Monday, September 14, 2020

Love and freedom, part III: The Identical Image

Imagination, the formation of image within, results in a reflection of reality created within consciousness. Consciousness is metaphysical; it contains all of the results of the physical in a metaphysical medium that it is impossible to weigh, measure, or directly detect with instruments. The consequences of this arising we call consciousness are also metaphysical; agency forms around a set of metaphysical forces in relationship with the physical, but not of it. The most prominent and fundamental of these is love. In its most fundamental aspect, it consists of caring: of having a preference, an inclination, in one direction or another towards that which is perceived. 

If the concern is formed through ego and the imagination believes that what is perceived belongs to itself, then the care is unidirectional, that is, it is perpetually self-inflected and acts to the maximum extent possible in disregard of the external. The external exists only to serve the form created in imagination. I think the average reader can easily see the multiple human pathologies that derive from this perceptive inclination. What is important to understand is that it all begins with the assumption that consciousness and agency make about the image that is formed.

If, on the other hand, the concern for the external, for what is perceived, is formed through an uninflected receiving-quality in which agency understands that it is a participant in, not an owner of, what is perceived, a different kind of reciprocity arises. To any sane thinking individual, it's clear enough that this second form of perception is a far more accurate description of the actual circumstances. After all, the pre-existing qualities of reality cannot actually belong to the agency that perceives; they were there beforehand. We can see from this that imagination has, within it, an inherent potential flaw, since consciousness and agency are able to willfully misinterpret it. 

In light of the above, any misinterpretation may seem intentionally egregious; after all, the facts are apparently obvious. Yet consciousness does not know this as a fact without long and deep reflection. The nature of the image being formed—imagination—must be deeply examined and considered in order to understand it, because in the act of perception itself, the natural tendency of agency is to make the mistake of believing that the agent is the owner. 

This mistake is just as loving as the alternative option; but it is an act of self-love that quickly becomes incapable of interpreting the external in any mode other than sociopathy. This underlying current is ubiquitous and infects human thinking and emotion in a viral way: it takes over what is there and uses it to replicate its own form. Hence the entire act of perception quickly becomes one of ego-love. 

This use of imagination is both effective and powerful; yet it ultimately discounts the external. This is where we all, to one extent or another, find ourselves. We’ve formed an image of the world which argues quite powerfully that it belongs to us. Almost all our acts of agency emerge from this imaginary template, which has as its root intention a preference to interpret the world as being our own. The mechanism, thus formed, subsequently designs itself to reject whatever doesn’t fit this picture.  

All inner spiritual effort consists, in one way or another, of freeing ourselves from this pre-formed image of reality that we carry within us. Jeanne de Salzmann’s advice that we forget about everything we know; Eckhart’s insistence that every shred of ourself must be abandoned in order for God to enter; the could of unknowing; Buddhist abandonment. Every action of letting go is an effort to help the template of inner imagination re-form around an image that is, in a supreme irony, not different

It sounds like a paradox: the image that’s formed remains identical. Hence the Zen adage: before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. What changes is not the image, but our attitude towards it. And indeed, Jeanne de Salzmann once said the only thing we can change is our attitude.  

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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