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VxPoem ID: 32759
Posted: April 26th. 2008 7:39:42 AM
Heart and Mind: A Record of Transformation
by B. T. Newberg
Age Group: Adult
AT the time that I begin this work I am twenty-five years old. So far am I from any of the goals that I set before me. So far am I from knowing where all this will lead. But if I do not start now, I never will.
I am not filled with compassion for all beings. I have not, like the mystics, extinguished my ego in the radiance of the One. Yet I have within me something absolutely special. This I would not give up for heaven, nor even to avoid hell. It is an inner feeling so undeniable that all other concerns are reorganizing around it. It is such that if no other insight nor comfort were to be had in religion, it would be enough.
When I told an elder friend about an experience I had, he said with a compassionate smile, “Friend, you are not old enough to have had such an experience.” I said to him, “You’re right, I am too young. It just taught me a lesson. That’s all.” But I said this less for his sake than for mine.
How could I have had such an experience? I have played at the spiritual life, but I am only an amateur! I longed for this moment, but how innocent was my longing. I had no idea what it was that I wished for.
How can I tell of it? I will bungle it. I will trivialize it. I don’t know the words.
What is this feeling inside me?—I do not understand it. But when the infant longs for its mother, it doesn’t wait to understand its longing. It cries out, and out of love the mother comes.
O God, the infant is crying for its mother!
HOW could this experience happen to me? The entire project which I now begin is an effort to understand this question.
If I had been involved in a conventional religion, I would have no reason for this project. A conventional religion would supply an explanation for the experience. But I was not a conventionally religious person, I was agnostic. By eighteen I realized that I could not know with certainty which of all the many “God”s promoted by mankind through the ages was the true God. Nor could I know if any such thing as God existed at all. Such was the limitation of my mortal capacity to understand. So I had no conventional religion to rely on.
If the experience had revealed itself to me in the form of any one of the conventional religions, I would have no reason for this project. The clear course would be to let that one religion engulf me. But it came neither as Christ nor as Buddha, Brahman, Allah, the God of the Jews, the Goddess of the witches, the spirits of the shamans, nor as any of the other deities, saviors, or prophets ever known. No conventional form was revealed.
If the experience had come to me as a reality beyond all “God”s, then I would have no reason for this project. But when it came, it did not come from beyond religions. It came of them, through them, from them, and out of them. It also came of all the people in my life that have helped me, even my antagonists. The places of my life were also significant, as were works of art and imagination. So it did not come from beyond the world and its religions, but of it and of them.
If, after the experience, I at last felt at home in the church, temple, synagogue, mosque, coven circle, or monastery, I would have no reason for this project. For the world’s religions are more my teachers now than ever, but my heart does not rest anywhere but in the thought of that mysterious, un-bounded experience.
How could this experience happen to me? I turned my back on the religion in which I was raised. I boldly speculated against the holy teachers and the holy books. Out of the pride of youth, and also out of its innocence, I created for myself my own religious position. I dared against God; I dared against all the “God”s that were ever propounded. Yet, something came to me.
When it came, it tore down all my speculation about God like an unfounded house. At that moment, I was ready to accept whatever dwelling was raised up in its place. Had the house of Jesus opened to me, I would have lived in it. So with all the other great houses. But what visited me required no house.
I was agnostic. I was a cup filled with water, but I was emptied. With what was I filled again?
I believed God could not be known. But now I realize a mystery: that which cannot be known in the intellect can be known in the heart.
I cried out to know the truth of religions, but I was given no answer. Love bowled me over, that is all I know.
I FEEL, but I am powerless to understand what I feel. I harbor a lust for understanding, but in truth I yearn only to engulf myself in the depths of this mystery. All my propositions and expositions are but childish efforts to sound the depths. With each statement I toss a pebble into the abyss. Never do I hear the response of the bottom, but with every pebble the wonder of it grows.
The project at hand explores the intuitions that arise mysteriously within me. It develops the currents that drove me to seek spiritually, in the probable case that they contributed to my experience. It charts where I was before the experience, and after. It looks ahead to where all of this may lead. Most of all, this project embodies my hope that others may find usefulness or inspiration from my experience. I harbor bold dreams of contributing to social values and modern spirituality. But if only one person feels a reflection of their own experience in mine, then the project is worthwhile. I do not know if even this is realizable, but I cannot wait to know.
When the sun rises the cock crows, for it cannot do otherwise. I am crowing for the sun.
O GOD, I do not know you, but I feel you!
My intellect sees a void, but my heart feels a universe.
My intellect sees a hole, but my heart feels a well.
My intellect sees a wound, but my heart feels the healer’s blade.
O God, how dearly do I want to create an explanation for you. I want to invent for you a meaning. Each passing thought tries to cross the void, fill the hole, and close the wound. Yet no thought sustains against you.
I am a cup filled not with an answer but a mystery.
How could you come to me? If you came to me, then you may have come to others like me. Let us be together in this mystery.
I do not know what more to say. You who have touched me, help me. I am at the end of my wits, but the beginning of my heart.
TO embody the multispiritual dilemma—this became my preoccupation. By multispiritual I mean the simple fact of many religions simultaneously available to the spiritual seeker, each propounding mutually exclusive truths, and each claiming superior or sole authenticity. Says the seeker: to whom shall I listen—the reverend, the priest, the rabbi, the imam, the shaman, the witch, the monk, the master, or the guru? Of them, who teaches the true way—one, all, or none?
Therein lies the dilemma. In this present age of information, global gurus, and the so-called interfaith “dialogue, ” the seeker is no longer blissfully ignorant of all but the tradition handed down by the local culture. The scriptures of all major religions are available for download at the click of a button. Everyone within a reasonable distance of a major city can sit at the feet of the master of choice, whether that be the Pope or the Dalai Lama. So available are the world’s faiths that the seeker is now confronted with a crisis: how can I choose?
CHOOSING THE ULTIMATE
HOW can I choose among religions?—this is the root question which underlies the multispiritual dilemma. It is even more distressing than the question of which to choose. For the question of which religion to choose, however daunting it may be, at least implies faith that a satisfactory choice can be made. Not so with the dragon of the multispiritual dilemma. Spewing fire over all the world’s religions, it lays waste even to the assumption that choice is possible.
For the seeker now encounters a world where the Ultimate has become relative. The religions are collected for browsing in labeled bins, one religion exchangeable for another, awaiting only the final decision of the tire-kicking seeker. The assumption is made that one will suit the seeker’s needs better than the others, or else that one will function while the others will be duds. In this way the seeker analyzes and evaluates, hems and haws, and (perhaps) settles the question of which religion to choose by way of careful comparison.
Ah, but a false market is this! For how can one choose between ultimate things? The seeker feigns to choose, but is drunk with purchasing power. The Ultimate cannot be chosen. How can one who is less than ultimate discern what exceeds him? How can the limited seeker identify what is beyond his limit?
The vendors are pushing their wares with slanted pitches, and the beguiled seeker believes he can discern the better choice. Drunk with purchasing power, he assumes to himself the power to determine which among his choices is the Ultimate. Therein he commits the ultimate fraud. For what power can determine the Ultimate but that of the Ultimate itself?
The seeker who claims to know which God is the true God seeks to rival God.
The Ultimate cannot be chosen.
DISCOVERING THE ULTIMATE
IF I must make a choice, then I have not yet discovered the Ultimate. For the Ultimate is the source of choice, not the object.
The Ultimate is like water in the ground: it is the source of all that sustains me, indeed it is my very own source, yet of it I remained unaware until I drilled a well. Though it has always been with me, it has not always been known to me. Nor, if a hazy conjecture led me to suspect a source, has it been clear. The source was there to be known in clarity, but it had to be discovered!
You listen to the streams within you, you follow their courses. You do not choose between them. You wait, and discover which become the tributaries and which the river.
How can you choose between ultimates? The Ultimate is the Ultimate; there can be no contenders. For the Ultimate is the source of choice, not the object. How can you choose the Ultimate?
All your choices are determined by the Ultimate, whether or not you are conscious of its influence.
A choice such as this is of the external world. But the discovery of the Ultimate is a thing of the internal world. The Ultimate cannot be chosen, only discovered.
Are the intellect and the heart opposed, or complimentary? What is their relationship to each other?
The intellect is not there to confound the heart, nor to subvert it. It is there to sustain it.
But why does God choose to eschew the intellect and dwell in the heart?
THE INTELLECT AND THE HEART
O LORD, even while I long to dwell with you in the heart, the intellect too has its place and function. The mystery arrives as a visitor knocking at the door. The heart’s butler is the intellect, who announces the visitor. Though the visitor is already a friend to the heart, the annunciation glorifies the visit.
What is the intellect, and what is the heart? What does it mean to know in the intellect, and what to know in the heart?
The intellect and the heart are not separable from each other. They are two but also one. A magnet has two poles, each with different charges and properties. Yet both poles are of one inseparable piece. So too are the intellect and the heart different yet inseparable. In the qualities of their experience, they are different. But they are united in the body, or in the spirit, or in the body-spirit.
The qualities of experience in the intellect and in the heart are many and varied. They vary from person to person, and from time to time they vary within each person. What is an intellectual activity may in another incarnation be an activity of the heart. The attempt to disentangle the two according to a set theory leads to much confusion.
For the heart loves but the intellect too can love, as in the love of a sound argument. The intellect is abstract but the heart can also be abstract, as in abstract art. Words and symbols are the trade of the intellect but also of the heart, as in poetry. They say the intellect is cold but the heart also can be cold, as in the coldness of disdain. The creative burst of an idea is the warmth of the intellect, even while the heart is the one they call warm. The heart is irrational but the products of the intellect can also succumb to a peculiar irrationality, as in bureaucracy grown too large. Rationality is the claim of the intellect but it is the heart that can achieve rationality beyond reason, as in the feeling of warmth in that which is good and right. So the intellect and the heart cannot be distinguished according to their stereotypical qualities.
What, then, is the divide between the intellect and the heart? What allows the one to know while the other remains ignorant? How is the one to be known from the other? This is the guide that distinguishes the two ways of knowing:
While the intellect desires proof, the heart holds the proof. While the intellect seeks justification from without, the heart possesses justification from within. While the intellect grasps for reasons, the heart is the reason.
For when the intellect considers an idea, it regards it as a hypothesis until it receives sufficient support from other ideas that corroborate it. Thus, the intellect is always engaged in the yoking of this idea and that, like a spider spinning thread to thread. But a spider must anchor its web to something beyond its web. Without this foundation, the web cannot exist. The intellect, too, must find its anchor beyond its endless and circular chain of ideas corroborating ideas. Every intellect is so anchored (or it could not exist) , but not every intellect perceives its anchor.
It is the heart that knows the foundation. When the heart is active, it deals neither in hypotheses nor in proofs. When the lover is with the beloved, no corroboration is required. The squeaky gears of reason leave off, and a throbbing pulse takes up. The heart beholds a feeling, and the feeling is its own justification. No deliberation is necessary.
If a spider anchors its web to a thing too flimsy, it is not long before the web collapses. But when the foundation is solid, the web is solid from the very start.
The feelings in the heart anchor the ideas in the intellect. To know this is to know balance.
WHAT happens when the intellect and the heart fall out of balance?
When the intellect grows too dominant, it is as if a spider sits so long at the center of its web that it forgets what lies beyond it. It forgets the true anchor, and believes all truth has its anchor within the web of ideas. All action and motivation can be explained in time by the correct navigation of the web. But this only leads in endless circles. The longer the spider searches its web for truth, the more it grows weary of the web. Yet the spider also grows more committed to the web, for every circle round is further proof of the spider’s foolishness if the anchor cannot be found. This is the way of the inflated intellect.
But the intellect is not the only faculty that overestimates its limits. The heart also can grow too dominant. When this happens, it is like the spider goes exploring beyond its web of ideas so long that it gets lost. Beyond its web it beholds its anchors: large and sturdy blades of grass, magnificent beyond its capacity to grasp, sublime to it as a mountain is to us. In the presence of the mysterium tremendum, the spider forgets itself. It forgets that it is a spider, and must make a web to catch sustenance. So eager is the spider to remain in the presence of the glorious foundation that it grows delirious with hunger. Its fallible body requires that it leave the presence to sit again in the tired web, else it could not survive. Also, the spider feels the impulse to mate, and this too requires that it do other than bask in the radiance of the anchor. These bodily needs are resented. The weakness of the body incites a dream of escape from the body. The only escape is death, or a kind of living death wherein the spider denies all its living impulses. This is the way of the inflated heart.
What the spider of the inflated intellect requires is to risk its folly and make a leap beyond its over-spun lair. But what the spider of the inflated heart requires is to remember that its object of adoration, without a web anchored to it and a spider to sit in it, is only a blade of grass. For without a web the anchor is not glorified.
IS the heart greater than the intellect?
The web of ideas cannot anchor itself. For this it depends on the feelings of the heart. Yet the heart is not therefore greater.
There are those who say that because the threads of the web cannot anchor themselves, they are only illusions. But the web is strong because of the anchor, and the anchor is glorified because the web clings to it. When the web gives glory to the anchor, the anchor gives glory to the web. Greatness suffuses the whole.
Author's Notes: Note: At the time of writing, a much larger work was envisioned. Some of the intentions mentioned under "Goals" were (obviously) never fulfilled.
As a Naturalistic Pagan, I believe in evidence. There is no evidence that deities and magic are "real" in the most literal sense, but they may yet be moving and powerful. These poems are a tribute to the inspiration of Pagan ways.
For more information on naturalism, see HumanisticPaganism.com.
Author's Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
More Poems: B. T. Newberg has posted 73 additional poems- View them?
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