February 19, 2013
The mind of ambition inhibits genuine growth. To obsess on gaining the heights not only impairs but actually precludes the self-awareness essential to growth. The incessant climb makes us dizzy, and finally blind. Consider for a moment the spiritual geography of the Judeo-Christian religion: would not Satan have a better and clearer view of Heaven than God Himself? Even the fairy tales of religion have something to teach us if we will adopt a fresh perspective.
To do so, it seems necessary to reject the linear and take orbit instead. When I achieve an orbit on my life, my experience is not of height but rather breadth. In an orbit, altitude becomes incidental: a view of a planet from 10 km. can be clearer and fuller in its detail than another from triple the height. An orbit, once achieved, tends to endure; but vertical existence is weak and ephemeral. When you are so fixed on height, you lose depth; and your options — as man or God — become limited.
We must use circumstance as well as altitude as the true measure of our life’s orbit. The breadth of your vision need not encompass everything, but only that which matters to your moment. Be true to the present and eternity will take care of itself.
Presence is only challenging because it is unfamiliar. We do not teach it, to ourselves or our children. We regret or long for the past; we pursue the future either in yearning or in dread. In both cases, it is expectation — a narrow, coffin-shaped projection that closes off possibility and self-fulfills its selfish or dreadful prophecies. If we would survive, we must reject expectation; if we would live, we must affirm our invisible potential.
Therefore, it is not enough to kill what is decadent or derived within us — falsehood, fear, self-images, guilt, or collective belief. To say No to what bleeds or blocks your true self is merely a beginning, a first arc of orbit. Each act of negation must call forth a response of affirmation. If I reject expectation, I must then embrace innocence, openness, the crystalline continuum of possibility. If my aim is clear and true with No, then its energy’s wake will draw Yes into its orbit.
The scientific reality is the best metaphor: to achieve and maintain orbit, an object must, in addition to height, have tangential velocity — an energy that keeps it moving sideways — even as it is simultaneously attracted to what is below (gravity). So to attain a clear perspective on my life and my world, I must use the energy of No to maintain distance — height and the vector of freedom; while I also remain in touch with the gravitational attraction from that which I need to understand. The last factor is critical because, in the context of inner life, it is the most forgotten or lost: no matter how dark or abysmal its time or circumstances may appear, the gravity must be held, even embraced. That gravity between the satellite of awareness and the body of experience is the love of life. It is the strongest force in the universe of meaning.
Thus, an orbit is defined not by its height but its balance. Stability rather than distance must be the measure of my insight. The force that propels me apart from the false must be matched by gravity toward truth. I can see most clearly not from a linear mountaintop or the most distant rung of a spiritual org-chart. No: for the view from Heaven is of a single dimension only. I need enter the others if I am to know perspective; otherwise I am left only with an illusion.
So I must move upward, sideways, even as I feel the pull of depth. And to hold my orbit of self-insight, I also need to be in time — not in expectation or in reminiscence, but in presence. The science of my experience and of Einstein’s vision again coincide: space and time are not separate realities. If I can be present, alive in the immediacy of Now, then I need have neither fear nor hope of Eternity. The paradox is only appearance: it is my perpetual movement in orbit that holds me to the stillness of the moment. The conscious propulsion of No and the gravitational pull of Yes hold me to and within presence.
This is the reality of a life guided by insight; it is what we can achieve in meditation. The life of action is led by contemplation. Meditation is not an escape from life — the scientific metaphor again applies: an “escape velocity” actually throws you out of orbit. Such an escape defeats the gravitational pull; denies the love of life. I do not wish to escape life but only those thoughts which force it into one or two dimensions.
Orbit is movement; it rejects, through its essence, fixation, cessation, termination. Life, too, is defined by movement. If my reflection would be clear, it must be in motion: I must be ready to see from below as well as above. True vision has no prejudice toward direction.
Thus I return to ambition: of any variety — material, spiritual, societal, psychological — ambition defeats its own professed end. It in obsession with height, it loses all else; in its monomania towards soaring, it only strays; it gets lost in the darkness of distance; in the empty space where that gravity, the love of life, becomes ever weaker, ever stranger.
Achieving orbit, I see that there is as much of Heaven in my life amid its ashes as in its highest and brightest flames. Where truth vibrates, the music of success can be heard. That tangential movement from a height — the orbital effort — this is what adds comfort to the climb. It steadies the rise and makes movement itself effortless. In orbit, aggressive ambition becomes gentle perseverance. Experience and reflection; action and stillness; attainment and reception — these become one and complete in the elliptical path of motion that is guided and embraced by the gravity of Love.