THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT: Part 8 Hope

My maternal grandfather spent his last days in a nursing home…

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HOPE

 

My maternal grandfather spent his last days in a nursing home. It was a very nice place, comparatively. (Years ago I went to one run by the Social Services of the City of New York where you had to be buzzed in through a metal gate and on my way out a desperate old crone grabbed me around the leg and started pleading, “Get me out of here!”) Still, unless you have totally lost it, you know that when you do finally get to leave one of those types of establishments, it will be feet-first. And when I said good-bye to my grandfather, on what would turn out to be our final visit, I said, “Just take it one day at a time, Pop-Pop,” and his eyes suddenly lit up and with a wry smile he replied, “Yes, two days at a time in a place like this could kill you.” Then we had a good laugh; a nice way to end.

If there is such a thing as a last bastion of hope, it can often be found in institutions like these where I have also sometimes seen some old geezer, with a fierce look of determination on his face but no particular place to go, furiously lurching his walker down the hall. It’s inspiring but at the same time heartbreaking. (I’m sure that if you tried something like that in that New York City nursing home they’d make you watch as they smashed it to bits. Or better yet, would make you destroy it yourself, while they stood around and laughed.)
 

The Persistence of Hope

 
Even survivors of the death camps during the Nazi’s Holocaust, the closest thing to Dante’s “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here” Inferno that mankind has ever deliberately devised, report on the persistence of hope. I once read the recollections of a prisoner who said that the guards used to wrap their overstuffed sandwiches in pages of the Torah and as they ate their lunch in front of the starving inmates, tear them up and throw the fragments of parchment to the ground. But the Jews would sneak out of their confinements at night and collect and reassemble the pieces as best they could and by reading out what they could, kept their hope alive.

The great American poet Emily Dickinson had some truly insightful things to say—as she often does on a variety of subjects—about hope, especially its tenacious nature:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all, . . .
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest Sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

While we can only pretend to know another’s impetuses, can for the most part only project our own, I’ve always imagined the “nun of Amherst”—who had more or less abandoned the idea of ever being published (she pursued it only once or twice during her entire life and without success) along with its attendant enterprise, self-promotion (“how public like a frog”)—wondering why it was that she could not overcome the hope that she, or her work anyway, might be more widely known; that though she did not feed it “a crumb,” this hunger for some morsel of recognition lived on in her with such vigor. (Along with, I imagine, other longings as well: for love, for God’s Grace, even for the return of the bees.)

Out of this World

 
Emily seems to have had a very active inner life. In its advanced stage this is a mystical condition where one is in a constant state of contemplation to the degree that they are often very content to be by themselves, not only because they do not need anyone else, but even if they occasionally do, they know that others will misjudge and misunderstand them and they really can’t (or don’t want to have to) explain themselves (they could write immortal poetry, I suppose). There is an expression, “out of this world,” which describes this condition or “in the world but not of it,” which describes it more accurately. And it is the “in the world” part that seems to vex even those who are quite happy, even overjoyed, to be left alone. For it seems that as long as you live here on Earth you will hope for something more, yearn for some greater influence or even affluence. It’s in the atmosphere; you breathe it in.

Along these lines, we could even ask ourselves why God, assuming He is infinite, immortal, and eternal, would need a universe? Why would He, too, not be content with what He has but still need more? And by extension, why would a human being who was living in a state of perfect bliss, even one who was God-conscious, not be satisfied? And I believe it comes down to this: There is always another possibility not only for us but especially for the Infinite.
 

Lamborghini

By No machine-readable author provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain.

We could think of this in terms of our own lives—of the way we’re not satisfied with a modest, comfortable home or a functional car but still want a mansion and/or a Maserati, except that these are material needs and we are now wondering what would happen if we were free from all worldly wants. Would we still yearn for something more?

The Creator has now authored a nearly infinite number of galaxies, each of which has hundreds of millions of stars and planets and other celestial bodies (and presumably, trillions upon trillions of life-forms) scattered about. This is quite an accomplishment. Yet, He seems interested that His creation might also become conscious; not only self-aware but God-aware. Indeed, He seems to have this as a further, perhaps even ultimate aim.
 

God is Peace, Love, and Joy

 
Therefore, we might imagine that even if we had managed to transcend our present, limited consciousness, to have drilled down to our blissful essence and wanted for nothing, the universe might ask us to share our discoveries with the rest of humanity. That spreading the news that God is peace, love, and joy might be in keeping with the Creator’s own goals, making so-called self-promotion for someone who has attained this state, cosmically condoned; divinely hoped for.

In other words, Emily, if you have something good, uplifting and inspiring to tell the world, there is no reason to beat yourself up about it; no reason to consider it egotistical if you want to share something wonderful with the rest of us for it may not be your personal ambition that is urging you on, but divine unrest: God’s own hope within you.

 

 

Look for the next topic, INTUITION, next time! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Part 7: Gratitude

GRATITUDE   Expressions of gratitude, things like thank-you notes, are considered signs of good breeding. I think I may have written one, maybe two, during my entire life. They also seem to be more of an activity for the leisure class and a girl thing, too. (I’m sure that if I were married my wife […]

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GRATITUDE

 
Expressions of gratitude, things like thank-you notes, are considered signs of good breeding. I think I may have written one, maybe two, during my entire life. They also seem to be more of an activity for the leisure class and a girl thing, too. (I’m sure that if I were married my wife would make me write them. Or would write them and make me sign them.) And in this regard we can imagine a Grand Duchess in some costume drama seated at her secrétaire in her silk and gold embroidered housecoat, penning proper little perfumed notes in her exquisite cursive and handing them off to her lady’s maid while the Grand Duke is off being rugged, chasing around a helpless little fox with a pack of wild dogs and an arsenal of WMD, while a crew of hundreds of dirty little men, red faced and on the verge of collapse, runs along behind trying to keep up. But who, these days, has the time or especially the resources for any of this?
 

A Hilarious Southern Comedian

 
I saw an interview the other day with Larry the Cable Guy, a hilarious Southern comedian whom I must confess I really enjoy—though being a Northerner (and his jokes being about things like fat people and farts) supposedly I should not—during which he was asked how he now likes playing big arenas and making $100,000 per night as opposed to the few hundred dollars a week he used to make working dives. A ridiculous question of course, and at first Larry was like, “A-duh, what do you think?” but then, “I feel really thankful, of course,” and I felt a sense of relief. He was not just a lowlife, I thought, and I could feel less guilty about watching his performances. Though I can’t promise you I could have stopped myself, regardless.

That we consider thankfulness (gratitude) an elevated condition is interesting; that an ungrateful person would be considered boorish, from the Dutch word for peasant, while a grateful one would be thought to be gracious (according to Oxford, “to exhibit high social status”) would seem to suggest a commonly held belief that to experience, and especially express, gratitude is something noble.

There is a popular quote, “There but for the grace of God go I,” attributed to one John Bradford, a Protestant, imprisoned in 1554 by Queen Mary Tudor of England—also known as “Bloody Mary” (a Roman Catholic who, though she would only reign for five years, thank God, still managed to burn close to three hundred “nonbelievers” at the stake). And reportedly uttered through the bars of his jail cell while watching one of his fellow heretics being led off to their own custom-designed rotisserie. Then, just a few months later, in January 1555, he was also barbecued.

Thanksgiving Ingredients

via Pixabay.com


 

Thank God I Wasn’t On That Plane

 
And this is the kind of gratitude we can all relate to: the “thank God I wasn’t on that plane” type. (I felt that way after 9/11 as I used to service the pianos at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, where all perished that day.) It is also similar, though perhaps to a less graphic degree, to the sentiment that we express each year at Thanksgiving (or are supposed to since that’s what the occasion is about—not, believe it or not, stampedes at shopping malls): “Thank God that, unlike most of the rest of the world, those of us gathered here today are not starving to death.”

Many so-called primitive cultures not only offer gratitude to God before their meals in this same way but also to the spirits of the creatures or even the plants that they are about to consume. I’m sure that if you asked for permission to say a prayer along those lines at your next family Thanksgiving you’d be quite the topic of conversation, especially as everyone traveled back home: “What the hell was that?! ‘The soul of the unwitting turkey.’ Well, there was more than one turkey in the room this year! It was so embarrassing! We can’t let that happen again! No more prayers, ever!”

Gratitude Otter

 

A Higher State of Awareness

 
Gratitude is essentially a higher state of awareness. At its most basic level it takes the form of a Thanksgiving-style recognition of what the world has given us in order that we might live; understands that other living things have sacrificed, suffered, or even died on our behalf. Then beyond this there is a level of thankfulness called unconditional gratitude to God, whether material blessings have come our way or not, or in the extreme, despite the fact that we have suffered or are suffering unbearably.

This work is subtitled, “A mystical primer” (which means an introduction) so we will leave that category alone for now. For it would require an entire other volume to explain in a convincing way how a saint, especially, could endure unremitting torment and yet be overflowing, almost to the point of bursting, with gratitude to God.

“You fool,” others (like Queen Mary, for example) might say, “how can you be grateful to a God who would do this to you?”(Of course, she is the one actually doing this to you!).
 
 
Look for the next topic, Hope, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 05: ENLIGHTENMENT

If you have been reading these essays from the beginning then you already know that in the East they believe that God…

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ENLIGHTENMENT

 

God and His Heavenly Kingdom Are Within You

If you have been reading these essays from the beginning then you already know that in the East they believe that God and His Heavenly Kingdom are within you and discoverable. If, however, you started reading here, believing that, being the title chapter, it would be, like, the best part ever, then I wish to tell you that in the East they believe that God and His Heavenly Kingdom are within you and discoverable and in order for you to find out whether the “best part ever” thing is true, you will have to read a little more. Sorry.

When we think of enlightenment, we immediately think of the Buddha, or maybe Keanu Reeves, who portrayed him in 1993’s Little Buddha, and that would be unfortunate. For while both the movie and he, of course, looked good; steeped in the cadence of surf speak, of “Dude, that’s totally gnarly,” Keanu’s performance was sort of bogus. So much so that on the night I went, when he delivered the line “Come my disciples, eat my rice,” it reached critical mass and the entire theater just cracked up, for suddenly we were watching Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (his signature role in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) Under the Bodhi Tree. But if you thought that his portrayal was, like, okay, the most amped ever, then I apologize and all right, the crowd that night was, like, okay, a bunch of squid-lips and stuff.

Eternally Self-Transcending

Anyway, one commonality in the movie and the Buddha’s legend, if you are at all familiar with it, is the presence of numerous sadhus (“ascetics”) sometimes naked (try not to look down), who, when they aren’t being total dweebs, are meditating.

In Essay #3, Consciousness, we learned that 5000 years ago the Rishis in the Indus Valley discovered meditation and employed it for self-discovery. It’s important to note, however, that they did not just sit down, go deep within, and immediately arrive at their own highest height. (Or, in truth, ever absolutely arrive, this ultimate goal being eternally self-transcending. Whoa! Epic, Dude!)

Still, there are landmarks along the way and enlightenment is one such signpost and depending upon whom you talk to, perhaps even the most advanced. Though some will say that enlightenment is a misnomer; that when Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha it was God-realization that he attained because enlightenment is more like a higher state of illumination and, as such, actually lower than complete God-consciousness. And those persons are probably those same naked sadhus who, unable to meditate twenty-four hours a day, argue about things like this mostly, I suppose, just to pass the time or maybe to try and take their minds off the fact that they are so freakin’, tired, hungry, and cold.

Higher States of Consciousness

But for our purposes and those of newbies everywhere, we will simply construct two categories: higher states of consciousness that you can descend from and those from which you cannot descend. When Siddhartha, seated at the foot of the Bodhi tree in Sri Chinmoy’s play, Siddhartha Becomes the Buddha, declares, “Here I shall realize the Truth. Until I put an end to sorrow, I shall not move from this spot,” it is this latter condition that he seeks.

In our popular song “Amazing Grace,” we find the line, “I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see,” and also “to save a wretch like me,” and as a song about redemption and the beautiful and rarefied experience of God’s grace, it reverberates to our very core. But we also know that even if we are lucky enough to have this experience, it’s still also pretty easy to fall from grace; to “wretch” once more, so to speak. Which is why this experience of becoming aware of God’s compassionate presence within one’s self is considered, in mystical circles, an “awakening” and thought of as a first step. Not in any disparaging or condescending way (sadhus take note), for mysticism, like the religions, also recognizes that the inspiration to set forth on our quest, the source of this grace, is God Himself.

We are lost. We are blind. We are deaf and dumb, too.

We are lost. We are blind. We are deaf and dumb, too. Then God touches our hearts with His Grace and suddenly we wake up and begin seeking Him—an absolutely profound and totally essential experience, for if God does not call us to Him we would remain lost; wandering in the desert. But because mysticism believes that He is calling us in order that we might begin the process of reuniting ourselves with Him, finally and absolutely, it feels that this awakening is not the end; not the fruit at the top of the tree, but the seed that inspires the seeker to begin their journey back to a permanent state of God-consciousness. (Did you know that the giant Sequoia, 300 feet tall and 100 feet in circumference and therefore the largest by volume of any tree on Earth, begins as a seed smaller than a flake of oatmeal? Also, that its germ can only be released by fire? I shudder!)

So knowing that awakening is an exceptional condition, not only to receive but especially to maintain, that “what comes up has to come down,” and believing that a permanent state of God-consciousness is possible, mystics employ meditation to “limit their downside potential,” to borrow a phrase from the business world. Still, meditation is not the actual experience but the tool; not the signal, let us say, which comes from God, but more like the tuner on a radio that must be carefully adjusted until it hones in on the proper frequency.

You Will Need Complete Self-Mastery

Science estimates the number of human beings who have ever lived to be roughly 100 billion, give or take 25 billion or so. (The number depends upon when you consider modern man to have first appeared.) And I’m about to take an even greater statistical leap and guess that the number of humans who have ever found themselves in Prince Siddhartha’s exact psychic condition, to be truly crying for reunification with the Highest, to be only a few hundred or so. Then really jump off the numerical cliff and say that even among those, the number able to complete their journey and become enlightened, permanently God-realized, is perhaps a few dozen at best.

This is because, as illustrated in the film, the play and the legend, you will need complete self-mastery as you are drawn up through the higher realms in order to remain one-pointedly focused on your goal. For the energies that occupy the various realities within you and around you will create every imaginable disruption, just as you might encounter in one of your weirdest and most disturbing dreams. Therefore, it is difficult beyond compare. And many sadhus and others who have practiced spiritual disciplines for decades, when at last they have begun their true ascent, for want of this indomitable inner will, have failed to attain a permanent higher consciousness and have had to descend again. But I’ll never say, “Serves them right” (maybe the other sadhus will), for what they have undertaken is, by far and away, the most difficult thing imaginable.

Mount_Everest

Pic via Wikipedia

The Highest Mountain

The highest mountain in the world at 29,035 feet is Mt. Everest, “discovered” in 1853 and named in 1865 in honor of the British surveyor general of India, even though for centuries it had been known in Nepal as Sagarmatha and in Tibet as Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of the World”—much in the same way that Columbus “discovered” America in 1492, to the surprise, and later, chagrin of the Native Americans who must have been hard-pressed to try and figure out exactly where they had been living for tens of thousands of years. (In North America we liked most of their place names enough to keep them, anyway. More than half our states and thousands of our cities, counties, and other divisions in America have such ancient names. Connecticut is Mohegan from Quinnehtukqut meaning “beside the long tidal river.” Manhattan is Algonquian, and means “isolated by water.” There are thousands of other examples.)

Many people have been inspired to climb Everest, while the rest of humanity will ask, “What on Earth would make anyone want to do that?” To which George Mallory, who lost his life in 1924 on his third attempt to be the first to summit, famously answered, “Because it is there.” And this is perhaps the closest parallel to the pursuit of enlightenment that we have. Except that if you are successful in your inner climb, if you become enlightened, then you can stay at the peak, can remain eternally God-conscious and never have to descend.

Look for the next topic, Faith, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 2: BEAUTY

When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother…

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BEAUTY

When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother, “You have a beautiful baby boy/girl!” or so I’m told—I don’t remember too much about it. Or know, for that matter, what they say if your count comes up short. A decade or so later you want to kill yourself because your ears stick out. That I do remember! So what happened? Did I have bad work done?

No, socialization happened. The elite at my school were forming and I wasn’t yet a member; wasn’t invited to any of their exclusive get-togethers and would never be, I was certain, because of my curse: my big jug ears.

PYO

Appearance the First Criterion for Being Culled

People sometimes wistfully say, “Oh, to be young again.” Well they must have amnesia or at the very least, early dementia. For the world of youth, especially the preteen years, makes the Serengeti look civilized; and down at my own savanna in suburban Connecticut, the Central Grammar School, the taunting, branding, mental and even physical abuse, the fight to determine the alpha males and alpha females was full-on; and appearance, an obvious, perhaps the most obvious attribute, was the first criterion for being culled.

This is why the happiest day of my early life came about six months into my twelfth year—while riding bikes in the parking lot of the local shopping center and doing some harebrained things to impress the members of the A-team—when the leader of the pack decided that I was crazy enough to be invited to a party. Ears and all!

Boys are lucky. They can attain higher social status simply by acting insane. Girls are not so lucky. Beauty often outweighs all other methods whereby they are earmarked.

abstract-19079_1920

Face to Face with the One in a Million

I used to have an office in Manhattan one floor below the Click Modeling Agency, one of New York City’s most prestigious. So, very often, I would have to share an elevator with these creatures from another planet and if you had any illusions about how beautiful you were, you could throw them right down the shaft, for you were now face to face with the one in a million or even one in a hundred million that met all the world’s criteria for being beautiful. And it didn’t even seem to matter whether these Venuses paid any attention to what they wore or to their hair or makeup or whatever. In fact, an imperfection like Cindy Crawford’s mole or Lauren Hutton’s gap tooth or even Gia’s “heroin-chic/just woke up from a weeklong drug binge” appearance only seemed to help differentiate them from the few hundred or so others who inhabited their world.

On Thursday afternoons this same agency would hold an open house where any member of the public who felt they were an undiscovered supermodel could drop by for a free appraisal; get put up on the lift, so to speak. And the saddest thing on those days were the mothers with their darling daughters in tow who, believing that their little girl was the most beautiful on Earth, as by all rights they should, had gone to a lot of expense and trouble to make them up and dress them up to look like the queen of the prom. And while certainly attractive by most reckoning, with all their parts accounted for and affixed in all the proper places— good enough to play out of town, let us say—these girls were not six-plus feet tall, bone thin, with doe eyes, porcelain skin, and legs up to their chins.

Artistic Beauty

Later, when you saw these supplicants on their way back down, silent and crestfallen, you could easily think—if you didn’t know where they had been—that they had just received news of a terminal illness. It’s so crazy! All right, they were never going to be statuesque enough to walk the catwalk for the House of Dior or marry Donald Trump. But this begs the question: Who in their right mind would want to? (Marry The Donald, anyway.)

Where We Fit In

I once saw a photo of the Hunt brothers, a family of Texan oilmen, with their wives. All the women looked like mannequins and the latest models, too. (I’m sure the old ones had been traded in or warehoused.) While the brothers, to the man, looked like the kind of trolls one would find locking up fair maidens in impregnable towers or lurking around under bridges in children’s stories.
Now if we were alone in the world, all this wouldn’t matter; we wouldn’t care how comparatively beautiful we were (whom would we compare ourselves to?). But as soon as we form any kind of group we seem to immediately need to establish hierarchies, and especially to try to ascertain where we might fit in.

I ride a lot of subways in New York City on an almost daily basis. As soon as the door closes I look around at the little collective now being formed and try to determine if I’m in any kind of danger; if I’m going to have to fight for my life (flight being now temporarily off the table, at least until the next stop). Once I feel that I’m relatively safe I begin to attempt to establish my place in this new, albeit very temporary world-order. Who’s older, younger (sadly, fewer of the former these days), shorter, taller, richer, poorer. Even who’s fatter, skinnier (also sadly fewer of the former these days). And after I have sorted these things out, the oddest part of my survey now begins: who is the most beautiful? Being male (though I recognize that this “opposites attract” paradigm is no longer the hard-and-fast rule) I concern myself mostly with the females.

Framed in Hair

The Oddest Part of My Survey

I say “oddest” because the motivation for this does not seem to be to establish an emergency plan; a who-gets-to-eat-first pecking order should we suddenly find ourselves in a struggle to survive. And I’m not even sure if it is entirely based upon our next level of instincts, our reproductive urges, either, although this certainly does seem to try and worm itself in there. Just yesterday, in fact, a fellow seated some distance away from me was staring at someone standing near me and making what he believed was a most compelling advertisement of himself. Yes, he was attempting to force a kind of electronic crawl to march across his forehead that read: “I have the capacity to make such beautiful love to you, my darling” (à la Pepé Le Pew, the cartoon character/rapist). I then traced his sight line back to a very attractive, even model-caliber young girl standing near me who, while keeping her eyes fixed squarely ahead and purposefully at no one, still seemed aware that she was being singled out in this manner and was exhibiting both a kind of pleasure that she might garner such attention and a certain trepidation, as she could not really be sure whether this fellow might follow her out as she exited; might try and bother, even molest her.

Both myself and this very attractive one (but not the libidinous Don Juan, thank God) got off at the same stop and went in the same direction (not by design, mind you! I’m not a perv!), so I was able to observe from a few paces behind the attention-getting nature of beauty as it went about its normal business. The men (or most of them, anyway) were systematically rendered helpless, stunned, while the women—intuitively sensing a disturbance in the force—quickly averted their gaze. Why remind yourself of your inadequacies?

I am a mystical man by trade (though admittedly a normal man by default), so I am able to dispassionately observe things as they ebb and flow within myself and to some extent even marshal some semblance of self-control over certain of my impulses, and when I do this in a case like this, and drill down to the level where I might objectively observe the thing called “beauty,” what I note is something miraculous: earthly beings who have evolved heavenly attributes.

There is a famous poem by William Blake, “The Tyger,” in which he writes: “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?” If we edit out the word fearful (forgive me, Bill), I think we can begin our contemplation of beauty in earnest.

Beautiful Smile

Something Beautiful Hidden Deep Within

For while the beautiful woman, or even man (although again, I’m not an expert in that field), did not create themselves, there is something beautiful hidden deep within the universe that is expressing more and more of its superlative qualities through its creations and especially its latest effort, the human being. Just consider hair. Why does it frame the human face so? (It certainly does not do this in any of our animal cohabitants, from whom we only recently parted ways.) In the Asian woman, for example, why is it often so extraordinarily silken, so amazingly black and flowing?

Yes, if we can manage to remove ourselves from our instinctual responses and especially our default mode of relentless competition, beauty then becomes a door to another world. But when we approach beauty in our everyday way, rather than simply accepting it or even marveling at it, we covet its ability to provide higher social status and/or pursue it as emblematic thereof, the way the wealthy man (okay, like “The Donald” or even the regular guy, I suppose), is convinced that to possess something that others want is proof of his superiority (think: trophy wife). This is why—given humanity’s current stage of development—beauty is on a strange and sometimes even precarious path, especially for its possessor.

As I read somewhere years ago but never forgot: “Only beautiful birds are imprisoned, crows are never caged.”

Featured pic Spiral Love Rose by Nicolas Raymond, License

Look for the next topic, Consciousness, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 1: ART

Please enjoy this first weekly installment from The ABCs of Enlightment by Jeffery Baker….

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ART

Human beings have been creating art for 50,000 to 75,000 years, if various regional claims can be settled; the Europeans with their beautiful cave drawings at Lascaux, France, being especially dismissive of the rough petroglyphs of the Africans and Australian Aboriginals, as you might expect. They have a good shot at the record for music, however, with a bear thighbone flute recently discovered in a Slovenian cave and dated to 50,000 BC.

Anthropologists call primitive art “the dawn of superfluous beauty” and so by extension we could certainly call this earliest music “the dawn of superfluous noise,” as we have concrete proof that this is what it has become today. Bothersome Muzak now plays everywhere, even in parking lots.

Not An Exclusively Human Endeavor

Until the 1960s when an English chimp (or one living in England, anyway) named Congo (1954–1964) created more than four hundred paintings, art was considered an exclusively human endeavor. Recently, one of Congo’s untitled canvases set an auction record for nonhuman art at $25,000 (posthumously, of course). And while there are elephants throughout Asia that paint and even one named Nellie in Los Angeles whose works include “Serengeti Passion” and “Kenyan Skies”—yes, not just some loud trumpeting sound—what set Congo apart was his passion.

For while the pachyderms don’t seem to care if they pick up a paintbrush or a mahogany log, Congo, if not allowed to paint, would go berserk; and if his canvas was removed before he felt it was finished, would go completely bananas. Yes, he seemed an artist in every sense—his hygiene was already quite characteristically poor.

The idea that a chimp’s creative output could be considered art upset many religious scholars; for they held that true art was a function of the soul expressing a divine urge and since only humans, in their opinion, had souls, Congo the chimp could not be expressing a divine urge and thereby creating art.

Paintball Art

by Lori Ho – license

According to Mysticism

Mysticism has no such problem with Congo or with the divinity of any of our other simian brothers and sisters. In fact, if mysticism has a problem, it’s trying to figure out what doesn’t have a soul: A dog? A bee? A house? A tree? And what doesn’t embody a divine urge, since according to mysticism the entire creation is the direct result of The Divine Urge which is nothing more than the Creator’s own inspiration to self-expression, the Universe and all its inhabitants being, in essence, God’s art.

So for mysticism the degree to which an organism can create art, can express a divine urge, is not a function of whether or not it has a soul, since most everything has one, but the degree to which that particular soul can express itself through that organism. The higher, more evolved organisms, such as ourselves, having the capacity to be more conscious of their inner realities, therefore becoming better candidates for soulful, artistic, self-expression. This is also why we are not completely surprised when a chimpanzee, our species’ closest relation (we share 99 percent of the same DNA), albeit an exceptionally “gifted” one named Congo, not only wants to paint but is as obsessed as was van Gogh.

Art From the Soul

Recently I was invited to a friend’s art exhibit, the final part of his master of fine arts degree from a famous New York City art college. He specializes in “installations”—not paintings or sculpture, per se, although it could include those—but created environments. The show was held in a loft in Greenwich Village that had been hastily cleaned out and included many other installations as well. My biggest problem that day was trying to figure out what were the works of art and what was intended for the dumpster, the only clue being the little signs with titles and attributions next to each exhibit, making those placards found near the piles of leftover construction materials, the janitor’s closets, or especially the restrooms, particularly daunting.

I bring this up not to be smug but to say that even if we side with the religious scholars and say that only humans have souls and thereby can create art, it is still a stretch to say that whatever is expressed by us comes directly from our souls. Though recognizing what does is no simple matter.

Michelangelo

via Michelangelo via Wikipedia

Openness; That Artistic Genius

Michelangelo, arguably the finest sculptor ever, said that creating art for him was simply a matter of chipping away all that wasn’t part of his statues; Mozart, considered by many the greatest composer, just a matter of transcribing the music that he already heard fully formed inside his head. The power, beauty, and fecundity of their output (Mozart lived only thirty-five years and had nearly seven hundred symphonic, choral, chamber, and operatic masterworks) tells us that creativity and especially creative abundance is not cunning but openness; that artistic genius, in the artists’ own words, is not contrivance but revelation; is, what is called in New Age parlance, “channeling.” And this is exactly what we would expect if we became aware of the infinite in us; if we became conscious of our soul. There is no better example of this than my own mentor, Sri Chinmoy, who created more than two hundred thousand paintings, fifteen million drawings, and composed more than twenty thousand songs.

Art of Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy with one of his Jharna-Kalas.

When Mozart was twelve and visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome he heard Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere—a complicated work for nine-part choir, which distribution or publication of was punishable by excommunication. That night, back in his hotel room, the young prodigy wrote the entire thing down from memory, perfectly, note for note. (At that age I was sitting with a record player and a guitar trying to figure out the chords for Beatles songs and getting them mostly wrong.) When Michelangelo was fourteen he was already hard at work on commissions from Italy’s greatest patrons, the Medicis.

Soulful, Profound and Prolific Self-Expression

So, is soulful, profound and prolific self-expression only for these few and a handful of other super-gifted persons throughout human history? The answer is no. (Does life distribute talent fairly? I’d rather not say.) Could any of the rest of us ever sculpt the Pieta or pen Eine Kleine Nachtmusik? The answer is also probably no, since it was these individuals’ unique combination of extraordinary abilities that could have done that. Could a person of “normal” abilities, such as the one who created a sculpture at my friend’s exhibit with a screw gun and a bunch of leftover pieces of two-by-fours—which looked for all the world like late the night before she had cobbled together whatever hadn’t yet been thrown out—be expressing her soul and creating art in this mystical sense? The answer, believe it or not, is possibly. How could one tell? It is a matter of “consciousness,” a spiritual term that has its own essay below (coming week 3!) but can be presently defined as “what one is conscious of.”

Fractal

Look at Art Inwardly Not Outwardly

If I were fully aware of my soul, whatever I touched would be imbued with soulfulness and therefore I would be creating art in this mystical sense. Let’s look at it another way.

Jesus was the son of Joseph, a carpenter. And while we don’t actually know if he ever took up the trade, I think we can safely assume, given that occupations in those days remained almost exclusively with their respective families, that he might have tried his hand at it once or twice, especially during his “Lost Years.” Now for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that he was the worst carpenter ever, producing things that did not even remotely qualify as furniture or whatever else it was that the family normally made (let’s hope they didn’t make crosses!). Would it matter? Wouldn’t anything from his hand, because of the inner reality, the consciousness, of its creator, be considered by millions the most precious thing ever created and thereby more treasured than any art by anyone else, including Michelangelo or even Mozart?

Of course, you could make the argument that we are no longer talking about art at all but about relics (someone once said that you could build an arc with all the “authentic” pieces of the cross found in Christian churches), but I think a strong case can be made that this is what modern art is already asking us to do: to look at art inwardly not outwardly; at its energy, its resonance. At the inner state of the artist himself as opposed to the outer appearance of the work itself; at its consciousness.

Humans are “Clever Monkeys”

Humans are “clever monkeys”—as a friend of mine is fond of saying—and can create things for any reason they want: to soothe or to shock; to comfort or to confront; to be as beautiful as possible or as horrific; to defy convention in an attempt to prove that art has no meaning at all, is merely superfluous, as was previously stated, though this last task is not so easily accomplished.

For I think you will find that most people are eager to hear or see or even read something that will speak to them on some deeper level; will reconnect them with their souls, the living portion of God within. And even if we beat them over the head, telling them not to expect anything beautiful, powerful, illumining, epiphanic, revelatory, or in any way meaningful, dilettantes and philistines that they are, they just can’t help themselves; can’t stop from hoping.

 

Look for the next topic, Beauty, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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