Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Developing Spiritual Strength and Flexibility with Verticalisthenics

We're discussing The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. Again, although the word "intellectual" is perfectly acceptable if you already know what the author means by it, a more precise title -- at least for our time -- might have been something like Knowing and Being: Conditions and Methods for the Realization and Transmission of Spiritual Truth.

A key point is that if you are not living the truth, then you aren't really knowing it. It would be analogous to knowing all about light but still living in darkness.

Note that one of the two or three central principles of Christianity is that ultimate truth is a being, a person. This places it in direct contrast to, say, Islam, in which the central principles are God and Koran. The Koran is the word of God -- literally -- whereas the Bible is only word about God, who is a person.

The ontological implications could hardly be more dramatic. Just ask yourself: what kind of knowledge is a person? You could spend your whole life trying to answer it. And even then, the point is not to know the answer but to become it -- or to participate in the being of personal (or personal being of) Truth.

The beingness of this Truth could never be explicated in the linear form of a book, not even the Bible, especially if one approaches it with the wrong (intellectual) being.

Recall what we were saying yesterday about the cultivation of vertical memory in order to attune ourselves to the Divine. Sertillanges writes that it is necessary to be "receptive in every direction, and in a state of perpetual discovery. In its content there is nothing 'ready made'; its gains are seeds of the future, its oracles are promises."

In short, you simply cannot obtain real theo-logy "off the rack." If you try, then it will be either too loose or too tight, or the fabric will not breathe, or it will chafe just where you need some extra growing room.

In a way, you could say that tradition provides you with the material -- the fabric -- but it is still up to you to make it into an appropriate suit of clothing. Importantly, you could never manufacture the fabric yourself, but no one else can make the suit for you. Another man's suit just won't look right on you, even if it looks great on someone else.

Now, about this vertical recollection, or turning our third ear to the Ground. Sertillanges says that "Listening to oneself is a formula that amounts to the same thing as listening to god." It "is revealed to us only in the silence of the soul," which necessarily involves some means of excluding and shutting out all that pulls us away from this center. (Please note that the "center" is anywhere the vertical is, which is everywhere, but only if one is aware of it; it is always at a right angle to the present.)

There are two forces that take us out of this center, or ground. They essentially fall under the headings of dispersion and compression, which can in turn take on endless forms.

Think, for example, of the numberless varieties of dispersion, which, you might say is the opposite of con-centration. There is nothing wrong with dispersion as such, as it is a natural part of the rhythm of being. In its absence we would be in a permanent state of frozen attention, nor would we be capable of growth.

Think of the relationship between catabolism (destructive metabolism) and anabolism (constructive metabolism) that makes metabolism as such possible. In other words, metabolism -- or, let us say, life -- could never be a result only of building up, for this would make us more like a crystal or a fungus than a man. And more minds than you know are a kind of crystalized fungus.

It is more clear that life and mind could never be a result of pure catabolism. Nevertheless, without a little death tossed into the mix, life would be strictly impossible.

Down here there is life and there is death, but only continuously. Just like the complementarity of anabolism <---> catabolism, the two are a function of a higher third which we might call Life. Yes, it is Life, but again, it is also Person. If it weren't the latter, then human persons simply wouldn't be possible. No. Way.

So, human beings can become too hard or too loose. We may even caricature the two types and not be too far from the truth, i.e., the typical loose and lazy liberal with a mind so open that his brains fall out; or the dry, desiccated and up-tight conservative church lady.

Our founders were well aware of this existential/ontological dichotomy, which is why they were so careful to steer a middle course between a loose and anarchic democracy and a sclerotic and entrenched oligarchy.

It is the same with capitalism, which is constantly creating and destroying. It "works" simply because it mirrors living reality.

And the irony, of course, is that the application of loose and lazy liberalism eventually leads to its own sclerosis and institutional deadness, as embodied in the dead-from-the-neck-up and chest-in Obama. No one is more fearful of change than a progressive. A classical liberal is simply someone who steers this middle course in order to properly metabolize reality at every level: physical, psychological, intellectual, economic, political, and spiritual.

Here is a pithy little wise crack by Sertillanges that goes to exactly what we're talking about: To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one. Say it again: To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one.

Do you see why? You don't want to be only multiple, but nor do you want to be only one. "Unity at the starting point is a mere void," but so too is multiplicity at the endpoint.

I was once one of those "loosely crystalized" leftists, and all I can say about that is -- let's sing it together -- "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

For "higher than the brain is the object of its devotion," which "carries the mind into vast spheres that it would never of itself have known" (Sertillanges). And this requires a great deal of flexibility, but also strength. Which yoga provides.

For we demand of knowledge that it shall unite; the knowledge that divides must always be a partial knowing good for certain practical purposes; the knowledge that unites is the knowledge. --Sri Aurobindo

15 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

In a way, you could say that tradition provides you with the material -- the fabric -- but it is still up to you to make it into an appropriate suit of clothing. Importantly, you could never manufacture the fabric yourself, but no one else can make the suit for you. Another man's suit just won't look right on you, even if it looks great on someone else.

That is a great analogy.

Still reading ...

9/28/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Nevertheless, without a little death tossed into the mix, life would be strictly impossible.


The unburdening power of God's forgiveness is a death as well, and a very necessary one. It would not be surprising, then, to find that forgiveness requires a death.

9/28/2010 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh - speaking of catbolism, wv suggests that the cation - a positively charged ion that is drawn to a negatively charged center - deserves a mention as well. I suppose that would be one of the agents of compression, not dispersion.

9/28/2010 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one"

'long'?

9/28/2010 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

To be honest, I don't know what "to be long multiple" is. Perhaps it would make sense in context, perhaps it is a native English thing, or perhaps I have just been unimaginably long single.

Then again, with Aurobindo is it more like "ooh, I finally found a sentence that I understand", so I may not be quite accustomed to the mountain air yet...

9/28/2010 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Van & Magnus, here's the fuller context - it may help:

"We shall also avoid plunging into some particular themethat we should like to develop without first having explored its general antecedents and its connection with other subjects. To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one. Unity at the starting point is a mere void. One feels this when one is devoted to high and mysterious truth. Even if one does not use everything that one has learned, the accumulated knowledge gives a hidden resonance to one's words, and this fulness has for its reward the confidence it inspires. It is a great secret to know how to give radiance to an idea by means of its twilight background. It is a further secret to preserve its power of convergence in spite of this radiating quality."

9/28/2010 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

In other words, breadth is necessary as a foundation for height. Or in artistic terms, don't draw the fleas before you draw the dog. Or in Heinleinian terms, "specialization is for insects."

Or thinking again of the diamond with the white One at the top, the spectrum in the middle, and the black blob of false union at the bottom, we, being of the middle section, who want to understand that which is higher would do well to study the different colors that make up our experience. Thereafter, with some understanding, we might better follow them back upward to their source. If we focus intently only on one tiny element and ignore the broader whole, we risk missing the point entirely.

Or that's roughly how I understood it, anyway.

9/28/2010 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Ah... I think I see now, 'long' as in a long time, 'to have been for a long time of separated, unintegrated views, is a pre-condition for fully becoming a unitary One', which (whether that's it or not) I fully get, I think you more fully 'get' and appreciate the whole, when you've been 'long' among the shards, broken and splintered.

Thanks Julie.

9/28/2010 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It also reminds me of how being a late bloomer is often a blessing, because you don't prematurely foreclose your options when you know the least.

9/28/2010 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

That's funny - I was just saying something along those lines in response to a comment at my place.

In other news, there's this:

“Folks wake up! This is not some academic exercise. As Joe Biden put it, Don’t compare us to the Almighty, compare us to the alternative,” Obama said at a fundraiser in New York last week.

Wait, what? Is he saying the Democrats are better than the Adversary? Because that doesn't strike me as being much of a selling point...

9/28/2010 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Vote Democrat! We're better than the Devil.

We can't blame Bush any more. It's all Satan's fault!

Obama-Nation -- only next door to Hell.

9/28/2010 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

One more:

I'm not the Antichrist; he's just a guy in my neighborhood.

9/28/2010 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic but hilarious: Sexy cool crinkle cloth for those hot nights to come. Lileks would have a funnier take, but with this copy he's practically unnecessary.

I'm just looking at that zipper and wondering how much of his chest hair came off with it...

9/28/2010 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Sign of the times: this is the first product company I've developed where the initial large customer is likely to be in China instead of the US. Our global mega-pharm partner is hiring 3,000 people next month there while winding down entire departments in the US.

There is a long, LONG way to go before all of this reaches a new equilibrium. A lot could change in November though -- everyone is watching in every city I visit globally.

9/28/2010 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Julie, thank you so much for the quote!

This not only made sense, but was strikingly familiar. Blasphemous Tax-cutting Buddhist argues very strongly for reading up on diverse topics, because he compares it to walking across a chasm on a bridge instead of a rope. If you have only the rope, it is hard to have confidence, it takes so little to topple you. (He also argues that knowledge should be like an iceberg, at least 80% under the surface and never actually mentioned.)

I liked the resonance and radiance part though. It rings very, very true.

Book ordered.

9/29/2010 10:56:00 AM  

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