What pleasure, what joy is the power in learning! The word learn goes back to Middle English, and the various stalks and stems of its genera come to light through the soils of Anglo-Saxon, German, and Gothic language-gardens. Collectively, its blooms carry the message of "I know," thus "have found out," implying "to teach." The innate power to learn, in the cosmos and man, is embedded in the evolutionary workings of divine consciousness and protean matter. Cosmically, it is intellection or consciousness seeking union with matter, while from the other end it's an action against spiritual inertia. Both consciousness and matter collaborate in necessary cycles of learning along the consummate cosmic curve — the learning curve.
Although C. P. Cavafy's poem Ithaka is usually read as a departure eulogy from our earth-plane point-of-view, it can also be a departure blessing from the heaven worlds. Keeping in mind the philosophical principle of cycles of necessity, his poem is an "Open Sesame" to learn:
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon — don't be afraid of them . . .
. . . — you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul has raised them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time . . .
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Focusing on the name "Laistrygonians," Bulfinch's Mythology tells us that they are "A race of cannibal giants visited by Ulysses in their northern country of unclear identity but described as having days so short that the shepherd driving his flock to pasture in the morning will meet the shepherd coming home at night." We are all shepherds driving our spectrum of worldly ideas to pasture in the morning, and without doubt we instantly meet ourselves within every single choice, circumstance, or deed for all of our days on this Ithaka-earth, this world of pure opportunity (the opportunity to self-correct when we consciously find ourselves in error). In due course, within life cycles, the St. Georges who strive against the illusory forces of the dragons of the lower nature will eventually, and very naturally, claim victory over self.
Pausanius, the Greek chronicler, reported the experiences of those seekers after self-knowledge who visited the oracle of Trophonios in a deep cave. As Hamlet's Mill relays and annotates his comments:
the visitor comes first to "fountains of water very near to each other. Here he must drink water called the water of forgetfulness (Lethes hydor), that he may forget all that he has been thinking of hitherto, and afterward he drinks of another water, the water of memory (hydor mnemosynes) which causes him to remember what he sees after his descent." Not enough, after the oracle has been given, and the inquirer ascended from the chasm . . . "he is again taken in hand by the priests, who set him upon a chair called the chair of memory . . . and they ask of him, when seated there, all he has seen or learned. . . . paralyzed with terror and unconscious both of himself and his surroundings . . . [in time] he will recover all his faculties, and the power to laugh will return to him." — p. 408
Another insightful description of return from a glorious quest comes from the wand-pen of that "myriad-minded" man, George W. Russell, AE (1867-1935). He adds visionary-style credence to Cavafy, Bulfinch, and Pausanius in his intriguing and heartfelt essay "The Many-coloured Land":
One other vision I will tell because it bears on things the ancients taught us . . . Where I saw this I will not say. There was a hall vaster than any cathedral, with pillars that seemed built out of living and trembling opal, or from some starry substances which shone with every colour, the colours of eve and dawn. A golden air glowed in this place, and high between the pillars were thrones which faded glow by glow, to the end of the vast hall. On them sat the Divine Kings. They were fire-crested. I saw the crest of the dragon on one, and there was another plumed with brilliant fires that jetted forth like feathers of flame. . . . Below on the floor of the hall lay a dark figure as if in a trance, and two of the Divine Kings made motions with their hands about it over head and body. I saw where their hands waved how sparkles of fire like the flashing of jewels broke out. There rose out of that dark body a figure as tall, as glorious, as shining as those seated on the thrones. As he woke to the hall he became aware of his divine kin, and he lifted up his hands in greeting. He had returned from his pilgrimage through darkness, but now an initiate, a master in the heavenly guild. While he gazed on them the tall golden figures from their thrones leaped up, they too with hands uplifted in greeting, and they passed from me and faded swiftly in the great glory behind the throne. — The Candle of Vision, pp. 35-7
If ever there was a course of study that would bring one to his fullest of senses, and would enable him to pursue and practice the penultimate career — including the "Divine Arts of Imagination" — it is the study of the self. Pico della Mirandola cited as evidence that held throughout the Renaissance: "That gnothi seauton, that is, know thyself, arouses us and urges us towards the knowledge of all nature, of which man's nature is the medium and, as it were, the union. For he who knows himself, knows all things in himself." As S. K. Heninger comments: "Implicit in this dictum is acceptance of the microcosm-macrocosm analogy. By fully knowing himself, since he is a microcosm, the individual will have dependable knowledge of the macrocosm, and consequently can accommodate himself to the divine plan" (Touches of Sweet Harmony, p. 263).
In H. P. Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence, she instructs:
Desire nothing. Chafe not at Karma, nor at Nature's changeless laws. But struggle only with the personal, the transitory, the evanescent and the perishable.
Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.
And she will open wide before thee the portals of her secret chambers, lay bare before thy gaze the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom. Unsullied by the hand of Matter she shows her treasures only to the eye of the Spirit — the eye which never closes, the eye for which there is no veil in all her kingdoms.— p. 14
Ruth Returned from the Gleaning, Samuel Palmer (c. 1828)
She also suggests in The Secret Doctrine (1:280) that to minimize the meandering and cul-de-sacs in the school of life, and to maximize cosmic career opportunities, "man ought to be ever striving to help the divine evolution of Ideas, by becoming to the best of his ability a co-worker with nature in the cyclic task."
So it is that Cavafy's see-saw poetic wisdom leaves us with a teetering and piqued sense of compassion from both perspectives of life — cosmic and earthly:
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for. . . .
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out . . .
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)
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