Fontenay Abbey, FranceJanuary 27, Shanghai
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Shanghai recovering from a nasty little brush with the flu.
I was very fortunate to have had Tamiflu with me and started it immediately when I understood I had the flu (a temperature of 102.7° is pretty good evidence.) It turns out the drug is highly effective, even when it's past its expiration date; I'm sitting here a little over two days later and fever free, (although still a bit hoarse from coughing for two days, and rather weak.)
The week has been a very difficult one on top of that, because when I arrived in China it was only to discover that a valued Chinese colleague had suddenly died the day I arrived. He was a good man; a man who instinctively understood some portion of what it means to be a genuine human being. The shock from this reverberated through the course of the illness, compounding the emotional impact. It was a peculiar blend that reminded one of mortality from every direction.
While pondering these events, I've just finished a book by Irish author Mike McCormack, Solar Bones, which is highly recommended. His writing is brilliant and he touches on elements of inner work in his prose. The book is a meditation on the nature of living one’s life wholly, and the nature of death. In addition, I’ve been digesting bits and pieces of the new Conge book. (Life— Real Life Behind Appearances.) Also recommended, although it is a rather thin little volume.
Today a friend and I were speaking about the nature of inward presence, which Conge speaks about lucidly, and we both agreed that the manifestation of presence—awareness of Being—is more important than all the things that happen around us. A very great deal more important, so much so that what we do externally may not matter much at all relative to what we work on inside. We are working, after all, to become human; and it’s quite important for us to understand what that means.
We aren’t working to become angels, gurus, or demigods. Human beings are none of those things. A human being is a creature designed to serve in three directions: first, to serve God, second, to serve those around him or her, and only after that to serve themselves. We are allowed to keep some of what we work on for ourselves, but it should never be more than this one third. And it should only be allocated after we have performed our other services. The difficulty in learning to be human is that we all start out with this particular hierarchy inverted; we always serve ourselves first with about 70% of what we have in the way of energy — then we allocate another 20 or 25% (I am being very generous there) to serving others; and if there is anything left, then God gets it.
Being, being human, ought to invert this and correct the function of service. The only way that this can take place is if we become whole individuals and see much more clearly how backwards we do things. It's very important, moreover, to see that the ego enforces this; from ourselves, we can't invert the order. A right order can only be established, as Frank Sinclair has said to us so many times, by engaging with a new alignment, a verticality that brings a higher order to us and rights our impression of life.
This friend and I were pondering the difference between “getting things done”, which is how we live our lives—the first doing—, and the far more important action of “thy will be done.” This second Doing is what Frank refers to when he speaks of a new alignment; and it isn’t so much an opposition to the first doing as it is a countervailing current. The current is necessary in both directions.
However, if I can’t see how these forces act within me, what their relative strengths are, and what my relationship to them is, all of my efforts to “work” end up being in vain. All efforts in total, after all, always begin with the first doing, and come from that current for many decades. There are occasional glimpses of truth; but they invariably get co-opted. It is only when sensation awakens as an active conscious intelligence of its own (the organic sense of Being) that a real inversion takes place, and then more decades of effort and experience are necessary, because none of this takes place quickly, no matter what one wants. One might as well demand that the baby be born a month after conception. Some people construct spiritual paths that make demands of this kind, of course; and “quick” babies are born. But these “preemies” always end up being, in one way or another, squalling little things that do not in the end confer the dignity that decades of suffering will bring a human being to.
After illness — in the midst of it — or just in the midst of life itself, we pause sometimes in the middle of this first doing and we think to ourselves that we aren’t getting enough done.
Yet if we attend to ourselves first, and we render our service unto God first in this degree, and then remember those around us and honor their being with our own efforts toward them in relationship—ah, then we are engaged already into the second Doing, and we have always done enough in that case, even if all the events around us collapse like a house of cards externally.
We should remind ourselves that that is going to happen sometimes anyway, no matter what we do, because external things are, as I pointed out in an earlier post, impossible — they can’t be grasped.
We can be; but comprehension is not our great strength, no matter how many facts and rationalizations we throw at it. Comprehension is God’s tool, not man’s; and although we can get a little bit of it here and there, it never resolves anything until we open ourselves to relationship with a higher energy, and comprehension does for us what we cannot do ourselves.
So here I sit, in effort but not certain of what I understand: yet I Am.
For now, and always, this is enough of a place to begin.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.