Take it to the Limitless One More Time
To briefly return to yesterday's post, I spoke of how scripture and revelation can be thought of as a reflection of the eternal within time. The genius of scripture -- something which no human could have accomplished, at least without divine assistance -- is that it speaks to men of all gifts and capacities, at whatever level. The other day, Petey made a cheap shot at one of those vacuous TV preachers, but don't get me, I mean Petey, wrong. Religion must meet a man where he is. It would be as absurd for me to appear on TBN as it would be for Joel Osteen to be the keynote speaker at the annual Raccoon Lodge convention.
But someone must speak the language of eternity in terms the average man can grasp. It's something that is actually quite critical to both the salvation of the individual and to the harmony of society, and is one of the things that makes America great -- i.e., its basic religiosity. I certainly relate to a simple person of faith much more than I do to a sophisticated yahoo such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, who actually have far more soul-deadening limits than those they mock. They truly "don't get it," but are nevertheless enormously proud of their spiritual autism -- technically known as Assburger's Syndrome.
I'm getting sidetracked. This post was actually inspired by a couple of comments made by Frithjof Schuon in reference to the painful struggles of his youth. For a time he was employed in a meaningless occupation that had nothing to do with his true vocation, which he had yet to discover. In dealing with a typical coworker, he had the sense that the coworker was "hemmed in by all the objects and mental images that surround him. I feel that these people adhere flatly to their mental images with all their soul, without any freedom of movement and without any possibility of taking up an objective attitude towards them."
He also observed that "When I speak with people I have the feeling that I can perceive their limitations physically; I see their limits almost tangibly before me and feel oppressed by the awareness that there is no entry and no key to their darkness, and that for them there is no exit, that with dull eyes like fish they bump against the glass walls of their mental horizon.
Now, one thing you must immediately bear in mind is that neither of these comments were intended to convey contempt. Far from it. Rather, they were expressions of a familiar kind of pain that apparently has no name, and which I myself had never adequately articulated until reading these passages. A decent person will not automatically blame the world for the fact that he doesn't fit into it. Rather, in the absence of some kind of emotional support from like-minded people, he will naturally blame himself: the world is right. There's just something wrong with me. I am a misfit. I need to change myself so that I can be like the others. But this is no solution. Rather, it will simply exchange one kind of existential pain for another. A lion can try to fit in with the other sheep by eating grass all day, but that is far from the ideal solution. But what can you do if you've never even met another lion?
The human world is an interpersonal world. It is a tapestry of humanness that comes at us from every possible angle, high and low. Each of us must find our place within this tapestry, but it is much easier for some than for others. An "average" person apparently feels "at home" in the world, for the simple reason that the world was made for him. But if you are far from average, the world is going to literally be an alien place. It is going to be much more painful -- even bizarre. To take a mundane example, the world was made for righthanded people. If you are lefthanded, you are going to have to deal with all kinds of trivial inconveniences for the simple reason that the world literally wasn't made for you. In the not too distant past, parents would even force lefthanded children to be righthanded, which would cause real damage, similar to "enlightened" parents who try to raise their children without a strong sexual identification.
The world was also made for heterosexuals. If you are homosexual, we can only say tough luck. We are not going to overturn the order of the cosmos just so you can feel more comfortable in it. This is such a narcissistic demand. Yes, the homosexual is "different," but not nearly as different as I or my fellow Raccoons are. And yet, we do not expect the world to conform to our needs. I don't expect that a certain percentage of television characters must be Bobbleheads, or that special accommodations should be made for us, or that ballots must be designed so that we can understand them, or that closed-captioning be furnished so that we can understand what the hell is going on on TV.
No, it is enough that we have found each other: a little community of the limitless. Back to Schuon's comment above: When I speak with people I have the feeling that I can perceive their limitations physically; I see their limits almost tangibly before me and feel oppressed by the awareness that there is no entry and no key to their darkness, and that for them there is no exit. I am eager to know how many readers have also felt this, for I certainly do. In dealing with someone, there is a sort of instantaneous -- and oppressive -- intuition of the exact limits of their horizons. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with education. More often than not, the highly educated person has simply internalized an officially sanctioned set of limits, beyond which their minds cannot venture. They are hemmed in by their education, not liberated by it. Imagine the frustration of dealing with the typical New York Times reader or NPR listener -- just incredibly narrow limits masquerading as sophistication.
This also has nothing to do with basic intelligence. Many intelligent people have drifted in and out of this site who have no idea what I'm talking about. People routinely leave comments that make it clear that they not only do not understand my post, but even the point of the blog. Often they will take something I wrote and merely fit it into their existing framework -- in other words, they place me within their own limits.
Let's take an obviously intelligent person, say, Christopher Hitchens. He is a good example, because he is clearly gifted in a sense, and yet, the iron bars within his soul are truly tangible. His gift has ended up sharply limiting his horizons, probably because it also happens to be in the service of a fair amount of narcissism. I would no more get into a debate with him about religion than I would debate my dog, because in both cases I would lose.
One of the persistent misunderstandings of my critics is that the people who agree with me are "followers" -- or that I could even have such a thing. Obviously, the "Bobblehead" designation is always used both ironically and affectionately, for the people who most agree with me are the ones who are probably the most fiercely independent, and who have spent their lives winning their personal insights from the formless infinite void in a world that was either indifferent or even hostile to them.
I met one of our regular readers several months before I started this blog. We engaged in a correspondence that was intensely stimulating on many levels, and now I know why: I had found a fellow Raccoon, a person with no limits! Just as I can instantly sense someone's limits, I now realize that I could sense her freedom. No matter where I went, she could follow -- and vice versa. A particularly brilliant psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas, refers to this as "the erotics of being," because there is such a tangible joy involved in connecting with someone on this level.
This morning I received an email. I hope he or she will not be embarrassed, because they shouldn't be. But in a perfect synchronicity, it articulates exactly what this particular post is about, and the cosmic service I wish the blog to provide. This person wrote, "The last week or so's posts have been giving me the sense that you were a couple steps ahead of where I've been wanting to [go].... [W]ith today's post I was sure with each word that you were about to completely say what I've been trying to get out and then some.... [It] really sent the neurons a-swirling. A strange thing this blogosphere, a very strange and wondrous thing -- the distance of entire continents is no obstacle for thoughts to bounce off each other and spark still other thoughts afire."
In fact, a couple of days ago, another emailer expressed it this way: "What do I see when I go to your blog? It's like traveling on a dark night, towards a bubble of light on the horizon. You know that once you are there, you can refresh yourself, rest, be edified, and continue the journey." You see? I cannot be a "leader," just a useful bloglight on the horizon of being.
Now, just as I do not have contempt for the person who does not understand me, I do not draw any kind of egoic gratification from these kinds of comments. For one thing, these people are my equals, undoubtedly gifted in certain areas I am not. The point is the same as with the correspondent alluded to above: the erotics of being, the liberating joy of finding another person to play with in hyperspace! We're not alone after all!
So if I am going to have "followers," it can only be in this sense: to help people vault themselves beyond their own limits in their own unique idiom. This is what my most esteemed teachers have done for me. I will always be their humble student but never their follower, or I will have both insulted them and learned nothing in the process. For there is none good but One; and to quote Schuon again, this One "wishes to be worshiped by every man according to the nature He gave him."