On Becoming One that You May Find the One
Jacques Nerson: You wrote in 1968: "Anything is preferable to an honorable career -- exile, or prison, or the monastery."
Louis Pauwels: Well, it was poorly said, and was in the absurd climate of '68. At that time, I was emerging from the adventure of Morning of the Magicians, and I admit that I was spoiled. What was clear to me was that I didn't want, that I never wanted, to be a writer with a public "following." I used to say, as I would still say today: Long live freedom, long live the right to change one's direction, theme, writing, research, or position. I was calling an "honorable career" the career of a man who gives what is expected of him. It has always exhausted me to be considered a guide, or more simply a good provider of the usual merchandise (the current rage). Destiny asks something of me, or of someone in me. Even though I don't understand it, it is destiny that I must follow, endlessly escaping from the diverse images of myself which I create. Better exile, prison, or the monastery than submission to what the public expects of me at every step of my passage through this world.
But exile and prison have nothing in common with the monastery. I was foolish to put all three of these forms of retreat on the same level.
In reality, I have had -- and I pursue -- the life of an intellectual vagabond with mystical tendencies, because I did not have sufficient grace and force to be a true contemplative monk. I had an obscure wish for this kind of life but I didn't know how to see my misery and how to give myself to God in the supremely childlike spirit which pushes man toward the monastery. I had neither enough humility nor this gentle heroism. And this is why I was condemned to wandering. A creative wandering, no doubt... at least I must assume so.
Many years ago (in 1968 to be exact), I attended a seminar in a hotel near the Grand Chartreuse monastery. I went right up to the gate of the monastery. There I was overcome with trembling; I sobbed. I felt that my life had been irredeemably wasted, that it would never be fulfilled. But what fulfills a life? Ah! It is not joys and honors! It is the complete renunciation of oneself; it is the silencing of thoughts; it is the arising of "I", unique and transcendental, faceless, nameless, in the smooth emptiness of the interior of one's being, and its progressive fusion with God, who is the supreme "I" of all things, here below and above....
What fulfills a life? It is not just the serenity of the stoics. It is what my friend Aldous Huxley called, approximately, the "peace of the depths," or my other friend, Arthur Koestler, "the oceanic feeling of life." Koestler committed suicide. Huxley died in despair. Neither they, who were worth infinitely more than I, nor I, knew how to build from eternity with our earthly presence. But this is what makes a contemplative monk. And finally, this is the only honorable thing to do.
In a word: to be in the world but not of it -- action and nonaction embracing. "Like the kingfisher who dives and comes up again without getting his feathers wet." The universal spiritual tradition -- Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian -- deals with these crossings (crosses) between the man in the world and the man behind the man, detached from the world. At one and the same time, here is man: nailed down, yet flying away.
Hmm. Where had I read this before? A quick search of my liberary revealed that it was in this collection of essays on Gurdjieff. It is one of the hundreds of books I raced through in the writing of my own book. As I've mentioned before, only after the book was written have I had the luxury of returning to some of the really good books I encountered along the way, and spending a little more timelessness with them. I'd forgotten all about this one, which, if I remember correctly, was -- in keeping with the man himself -- a sort of mixed bag. As are most bags, books, and beings.
When I read a book, I always highlight it in such a way that I can rapidly reread it and extract its essence, so I can usually judge the merit of a book by the number of highlights. I see that I highlighted one passage from the Pauwels interview, so I must have thought it was important:
"I fell headlong into the teaching of Gurdjieff because my most profound impression was -- and still remains -- the absence in me of being. I had and still have this impression that the whole of my thoughts, my feelings, my sensations, my dreams, my ambitions, my acts, my sorrows, my joys -- that this whole is not my real self. Or, if you wish, that there is something else besides that 'me' named Louis Pauwels, and it is that other thing which could give birth to being if I knew how to cultivate it."
Well, don't keep us hanging. What else happened to Pauwels in his long strange journey from new age pagan occultism to orthodox Catholicism?
Pauwels completed his first novel, Saint Someone, at the age of 25. It is about an ordinary man who is "suddenly transported by the extreme and inhuman unhappiness of finding himself outside himself and outside the world." Interestingly, he states that his dream then was "to depart for the Ashram of Sri Aurobindo" -- a very unusual aspiration, I might add, since very few in the west knew anything about Sri Aurobindo at the time, even Ken Wilber, who in 1945 was negative four years of age and just learning to read.
But then Pauwels met a man who told him that he needn't travel to India, because "there is a spiritual master of of uncommon strength" living in France, who can "provide you with the method for living detached and present at the same time, more detached than you ever imagined you could be, and, consequently, more present than ordinary man can ever be." Thus, he became a pupil of Gurdjieff for two years.
From his exposure to Gurdjieff, Pauwels concluded that, in order to come closer to the core of his being, it was necessary to become nothing, something that Petey often mentions. What he means in this paradoxical oddvoice is that he felt he needed to "die to myself so that an authentic 'I' [could] be born, to be able to present God a more real presence than that of the 'me' named Louis Pauwels."
He eventually concluded that "there was no love in this teaching," and that "the living relationship with others and with God had been left out." But later he changed his mind about this, because the deeper meaning of the teaching was that, in order to establish such a real relationship with God and with others, it was first necessary to establish a relationship with the "more than me which is in me."
(I agree with this, by the way, at least for some people. It actually works both ways. You can discover the "greater me" that is behind or above the ego, i.e., the "psychic being," which is intrinsically connected to the divine, like a spark thrown off from a central fire; or you can first discover the Creator, who is connected to your central spark, so to speak. It's largely a matter of temperament, i.e., bhakti vs. jnani.)
I see that Pauwels says much the same thing: "It is to this that prayer leads: to the extinction of the illusory fires of existence and the appearance of the crystalline light of the core of being. Then only do we call others into being, with love. Only then do we enter into communication with God, who is the nameless and faceless 'I' of all things in Heaven and on Earth. Only then do we begin to understand what incarnation means."
That sounds familiar...
What in carnation?! Congratulations on the equation of your cosmic birth. Oh my stars, He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image! You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open His presence, and report for karmic duty. Why, it's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf.
So, did exposure to Gurdjieff help or hinder Pauwel's journey to Catholicism? He concludes that it helped, specifically, "to intensify my prayer and to avoid the soft traps of religious sentimentalism." It also helped him to overcome the two existences within, that of the sleeper and the awakened. You might say it helped him become one, and therefore find the One.