'Tis you, with your estranged faces, that miss the many-splendoured thing.
Anyone who has failed to gain a confidence that every human is in essence an eternal spiritual being, temporarily inhabiting a mind-body unit, must inevitably live under a great handicap. For a life based only on the unthinking, instinctual urge for personal survival, so strongly built into the human-animal genetic structure, can of itself promise nothing better than a meaningless life for that person.
It can clearly be seen that it tends towards an acceptance of oneself and others as essentially physical entities and only secondarily, and much less definitely, as "minds" or "psyches"; and thirdly, and only in a vague theoretical sense, as spiritual beings. From this we get the estrangement of person from person in families and communities. It also sanctions us in aggressive behavior towards one another, and in treating one another as "things" to be taken up, used, and discarded at will.
We all have something of this in our makeup at our present stage of evolution. Against these false values we have to learn to activate ourselves, in a positive way, in order to rediscover a living connection with life. It may take many lifetimes to achieve spiritual enlightenment; but there must be a first step to any journey, and to find a starting point can be of great importance.
This is where, for instance, the real artists and poets come in, to stand on our behalf over against the life of estrangement.
"I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself," sings Whitman. He goes on to speak of clues he found, pointing to spirit in nature, both within and external to man — clues that go unnoticed except by those who, one might well put it, have learned not to ignore them.
Such a clue, such a moment of insight, may come to us at any time. It might be that we catch the eye of someone across a crowded room, suddenly identifying the inner, invisible "observer" in the other, and knowing oneself to be similarly identified. We are jerked into here-and-now awareness, like some Rip van Winkle awaking to realize he has been dreaming his life away. We say, "It brought me to myself."
Again let us observe (for observation instead of ignore-ance is all that is required of us) that our everyday speech contains words which point directly to the transcendent center in man — such words as love, brotherhood, courage, and many others. Before language became sophisticated into only materialistic meanings, such words were recognized as having live spiritual significance. A little thought will show us that in attributing these qualities of goodness to the character of anyone, we are crediting him with participating in an ethic far above the level of survival-for-self. Or again, simply through observation directed upon experience, we might consider that human society depends for its health and stability as much upon the simple compassionate exchanges of good turns among neighbors as upon legislation, however wisely framed.
Paying attention to such matters, one may be prompted to ask: "Where shall I turn, in order to find a satisfactory training or discipline to follow?"
Surely it is not necessary that we should disregard the conveniences of civilized conditions and go off into the woods, or in search of a teacher who will direct us into a ritual of practices for self-development. Is it not better that we should find our natural growth in the field of our everyday lives — the testing-ground of character — where our actions speak louder than our words?
In the life of daily duty there are a hundred disciplines for each individual to discover for himself. One of the most important, we come to realize, is the discipline of learning to be "little." The way to big things begins with the small things; starting here, we gradually gain the insight of clear-seeing into larger issues. The lessons and experiences arising from such self-imposed disciplines are continually impressed into our consciousness as much by our failures as by our successes. Ere long, we recognize how much invaluable self-knowledge we are daily gaining; with this comes a wiser, more compassionate attitude to life. We no longer depend upon status, power, property as our criteria of values; we learn to think things out for ourselves.
Must not such a course, intelligently interpreted and applied by any of us beginners, bring the till-now hypothetical Path into clear focus in the light of day? Could there really be any entrance to the Path more sure, more safe, more realistic than this? Or one more in consonance with the needs of the times we live in?
And what of the wisdom-teachings so readily available to us today? We may be sure that as we break through the surface of our hitherto unconsidered daily experience we shall find ourselves irresistibly impelled to take up a study of the doctrines they present, because they offer us a comprehensive and comprehensible "whence," "how," and "why" of life and living.
Thus we may work to overcome our estrangement; we learn to belong; we come alive!
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1979. Copyright © 1979 by Theosophical University Press)
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