Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Photograph by the author
There's a point at which individuality becomes deeper, more essential; parts weld themselves into a greater whole over time. As this takes place, the nature of ordinary being and its relationship to the higher becomes clearer.
The simple fact is that anything me that isn't in relationship to this higher energy is in quite a mess.
I suffer this; it's a requirement of Being that one see this more and more in direct proportion to the amount that Being grows; and thus, the more Being I acquire, the more I must suffer myself as I am.
This is both a blessing and a curse. Being is what gives life its true vitality; yet that vitality is devoted to an ever greater understanding of my own iniquity. This isn't a kind of self-pity; and it doesn't really taste of much egoism. It's crafted from my relationship to the spiritual, to Christ, and to God. Not in my relationship to myself. I have this wish to be free of my sins; but it's impossible for me to do anything about that. I'm sent here, appointed to this life; and it is my responsibility to tolerate it inwardly.
I see how I'm very disorganized inside; all of my ordinary parts point themselves in different directions, like thousands of tiny iron filings without a magnet to orient them. This is how associations exist in me; and this is how impressions fall into me. Things don't have a proper order.
If one reads the chapter on Form and Sequence in Beelzebub’s Tales, one is treated to a detailed discussion of the difference between the reason of knowing and the reason of understanding. It's instructive to look at the dictionary definition of these two words because to know means to be aware of through observation or inquiry; whereas to understand means to perceive the intended meaning.
The two words, in other words, map the difference between awareness and intention; and, in a nutshell, the chapter says it is not enough to just be aware. One also has to know what the intention is. In this way, we see that observation of who we are is not enough; we have to know where we intend to go. So understanding includes having a wish, a direction.
This relates to my observation about the parts and me being like tiny iron filings that are scattered in every direction. One can have a lot of iron, in little bits; yet the iron needs to align itself in one direction or another, to gather its existence — its Being — into a form that has meaning. A form that has meaning which is imparted willy-nilly is not good enough; our Being has the potential to acquire form from an inwardly formed representation of a higher authority.
And yes, from a philosophical point of view, that's what inner work is all about — yet none of that can happen if I don't repeatedly and deeply recognize the absolute fact that my own authority is insufficient. I can’t just see that; that of itself is an action by intellect, which isn't enough. I need to also feel it, to suffer it, that is, to have remorse of conscience — an organic inner relationship — to this disorder. And I need to suffer all of it through sensation, that is, I need to perceive it organically, in a cellular way, as inhabiting my body.
Generally speaking, I fall short of this. I suffer that as well. It's as though I were, in my awareness, a pendulum that swings through the arc of Being; my consciousness marks the time of my life, in successive swings. I must endure the times when I have little connection with the higher in order to develop strength to come back to those when it is more present.
We believe, I think, that we can achieve some ideal state called freedom, or self-realization, or enlightenment — call it what you will. I think for myself that I can only deepen the action of feeling and sensation, since these, in conjunction with the knowing of my intelligence, are the only things that can intensify a real understanding of my confusion, and, furthermore, an understanding of what I lack.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.