THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 12, October, 1964
(Pages 360-363; Size: 12K)
[Article number (24) in this Q&A Department]
[Part 1 of a 3-part article]
Far beneath the anxious or the smiling surface of our normal lives, so far indeed sometimes that we ourselves do not suspect it, there exists in many of us (not all, no doubt, for some of us must be sane) a kind of disaffection, a dark and subtle self-contempt. But if men are really immortal, and potential gods, as Theosophy has declared, why should such feelings exist at all -- or at any rate, why so deeply?
The question could be dismissed as postured if it weren't also so widely pertinent. Clearly, anyone inclined to believe in the potential divinity of mankind can hardly help experiencing a deep and bitter disappointment in himself when he sees how compromised, perhaps comfortable but incredibly petty, a life he is leading. And of course anyone who is not inclined to believe in that divinity has only to look closely in a mirror at the dying flesh he thinks himself to be, in order to become filled with self-questioning. And we who would like to be considered Theosophists have the uncomfortable privilege of being subjected at once to both these motivations for self-disgust, since most of us feel an absolute certainty about very few things indeed, and dwell mainly in that vague and precarious region which lies between ignorance and knowledge. Thus it may be possible for us to think of ourselves as immortal souls, and at times even to sense this truth strongly, yet spend most of our waking consciousness (often even our consciousness in dreams) mulling over bodily and worldly concerns.
The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel declares: "The ego is without any doubt faced with a dilemma to fulfill itself or to escape. Where it does not attain fulfillment, it is only conscious of itself as of an unendurable gaping void from which it must seek protection at any price." Most human beings no doubt have some sense of this dilemma, but it would seem that for Theosophists the dilemma could be particularly acute, since as a rule they do not want to escape, yet find themselves none the less hemmed about with obstacles to their inner fulfillment. The tendency, it seems, would therefore be strong to despair and feel ourselves self-betrayed, for surely, we would think, there is no credible excuse for an immortal essence to remain so completely the prisoner of its personality's limitations. We want to create -- but cannot.
The temptation to fall into this sort of despair is very great, for it is one of the two most obvious ways of shunting around our obligation to become creators. The other way, of course, is to use Theosophy as a filter or sweetener for life's stark and bitter realities -- using it, that is, as an excuse to "philosophize" in a bad sense, and thereby assure ourselves that our powers will develop in the course of time, over a number of lifetimes, and that we must bear with our present mediocrity, trusting in the Law and in the maturing-process of time. Such "philosophizing," of course, involves misconstruing Theosophy for the purpose of self-protection, as does the indulgence in despair, which permits us to feel: Well at least I tried. I cried out in the night. I wept with frustration and self-despisal at my limitations. I am truly a sufferer.
All this is not to say that the despair is not real, or that it is not a terrible thing to experience; but it does seem possible for it to become an indulgence or a dodge from life if the effort is not at once made to throw it off -- to devise new and more devious stratagems for recapturing our inner "kingdoms" than such hopeless frontal assaults.
To pursue this same image of war, we must learn to distinguish the traitors within our own ranks, a kind of inner conspiracy one might say, of which one of the ringleaders is just this despair we have been speaking of. Some words of Henry Miller's may illustrate:Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians: we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.This is of course what Theosophy has been telling us all along. Yet why have we so often only half believed it (for if we believed it fully, we could never despair -- we would be too busy living)? No, there seems to be something subtly attractive and tempting about such passionate despair, such hatred. At this point it may be helpful to examine etymologies. Says E. R. Dodds in The Greeks and the Irrational: "The Greek had always felt the experience of passion as something mysterious and frightening, the experience of a force that was in him, possessing him, rather than possessed by him. The very word pathos testifies to that: like its Latin equivalent passio, it means something that 'happens to' a man, something of which he is the passive victim." From this account it may be possible to infer that the attraction of self-disdain may have its origin in a subtle form of self-love, for it involves an indulgence of self, a sense of separation from others, a taking of one's little self with terrible seriousness, and in fact a placing of more importance on one's own failure than upon one's deepest duties of love towards other human beings.
What is the opposite of this feeling, and is it attainable? One possible answer to these questions, of course, is the old answer: that we are all brothers, and that Life is One. But if we understood the implications of that simple statement, we would no doubt feel a sudden flood of relief, as though the dykes set up by fear and the secretly cherished limitations which had protected us from life and joy so long (since that joy demanded our self-sacrifice) had now at last begun to weaken, to slip off their foundations, pushed by the force of our rising love -- that is, by the force of all life, for it is no lesser a source that we have tapped. It is just a subtle shift in attitude that makes all the difference, the difference between feeling ourselves to be the prisoner of the body and feeling ourselves the life of the body, between feeling our smallness and feeling life's greatness. Such an attitude, of course, is difficult to communicate to others, if they are not on the lookout for it, for it is a completely internal shift and may entail no obvious change in our outward appearance. As Miller elsewhere states:How can you make another person understand what is really happening inside you? If I were to break a leg he would drop everything. But if your heart is breaking with joy -- well, it's a bit boring, don't you know. Tears are easier to put up with than joy. Joy is destructive: It makes others uncomfortable. Weep and you weep alone -- what a lie that is! Weep and you will find a million crocodiles to weep with you. The world is forever weeping. The world is drenched in tears. Laughter, that's another thing. Laughter is momentary -- it passes. But joy, joy is a kind of ecstatic bleeding, a disgraceful sort of super-contentment which overflows from every pore of your being. You can't make people joyous just by being joyous yourself. Joy has to be generated by oneself: it is or it isn't. Joy is founded on reasons too profound to be understood and communicated. To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts....It is perhaps paradoxical, but certainly wonderful, that we may find the confidence to be fearlessly alive, move swiftly and in large gestures, and laugh strongly whenever we feel like it, only when we are humble -- humble enough, that is, to rely on the infinite mystery inherent in life rather than on our own mere personalities.
(To be continued)
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE HUMAN POTENTIAL
The problem of morality is again different when we believe that inherent in man are evolutionary constructive forces, which urge him to realize his given potentialities. This belief does not mean that man is essentially good -- which would presuppose a given knowledge of what is good or bad. It means that man, by his very nature and of his own accord, strives toward self-realization, and that his set of values evolves from such striving. Apparently he cannot, for example, develop his full human potentialities unless he is truthful to himself; unless he is active and productive; unless he relates himself to others in the spirit of mutuality. ... He can grow, in the true sense, only if he assumes responsibility for himself.
We arrive thus at a morality of evolution, in which the criterion for what we cultivate or reject in ourselves lies in the question: is a particular attitude or drive inducive or obstructive to my human growth? As the frequency of neuroses shows, all kinds of pressure can easily divert our constructive energies into unconstructive or destructive channels. But, with such a belief in an autonomous striving toward self-realization, we do not need an inner strait jacket with which to shackle our spontaneity, nor the whip of inner dictates to drive us to perfection. ... Self-knowledge is not an aim in itself, but a means of liberating the forces of spontaneous growth.
[Part 2 of a 3-part article]
[Article number (25) in this Q&A Department]
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