Improvisations on the Meditations (10.05.11)
I guess I've read it cover to cover maybe four or five times. I know this because I have two copies, each with different colored highlighting. And yet, each time I read it, I get something new out of it. I know this because new passages are highlighted on subsequent go-rounds.
Also, as I mentioned in a comment the other day, the first time I tried to tackle it, I got nowhere. It was just too difficult; we were both too dense. But by the time of my second attempt a year or two later, a transformation had taken place within me that allowed me to understand it. Indeed, it was like entering a vast cathedral, only this time with the lights on. In other words, without the Light, an infinite space can appear as a black wall, which is essentially the predicament in which the atheist finds himself. He imagines he's describing an objective wall, when he's really just disclosing his subjective darkness. It's difficult to imagine a worldview more banal.
There is a reason that all spiritual traditions speak of "illumination." The visible light we see with our eyes is an analogue and symbol of the light we see with our mind. In other words, the intelligibility of the world is prior to its materiality. The spiritual world is an intelligible world, but in order to see it, you will require the uncreated light of the awakened intellect, i.e., the nous. Without it, you will again be staring at a blank wall (or you will simply have to take someone else's word for it). Jesus will just be a community organizer, if he existed at all. Miracles will merely be statistically rare events instead of vertical lessons. The Bible will be a collection of "flat" or even silly stories instead of simultaneously urgent and timeless memos of infinite depth from the Self to your self.
A couple of important points before we begin. The book is not about Tarot reading, nor does it have anything to do with the occult. Rather, the author merely uses the twenty two major arcana of the Tarot as a basis to "riff." It's almost as if he free associates and uses the cards as unsaturated archetypes to explore his own incredibly fertile spiritual imagination. But his ideas are for the most part completely orthodox and intelligible to others, unlike, say, occultists, who may or may not speak truth, but clothe it in idiosyncratic and obscure ways that can be extremely difficult to decode.
While earlier in life the author (who was born in 1900 and died in 1973) was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, he broke with that group and converted to Catholicism at the age of 44. In fact, he was booted from Steiner's Anthroposophical Society for being too independent of Steiner (who died in 1925).
Here again this is interesting, because Steiner was an example of a spiritually gifted occultist whose fluid ideas then reified into an orthodoxy. This is a fine example of how the master ruins the disciples and vice versa. Importantly, this is a dynamic that afflicts virtually all groups, as Bion recognized in some of his early papers. Indeed, it is precisely what had happened to Bion's own field of psychoanalysis, as Freud the explorer became Freud the inerrant prophet of a pseudo-religious order. Bion himself was analogous to the "new messiah" or mystic who challenges orthodoxy, but only in order to return it to first principles.
One sees this pattern again and again, as it is truly universal. For example, a Ronald Reagan appears on the historical stage as a revolutionary, but only in order to reawaken the country to its first principles of classical liberalism. Likewise, although Buddha was a heterodox Hindu, he too was merely attempting to return to the original principles of the Vedas, only in their purest and de-ritualized form.
The author worked on MOTT in his 60's, and it was originally published posthumously in 1984 (in English in 1985). Although the identity of the author is known, he wished to remain anonymous, so we will respect his wishes and refer to him as Unknown Friend (UF), which is what he calls himself. As a matter of fact, this is one of the charms of the book, as UF truly is our friend, and a precious one at that. Not only is he our friend, but he will be the invaluable friend and guide of any serious spiritual seeker from now until the end of time. And it is very much a "brotherly" relationship, despite his obvious spiritual eminence. This is very much in contrast to Schuon, who is so forbidding that one cannot imagine being his peer. (I certainly hope that this blog can be someone's unknown friend a hundred years from now -- not just me, but the whole transdimensional community, or Raccoon clench.)
With regard to my post the other day about the person who was asking for spiritual guidance, UF is a fine example of how one may form a living relationship with a guru, saint, sage, or mentor, despite the person not being "technically" alive. The fact is, they are very much alive, but they will only come to life in the dynamic transitional space between you and them. But how is this different from any other deep friendship? For example, I naturally love my wife, but I also love the space we have created for ourselves. This can go unappreciated, but it is the background context of my whole life. It is the space in which I live and breathe.
By the way, I'm basically engaging in this verticalisthenic exercise for my own benefit, so I'm going to try and pretend you folks aren't here. This is because I'm getting sick of us. Therefore, it's time for Bob's Unconscious to take the helm, and Bob's Unconscious lives in its own Private Idaho, although, at the same time, this particular Idaho is a universal Wedaho. In other words, we all share the same deep unconscious, so the further away I get from you morons, the closer we are (and that includes you, Bob).
One thing I like about MOTT is its jazz sensibility, of which I have written in the past. I adopt the identical approach, in that I have tried my best to internalize and assimilate the major chords of spiritual truth, and then attempt to improvise over them in a spontaneous way. In order to accomplish this, you can't really "try," or it will become immediately evident. Surely you have heard a bad blues singer, who substitutes volume for depth of feeling? Compare a great blues singer such as Muddy Waters, who is always relaxed, to a Janis Joplin, who screams with great effort.
Although I undoubtedly play the occasional clam, this jazzy approach is the only way that I can personally make Spirit come alive. Yes, there is danger in this, in that it can lead to an excessive focus on the individual and to idiosyncratic or eccentric interpretations. But this is the value of tradition, in that I always try to stay within the structure while simultaneously playing "beyond" it, in the same way the jazz immortals use the Great American Songbook as a basis for their improvisations.
Louis Armstrong was the first great jazz improviser. Before him was Dixieland jazz, in which no one stood out from the ensemble. But to improvise means to stand up and play "over" the group. Importantly, to produce great jazz, one must simultaneously be a part of the group while transcending it. This balance is the key, and I think it embodies a general lesson, almost a koan. That is, Man is the group animal whose very groupishness is the matrix out of which his individuality emerges. To be an individual is to live on the surface of the group, so to speak, but with roots deep within it. A narcissist fails to appreciate the importance of the group in making the individual possible, as if he could exist without it. And yet, the group cannot be the the "end" of our existence, as leftists believe.
I suppose it's somewhat analogous to the body/mind relationship. You cannot have a mind without a body, but to reduce the mind to the body is to do away with the person and our very reason for existence. Or again, one could say that this reflects the exoteric/esoteric complementarity of religion. Although I am an esoterist, I do not believe for one moment that esoterism can exist in the absence of exoterism, which is what the new agers believe. Here again, this leads to narcissism and the kind of infertile and even satanic spirituality of the Deepaks of the world.
Anyway, we're just going to riff on UF's riffing, and see where it takes us, beginning with the Foreward. Here we are tipped off at the outset to the jazz sensibility of our unknown friend, who writes of his alignment with a venerable tradition that unites "a spirit of free research with one of respect for tradition." In so doing, his purpose is to "incarnate" his word within this tradition, or to make his own words flesh, so to speak. Again, it is this organicity that you must appreciate, as our Unknown Friend comes to life before us. He will not just evoke a link between us and him, or between you and the great community of spirits who have preceded us on this earth. Rather, he is tossing down a vertical lifeline that situates us at the cosmic center:
For the links in the chain of the tradition are not thoughts and efforts alone; they are above all living beings who were thinking these thoughts and willing these efforts. The essence of the tradition is not a doctrine, but rather a community of spirits from age to age.
So jump into the living waters of this great river, and prepare to meet your Ocean.
I guess this would be the book's most famous reader. That's the two-volume German edition at the bottom of the pile, right below the poems of Suzanne Somers: