In your own words…

There is a long tradition in esoteric circles of keeping a journal. It is a tradition to which Companions of the Silent Eye adhere, making a record of the thoughts, questions and realisations that arise from their own meditations and the work of the correspondence course.  There are many reasons for doing this, from the simple discipline of writing down these ideas to ‘earth’ them, helping to fix them in memory… for like dreams, such tenuous thoughts can easily dissipate…to leaving a record that might just help someone else who comes after us and reads them one day. Their most important function, though, is as a record for the writer.

When engaged on this inner journey, we stumble into strange areas of the mind, heart and soul and, like a traveller on an unknown path, we may bring back traces of meaning like dust upon our feet. We do not always know the value of what we carry until much later, when we and our understanding have begun to grow.

I picked up one of my early journals and, as is often the way, things written long ago come to my eyes as if written by another hand and heart. Meaning leaps from the page, revelations lurk behind each word and understanding dawns as if for the first time. And yet, the words which bring these gifts are my own.

How could I write what I did not understand? Where did the words arise to capture such ephemeral wisps of thought? Ideas, teachings, wisdom I do not possess stare back at me from the page as if they have materialised from some other reality where the hand that wrote them had far greater depth than I. And yet, I know that hand was mine.

The words written years ago have become part of the yellowed paper. Thoughts were manifested within the letters scrawled across the page. They have not changed. Yet I might have written in invisible ink for all the understanding I had brought to what I wrote. So, what has changed? The only thing that can have changed is me. The years, the continuous learning curve of life, the multitude of experiences, knowledge gained and illusions lost… all contribute to a changed perspective from which many things look different now from how they looked then.

Some revelations are simply that transition from knowledge to understanding; from an abstract and intellectualised concept to a living awareness. Some ideas become clearer as we are distanced from them; we can be so close sometimes that we cannot see anything but the detail and the shift in perception afforded by the passage of time allows us to take a wider view. There are many things in those pages that I did not even know I knew, but on some level, at least, I must have done so or they would not now be staring back at me from the past. It is an interesting experience when you realise that you have become your own teacher.

Although, we always are. No matter what life gives us to work with, we can only shape what we can hold in awareness… what we can perceive… and our perception is not pure but clouded by the accumulated layers of experience and reaction that have built up around us, so that anything that comes to us is seen only ‘through a glass darkly’. It can be a lifetime and the devil’s own job to chip away that accretion and change our perspective, because, , first we have to realise how securely we have immured ourselves, and the walls built by our emotions can be a veritable bastion.

Occasionally, though, the mortar crumbles and a gleam of light blazes through, illuminating that which was before our eyes all the time and then we sit back in wonder at how we missed something so obvious that it shines. And yet, when the gem we have missed comes from our own pen, we have to wonder where it sprang from in the first place.

Perhaps it was there all along. Perhaps there is a part of each of us that Knows… that doesn’t need to seek the answers, but which needs our conscious mind and heart to seek the questions.

I think, that on some level of being, we do have both the questions and the answers. We just don’t realise that we do. We can spend a lifetime in our search, only to find that what we sought had never been lost. The words on these old pages are gifts laid unknowingly aside in our blindness, waiting, like slumbering seeds, to spring into life and bloom when we are ready.

A path of the heart

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“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”
― Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Recently a name has kept on cropping up that takes me back several decades. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in the books of Carlos Castaneda, an intriguing figure who, with the unlikeliest of stories, managed to capture the imagination of a generation of spiritual seekers.

The first books to hit the shelves were written when he was an anthropology student. They purported to be true accounts of a meeting with Don Juan, a Yaqui Man of Knowledge of a lineage of Toltec Seers… and of the author’s training and subsequent journeying into ‘nonordinary reality’. Originally hailed as accurate and authentic, the veracity of these books has since been called into question and opinions are still divided, much as one would expect given the fantastic nature of the experiences recounted by Castaneda. His personal life too has come in for much criticism and speculation and that shadow hangs heavy over his work.

There appears to be an automatic connection between an artist’s way of life and the way we, as a society, value their works. Many much-loved artists, writers and musicians have fallen out of favour when their personal lives have hit the tabloids over the past few decades, although, place a century or two between the work and our sensibilities and we seem less ready to pass sweeping and dismissive judgements. I do not think that there is an automatic correlation between the value of art and the morality and veracity… or otherwise… of its creator. Writers of fiction are not castigated but applauded for invention and yet readers still learn from their books. Had Castaneda’s books been marketed as fiction, he might not have had the same publicity, but what made sense to his readers would still have made sense and changed their world view.

For me, it simply doesn’t matter what kid of man Castaneda was in his personal life or if the actual encounters and events were true or not; what matters is the way that reading those books made me think, feel and question a reality that appeared solidly set in the stone of normality. It matters not at all to me what they were supposed to teach, it matters only what I, personally, was able to learn through my experience and interaction with his words and the way those words opened a door into the world for me. Truth, in this sense, has nothing to do with fact. It is a personal perception.

I have been dealing with a similar dichotomy on my own travels, where the persona of a long-dead seer has made herself felt. Imagination… racial memory…the mind clothing facts in a dramatic scenario? I do not question. It doesn’t matter. The experience allows me to touch something of the past in a way mere facts could not, bringing it to life for me… and, as such, it carries its own truth and teaches me through the way it touches my heart.

Did Castaneda ever meet a Don Juan or a Don Genaro? Or live through the surreal journeys and visions he describes? Perhaps he did… maybe he didn’t… it could be that he only ever met them in his imagination or lived them in dream. To meet those thoughts, speculations and images in the mind, with enough clarity to be able to write them down as a coherent story is, necessarily, to be changed by them. And isn’t that the nature of learning? In that sense reality as we know it ceases to have any bearing. Even if the man was simply deluded, or at worst an out and out charlatan, would it really matter? Not if his words serve to unlock something in the minds of his readers that makes the world a richer, more beautiful place, that brings it to a vibrant life they might otherwise have missed, or allows them to unfold their own inner potential or address their fears?

“All human thought, all our ideas, our aspirations, our dreams, experience and knowledge are recorded in books. All the accumulated wisdom of mankind… you never know what you will find, even in the trashiest romantic novel. Treat books with respect.”My mother.

There are many such books … fiction presented as fact, fact painted as fiction, teachings hidden in a story. There are also many such teachers, whose personal lives may seem questionable, elusive or remain an enigma, like T. Lobsang Rampa, whose works were amongst the earliest to make me question reality and begin to seek a deeper understanding. Yet through their works perhaps we are able to touch something we would otherwise have missed, something that changes our view of the world, of ourselves, or of life itself. Not through them… fallible human personalities identical to our own, some of whom may not even realise the impact or origin of what they write… but through the response of our own heart and mind and what we alone can bring to that alchemy of understanding. It is only in what we each, as individuals, can do with those teachings, found like stray diamonds on the path, that makes them of value to us… or not.

Does it matter if we view the Holy Books of any religion as factual, allegory or fiction if they change the world for one soul and allow them to live in grace? Or if we have chosen our life path for the love of a Lion, a Yaqui Indian or a Bear of little brain, as long as it guides us to be the best we can be? Personally, I don’t think so. It isn’t the origin of realisation that matters but the resulting change to our heart and soul.

Those changes are not something that can be taught, indoctrinated or imposed, they are unique to each of us and can only be experienced and known. They are a flowering within that comes when the earth of the heart opens to the seeds of understanding, and what grows there sets it roots in the soul, breaking apart our preconceptions and allowing the petals of our being to unfold in the Light.