Friday, June 13, 2008
Touching the elephant
Everyone has probably heard the old story about the blind men and the elephant.
To all appearances, this story is about the elephant, and the way that the blind men fail to perceive it because of their affliction.
Today, however, I'm going to discuss a different aspect of this story.
The story is not just about how the blind men perceive the elephant; it is about how they go about perceiving the elephant.
The blind men cannot use their minds -- allegorically speaking, the input of the eyes -- to see the elephant. They have to use their sense of touch. In other words, the way that the blind men perceive the elephant is by a tactile encounter with it, not by analyzing it using their vision.
Not only that, the story shows that the only way to know the elephant for the blind man is to use the most intimate form of contact possible -- touch.
I bring this up in relation to my ongoing investigation of the question of the inner and the outer qualities that are encountered in life. We stand, so to speak, between two elephants. One of them is the outer world. We have a set of senses that interfaces with this outer world quite readily; we are not blind in regard to the outer world. It is our inner world that we have a blindness towards. And it is that inner elephant that the blind man of our soul reaches towards.
What this means for us in our inner work is that we have to develop a tactile sense of our inner work. The language that we speak to ourselves, within ourselves, has to become a language of touching, a language of intimate contact, a language that is not composed of words but rather sensations. It may be "silent," but the silence is filled with communication of many different kinds.
We can turn, by way of comparison, to an example from the natural world. If we look at ants, we see that it is largely silent in an ant nest underground. Ants, after all, don't even have ears to hear with. They can sense vibrations, but sound is not the key component of their exchange. They live in a darkness where touch and the scent of chemicals say everything that needs to be said.
This is not, in the end, unlike the place that the soul must go to to discover its source. In that place is a place where the soul can touch, and be touched, by what is called the Heavenly Father in Christianity. Other religions and practices have different names for it, it doesn't matter.
The point is that our inner journey can become one of touch.
I've said before that man is like an electrical component, a cathode that stands between two points where charges are transmitted. One of the points lies within him; this is where the inner life can touch a certain kind of energy, and be touched by it. The other is the outer life, to which this energy ought to be transmitted. Man stands as a gatekeeper between these two sets of forces. If he develops his inner sense of touch, so that he receives more of the energy he is supposed to be mediating, there is a better chance of being able to stand between it and the outer world and transmit some of it forward.
This is the art of standing in the middle. It is an art; each individual is a craftsman called on by nature itself to design and inhabit what we call a life. Each life is an art that mediates between the unknown and the known. Anyone who has ever created their own piece of artwork or music will have at least an inkling of what I speak of here. But that is only a coarse, materialistic analogy for the type of work we are trying to do. In the end, we do not want to create objects, but mediate relationships, which is much more difficult and demanding.
A mistaken effort to craft our lives into objects, and treat the events and people in them as things, may cause us to falter in both outer and inner work. That question is worth a look.
When Gurdjieff brought the Work to Ouspensky, of course, what he brought was cosmology, chemistry, science, and technique. That all works very well indeed up to a point. There is a moment, however, where it fails, because all of these factors are of necessity born from the mind, and the other parts in us understand things in quite different ways.
This inner sense of touch that I speak of leads us in the direction of the blind men, the men who want to know their inner elephant.
The lesson of the blind men also illustrates that even using the overwhelming the intimacy of the inner sense of touch, we cannot know the whole elephant properly. With touch, we can be much more accurate about what we encounter within; it's good to remember, however, that even then, whatever we encounter is partial-- just as the parable teaches us.
Yes, there is a whole elephant, but in order to fully understand what it was, the blind man in us would have to regain his sight--
his eyes would have to let light in once again.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.