Sunday, September 28, 2014

Turning Hammers into Screwdrivers, Part I

Bonsai Tree, Garden of the Humble Administrator, Suzhou, China

 Some years ago, at a wake, John Rothenberg mentioned to me that as one grows older, one's spiritual work becomes more and more inner.

This remark occurs to me because I saw something quite interesting about the question of not knowing anything this morning while I was waiting for the elevator to take me back to my hotel room from the business lounge in Shanghai.

I don't know anything. I see that. I'm quite well-educated, and people consider me smart— yet I really see that I don't know anything at all. Yet, paradoxically, I know a great deal about the outside world, on a wide variety of subjects. So how can this be?

The idea relates to the division between the inner and the outer, which is a subject I brought up a number of times in recent essays. To not know anything must become an inner not knowing; not an outer one. This is a subtle point; because to the extent that we discuss it outwardly, already, it loses force and the meaning. To not know anything must become a very private and intimate action, a living and organic action, that takes place within myself, and is in fact an action of the soul — connected to the essence — and not the personality.

One of the reasons I think I confuse this situation, and find it paradoxical, is because the personality is a tool that is designed to know things. That is its fundamental premise; and to demand of it that it not know anything is like asking a hammer to be a screwdriver. The hammer is a hammer; it can't ever be anything else, and it is uniquely unsuited to driving screws, except in a manner that is frankly impossible if one wants to use the screws in the way that they were intended.

Personality not only knows things; it must know things. Asking it to be different is asking it to not be personality; and this is just silly. In the same way, asking personality to profess an unknowing of one kind or another is equally silly, because it can't unknow itself and undo its own nature — even though I think I often ask it to do this.

 Unknowing is on the order of nature for essence. Essence, after all, touches the soul and is its intimate partner; and thus has a much deeper connection to God, to the sacred, to that divine spark of intelligence which must forever remain unknown to us, since it gives birth to us, and not lead to it. So it is within that I need to not know anything; and this is what the inner demand consists of. This is what questioning consists of. This is what the mystery of life and of being consists of.

When I come, up close and personal, to this understanding within myself that I don't know, then something new happens. I'm offered an opportunity; and that opportunity comes before and has not so much to do with the outer world. It is the question of my inner opportunity in my relationship to myself from within; that relationship which ought to form all of my outer relationships by coming first.

Well, of course, it doesn't come first very often; and this is exactly the point.

More on this tomorrow.


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