave unsightly scars after they’ve burst and dried up. Most come and go almost without a trace. Because they appear in large numbers during the teenage years, many associate pimples with adolescence—that mysterious transitional phase wherein one is no longer as innocent as a child, but not yet a self-reliant and self-responsible adult. Strangely enough, there are few pleasures as nasty and, at the same time, as purging as popping big fat juicy pimples in front of the lavatory mirror.

166. Little cowards use big guns.

167. All our ‘possessions’ in this world are rented, not owned—and the dearer they are to us, the greater the rent exacted from our souls.  And perhaps, some will say that even the highest rents are worth paying with our very souls. It is not just things and persons that fall under this category of the leased or rented.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories are there, as well.  Perhaps even our individual identities cost us an arm and a leg!  All of these, without exception, may turn out to be no more than schoolbooks used throughout the year by fifth-graders to learn some geography or history, and then are left behind for the next wave of clueless incomers.  They are no more than smudgy mirrors ineptly reflecting the developing face of the soul as it gradually ‘wises up’ about the evanescence of the world—and of itself.

168.  If I prove capable of dissolving my own ego, the big, brittle, bulbous, and bunglingly constructed egos of certain other persons should be relatively easy for me to see through and to analyze into their component parts, were I to apply myself to such work.  In this realm, it is not size that matters so much as quality of materials and the strength of the joints and linkages between the various components.

169. It is because, deep down, I know that all apparent opposites are just that—merely apparent—and that because they cancel each other out, in the end they are nothing, they therefore matter as nothing to the mind that is established in the truth.  I know that in taking the world at face value I chase after dreams and flee from ghosts: therefore, I should seek only stillness and the silence of dispassionate awareness.  Each time I allow myself to get worked up over some distracting piece of personal concern—which can never be anything more than a lapse or disturbance of my attentiveness to the real—I emerge with heightened resolve to stray no more.  All I should allow myself to be concerned with, so far as the world goes, is how I might best contribute to the release from mental bondage of all whom I address.

170. There are certain persons who continue to serve as anchors for me—so that my attachment to them helps to prevent me from flitting and floating away from the human realm.  Unfortunately, anchors are typically composed of lead or some other heavy metal.  Often, these companions have a good deal more success holding me down than I do prying and pulling them up from the sticky sea floor.  Nevertheless, it appears that we need to be tied to each other, even if we continue to baffle and rattle one another.  I’ve already said why I need them.  Could it be that they need me in order to know where to point their gaze should they wish to observe something other than moldering squid carcasses and the innards of sunken ships?

171. Rather than attempt the complicated task of laboriously untying the knot that binds the spirit in a spell of identification with the illusion of egoity, it seems preferable to dissolve the knot in a font of untangling stillness. Desire and fear—which are always ‘pulling our strings’ (or ‘jerking our chains’)—only tighten the knot. Desirelessness and ‘wu-wei’ (not-doing) relax the strings.

172. A person’s style—where it is genuine and not merely an empty posture—arises like a distinctive aroma from his/her most dominant, governing affect(s). I refer here not to transitory or surface emotions and moods but to the deepest affective patterns or energy signatures of the person. Not everyone (consciously or experientially) reaches into these depths, so we often search in vain for anything beyond surface symptoms—all treble but no bass, all leaf and no root, all flesh and no blood-filled heart. For such surface-dwellers, style, such as it is, has no connection with anything essential to the person. When, however, anyone expresses himself from the ground up, an unmistakable sense of style is invariably communicated. It may not be particularly pleasant or appealing, but it will always be unmistakable and recognizable.

173. All the energy and care that the archetypal psychologists lavish upon differentiation of images, motifs, and styles certainly pays big dividends in terms of intellectual and cultural attractiveness—but eventually we find such over-rich food cloying and such precious fare begins to spoil our digestion. In the end, it seems a bit like free-basing samsara—a very different endeavor than seeing through it and loosening its hold upon us. In their initially praiseworthy efforts to regenerate and revitalize the ailing culture of the contemporary West, they eventually began to celebrate culture for its own sake—to sacralize and deify the usefully restored images. As commendably evasive and slippery as he is, James Hillman nevertheless comes within a hair’s breadth of equating these images with divinity itself—if he doesn’t explicitly do so. The prospect of transcendence of the image is not an option for Hillman. To be sure, he does offer the prospect of greater depth—and this is certainly a great advance beyond the shallow literalism and rigid dogmatism of modern ‘fundamentalisms’ of every stripe: Christian, scientific-materialistic, political, etc. But it is still a far cry from true release.

174. It makes all the difference in the world whether a person’s strongest inclination is to search out opportunities for channeling and discharging his human-instinctual desires—or if it is to find a way to liberate his mind and his will from thralldom to these same desires. And then, there are those who just passively stick to the path of least resistance.

175. One simply cannot see anything of true importance concerning his spiritual problem until he has learned to be still. By ‘being still,’ of course, I mean detaching from the automatic mental processes that typically absorb and thoroughly ensnare our limited attention—the crucial factor in bringing about our self-transformation. The actual form or type of mental activity is of secondary importance here—what is important is that it is automatic, habit-reinforced, and therefore almost always compulsive. Only after this power is broken—if only momentarily and intermittently—does genuine stillness begin. And with stillness begins the path of liberation.

176. ‘To love all things equally,’ or equanimity—that is code for being no more moved (or dislodged from a state of centeredness) by one thing than by another.

177. Preferences and Prejudices: In order to fully accept ourselves, we must dispense—at least temporarily—with all those deeply ingrained, stubborn preferences and prejudices that simultaneously guide and restrict our vision of the whole that we’re seeking. But since it is largely this particular constellation of preferences and prejudices that constitutes our prized and precious individuality, the suspension or momentary transcendence of this defining array is tantamount to ego-annihilation. Little wonder that this occurs so rarely—if ever—in most persons’ lives. As hard as it is to retain enthusiasm for our stubborn preferences and prejudices (our governing taste) after we have learned that it is upon such flimsy and questionable ‘ground’ that our little personal lives are erected, most of us dig in our heels and hold our position rather than ‘let go’ and acknowledge just how constricting our defining preferences and prejudices actually are. Perhaps the better part of the general anxiety experienced throughout the human family stems precisely from such doggedly determined exertions to preserve and to protect these precious blinders that are secretly synonymous with our personal egos!

178. Homo Ludens: To what extent does realization of the Self sound the death knell to homo ludens? Play would seem to depend on mind—the wily, protean, beautiful-ugly, parasitic, restlessly productive mind. With the subjugation of mind (as master) infinite play is supplanted by infinite and eternal peace, is it not?

179. Equanimity and Brainwashing: Regarding all things with equanimity is to look upon all things fearlessly and without desire. It entails the suspension of our accustomed habit of assessing things, persons, ideas, and conditions in terms of how appealing or antagonistic they are to our preferences, our personal sense of comfort, propriety, meaningfulness, beauty, and self-interest. Instead—regarding all such phenomena as insubstantial and changeable—we gradually learn to pay them no mind. Absorption with such phenomena only prolongs our bondage. Equanimity is a helpful tool in our effort to wake up from the (by turns, alluring and terrifying) hallucination that is ‘life in the world,’ the body and mind that spawned all this. To those around us who are still thoroughly hoodwinked by the collective hallucination of the world, our efforts to un-brainwash ourselves—to wake up—will necessarily appear to be…brainwashing!

180. Talking to Myself: Oftentimes in the past I have whined about not having like-minded companions and knowledgeable allies within easy reach—persons who strive to live by the same lights, who share more or less the same spiritual goals and priorities. I would bellow out the same old bitter lament: ‘I have no genuine spiritual kin with whom I can speak and who will fully understand both me and my present plight.’ But that is not—and has never been—quite true. For when, with as complete and unreserved a confession as I can deliver, I talk to myself in these journal entries—year after year after year—am I not talking to the closest ally and spiritual kin of all? The one who is always there—always patient, always capable of pointing to the next depth, to the center, to the ground and source—to itself?





2 thoughts on “Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VI

  1. From your aphorisms – 159
    … There would appear to be a tiny handful of insights that refer not to incrementally changing conditions but to perennial and abiding ones. These—and perhaps only these—are the insights worthy of our greatest sacrifice and effort. They constitute the wheel upon which the bones of the personal ego are broken—pulverized into iron filings that are utterly obedient to the magnetic field produced by the spirit, which bloweth where it listeth.

    A poignant description of a spiritual demand.


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