Tag Archives: preschool

The Surface Tension between the Esoteric and the Exoteric

The esoteric is opaque by definition; yet the depths rarely mind it when the surfaces discount them.

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I subscribe to the notion that there are various levels to spiritual knowledge. As the alchemists put it: “as above, so below”— meaning, in a sense, that obvious facts correspond to inner truths.

For example: the leaves of a tree will brown with age and fall out. The same happens to the teeth of a man. These are, at a glance, entirely mundane facts. But on consideration (and with a pinch of poetic license) one could say that this speaks of how a person develops from a state of hunger and purity, and then moves to a state of decay and barrenness (the leaves being thought of as hungry for the sun, as teeth are for food). And in later life, a person returns to needing softer morsels, and all her showiness is stripped away, revealing the skeletal branches of her life’s choices.

In religion, too, there are levels of interpretation: the lowest being a blanket acceptance of the inherited laws. At a certain stage, the question arises: why? And what-for? There is a resistance to this leap from those who are content with the answer “because X said.” And here lies much of the “surface tension” between non-believers and believers—because experience of a self demands personal proof. Gurus and mystics arise to satisfy this demand, and due to the ambiguity of spiritual knowledge, many of the so-called wise are either willful charlatans, imbued with attractive charisma, or people who have received something personal, who try to communicate this to others. Some knowledge can be communicated in such a way that it is useful for others, and some knowledge can only be understood by personal revelation.

Esoteric knowledge (eso = inner), I believe, exists, but the exoteric (exo = outer) obscures it, and often corrupts, misinterprets, or outright discounts it.

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Pretension VS. Ambition

(excerpted from A Resistance of Letters):

I find her seated in the pre-ordained bar, and say this place is a little loud. She agrees. We start to walk, find ourselves at the WTF Cafe. Funnily, I had worked here, long ago. For all of two weeks. The troll owner is not around—but over by the register I sense the residue of the prophetic homeless man, and I smirk. Rene asks what’s up. I ask her:

‘What is pretension?’

“Rhetorically?”

‘I want to hear your opinion.’

She leans back. Her asiatic eyes narrowing into bladed orbs. A couple weeks ago I took her out with Karl for drinks and he told her: “I want to fuck your mind.” She had got offended, and ranted about that later on, but in the moment she was quiet. She does have a voluptuous intellect, barely contained by her 90 pound South Seas frame. When she gets considerate, like now, I usually feel a tingling in my palms. She says:

“There’s the derogatory connotation, which muddies the meaning some. Like, you can be sincere and heart-felt, but if you have a developed aesthetic taste, then you will automatically be inventive with your expression of those emotions, and people might respond to that by calling you pretentious. Because they see your refinement as dishonesty—as a removal from “being real,” or as affectation. And so, by that yardstick, a poet is the epitome of pretension—his works being refined expressions of feeling.

“But that’s not real pretension. True pretension is acting as if you are something you are not, usually something better or higher or more ideal than yourself. And not only that, but you believe in that ideal self so much that you are out of touch, or deny, the lower or more “mundane” self. That is pretension: when your skill is disharmonious with the actualities expressed.

“Why do you ask?”

‘A homeless man once told me I would accomplish something… important. And I’ve always thought to believe him would be pretentious, but to doubt him would be foolish.’

“Well, I think I’m qualified to say you’ll be thought a fool regardless.”

‘Heh. You are, and right.’


Writing from the Heart

Last year’s novel was concerned with Memory and Mistake, and it’s greatest fault—and the reason it’s sitting in the vault, aging for a spell before I go back over it—is that it is largely written from a state of removal. From the first page, the “writer” states that he is writing about his writing more than he is writing about the life that his writing sprang from. And by the time the denouement starts to form, like a storm accumulated from the dust and wind and moisture of the traversed landscape, the Blackbird Variations, 3 retreats into a fractalling demurement of self reference, interpretation and critique that is so freaking dense and uncalled for that I’m sure anyone who made it that far would end up chucking it across the room, shouting: “What the hell is your problem, Benjamin? Why is it so hard to just tell a damn story?”

I let my mind guide my prose, and while some people can pull this off, I’m not one of them. My wheels spin so tight and quick that all too soon they spend the grist they’re fed, and begin to masticate their self-same mechanism.

Probably the greatest complement I’ve ever received, as an artist, was voiced 10 years ago by a four year old girl. She said to her mom, while describing the stories I would make up for her class while they ate lunch: “Benjamin tells stories from his heart.” And yet every time I tell a story to a blank page, my head steps all over the heart and tries to get the blood portioned out into a 42 fluid ounces, labeled and tested and siphoned of hemoglobin.

There has to be a way to cheat this.


The Problem with The Problem of Evil

I have informally studied human nature through my exposure to 2–5 year olds over the last decade. There is this odd phenomenon that occurs right when a child is about to become potty trained: they invariably become little shits, or pricks, or assholes (I use these terms deliberately, because it became obvious to me that they are explicitly related to the lower functions). The defiant child will give you this knowing look as they intentionally violate some line or rule—screaming at nap, pulling someone’s hair with impunity—throwing a fit exactly when it’s most inconvenient for you. Even the sweet child contracts a spark of rebelliousness during this period, and I think it is directly related to self control: they are filled with joy that they have power—something they had ignorantly assumed, but now can exercise by choice.

Now, I was raised in the James Dobson “dare to discipline” days. So I got a sound spanking when it was reported, by mom to dad, that I has been overly defiant. My parents were by no means abusive or all that hard line, but my dad had a BIG issue with what he called “the rebellious nature of man.” This attitude toward Sin, while correct in a literally Biblical sense, had the effect of planting in me a fear of authority (I recall, in highschool, seeing a “Question Authority” sticker and growing physically nauseous). I also grew to distrust of my own self direction, and this lead to an overreaction on my part once I reached adulthood. I had to break every rule with vicious aptitude, to test what was in me, through my own experience. In a word, it made me very, very angry, for a spell, and I wound up derailing my progress as a human for a few years, as what I wound up breaking wasn’t The Law, but my own person, which I subsequently had to rebuild.

Now, I am a theist—and a monotheist at that. I believe there is an up and a down, and there is significant pressure on us to fall, and we need inner guidance to travel upward. (Furthermore, I can’t imagine that hell and heaven are binary states—life is plotted on a spectrum, from lowest slug to highest heavenly sphere, so how could the spiritual realm be either “Godly” or “Hellish”?) That being said—the biblical language regarding sin, evil and rebellion was written at an early stage of society’s development. And just as a child sees things—or, rather, gravitates towards the Allegorical and the Cartoonish, biblical language paints the world in thick lines and with primary colors. But once we mature, there is a need to view shades of grey, and subtler distinctions between courses of action, and the question arises: what is the intent behind an action?

For a rebellious child, a large part of their difficult or deplorable behavior has to do with exerting their sense of power—and in that instant, it is wise of the adult to be unemotional when countering and redirecting them. When I have responded in anger to such displays, that anger has stuck with me, and makes me feel bad. But there have been instances when using my own dominance—physical or audible—quickly, severely, and without spite—have seemed appropriate, especially when violence is occurring.

There are many more issues to suss out here, about human and subhuman nature, but I wanted to highlight this point: such charged words as damnation and hell need to be translated into more grownup language. Subtlety and an appreciation of hyperbole and irony, context and culture must be employed in this day and age, if this issue is to be made useful for us who live complex and multifaceted lives.