The Tortoise. Page from "The Wonders of Creation."
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Notes from Shanghai, April 9.
Yesterday, I was having lunch with a good friend here in Shanghai. Speaking to her across the table at a posh, modern restaurant on the Bund, it suddenly struck me how different we were.
She had never thought of inner work; of what it means to have Being. The matter simply wasn't of interest to her, it wasn't a question. Yet this is a 46-year-old woman who has certainly been through her share of struggles and wonders what her life is all about.
I see a good deal of this when I'm over here. Under the conditions here in China, I'm working "alone;" I'm not surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals. The people I work with are just like me in terms of external factors: we all have an attraction to money, power, sex, food, and so on. The mechanical levers that provide movement in our external lives are all the same.
Yet there is this inner difference between us that is vast. I care about a question within life that is of almost no interest whatsoever to these others.
It's like this not just here in China, but everywhere. What's everything to me is nothing to most people.
There is some intimate and subtle difference between me and others on this point; and I cannot say exactly what it is.
If I don't know what it is, how much danger am I in of losing it? Do I know what the spark of my work, my inner life, consists of, where it comes from?
If I don't come into intimate contact with it and have a perpetual respect from it, am I not always in danger of losing it? How precious, how valuable do I think this is?
I treat it like it is a horse I can always bet on; yet that may be a mistake. Part of my question must always be what the spark of life is, and how I honor it.
Without the gravity of respect, everything may be at risk.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.