Behind the Glass and Up the Stream (and ‘Sheathing the Sword’) (9/14)

I recognize that, for me, within the realm of personal feeling, or sentiment, a multitude of sins always lay coiled and ready to strike. There have been some recent flare-ups of personal animosity over fundamental differences (in priorities and in perspective) between me and several close, old friends. These little eruptions have helped me to see the value and importance of understanding and then ‘neutralizing’ all such sticky, turbid, and smoldering feelings. The aim here is pretty simple: to release these former friends from (imagined) duties and obligations they are usually in no position to fulfill. This ‘release form’ should, moreover, be generally distributed so that I am gradually purged of any further unwarranted hopes and expectations where others are concerned. Sad though I am to admit it, disappointed expectations have been the rule, and not the exception, in most of my past relationships, when it comes to the importance we severally attach to spiritual and intellectual principles. Experience has surely taught me that unless and until a person is truly ready to receive and to assimilate initiatory spiritual insights, these insights are wasted upon them. These principles will either make no appeal, or they will be misunderstood in such a way as to deform and debase the principles. This typically happens because the unprepared recipient tries to bring the truth down to his level rather than raise himself up to the truth.

At any event, I must try to avoid frittering away any more time lamenting the fact that I have pushed virtually all of my former or current friends to the limits of their ability (or willingness) to embrace and assimilate certain spiritual principles—and found their efforts less than impressive. Confessedly, there is more than a teaspoon of self-pity and fretful anxiety associated with this isolated corner into which I have, willy-nilly, been painted.

Along with the dismantlement and transcendence of personal-sentimental feelings comes my release from a veritable viper’s nest of interrelated evils and illusions. Principal among these foolish notions is that of ‘personal loyalty,’ which turns out, upon closer inspection, to be a handsome cloak underneath which I have discovered cringing fear of aloneness, bitter resentment, seething anger and indignation, and other less than noble sentiments. There is such a welter of murky, internal contradictions lodging beneath this deceptive cloak of ‘personal loyalty’ that I cannot help but encounter strong resistances as I struggle to open up and expose the restive menagerie uncomfortably encaged within the basement of my mind.

There is some ‘back-story’ that should perhaps be glanced at first. I didn’t always feel this estranged from and at odds with the larger society within which I have been embedded for more than half a century. And even after I began to dissent from the preposterous, artificial norms and the collective-consumerist values (and all the fabricated imperatives) that drive this zombie-like American political-economic life and mass culture, I was still able, for many years, to rely upon a dozen or more greatly valued allies to support and share my dissenting views and criticisms.

But since then, rather disquieting developments have occurred—both in the lifestyles and in the indisputable (as opposed to hypocritically professed) priorities of my former friends, as well as in my own consciousness. These changes have thrust an ever-deepening wedge between them and me. As I see it, they have made more and more compromises and concessions with a culture that I find increasingly malignant and spiritually imbecilic. We have sunk deep into Kali Yuga. Often it seemed to me—and probably to each of them, as well—that we were swimming in divergent directions. For years, I can honestly say that I have done my level best to preserve and maintain a living and breathing bridge of connection with these persons, despite the fact that I was saddened and shocked by what I saw happening. First, I saw their willing participation with, and later their self-serving exploitation of, a doomed system and a derailed culture that I vividly perceived as corrupt, pathologically imbalanced, spiritually barbaric, and founded upon all manner of lies, deception, and injustice. One after another of my friends and ‘allies’ were seduced and conscripted into this materialistic, egoistic, competitive, consciousness-deforming, dead-end game against which all of my deepest and most trustworthy instincts recoiled in disgust and dismay.

My efforts to recall them to their senses—to remind them of their own ‘better angels’—eventually became ludicrous in one case after another. If there was any embarrassment or shame on their part for having become derailed from their former, spiritually commendable bearings, this was short-lived, at best. Such fleeting moments of shame and embarrassment were certainly never strong enough to countermand their propensities towards fear, laziness, cupidity, and self-interest—and set them back upon the circumspect and upright path from which they’d strayed. Rather, these ubiquitous peccadilloes promptly re-plugged them all the more snugly back into the amoral, profit-driven system they had, let there be no mistake, chosen to serve—a system which, in most cases, rewarded them lavishly with high salaries and hollow prestige. When I began to sense that, instead of feeling gratitude for my earnest efforts to remind them of (nearly forgotten) spiritual and ethical principles that had once constituted the common bond between us, they were beginning to view me as a naïve, idealistic simpleton who lacked the will and intelligence needed to face reality, I knew in my heart that things had passed a point of no return.

I have presented here a general—but generally accurate—sketch of the trajectory that has landed me in the solitary space I now appear to occupy. I can see and talk to others in a perfectly natural and normal manner—as if nothing were amiss—but I never quite lose sight of the fact that I am talking and interacting with others from behind a wall of thick, clear Plexiglas. My quest for insight into myself and into the (far from straightforward) cultural world I inhabit has led to this awkward situation. If I had simply ‘adapted to’ and uncritically accepted the reigning assumptions and the appallingly shallow collective values of the society I live in, I wouldn’t be writing about this problem. If—instead of doubting and questioning these collective assumptions and values and exposing them for the gross lies and stupid, one-sided simplifications that they in fact are—I had just shut up and been thankful for having been born into such a (comparatively) prosperous and powerful empire, I would not have this thick ‘Plexiglas’ wall between my soul and those of the others. This is the double-edged, ambiguous reward enjoyed (or endured) by the sworn enemy of official lies, collective delusions, and gross, one-sided simplifications. I cannot say that I regret having taken this fateful path (if I ever had any real choice in the matter, to begin with), but—having followed it thus far—I cannot ignore or deny the essential severity and the nearly inhuman coldness to which its fated followers are frequently consigned. That Plexiglas has arisen, in part, to protect me from the maddening and mind-numbing gas that is being inhaled in ever-increasing doses by the flailing, flitting figures that I helplessly behold just on the other side of the glass wall. But this protective wall also cuts me off from the seamless, heartful embraces I once so humanly enjoyed with these poor, deranged ‘ghosts’ who, in earlier days, were so alive to me—as I, no doubt, was to them.

Now, I feel ‘in my bones’ that I have company here on the inside of the plexiglas wall—but I won’t really be in a very good position to meet these individuals and benefit from their coveted companionship unless and until I can pull myself away from this transparent wall. Only after I have wrested my attention away from these ghost-like figures from the past—relationships that are all but comatose to me now—only then will I truly be free to venture forth and explore this new, ‘inside territory.’ It is most certainly ‘peopled,’ even if its population is somewhat sparser than that of the region to which I am wistfully waving goodbye.

If I have not yet made the acquaintance of actual citizens of this newly entered region of peopled inner space, I can at least fantasize about them. I can speculate about what my future friends and companions will be like, can’t I? Because they will have struggled as strenuously against the current as I have, we will certainly have stories to swap about our similar ordeals—of swimming in the opposite direction from the other fish (who, as it turns out, were, all along, seeking the warm, tropical waters downstream, while we were seeking the icy, bracing source-waters upstream). I will never have to shout to my new companions, for they will be near me, mentally and experientially, and not always drifting (or vigorously swimming) out of earshot. I will be able to speak and respond honestly, frankly, and without ‘polite’ distortion to my new ‘kin’—a freedom I have never really enjoyed with the hypersensitive ‘downstreamers’ who simply cannot abide cold truths—and whose touchy, insecure egos require oodles of personal coddling, an indulgence for which I have lost much of my once abundant patience.

Sheathing the Sword 

My ‘plexiglas’ essay from two days ago (which has elicited signs of mild alarm from a few recipients) is—among other things—an example of the ‘separatio’ process in alchemy. Of course, the separating (but clear, translucent) wall of glass that divides me from those who are breathing the polluted, intoxicating air ‘outside’ is the projection or literalization of a dividing line within my soul. So long as this psychic split or inner division remains unconscious, it will continue to be projected. That’s the psychological rule. And, so long as it is projected, I will be subject to the sort of quasi-paranoid, ‘little me against the big bad world’ (or ‘us versus them’) fantasy scenario depicted in that essay.

So, what are the salient implications or inferences to be drawn from this potentially valuable insight? What lesson am I to learn from it? Actors say, ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage!’ Likewise, these pictures I paint of my personal-biographical ‘drama’ invariably take their cue from a kind of unseen script that is etched like hieroglyphs into my soul. It is my psychological and spiritual responsibility to search deep inside myself for these hidden hieroglyphs that are the source and spring of my most fundamental thoughts and feelings about the world, its denizens, and my place in that world. They are, quite truly, the ‘seeds’ of my ego and my ‘world.’ Without direct access to—and knowledge of—this inwardly and outwardly steering script, I am at the mercy of its fate-deciding power, am I not?

The rather shocking—but at the same time, relieving—truth of the matter is that nothing that happens (or that fails to happen) on that dramatic stage of personal, dramatic events ultimately matters. All that really matters, in the end, is ‘seeing through’ those personal desires, fears, compulsions, and ideals that keep us bound to the drama—stuck in our roles—wrapped up in our personal investments in a world largely of our own, if unconscious, making.

What this means in terms of my ‘Plexiglas’ fantasy is that so far as my spiritual liberation is concerned, I am thrown back upon my own (uninvolved, already blissful and unbounded) spirit if I genuinely yearn for nothing so much as release from the seductive snare of the world—any world. What this also means, of course, is that the ‘old,’ ‘disappointing’ figures outside the Plexiglas wall are no more capable of blocking and impairing my liberation than my ‘new,’ imagined allies and companions are capable of bringing about my release. The keys to my release are—and always have been—hidden in the core of the Self. If I cannot see and recognize these keys it is only because I have allowed myself to become thoroughly distracted and misled by persons, books, events, and preoccupations that are situated ‘out there’ onstage. The keys are found only when my attention is withdrawn from that noisy stage and its absorbing activity—and returned to the silence of its very source. This cycle—this oscillation between busy stage and still silence, or between Paul the human ego and the impersonal, detached awareness that views Paul (and all other egos) as no more than a kind of animated fiction—recurs again and again.



3 thoughts on “Behind the Glass and Up the Stream (and ‘Sheathing the Sword’) (9/14)

  1. Paul this is poetically put. I have felt the same way for at least 20 possibly 30 years.

    I had a wise old mentor from Ohio whom I used to call and rant at. He told me once, “Marty, its lonely on the path”. I never forgot that.

    He is the same guy who I dismissed for going on prozac. Where he was once was this fiery spirit who had unique insights that he had hewn from his rich adventurous experience, he would now talk endlessly about chemical imbalance and other inane corrective medical bullshit. I cut him loose for three years and then called to “let him out of the penalty box”.

    He told me he had asked the doctor to get him off the “dope”.

    We regained our spirited and intimate connection for another 5-6 years, when one day he told me “Marty, I just wanted you to know, I am getting back on the pills. If I don’t I won’t be able to stay married”.

    I was amazed that even in his resignation he was being honest with me. He gradually became a shallow angry old man and then died.

    I viewed him as a fallen fellow troubadour and I guess I am just grateful that he did share so deeply in the periods when he remained on the edge of the void with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a moving ‘cautionary tale,’ Marty. Better for some of us to remain wedded to our own ‘wild souls’ than to dampen or muzzle them in exchange for a domesticated marriage with another who cannot accept us as we are.

      Liked by 1 person

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