Whatever comes to you in that will bring you pure being and stability; but whatever you seek or cleave to apart from this will perish. Take it how you will and where you will, all will perish. This alone gives being - all else perishes.”
—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, sermon two, page 39
This morning, I ask myself these questions:
What is the ground floor of the relationship between myself and my Being?
Do I know anything about myself, or about Being?
A lifetime, more or less, of inward study has convinced me that by myself, I have no Being. If the Buddhist concept of the illusion of the Self has a foundation under it, it lies here, in my manifestation absent the presence of God.
There’s a kernel, or core, within this existence that gives birth to Being; we call it the soul, and only it receives the Presence. One comes, eventually, after many years to clearly know the difference between receiving the Presence and being within one’s own self, which arises in the context of ten thousand kinds of falsehood. When the inward flow into the soul is present, there is truth and nothing else; when it is not, there is a vast construction (a Tower of Babel) of apparently great significance, constructed of nothing but lies.
Hieronymus Bosch adorned many of the demons that populate his paintings with pearls, representing lies – the pearl looks beautiful, but at its heart is a fragment of worthless pollution, an element that does not belong in Being. We all adorn ourselves in this way. It’s how we exist. Gurdjieff called this practice the creation of false personality; but that set of words is rather dangerous, because the instant we use it, we smugly think we know something about it, even though it is only our own false personality saying that. Only the inflow of the divine Presence can bring an actual understanding of what those words mean, and how far away from it our ordinary self is. Absent that — absent what Meister Eckhart is talking about in this quote — every understanding is false.
It’s striking to me to see how different these two qualities are, and how helpless I am if God does not help me. That help is not present so often, and so I stumble about through my day doing my best to adjust my attitude and effort through the false and inferior workmanship of my personhood.
So I’ve come, here, to the threshold of the relationship between myself and my Being: it’s one of helplessness.
Seeing and understanding helplessness is very much analogous to addiction and denial. It’s impossible for me to see my helplessness unless I am sober through Grace; until that happens, I am always in denial about it. Life can put the lesson about it in front of me ten thousand times a day, and I won’t see it. There is a massive construction in me that is completely asleep and unaware of the actual condition of my life, the truth of it.
If Grace comes, I not only accept helplessness, I’m grateful for it, since God is where all goodness comes from— and I ought to submit to that truth. Grace helps me to know that; everything else denies it.
There needs to be a reconciliation between the affirming of truth through Grace and the denial of it through Self. This is a reconciliation of Being. That only comes through the humility of truly submitting to the helplessness, of letting go, letting go, letting go, and inhabiting the truth of life as it stands, rather than the imaginary control of life as a directed path I am the master of.
This question of thinking that I am the master of a directed path is a disease that infects every one. The first thing that it crushes is humility.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.
Shanghai, Oct 15, 2016