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WHY LIVE?

Coming out of a talk by Krishnamurti in Switzerland once, I caught a glimpse of the “fuse that drives the flower”. Walking back to camp along the rushing river, my mind empty and calm, I suddenly realized I was seeing and hearing a world of astoundingly vibrant technicolor hyper-reality. Every bird singing, every gust of wind in the leaves was a shockingly sudden and astounding miracle.

I was floored. Suddenly the mask came off the ecstatic and astoundingly powerful dance of life that goes on under the surface of manifest existence. I was the astonished witness only, that in itself a miracle. I seemed to exist as a witnessing mind without an identity or name or history. A thrill, a flash of ecstatic perception of the dance of existence passed through me, and just as quickly was gone, leaving a knowing about the foundations of everything. At the sub-rasa level just below my preoccupied consciousness was a pulsating dance of gleeful ecstatics that astonished my naive mind — and put the fear of God into me, you might say.

The veil was lifted for a brief moment. It changed my life.

That experience touched the root of my real search. I suddenly lost interest in the whole question of “enlightenment.” It’s true there was an awe-inspiring power there, and there was also a long term knock-on effect. Pursuing an altered state based on a received idea of “spirituality” seemed infantile, pointless. Yet something not associated with identity or personal growth was seeded in the experience. My vision of the role of love and perception started growing…as the foundation of all creation.

There seem to be two states of being. One is unified and incredibly powerful, based in the principle of joy-love, a fundamental state, and another embodied state existing in a fictitious sense of isolation and separateness. I knew I didn’t have the constitution to support a life built on the knowing engendered by my flash of perception or by existing in that state. It would explode my identity, my constructed personality. I was too insubstantial, too young. Memories of friends who had forced open the door to the deep unconscious by artificial means and who had become swamped by energies erupting from the depths dissuaded me. I had no desire to play with those particular matches.

I decided to live as fully as I could in the manifest, accepting that on that level it is both illusion and not illusion. Intentionally chasing after that state looked like an ego project, but even if it comes unbidden, the overwhelming power there would be like splitting the atom. I continued to meditate but treated alternate states with caution. I have to say, though — maybe it’s my age — the small self that goes by my name became less and less defined and solid.

Several decades later I read about this state of mind in a book called “Reality” by Peter Kingsley, discussing “metis,” which the Greek philosopher Parmenides insists is the kind of attention we must cultivate and maintain in order to have a real life and a viable culture. That strikes me as similar to Krishnamurti’s insistence that a holistic attention to the what-is without escape leads to a true and deep interest in the miracle of reality, of which we ourselves are an unexplored part — unexplored because we assume we already know who and what we are.

Peter Kingsley writes about the difference between the kind of consciousness we all take for granted — a dualistic, self-referential, mundane consciousness — and the ecstatic shamanistic kind of attention to the energies underlying the manifest world that still existed at that time in Western civilization. That consciousness could have become the foundation of the world we now inhabit, but it also co-existed with systems put forth by our heroes of rationalism who were beginning to gather their forces to impose their own world view, a view that did not include “altered states.”

My life began to veer off from its planned romantic trajectory as a result of this experience. In the moment I pulled back from this unfamiliar expanded consciousness and felt the whoosh of consciousness shrinking to its accustomed dimension, there was no doubt I had visited the miraculous for a brief moment and that it was The Real. I began to depart even further from personal identity, family and cultural conditioning.

So, a seed was planted; underneath the passing panorama of manifestation was an unsuspected, awe-inspiring power and joy that, I knew, must be treated with respect. It was not to be captured or domesticated. It was not to be possessed.

I asked myself — what is this search for love and why can’t we find it when it’s so close? We feel a lack; there’s always that missing thing that can’t be found. Is it because we’re wearing blinders but don’t know it?

Maybe that calm, empty and attentive mind is the key.

Krishnamurti had already tried to instruct me in meditation in the late 60’s, but I was never good at following directions and his “Just do it sir!” exhortations confused and confounded me.

That was me, not quite thirty years old, efforting to ascend, transcend, get “enlightened.” In other words, barking up the wrong tree, which I persisted in well into my fifties. This was another path that didn’t belong to me. I was fated to try many such paths, only to realize I was wrong yet again. I usually managed to learn something by trying, though.

Then in France suddenly things switched poles and I began to descend, turning toward the earth and earthy things — growing things, aesthetic modes, the art of the table, food and wine, a garden, the smells of the forest and fields, the animals, the star-filled nights, friends and the rituals of conviviality, the rhythms of the seasons, decor in the house, working with hand tools, imagining and building things, painting. Beauty and meaning discovered in the manifest world. A beginning of “a religion of my own.” Living in my body, getting more rooted in life on planet earth. No place better than France for that.

I arrived there with hundreds of books and enough art materials to last twenty years. That, and the consistent manual labor on the house gave me the grounding I always needed. A big house crying out in pain from a hundred years of abuse was just the ticket. I began to perceive a difference between Spirit and Soul and how to live more fully in the details of Mother Earth. I had overemphasized ascending Spirit to the detriment of earthy Soul; living in the French countryside was a time of correction of this imbalance.

I was on the search for beauty, meaning and whatever mission might have been planted in me from birth. Back in Austin, reviving old houses was my way of chasing beauty and a creating a sense of home. I made money that way but that was not the driving purpose. I wanted to fashion a more beautiful environment, a world I could actually inhabit. In this way, I developed a metier as I was chasing meaning. Every old house was a reminder of a more beautiful past, almost a theater set.

Growing up, I accepted the common American idea that I could do anything I chose to do, even business or law, an idea I no longer believe. Now I think I was born with a need for deeper meaning in life, and for beauty and justice as well. I’m exceptionally sensitive to language, especially foreign languages. All my girlfriends spoke or studied a foreign language, no accident, now that I think of it. And ideas are things to me, I love to turn them round to see all their facets.

I chose painting almost accidentally — if there are any accidents — but something was still gnawing at me, something unrealized. It was art–but–there was something else. People thought I loved travel, but I didn’t unless it was more than “touring.” I don’t want to just go, take a picture and say I’d been there. I travel to step away from the culture I grew up in, to put myself next to an older, wiser and more graceful way of being. I’m always going that direction, even when I’m lost.

In the early days I didn’t yet know you could travel around your room — I might have preferred it. In my youth I transported my body by means of mopeds, motorcycles, campers, planes, trains and ships, always returning unchanged, covered with bumps and bruises on my pride, forever the same untouched youth coming and going. Always attracted to foreign languages and perspectives and armed with a gift for imitation, I aspired to become an improved version of myself. I wanted both culture and wisdom. I wanted to be both earthy and multicultural.

But I was getting ahead of myself. First, I had to learn to live as a simple human, to leave wisdom to the elders. It seems the Universe in its infinite wisdom knew exactly how to accomplish my dream. “Git thee to France”, it said, a counterintuitive command — but it worked for me.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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