April 18, 2015
The secret of the mountains is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no ‘meaning,’ they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.
— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
One day recently, I was practicing my variant on kundalini meditation, when an old, dust-strewn memory came to me. It was of the first time that a woman had undressed herself before me. As I was still very much a child at the time, the eroticism of that moment was muddled, confused — even rather brutish on my part. But another aspect was clear, and remained so in memory: I had a very strong sense of the sacred, as if there were so much more than a young woman’s dress dropping before me. A mystery was being revealed, yes, but there was more: the very delusion of Mystery itself had been exposed in this moment. I have never felt the naked breath of the Holy — not in any church, temple, or conventional sacred space — as I did in those few seconds of stupid wonder at this revelation of the glistening darkness of the eternal feminine.
It was an opening of truth that I was not prepared for at that age; so its magic slipped away. It would be decades before I could begin to understand what I had both received and lost that night; it would be even longer before I would see how fear had made me falter at the very threshold of realization. And it is only now that I can perceive, however dimly, that the eternal feminine revealed to me some four decades ago is also here, right now, inside me. Through all these years, it was; amid all my vain searching, it was always there. I had it all the time. I didn’t have to be afraid of what that girl revealed to me that night; for it was not separate from who I was, and am.
No one had prepared me for that understanding, for that experience. Therefore, all I was left with in that sacred moment was the same studied ignorance as is written into our Bibles, our textbooks, our collective media of repression. The sacred feminine, especially among men, is the most aggressively denied among those in our culture who style themselves as the faithful and the religiously adept. Like a modern executioner’s poison, that ideological potassium chloride is injected deep into our bodies until it stops the heart of awareness and turns us into walking, breathing, fucking corpses. That is, many of us learn to make love, but few discover how to create it.
This points back to a theme that Alan Watts used to talk about in his comparison of Western and Eastern mythologies. He saw two dominant myths in the Western collective mind: the first he described as the “ceramic model,” in which an external God took clay, made little figurines out of it, and then gave them all life. The line between creation and manufacturing becomes blurred in this model, until we reach the second myth that Watts found in our culture, the “fully automatic model.” Here, the Cartesian-Newtonian mechanism has taken over, and there is not even a pretense of creation anymore: everything is blind matter and energy scattering and interacting randomly amid a similarly blind and stupid universe. In this model, whatever there is of sentience and intelligence comes about accidentally. It is therefore astonishing that, under the influence of such a metaphysic, humans still manage to create something meaningful and enduring every so often.
In contrast, Watts showed how the Hindus saw the cosmic reality as a creative drama, a play of sound and silence; The Taoist looked at Nature and saw a living, intelligent organism in a continual process of self-creation. Creation is the essential, sine-qua-non condition of transformation. But whenever we talk about changing our societies, it’s always in terms of getting the rats out of office and replacing them with more evolved or less brutish rodents (squirrels?). To paraphrase one of the more popular political slogans of our time, we may all hope for change, but if you talk about creating it, then you’ve crossed a line and must be pushed to and beyond the margins of public discourse. We take a similar approach to our personal lives: it’s all about altering appearances rather than working artistically with ourselves, from the depths outward. So we want to be thinner or get rid of a habit or become richer or more popular: we push ourselves around, make demands, spend money, and rearrange the furniture of life — go to the gym or the doctor or the drugstore; and we usually fail, or succeed so superficially that our victory is as good as Pyrrhic.
We exclude ourselves from the Creative principle. We imagine that creativity is the province of artists and other experts who possess the gifts and the training to be duly authorized as society’s creators. We may dream of joining the ranks of that elite, but that does no more than throw us back onto the hope-but-no-change boat of the political realm. This is the emotional treadmill that pushes so many of us into the swamp of addiction: to television, political and religious affiliation, gambling, Lotto, etc. We want the payoff without the exploration or the effort of making it possible. A writer once observed that he had met many people who wanted to be novelists, but few who actually wanted to write a novel.
But creation starts right here, where you are, in your ordinary daily life. If you can do the work of self-exploration and inner cleansing required to self-create a new beginning, a different future for yourself — in the dullest and plainest aspects of your ordinary experience — then I submit that such things as writing books, making music, or creating visual art will be as child’s play to you. If I can discover the art in sitting by the window; washing the dishes; walking the dog; preparing a financial report or a spreadsheet; making the bed or loving my woman — then the goddess of Art is already petting me from the inside out, and there will eventually be wonders from my pen, my brush, or my guitar. For then, even if there is no one out-there to see or hear or admire it, my work will be lit with the photonic energy of the Creative; and my life’s personal art will become its own blessing.
Now, I return to my memory of that sexual experience from my youth. What if I had recognized myself in that young woman’s glorious body? Well, I would never have had to study Tantra, kundalini, or any of that other nonsense. As Watts, Krishnamurti, and others have pointed out before me, we only study and practice these esoteric arts because we think we lack that which we strive to obtain through them. But if we begin by knowing our own inner feminine — emotionally, intellectually, and even (in the words of the old joke) Biblically — without any inhibition or guilt or fear of our true nature; then relationships become effortless, and love flows like tears of relief and gratitude.
It is a matter of restoring the natural balance of our being by pushing ourselves away from the concrete median of a dull equanimity. This is what Lao Tzu meant when he urged us to “know the masculine but be one with the feminine.” Emphasize for yourself what your culture ignores or condemns. The fifth line of the I Ching hexagram Grace (#22) underscores this point:
Adorning tending — towards a hill-top garden.Rolled plain-silk: little, little.Abashment. Completing significant.*
Ego urges us toward the great triumvirate of success: Wealth, Fame, Accumulation. But blessing — the success of the natural self — is another way, a way of personal creation. It is a garden rather than a nation; its silk (in ancient China writing and painting were often done on rolled silk) is so small as to be overlooked. These are all metaphors of the universal and sacred feminine: simple adornments; the little garden atop the hill; the roll of silk whose only insignificance is in its size, though not in its meaning.
True greatness arises not from status or height or visibility, but from an art of an integrity whose sole attachment is to beauty. Popularity and appeal come and go; they may be put on and taken off; they flash and fall out of the pan, into the ashes. Beauty endures, because it arises from within and has no mind beyond its moment. It has no perceptions to court or expectations to manage. It lightheartedly rejects appearance and dwells within its own substance. It drops its dress and finds all it needs in the perpetual rising and falling of the breath of creation, from the body of ordinary ecstasy.
*This is from the Ritsema/Karcher transation quoted here.