Tag Archives: ineffable

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 25” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

There was Something undefined and yet complete in itself,
Born before Heaven-and-Earth.

Silent and boundless,
Standing alone without change,
Yet pervading all without fail,
It may be regarded as the Mother of the world.
I do not know its name;
I style it “Tao”;
And, in the absence of a better word, call it “The Great.”

To be great is to go on,
To go on is to be far,
To be far is to return.

Hence, “Tao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
King is great.”
Thus, the king is one of the great four in the Universe.

Man follows the ways of the Earth.
The Earth follows the ways of Heaven,
Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
Tao follows its own ways.

I wrestled with this passage this morning. For me, it was one of the more challenging. I do not know for sure if my interpretation if completely accurate, but it is the impression that I got from meditating on this.

The “Something undefined and yet complete in itself” I interpret to be the ineffable source of all that is, something which cannot be adequately expressed and yet encompasses all that is. I envision the yin and yang symbol when I think of this something, comprised of opposites, and complete in itself.

The third stanza depicts the progressions of emanation and spiritual development. It conjures an image of the soul emanating from the divine source, progressing on its journey, and then returning to the source. The symbol that I see associated with this is the yin/yang encircled by the ouroboros.

Image Source: scrapbookgraphics

Image Source: scrapbookgraphics

The fourth stanza was the most puzzling for me, but I think I understand it. The key again is the yin and yang symbol. The symbol contains four components that make up the whole: the pair of curved shapes, and then two circles, one within each of the curved spaces. So essentially, we have two pairs of opposites: Tao (Mother/divine feminine) and King (Father/divine masculine); then Heaven and Earth, contrasting planes of existence. Heaven and Earth are contained within the Tao and the King, symbolizing that they are manifestations within the divine. These four pillars are combined to create the Universe, which symbolizes the entirety of all that is.

As I said, this was a very challenging passage for me, and I make no guarantees on the veracity of my interpretation; but I sense that this may be at least part of what Lao Tzu was trying to express. If you have any thoughts or impressions, please feel free to share them in the comments space below. Thanks for stopping by and have a blessed day.

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“Desire” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Romeo and Juliet by Frank Bernard Dicksee

Romeo and Juliet by Frank Bernard Dicksee

Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame;
It is the reflex of our earthly frame,
That takes the meaning from the nobler part,
And but translates the language of the heart.

This is a very short yet very moving poem. Coleridge is essentially comparing and contrasting Love and Desire. For Coleridge, Love comes from the soul. It is a spiritual connection with another human being that transcends this earthly plane. And since Love, like all things spiritual, is impossible to express through normal means, it must be expressed through symbols, and Desire is the symbol by which a person can express Love. Desire is the physical expression of spiritual Love.

There is really not much else I have to share about this poem. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 15” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

The ancient adepts of the Tao were subtle and
flexible, profound and comprehensive.
Their minds were too deep to be fathomed.

Because they are unfathomable,
One can only describe them vaguely by their
appearance.

Hesitant like one wading a stream in winter;
Timid like one afraid of his neighbours on all sides;
Cautious and courteous like a guest;
Yielding like ice on the point of melting;
Simple like an uncarved block;
Hollow like a cave;
Confused like a muddy pool;
And yet who else could quietly and gradually evolve
from the muddy to the clear?
Who else could slowly but steadily move from the inert
to the living?

He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.
But precisely because he is never full,
He can always remain like a hidden sprout,
And does not rush to early ripening.

I had an unusual reaction to reading this. It was more like impressions, vague sensations, rather than insight. I felt a sense of the adept’s mind, the deep psyche, or the subconscious to use the western term, a part of us that cannot be fully comprehended. We know it is there. We see manifestations from it in art, inspiration, and mystical experience. But we cannot grasp it. It is something we feel, yet is totally intangible.

I almost see this passage as a mediation, the purpose of which is to shift your consciousness ever so slightly, so as to give you an impression of what is hidden just beyond the veil of perception.

If you have any different insights or impressions, I would love to hear about them. Please share them with us in the comment section below.

Have a blessed day!

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Mythological Cycles in “Library of Souls” by Ransom Riggs

LibraryOfSouls

If you follow my blog, you probably know how I feel about trilogies. They are not my favorite and I am frequently annoyed by stories that start out great and then seem to drag on in an attempt to fill three volumes. Thankfully, this book is one of the exceptions. In fact, this is as great if not better than the first book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children trilogy. Not only is it very well written and illustrated with “found” vintage photographs that add to the overall surreal weirdness of the book, but the text is rich in symbolism and mythology. I was so engrossed in this book that I found it difficult to put down.

I want to focus my post on the allusions to mythology that permeate this book. For those of you who have not read this yet, fear not, I will not include any spoilers, and hopefully this will help you enjoy the richness of this novel.

On the whole, this book is a classic example of the hero’s journey. We have all the motifs that make up the hero myth, and early in the book we are clued in to the fact that we are going along on the epic adventure.

The present seemed suddenly strange to me, so trivial and distracted. I felt like one of those mythical heroes who fights his way back from the underworld only to realize that the world above is every bit as damned as the one below.

(p. 47)

There is a beautiful scene where three of the peculiars encounter Sharon, the boatman. He is a spectral figure and clearly a representation of Charon, the mythical boatman who ferries souls across the river Styx.

“STOP!” came a booming voice from inside the boat.

Emma squealed, Addison yelped, and I nearly leapt out of my skin. A man who’d been sitting in the boat—how had we not seen him until now?!—rose slowly to his feet, straightening himself inch by inch until he towered over us. He was seven feet tall, at least, his massive frame draped in a cloak and his face hidden beneath a dark hood.

“I’m—I’m so sorry!” Emma stammered. “It’s—we thought the boat was—“

“Many have tried to steal from Sharon!” the man thundered. “Now their skulls make homes for sea creatures!”

“I swear we weren’t trying to—“

“We’ll just be going,” squeaked Addison, backing away, “so sorry to bother you, milord.”

“SILENCE!” the boatman roared, stepping onto the creaking dock with one enormous stride. “Anyone who comes for my boat must PAY THE PRICE!”

(pp. 50 – 51)

A common theme among myths is the classic battle waged by the gods, the proverbial “clash of the titans.”

“… There dawned a dark time, in which the power-mad waged epic battles against one another for control of Abaton and the Library of Souls. Many lives were lost. The land was scorched. Famine and pestilence reigned while peculiars with power beyond imagination murdered one another with floods and lightning bolts. This is where normals got their tales of gods fighting for supremacy of the sky. Their Clash of the Titans was our battle for the Library of Souls.”

(p. 194)

I had read in a book by Umberto Eco how legendary and mythological lands occupy a unique place. We cannot say for sure that they never existed, but through the retelling of the stories, they become places that also exist in our collective consciousness, a place that is the source of our imagination and creativity.

“We may never know for certain if Abaton is a real place,” Bentham said, his lips spreading into a sphinx’s smile. “That’s what makes it a legend. But like rumors of buried treasure, the legendariness of the story has not stopped people, over the centuries, from searching for it. It is said that Perplexus Anomalous  himself committed years to the hunt for the lost loop of Abaton—which is how he began to discover so many of the loops that appear in his famous maps.”

(p. 195)

But in the end, what makes a story a myth is that it is more than just a story. It is a story that contains universal truths that convey what it is to be divine, sentient beings living in this realm of existence. The myth expresses parts of us that cannot be told other than through the rich symbols and metaphors that comprise the myth.

Just a story. It had become one of the defining truths of my life that, no matter how I tried to keep them flattened, two-dimensional, jailed in paper and ink, there would always be stories that refused to stay bound in books. It was never just a story. I would know: a story had swallowed my whole life.

(p. 371)

I confess that I felt sad when I finished this book. I felt really invested in the story and connected with the characters. I didn’t want it to end. But isn’t that the thing with stories like this? They never really end. They just cycle around again, waiting in our collective consciousness for the next great writer to resurrect the mythical beings that have inspired us since time immemorial.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 14” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Look at it but you cannot see it!
Its name is Formless.

Listen to it but you cannot hear it!
Its name is Soundless.

Grasp it but you cannot get it!
Its name is Incorporeal.

These three attributes are unfathomable;
Therefore they fuse into one.

Its upper side is not bright:
Its under side not dim.
Continually the Unnameable moves on,
Until it returns beyond the realm of things.
We call it the formless Form, the imageless Image.
We call it the indefinable and unimaginable.

Confront it and you do not see its face!
Follow it and you do not see its back!
Yet, equipped with this timeless Tao,
You can harness present realities.

To know the origins is initiation into the Tao.

I found this passage to be fairly simple, but still rich and beautiful. Here, Lao Tzu uses paradoxical phrases to describe the ineffable divine source. By referring to the divine as a “formless Form” and an “imageless Image,” a space is created that cannot be represented through words, because it exists beyond our capacity for comprehension. This is the divine source and the Eternal Tao.

But although we with our finite minds can never fully grasp that which is infinite and eternal, we should still endeavor to contemplate it, for by doing so we catch impressions of our divine origin and gain wisdom. This wisdom helps us navigate the challenging pathways of our existence.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 12” by Lao Tzu

Chinese5

The five colours blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavours cloy the palate.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Rare goods tempt men to do wrong.

Therefore, the Sage takes care of the belly, not the eye.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

This is one of those times that I am grateful for the internet. When I read this passage, the general theme was obvious enough—do not focus all your energy on material gains, but instead, seek within for spiritual treasures. But I knew I was missing something critical and that something must be associated with the number five, which is echoed in the first three lines. From my western perspective, I could not think of any significance that the number five would have in the context of this passage. So I resorted to Google.

I learned that in Chinese thought, the number five is significant because the Chinese believe there are five elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Metal. From my western perspective, I have always considered there to be four elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire. Now the meaning of the first few lines made sense. It is the distraction of the elements to our physical senses that draws our focus away from the internal and towards the external.

This is an example of how ideas and symbols can be interpreted differently based upon the cultural context. Whenever we attempt to uncover the meaning of something, we should always consider the context in which it was created.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 11” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWagonWheel

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.

Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.

I found this passage to be somewhat cryptic, so I will offer only my interpretation.

It seems that the empty space, or the void, is the unknowable source of all existence. While we cannot perceive this ineffable emptiness, it has a direct impact on our physical beings and our daily lives.

I also have the impression that Lao Tzu is cautioning against attachment to material things. Trying to grasp and hoard things in life tends to create mental clutter and creates a barrier between ourselves and the divine essence.

Finally, I can apply this to my meditation practices. I see all the tangible things as the thoughts that clutter the mind. When I meditate, I try (often unsuccessfully) to quiet that mental chatter and open myself to the profound silence which is the subconscious mind. It is impossible for me to describe this connection. As soon as I try to analyze or think about it, the conscious mind takes over and the connection is lost. But those brief moments of deep mental quietude help put the rest of my life and thoughts into perspective.

I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on this passage. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 6” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

The Spirit of the Fountain dies not.
It is called the Mysterious Feminine.
The Doorway of the Mysterious Feminine
Is called the Root of Heaven-and-Earth.

Lingering like gossamer, it has only a hint of existence;
And yet when you draw upon it, it is inexhaustible.

I love this chapter. It is so compact, yet so rich in meaning.

Here, Lao Tzu describes the Divine Feminine as the “Spirit of the Fountain.” Essentially, he is acknowledging the Divine Feminine as the source of all being. And the pathway to discovering the Divine Feminine is through unification of the physical and the spiritual aspects of the self, symbolized by the “Root of Heaven-and-Earth.”

The last two lines offer an impression of what it is like to perceive and connect with the Feminine. It is subtle, fluid, loving, and gentle. One gets the impression of being surrounded by diaphanous warmth and comfort that is at once ineffable and universal.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 5” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven-and-Earth is not sentimental;
It treats all things as straw-dogs.
The Sage is not sentimental;
He treats all his people as straw-dogs.

Between Heaven and Earth,
There seems to be a Bellows:
It is empty, and yet it is inexhaustible;
The more it works, the more comes out of it.
No amount of words can fathom it:
Better look for it within you.

This is a beautiful chapter that conveys so much wisdom in so few words.

I want to begin by pointing out something at the very beginning of the verse: “Heaven-and-Earth” is hyphenated, implying that it is a single entity and not something dualistic. We can interpret this as a symbol for ourselves, a combination of the spiritual and the physical combined into one being. The concept is also incorporated into the yin and yang symbol, where the two seeming opposites are actually part of the whole.

In the second stanza, we are introduced to the “Bellows” which exists between Heaven and Earth, meaning it exists within ourselves and serves as the boundary/connector between the physical and the spiritual. The Bellows is the source of breath, which is Qi (or Chi) and it the life energy that flows through us and is associated with breathing. The practice of Tai Chi improves breathing and helps practitioners connect with their life energy. The more that you practice conscious breathing, the more connected to your life energy you become, as is expressed in the line, “The more it works, the more comes out of it.”

This life energy is ineffable: “No amount of words can fathom it.” Because it exists in a space between the physical and the spiritual beings, essentially connecting the two, it cannot be expressed in words. It is beyond our comprehension.

Finally, we are entreated to search for this source within ourselves. This is the path of the Tao and the way to become a sage: to search for this source of life energy within each of us, connect with that energy, and allow it to flow freely through us.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 9

Nosferatu

Nosferatu

As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.

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