Thursday, December 10, 2009

Through a Glass Darkly

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"
"The Second Coming"
William Butler Yeats, 1920

Passing homes in the darkness of early, early morning or of evening I see windows decorated with lights, beacons of welcome and hope for humanity in a weary world.

The image of people as light in the world has been with me for some time, most especially since my post for "Dia de Los Muertes" (please see previous post). That post, in turn, prompted reflections upon and contemplation of Be-ing one's Self, no strings attached, of gaining and holding that "privilege of a lifetime ... being who you are."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama asserts that "our primary concern is seeking happiness and avoiding suffering" as we meet what Bruno Bettelheim describes as "psychological challenges of gaining a feeling of selfhood and of self-worth and a sense of moral obligation." Bettelheim maintains, and I concur, that such is necessary if we "hope to live not just from moment to moment, but in true consciousness of our existence."

Eastern traditions teach of paths to en-light-enment, to a rising toward pristine awareness. One important element of these teachings is that of examination of the person's mental processes, including their motivations. As previously noted our primary motivation in life is seeking happiness and avoiding suffering and "the chief influence for the foundation of motivations comes from the mind."

An examination of one's own mind to bring one's consciousness further toward en-light-enment is no quick or easy task. "Mental phenomena ... do not evidently have a location in space, nor do they lend themselves to quantitative measurement." How may we study our mental processes as forces of motivation affecting the quality of our Light, our lives? How do we do this, we who are everyday people with relationships and jobs and goals and worries? We are few of us monks or yogis or poets or quantum physicists. How do we do this?

Years ago I was presented with an image of light and life that has guided me through many of life's psychological challenges. Not long ago I realized I had received another image of light and life as a guide in everyday life. I sat in the World Peace Cafe one evening quietly waiting for my sandwich to be delivered to my table while my husband surfed the Web on his iTouch. From our table by the window I looked out into darkness and saw the grouping of over-sized Chinese lanterns hanging in the cafe projected onto the street scene outside the cafe.

I know those lanterns out on the street were illusions, some trick of optics, the light waves (or are they particles?), the properties of the window glass and who knows what else. I have now come to see that scene as a vivid lesson in the way illusion can and does influence us as we walk through our earthly life.

Indians, according to Joseph Campbell, teach that illusion (maya) holds 'A Veiling Power that hides or conceals the "real," the inward essential character of things; so that, as we read in a sacred Sanskrit text: "Though it is hidden in all things, the Self shines not forth."'

Someone tries to hide himself down inside himself.

Although the white light of Truth has been veiled from consciousness, our minds must engage in their creative function and evolve phenomena. So our creative function, our Projecting Power, projects "illusionary impressions and ideas, together with associated desires and aversions --- as might happen, for example if at night one should mistake a rope for a snake and experience fright."

Now we come to the beautiful part, the part wherein it is possible to reach the Truth through the obscurity and illusion of these phenomena. For, "when viewed a certain way, the phenomena themselves may reveal what normally they veil ..." This demonstrates the "Revealing Power of maya, which it is the function of art and scripture, ritual and meditation, to make known." For the moment I suggest that we simply take some time for ourselves to contemplate whatever illusions present themselves as guiding forces in our lives.

Our "impressions and ideas, together with associated desires and aversions" have been formed by and large upon falsehood. We owe it to ourselves to look at these things. Many times a change of perspective eliminates the projected illusion and frees us to consider its source -- which is what we need to do. (As an example, when I shot the accompanying photo I could not see the reflection outside from another window, only that nearest the lamp.)

Here I turn, not surprisingly, to William Shakespeare - his "Hamlet" to be precise. The prince has just informed his one-time friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Denmark is a prison. They disagree. They "think not so." Hamlet then informs them that "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

Think about it.

We can see the Truth of our Selves, just as we can see the light of a candle or a lantern "through a glass darkly."

Love after Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

[A bibliography for this post includes:
Bettelheim, Bruno. "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales." New York: Vintage, 1989

Osbon, Diane K (ed.). "Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion." New York: Harper Collins, 1991

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." New York: Washington Square Press, 1992

Varela, Francisco J., Ph.D (ed.). "Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with The Dalai Lama." Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997

Walcott, Derek. "Derek Walcott: Collected Poems 1948-1984." New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986]

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