Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reversed mythologies

Image from the Metropolitan Museum collection, New York

 Many traditions have myths about mazes, featuring innocents or heroes who trace their way to confront a diabolical threat of one kind or another. Luke Skywalker's encounter with his dark side in "Star Wars," which takes place in a swamp under the instruction of his colorful master Yoda  is a diluted version of these myths.

The framework of this ubiquitous myth is inevitably subject to multiple interpretations, but the stories, taken as a whole, can be taken as representing a necessary relation between the inner self, the outer self, and the attention— a subject frequently addressed in the work of Jean de Salzmann, as reflected in The Reality Of Being.

The myths, over the course of time, have acquired an inversion that makes this aspect of them difficult to understand. The tricky part is that the maze does not represent our inner life–or our inner demons–as George Lucas used it in Star Wars.  It represents outer life–the confusion of the phenomenal, and the many paths that it presents us with.

 The innocent, or the hero, always starts from what is a "real" place–the real world, real life, the place where one lives. Because the myth is a myth that emanates from the inner soul and the higher part of man, in this case, the outer world of the myth is our noumenal world, the intangible world that has a relationship with higher principles or with God. And the exterior world is represented by the maze–a tremendously confusing place that has a beast living in it, a beast that wants to consume all that is good and all that is pure–children (Hansel and Gretel), virgins (Theseus and the Minotaur) and so on. Outer life, if we are taken by it ( a frequent theme in de Salzmann's teaching) will eat us, it will use us as food. This stands as a close analogy to Gurdjieff's idea of the moon using man as food.

So in this myth, positions are reversed: the outside is the inside, and the inside is the outside. It's counterintuitive– in these myths, the hero isn't actually going into a maze, he's going out into ordinary life. The witches and minotaurs are the lusts, confusions and desires of everyday existence and his relationship to them.

The hero–or the innocent–has no choice but to go into the maze–and in most cases, it is done with intention.  This is certainly the case in hero (as opposed to innocent) myths. The relationship with the outer world of the maze, where everything is dangerous and confusing, is inevitable, because only by penetrating to the heart of that maze–reaching the place of origin that the danger resides in–can the innocent or the hero resolve the inherent conflict that consumes the good of the noumenal inner world.

  Another way of putting it is that the outer world represents the essence in these myths, and the inner world the personality. This is how Gurdjieff might have seen it. 
 In any event, the essential point is that the hero in the myth has to mark his way, else he be lost. There must be a trail of stones, or a thread that is spooled out behind him, some form of marker–as he goes into the maze, because otherwise he will get lost. He has to maintain a connection with his inner self.

This connection represents the attention. Mindfulness in Buddhism serves exactly the same purpose–it is a thread that connects the inner life, intentionally devoted to a higher principle, and the outer life, which has many confusing paths, most of them dead ends, and the danger that must be conquered before the world can be made whole.

The task of the attention–represented by the thread–is to trace a path between the heart of the maze–the central “meaning” of ordinary life, the locus around which it turns–and the inner life. Once the heart of the maze is reached, connected all the way through the thread to the inner world (outside the maze) then the danger is vanquished–and the beast of outer life is no longer a threat, even though it still exists. 

 The question of standing between two worlds and this idea of a "thread" of attention that connects them is essential to understanding work. One need not have a cosmic, overarching attention–the attention of saints and gurus–to begin to inhabit ordinary life. One's inner thread of attention might be a very fine thread... maybe so small as to be nearly invisible... perhaps even completely invisible to others (readers may recall that in  In Search Of The Miraculous, Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that a man who had realized himself might appear to be even more mechanical than the men around him.)

 It's cultivating this thread of attention, in the midst of ordinary life–in the midst of ordinary, unmanipulated personal manifestations–that makes a difference in understanding where we are and what we are. We hold on to the inner–gently, carefully, intelligently, intimately–and we engage in the outer, fully, honestly, according to conditions. And the thread of our attention helps us to navigate this maze, so that we remember who we are and where we are.

 One further point that may be to interest of readers is that threads have a specific symbolism of their own. A thread is not a single whole thing–it is composed of thousands of tiny fibers, spun together. In other words, in this case, the thread of attention is spun out of many small impressions. It can't exist unless our countless intimate, attentive impressions are woven together within us to create a strong fiber.

 Paramahansa Yogananda used to say that every man must cast himself in the role of the hero in his own life. The chief feature of a hero must be that he is mindful, that he is attentive. Heroic action, in the myth, doesn't necessarily consist of having a sword or killing monsters. 

The heroic action begins in having the presence of mind to keep a threat of attention that connects us.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

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