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Mystic Musings

by on February 16, 2013

The Stars at Noon:  the art of seeing

                                      By Marco M. Pardi

 “As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the greatest shining of the inner worlds.” Rabbi Nachmann of Bratzlav

During a long, arduous and mostly solitary journey in the Spring of 1980 I “chanced” upon the opportunity to learn the Secret Oral Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.  My question, answered even as I mentally framed it, was: Why are these secret? They are not secret because they are unspoken; they are not secret because they are not published.  They have been, and are spoken and published down through the ages.  Their secrecy derives from the filters erected, mostly unwittingly, by those who would otherwise hear.

Most readers of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions will recognize this admonition that few will actually understand what they hear as it is woven throughout the literature of those traditions.  And yet, the filters remain.  They remain seemingly because a filter has been erected specifically to deal with this particular domain: “That’s the religious talk. Time (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) to get into the religious mode, ready with the approved and expected responses.”  Religious talk, even discourse, has then become a consensual code as the cleric intones a formulaic utterance and the congregants respond in kind.  Many contemporary Christian churches conduct services and cite authoritative references in a linguistic form more appropriate to 1611 (King James translation) than to the 21st century.  The value seems not to be as much in the message as in the fact that the form of delivery enables the participant to escape mundane reality, if only for a little while.  Little matter that 17th century English was not spoken in Biblical Israel; it’s different from what is spoken now and that is all that matters.

 In the 1990’s the world was treated to claims that the central writings of the Jewish and Christian traditions had indeed been written in code, a kind of  roughly sensible and often confusing story line beneath which a far more insightful, and perhaps arcane story line had been written, awaiting those who could break the code.  Indeed, several books appeared touting Bible Code somewhere in the title.

Gematria, a Greek term referring to the ascription of numerical value to words or phrases, is thought by some to have originated with Sargon II, the 8th century BCE Babylonian ruler, and absorbed by the Hebrews during their captivity. Kabbala, the synthesis of ideas generally referred to as Jewish Mysticism, makes extensive use of gematria although its known origins trace only to 12th and 13th century Southern Spain and Southern France among the Sephardi Jews, the probable root of modern Hasidic Judaism.

Debate continues on this issue of the doctrinal texts and whether they were simply an overlay for a more arcane message.  But again, those debates fall into the area already defined by the filter: religion.  However, the impulse to simplify may also carry the mistake of dismissal.  Not my belief, not my issue.  But do we filter our experience, more so than the obvious physical constraints on our senses?

Reams of evidence exist for the cultural shaping of our perceptions.  But we have only to look at our everyday vernacular to discern some clues.  Most people, with the apparent exception of some who vote Republican, know that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth; it remains fixed relative to the Earth.  Yet, our daily weather report assures us that “tomorrow’s sunrise will be at…….and sunset at…….”.  We do know the Sun does not rise, nor does it set.  We also talk romantically about the stars “coming out at night”.  They work the night shift?  After all, “seeing is believing”, and maybe that is the problem.

Many of us remember “seeing” images of animals or faces in clouds, rock formations, etc. This process, pareidolia, shares some features with a related process, apophenia, the finding of patterns in meaningless or truly random data. Apophenia is often called the seamless go-to default of conspiracy theorists.  Of greater interest is the role of cultural memes in these phenomena.  The “face of Jesus” has appeared in a myriad of media, from folds in a cloth to grilled cheese sandwiches.  Were it possible to get a claimant witness of this phenomenon into a temporarily rational state we would soon enable that person to admit that, to our knowledge, there are no extant photographs of Jesus.  Furthermore, the oldest known artistic renderings date to several centuries after his purported death and derive, in Western tradition, largely from northwestern Europe.  The received icon, the standard against which casting directors compare tryouts for the role, portrays no Semitic characteristics at all.  Even factoring in the inherent phenotypic variation of the Levant,  the far more likely face on the sandwich would be that of Yasser Arafat.

But this phenomenon, amusing though it may be, elucidates the transcendental value of rendered art over static photography; it invites the mind to go beyond that which the eye sees just as the use of anachronistic language takes us beyond what the ear hears. The camera lens captures; the brush invites.

As a very young child, before being packed off to boarding school (where “boarding” gained new meaning from the ubiquitous wooden paddles carried by the faculty) I lived in a home furnished with original oil paintings, not prints, and original Afghan and Persian rugs, not department store copies.  Toys were almost totally absent as were “children’s books”.  There were no playmates, and conversation with an adult was heavily restricted.  The extensive library included several books richly illustrated with photographs.  But, these were flat.  These were two dimensional.  They did not invite me in.  However, the art books, the paintings on the walls, even the intricately designed rugs which, to a small boy stretched out like the universe, invited me into their inner realms, their microcosms promising of portals to unimagined macrocosms.  I did not then understand the thrill of imagination versus flat affect reality; I only lived it, quietly and privately.  And with no one to whom I could express the revelations of my journeys, I could only be right.

What does that mean throughout life?  For me, it meant, often painfully, becoming aware of the ease with which persons, described variously as shallow or complex can put me off or draw me in, causing me to misunderstand their complexities, their motives, or their capabilities for good or for bad.  Yes, there’s that trite truism, “Appearances are deceptive” (Aesop), but that saying puts the onus of deception largely on the observed, not the observer.  When George W. Bush famously told us how he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes, had seen his soul, and had felt he was a man he “could do business with”,  was he merely seeing only what he had projected there – as the child I was projected meaning into paintings and the young man I was projected honesty and love into potential marriage partners?

Since the 1970’s much has been written, and rewritten, around the glib claim that we make our own reality.  If that is true I must be very much larger and more powerful than I thought.  I can think of several chains of events that, in hindsight, played out in such a way as to permit me to be sitting here writing this now.  And I feel quite certain I did not pull these off by myself – at least, my little everyday self, my “little me”. The realization of mysticism has opened my eyes to the acceptance of things I do not perceive in a sensory way.  But there are times when the feeling of “Big Me” seems egotistical.

“Things are not what they seem; or, to be more accurate, they are not only what they seem, but very much else besides.” Aldous Huxley, “Man and Reality.”

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5 Comments
  1. Lory Nakamura permalink

    Must say I had to go over it twice to be able to get all the meanings. and a few sentences for some reason stuck up with me more than others.

    “The value seems not to be as much in the message as in the fact that the form of delivery enables the participant to escape mundane reality, if only for a little while. Little matter that 17th century English was not spoken in Biblical Israel; it’s different from what is spoken now and that is all that matters.”
    Well, being born and brought up in Rome, and therefore surrounded by this kind of `reality`, i too have given some thought to this concept. i understand that rituals are necessary to build such big community as the Church, but many things done in its name make you wonder about the authenticity or the stupidity of too many insane rules.

    then just for the beauty of this expression, let me re-write here.
    ” The camera lens captures; the brush invites.” could really feel the invitation …!

    and then with the sort of wry humor that you often share with us, these words brought all the loneliness of a child right to my heart “And with no one to whom I could express the revelations of my journeys, I could only be right.”

    anyhow, Thank you Marco, for sharing your life experiences with us and for starting a blog that will surely benefit all of us ! and it feels good that finally inthis way i dont need to worry about my emails coming back !! 🙂

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  2. I am so glad to see you have started the first chapter of your first book.

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  3. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Thank you, Marco! I really enjoyed this! You know where I stand on creating your own reality; however, to stand back and do nothing but imagine gets you nowhere! I think we create in every sense of the word. From imagining it to the physical doing. I think creating your own reality has been greatly misunderstood. I am wondering why the feeling of Big You seem egotistical? I am not sure I am understanding that sentence correctly.

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  4. Thank you, MJ. Of course, sanding back and doing nothing is doing something – perhaps even more than the small doings for which we give ourselves such credit. As for the seemingly egotistical, it was just a candid expression of how at times it seems difficult to meld my sense of little self with a sense of universal self. ,

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    • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

      Good point. It is the same thing as believing nothing is actually believing something. Yes, it is difficult to meld the two. I have yet to come close to getting that one.

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