Heaven gives its glimpse only to those not in a position to look too closely. — Robert Frost
"You cannot see a fairy if you look straight at it." If you can get beyond the merely humorous side of this charming piece of Irish inconsistency, you will find yourself lifted right out of the realm of the literal — which is only another aspect of the material — into the creative world where anything is possible and the unlooked-for becomes the actual. It is a state of consciousness that is entirely normal; we don't need to go as far as "extra-sensory perception" to experience it; it is the perfectly natural world of "hunches," ingenious ideas, flashes of insight, in a word, inspiration.
Creative artists are at home in that world. Kenneth Morris in some exquisite lines brings us to the verge of it:
As some late lingerer sees, at dusk beneath dark pines,
Between two moments filled with only human thought,
A faery luminence that wanes ere well it shines,
And hears a fleeting song, with fateful cadence fraught,
That dies ere well his mind its purport dim divines . . .
How the human aspirant in us yearns to know the meaning of that fleeting song: to pursue and to bring back the secret of that luminence. Put into less fanciful language to suit the downright mood of today: what we long for is insight — an instant and certain knowledge of what is best to do in the conduct of our lives. Skill in living would come with such a gift. But where is that fine perception coming from, if not through those brief gaps in the torrent of our "merely human thought" — that occur, indeed, "between two moments," if we still ourselves to listen.
Curiously, it is our own indwelling self, the heart and core of consciousness, which possesses that insight, "takes in all knowledge with an easy span," to paraphrase a line of Keats. But we have to win our way to it by intelligent living and true humility. Curiously again, we shall never attain that insight by going straight for it, like a boy that tramples a flower-bed to get at a bird's nest. The seaman, traveling a perilous coast, does not head straight for the lighthouse that casts him its guiding beam. He steers a circuitous course, but always keeping the light in view, and so in time comes safely into harbor.
Put it this way, too. Let us suppose with some philosophers that humanity, having perfected the evolution of its material form and brought the body to its present comely proportions, now is experiencing an unfolding of the intellectual faculties. We cannot claim to have reached the acme of our powers of mind! But we have approached the point where a higher faculty still is beginning to stir in us, which is usually referred to as intuition, and is regarded with a certain half-skeptical wonder or covert admiration.
We are living in a highly creative age. The moving spirit of upheaval that animates it calls for the creation of new forms in every line of effort and thinking. This is why, whether we realize it or not, we are becoming better able to understand certain conditions of consciousness that heretofore would have seemed so subtle as to be beyond our perceptions. There is nothing abnormal about any of this. It is simply the next step in the inevitable expansion of mind and comprehension which the race is undergoing. Now the stream of life flows with such swiftness that the Perceiver in us must be forever on tiptoe, tensed to react to the ever-changing impact of circumstance and its significance.
It is this "tiptoe" state that is our only hope towards spiritual growth and maturity. It manifests in a condition of mind fluidic rather than hard-and-fast; open to impressions, rather than dogmatic. It is an attitude of subjective awareness maintained as an undercurrent to our visible activity. Keats had a term for it: he called it Negative Capability: "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." And he adds by way of illustration that Coleridge, for instance, was "incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge." There is a paradox here: this alertness to the finer impression requires one's attitude to be anything but negative; and the not being content with half-knowledge is simply the avoidance of crystallization of ideas.
Our creative artists of today have exactly the same situation to meet. A writer in the Saturday Evening Post for describing the methods of work of the cartoonist George Lichty, of "Grin and Bear It" fame — who every day of his life for years has produced a new cartoon in his series — refers to the artist's attitude of "habitual tentativeness." The best detective writers are onto this peculiarity of nature. They create characters such as Nero Wolfe, "The Saint," Lord Peter Wimsey, who are adept at seeing the fairy while looking the other way. The traditional pattern, becoming perhaps more subtle since the time of Sherlock Holmes, shows the brilliant amateur, depending largely on "hunches" — the hunches induced, however, by intense if relaxed concentration on the problem in hand — pitted against the duly constituted guardians of law and order who are supposed to proceed purely by rule-of-thumb. Actually, this is only a recognition of the superiority of intuition over plodding reason. Yet, with the brilliant amateurs, the reasoning powers are exerted to the utmost too — only the door is left open for a hunch to enter if it will. Hence a nonchalant, casual attitude is maintained, interests quite foreign to the work in hand are kept up — anything to be otherwise preoccupied for a portion of the time.
This leaving the door ajar for possible inspiration is being recommended as a better teaching policy in our schools. A writer in Science Digest for July, 1952, quotes Warren Weaver, director of the division of natural sciences of the Rockefeller Foundation, and one of the nation's leading authorities on mathematics, as saying that "outmoded mathematical subjects of purely historical and highly specialized interest" should be replaced by studies in the laws of probability. "Very many of the judgments and decisions which we all have to make every day are based on the conscious or intuitive — doubtless chiefly the latter — weighing of probabilities." Of course Professor Weaver is basing his recommendation largely upon the study of statistics, yet he does recognize the part that intuition is bound to play in the computations of the future.
Our foremost scientists have often been understood to arrive at their greatest discoveries by a sudden flash of insight, which, however, usually follows a long period of intensive study and research — almost as though the favor and attention of the gods had been won at last, when all the resources of mind and ingenuity had been exhausted.
(From Sunrise magazine, September 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)