“As I begin to understand how ‘I’ am made I begin to see that infinity can largely be equated with what is formless and not with some mathematically and useless hugeness”
I wrote that down some time ago. From one perspective, it describes the beginning of the real search for what uncovers the heart of polarity – rendering it useful, at last.
We live in a world of what mystics call ‘form’. Form gives us separate ‘things’. Without separate things the mind cannot function in the way it has been taught. Without things, mind begins to panic – though it need not; but our training in perception (in how to see) is received and deep, and conditions the self and the society in which that self grows.
Self is the continuity of thought. Self clings desperately to that continuity, thinking that this massively heavy baggage is its life. Unless I keep this picture of ‘me’ vividly alive, I will lose my life, it says… Even in writing it down we can sense the frailty of the mechanism. Thought is a continuous narrative around the supposed centre of the self – the picture, the emotional and physical image of a ‘me’ at the heart of things; and it’s made of memory. This construct generates all the problems that life contains: It separates an assumed ‘me’ from the rest of experience. That experience is real, but the packaging of duality we divide it into is not.
This is the heart of the twin concepts of duality and polarity. These concepts are the true, mystical endeavour. The separation of ‘me’ from my experience distorts the reception of my experience, for which ‘I’ as an unique point of perception in the universe, am beautifully equipped. Over a lifetime, the nature of that experience becomes entirely conditioned by the layers of this assumed ‘me’. Only careful unwinding of this dirty bandage will reveal where we – Life – really live.
Life develops on a gradient of awareness. We, the humans species, are said to be the pinnacle of that awareness. Through evolution, primitive awareness of the survival of a separated centre becomes, eventually, the accretion of a self, as like and dislikes come to define who ‘we’ are. To evolve intelligence, we have to be capable of manipulating the external. We examine it and need to separate its components, because we can’t ‘eat the whole elephant’. To do this, the mind takes a giant leap and names things… And, of course, one of the things it names, or is given a name for, is itself. The naming, praising or denigration of this self becomes the ego.
The way our minds work mirrors, and derives from, the survival instincts that protect our animal – and there can be no escape from the fact that a considerable part of us is animal in its nature. I like warmth, I hate cold, though I have to learn that there are degrees of things, and that too much warmth can hurt me – probably a lot more than cold – so paradoxes become frequent and the complex logic of mental words accommodates them. This duality of like and dislike, pain and pleasure, expands into a spectrum of preference in the adult -and preference brings with it an implication of dissatisfaction with what is.
These are all the product of the animal part of us. We have, by then, developed a strong sense of self-image, and the assertion of this is the key to our success in the world. That has to be based upon agreed advantage, so we quickly learn that to be successful we have to fit in.
And then, one day, we might wake up and realise that something very deep is, increasingly, being lost. That vividness of experience and honest feeling we had as a child has been clouded over, like a blue sky gone grey and without its sun. At that point we see that we have made a world for ourselves; that the egoic self-image has become the centre of our lives rather than the reality of undivided experience all around us. This world, seen as it is, in Reality – was not and cannot be created by use in this constant anxiety of the success-mind and so the estrangement grows and grows.
It’s quite a moment – in the Silent Eye we call it the ‘turning point’. Many people register it but do not act on it. Over time, it can be numbed by the usual diversions of the sensual world. For the small number who choose to act on it, a path awaits that will challenge everything they think they know – to paraphrase the Sufi mystics.
Firstly, we have to recognise that our lives are filled with duality: me and it. ‘It’ is the world, ‘me’ is the self-image. This duality robs our experience of its true life (Reality) and that dirty bandage must be carefully unwrapped, without destabilising the animal or losing the hard-won skills that give us power of action. Secondly, we come to realise that what gives us the most real excitement is not the self-image but the power of the experience of being alive. When we shut down our inner judge we begin to let reality flow in us, again. The original shutting off of that flow is the cause of most of our sadness, dissatisfaction and illness.
One very good way of sampling this for ourselves is to look at a familiar object – a tree is good subject – and say its name (eg ‘Oak’) over and over again until the world – the agent of thought- becomes meaningless. At that point of no-longer-knowing-anything about the tree, go closer to it and be with it. Walk around and touch it, smell it, see it from deliberately different angles, use all your senses and try to suppress anything that smacks of the past. Most of all, shut of like and dislike and any inner dialogue based on previous experience of trees. There’s nothing ‘new-age’ about this, its simply the science of being. Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with hugging a tree you’ve just discovered, even though it’s been there for years…
This exercise will bring you into contact, however fractionally, with the Being of the Tree. It will also show you that, once you turn off the habitual mechanism of the ‘word’, the substance of thought, you will begin to see that the duality of ‘me and it’ is entirely false, and that your real life is in the harmonisation of experience and the diminishing of the false self.
We have spoken, here, mainly of duality; so what is polarity? Are they the same? Mystics speak of a subtle difference. Polarity is seen as a deeper understanding of the construction of form – objects with purpose being grouped together. We did not create such purposes in our own minds, we discover them through knowledge – the real purpose of science. With new eyes, we build new relationships with the natural world, seeing a much bigger will than ours at work.
There comes a moment when we see that the subtle difference between duality and polarity lies in the latter’s possession of an intelligence of reconciliation, and a realisation – like discovering a natural spring in the landscape – that this polar intelligence is there to take us home…
What, then, is the usefulness of a ‘self’? Has Nature spent billions of years evolving us from star-stuff to find that the self is not fit for purpose? The answer is an intriguing paradox that we will consider in the concluding post, next week.
©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017