Aphorisms, Invitations, and Provocations VII

181. Desire and Inner Structure: It is rather crude and misleading to say that we ‘see what we want to see.’ Rather, it is far more accurate to say that we ‘see how we want to see.’ This ‘how’ is the implicit—and almost invariably unexamined—structuring mechanism invisibly at work behind most of our thinking and perceiving. This structural mechanism guides, organizes, and powerfully delimits our thinking and perceiving. What lies behind—or beneath—this more or less elaborate structural apparatus, or guidance system within our minds? It is the hierarchy of dominant desires (along with the familiar fears which limit those desires) that, together, comprise the actual propellants that drive us into and through our (structurally guided) lives. So long as the hierarchy of desires, or implicit priorities, remains roughly constant and fixed, the structuring habits and orienting assumptions will to that extent be preserved. Only when there is a major disruption (or ‘revolution’) of these determining desires—only then do we see authentic changes in those structural habits (deep within the mind, or psyche) that govern ‘how’ we see and value the things, persons, ideas, and situations that we meet with in our experience.

182. The New Way of Knowing: To take the world as it actually is—to regard humanity (the rule, the typical specimen) not as we would wish mankind to be but with as unbiased and disinterested an eye as we can summons for the task—is to adopt the proper starting position for philosophy. But how much must first be overcome within ourselves before such an unprejudiced and honest eye can be attained! Nothing less than the jettisoning of our most ‘categorically imperative’ moral-ideological assumptions! One thinks of Spinoza’s aim to treat human passions after the model of a geometrician treating lines, planes, and solids. So deeply-rooted within our psyches is our moral-cultural standard of weights and measures that uprooting and ‘bracketing’ our scales and yardsticks seems tantamount to annihilating our human nature itself! Such alienation—whether brought about by ‘monstrous’ curiosity or by the subtlest possible desire for liberation from that which has hitherto been our most familiar, if not always the most comforting or welcome, affiliation (that is, with our own species)—cannot help but strike the venturer as the most frightening and undesirable of conditions to which a man might be consigned, with the exception, perhaps, of sheer madness. Nietzsche invoked the term ‘Hyperborean’ to denote this flirtation with the brink or outermost verge of the human. Hyperbole can scarcely be avoided, it would seem, when contemplating such ‘crossing over’ from the known into the great unknown—or perhaps the great unknowable. For it seems reasonable to suppose that once that line has been crossed, what we recognize as ‘knowing’ will simultaneously undergo a radical transformation, as well—so that the new knowing bears as little affinity with the old knowing as a mirrored image shares with the three-dimensional object it reflects.

183. Entitlement to Criticism: It seems to me that unless my consciousness or awareness is as comprehensive and as subtle as the thinker whose book I’m reading (or whose lecture I’m attending, or whose play I’m watching, or whose symphony I’m listening to, etc.), I have not yet properly earned the right to pass judgment upon his work. Certainly, I am entitled to react and to venture an opinion but, strictly speaking, such reactions and assessments are not worth all that much, are they?  To be in a position, say, to critique or pass general judgment on the work of Dante, Shakespeare, or Carl Jung, the critic must not only have had more or less the same sorts of inner and outer experiences that these great figures had, but he must also be able to see beyond those decisive, formative experiences. Only by thus seeing beyond them is it possible for the judge or critic to see where the work in question is incomplete, biased, blind, or inexplicably silent.

184. As soon as a cosmic principle (e.g.—Ma’at, Rta, Tao, Logos/Dike, ‘grace,’ etc.) is assimilated into the moral-political-theological realm, it suffers considerable degradation, deformation, and crudification. So long as it remains an inner experience that resists or defies orthodox formulation or literalistic codification, it retains much of its mysterious innocence and its native purity. As soon as such ‘transcendent principles’ become ‘useful’ or ‘adjusted’ to the apprehension of the vulgar, it is downhill all the way. Just look at what happened to Christianity in the hands of generations of the very bigots and Pharisaic hatemongers to whose bolted minds and cramped hearts its gospel was initially (and pointedly) addressed. Did it loosen and open those blinkered minds and closed hearts? All the evidence points in the opposite direction: bigoted minds and hearts hypocritically corrupted and prostituted the religion to serve their own thoroughly anti-Christian purposes. Thus, all delicate plants are crushed beneath the hooves of skittish and clueless brutes.

185. Any way you look at it, partial truths are still, strictly speaking, falsehoods. It is in this sense that everything I’ve written (or ever will write) is, at best, misleading—and, at worst, false.

186. Nisargadatta teaches us that there is no world to save. There are only illusory egos creating unnecessary and unreal problems that nonetheless urgently cry out for solutions—thus giving the egos one more reason for becoming trapped in a labyrinth of their own making.

187. Misunderstood: When people casually ask me what I’m up to and I honestly inform them that I am diligently striving to destroy my restless, clever mind and to permanently silence all my stubbornly ‘human’ habits and impulses, they just stare at me like I’m crazy—instead of offering me the encouragement and support I look for from them. What gives? Perhaps it would be prudent for me to simply keep my designs to myself.

188. We need to get ‘Christ’ and the ‘Antichrist’ to kiss and make up. Then, perhaps we can put them both behind us and move on into the true peace and stillness that awaits us beyond all this illusory drama.

189. A Parable: The sad thing about being born in some little Podunk out in the sticks is that, chances are, you’ll stay there and gradually wither away. Our measly little ‘modern’ culture ‘starter kit’—our ‘skin-deep’ language and texting range, the glaring absence of any real grasp of history, mythology, or philosophy; the diabolical design to reduce us to well-trained ‘producers’ and obedient ‘consumers’—is the spiritual equivalent of being born and then wasting away in some little backwater hamlet far away from the royal city at the center of an old kingdom. Our days may appear to be full—out in the sticks—but all too often they are full merely of flotsam and treadmillish, circular repetitions that soothe and stupefy us into an imperturbable slumber. Better then, to attend carefully to our salutary frustration and redemptive disgust and kiss our somnolent kinsmen goodbye—and slip out of town in the dead of its night. It almost doesn’t matter which direction we head in. All that’s important is that we’ve moved on.

190. The End of Philosophy?: Paradoxically, it would appear that we must abandon our old quest for an intellectual comprehension and representation of the whole if we are to genuinely merge with the totality of the Self—which, alone, is real. As long as we are pursuing a more or less rationally coherent, conceptually representable quarry, we will be traveling down a pair of rails which must eventually dissolve beneath our wheels before our surrender to the all-enfolding Self can truly commence. All linear pathways—all verbal-conceptual frameworks and constructions—begin to offer more obstruction than assistance as we sink into the fleshless embrace of the absolute. This deeper quest—which is a profounder shedding—involves the transcendence of all limiting and defining forms generated by the intellect. Pure, formless awareness is no longer bound by the subject-object duality, so there is no longer a separation between knower and known. There is no knower and known. Such boundlessness and boundary-less-ness is necessarily abhorrent to all rational philosophers, is it not?

191. What Zoroaster realized over 3,000 years ago: Without those tensions and those consciousness-sharpening conflicts that are born whenever we project our moral convictions upon the seemingly indifferent and refractory text of nature (by which I principally mean our own and other persons’ stubborn and troublesome drives and instincts), civilization as we know it would dissolve into mayhem in short order.   Morality as flint—nature as steel—consciousness as spark. No freedom without the spark, no spark without conflict. No conflict without all this enhanced antipathy between the agents of good and the servants of evil. But then, we might ask: isn’t a preference for morally-motivated-and-scripted civilization over anarchical, self-organizing, unscripted barbarism just another one of these prejudices that can be relied upon to stir up a good fight? A vicious (or virtuous?) circle??

192.  Herds and Atoms: How can we reconcile the (plausible) claim that modern society is atomized with the equally plausible assertion that modern society is, on the whole, herd-like? Are we moderns more akin to isolated, disengaged individuals or are we more like interchangeable cogs in a vast, lumbering machine? A provisional answer to this question is that, while our intellects and bodies are generally herd-like insofar as they have been conscripted into the service of collective ideas and trends, our souls have suffered such severe undernourishment that they have been reduced to isolated, endangered atoms of impotence and insignificance.

193. The soul-workers are always anima-munding, while the work of spirit-seekers is extremely demunding. The literalists, on the other hand, are continually being remunded of one thing after another. (mundus [Latin]: world, universe, heavens)

194. Benevolent teacher to bemused pupil: “You seem to occupy a lower rung on the ladder of human evolution. You are like a throwback to an earlier, cruder stage of our pre-civilized past—which is to say that you remind me very much of myself when I was your age.”

195. Schopenhauer was no more justified in characterizing the will (which, for him, constituted the ultimate, transcendent source and ground of everything that is both knowable and unknown) as blind and restlessly, eternally striving than he would have been likening the metaphysical ground of everything to Plato’s idea of the ‘Good in itself.’ How arbitrary of him! How personally presumptuous!—even if he found corroboration for this incompletely understood insight in the recently translated Upanishads. How profound the consequences for those similarly romantic thinkers who followed in his wake. These 19th Century Germans: one is always having to unearth, interrogate, and then re-bury them!

196. A useful way of taking the measure of another person: how tight or slack is the bowstring of their soul? What note does it sound when plucked? Is it the original string or has it been replaced? Of what is the string composed? Wound bronze? Tempered steel? Catgut? Dental floss? Spider’s silk? Kite string? Does the note change or remain constant when the surrounding temperature and humidity change? Is the person able to reach and to adjust the tuning peg or are they obliged to make do with their A-sharp or D-flat?

197. As we ripen, greed for wealth (and for the comfort and security it can buy) tends to supplant lust for fleeting fleshly delights and ecstasies, which now seem a childish waste of spirit to the vexed, aging man whose nostalgic memories fume and snicker at his present performance.

198.What if we permit ourselves only to have those inner experiences for which we can find adequate expression in words and concepts? Under such carefully controlled conditions is it likely that the mind will be humbled—let alone, shamed or stilled—into silent submission to the sublime or the transcendent? Isn’t it far more likely that such constraints are put in place by the mind precisely so that it can more fully display the impressive range and subtlety of its powers? Isn’t much the same thing going on—albeit it on a more modest scale—when a poet restricts himself to the sonnet form, a composer to the concerto form, a painter to the watercolor medium, a chef to four or five commonly available ingredients?

199. Where the creative thinker-poet is concerned, it is far better for him to follow his inner experiences as far beyond the normal or familiar horizons as possible (and to put ordinary words to extraordinary use in adumbrating these experiences) than it is to craftily orchestrate grandiloquent-highfalutin words and gaudy-grandiose images to overdress homely little truisms that are guaranteed to resonate with a wide audience.

200. What are my principal moorings? Where are my familiar anchorages? In what ways—and to what extent—do each of these havens and harbors become coffins and cages for my consciousness? To what extent do they provide crucial tethers that prevent me from prematurely floating away? Am I not destined, eventually, to float away—no matter what? Don’t these attachments and bonds assist merely in slowing down the process of dissolution that is relentlessly underway for all forms? Am I not always saying goodbye (forever) to someone or something—or to some melting incarnation of that volatile mind-body, ‘Paul’? Down deep—where it counts—I am neither happy nor unhappy with this measured drift into nothingness. ‘Bittersweet’ is the word I would choose to describe it. A beautiful, poignant melancholy with which I suspect those two strange Renaissance Italians, Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, were all too intimately acquainted.

201. Ancient reason and its bastard modern child: Life is essentially a humongous, self-consuming and self-perpetuating organism. It is continually negotiating billions of truces between existence and death—and then violating these fluid, fragile truces. The rise of science and modern technology has concentrated an unprecedented amount of power in the untutored, clumsy hands of our adolescent, blinkered species—power to partially override and disrupt the delicate balancing act that nature is continually engaged in with itself. ‘Reason’ and scientifically developed techniques have, for the most part, been conscripted into gratifying human desires and medically dampening the very anxieties that stem, in large part, from the anti-natural, modern way of life that modern ‘reason’ gives rise to. This is a radically different employment of reason than we find with the ancient philosophers who, when at their best, employed it to temper and to rein in human desire and fear—rather than sate it or deaden it (the Stoics were an exception here, with their doctrines of apatheia and ataraxia). We call our modern form of instrumental reason ‘pragmatism.’ Plato, no doubt, would have called it an ‘insane perversion of reason’ and a ‘recipe for disaster,’ largely because it has divorced itself from all ethical and speculative questions. But then, no one bothers to read Plato anymore.

202. It is misleading to speak of cultivating stillness—as if we were cultivating corn or beans—since the stillness, being foundational, is never absent. It is ever-present. It is merely the ego, with its outward-directed thoughts, plans, and desires that ignores the ever-present stillness. Better, then, to say ‘Let the mind un-cultivate the field of sprouting thoughts,’ which is not quite the same thing as letting it go fallow. Turn off the irrigation pumps and certainly do not spread compost on the weeds.

203. For the moment I precariously retain the exclusive rights to this private viewing portal that is my body and my ego-personality. The light of the Self shining into and through it produces the spatio-temporal illusion of an actual, developing entity—just as the light shining through the lens of that ‘false I’s’ mind generates an individualized ‘world.’ Once the ego gets ‘up and running’ with its varied compelling plans, purposes, and desires—the source light continues to be exploited as ‘fuel’ for these mundane and personal purposes rather than revered as the proper source and goal of one’s reflections. To misuse the sacred light of the Self to fuel one’s mundane exploits and designs is rather like burning the pages of the Book of Kells to roast a hot dog. In order to get reoriented (from ‘not-self’ to source), we must undergo the experience of the ‘world turned inside out.’ Such conversion ordeals, from all reports, are as personally cataclysmic as they are spiritually regenerative.

204. To be morally outraged by the glaring fact that corruption of some kind or another normally prevails over virtue in human affairs—now as ever—is like being surprised that people are having sex in a whorehouse or gambling in a casino.

205. Where egos are outspoken, eggs will be broken.

206. Be careful what you adapt to: Obedient adaptation to a set of social/historical norms that significantly retard or impede the rounded development of human beings is far more injurious, psychologically, than non-conformity and conscious resistance to assimilation, which, of course, entails its own risks, dangers, and disadvantages. On the other hand, those who flourish within—or rather, chiefly because of—such imbalanced or generally pernicious cultural/socio-historical conditions must be regarded with all the suspicion due to them. Such persons are either of only very limited and passing cultural value—mere creatures of their peculiar times—or they are virulent intensifications and dangerously contagious carriers of the imbalanced way of living they so thoroughly embody. This rule of thumb applies equally to artists and politicians, philosophers and religious figures. When aberrant and psychologically lopsided conditions prevail, then wholeness and spiritual health are forced to become ‘underground’ and heterodox pursuits.

207. On the Collective and Individual Contents of the Psyche: What the collective lacks in nuance, subtlety, specificity, and accuracy it more than makes up for in the broadness of its appeal, the depth of its resonance among the multitude, whose consciousness is almost entirely of a collective nature outside some narrowly confined little patch of personal-ego turf.  Carefully observe what happens when the ordinary man or woman is confronted with an utterly individual idea, sentiment, or motive to action.  Either they are bowled over in reverential amazement and delighted perplexity at this wondrous piece of enchantment, or they want to strangle it to death as soon as they can with their bare hands—assuming they can get their maladroit ‘hands’ around its slender and slippery neck.  In the first instance, the individual content hints at what they might—under ideal (or even supernatural) circumstances—have made of their brief lives.  In the second, it portends everything that is threatening and undermining, so far as their stubborn loyalty to the group-preserving collective is concerned.  In both cases, it rather startlingly reveals to them what they are not: individuals.

208. The artist, considered as a type—especially if he is a popular success—is addicted to play, which is linked to enchantment and intoxication, of sorts, even when dealing with the weightiest and gravest of themes. The genuine philosopher, on the other hand, is not addicted to play, but seeks to expose, weaken, and uproot those usually intoxicating distractions and button-pushing fictions and formulations that obscure or veil the sobering but liberating truth. If the artist is to merit true greatness he must ‘play’ with weighty or potentially sobering themes and questions. And if the philosopher is to be read, he must learn to make limited, provisional concessions to his readers’ love for play, for intoxication, for un-truth. Ultimately, the great artist and the great philosopher have more than a little bit of the other type woven into him and they may be said to serve a shared end: whether we call it ‘sobering play’ or ‘playful disenchantment’ makes no real difference.

209. To assume a fixed intellectual, moral, or ideological position is to be like a broken clock: you will be ‘right’ twice a day, but only fleetingly.

210. In discharging its verbal-conceptual functions as commander, legislator, and manipulator, the mind is like a hinged, swiveling pivot (greatly to be preferred to an unhinged, swaggering spigot) operating on two vast fronts: the outer world of objects, events, and other persons—and the inner world of thought. How and where the mind goes about its business with language and concepts is determined to a decisive extent by the will, the temperament (inner- or outer-directed), the degree of development (or education) and overall maturity.

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