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Reader comment on Aldous Huxley's passage ...

At Once, Beneficiary and Victim


On Dec 20, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

I loved this piece! Remembered a paper I'd read in a class on memory about this man who'd found techniques to augment his memory beyond its natural capacity. He had developed techniques to help remember objects in a list (20, then 100, then 1000 objects), and he could recite it in any order that was requested of him. He became a showman, and did well for a while. And then, he started discovering that he was unable to forget what he'd committed to memory, try as hard as he might. He started going crazy, and ultimately died insane.

When we hear of people whose memory becomes indelible or momentary, the two ends of the spectrum, we feel they are cursed. The object of this point is not about memory, but about the problem of duality which is the heart of this piece. Duality is the tremendous idea that everything we come in contact with is at once helpful and hurtful. Its truth is evident at every moment.

The author prods us to go beyond duality, into a space where we cannot be trapped by language. I remembered some exquisite poetry by Kabir, the 15th century philosopher-poet from India. Kabir says,

"Jo paani ke naam ko paani jaaney wo naadani hai
Pani pani rat te rat te pyaasa hi mar jaaye

Shola shola rat te rat te labh pur aanch na aaye
Ek chingaree labh pur rukh lo
Fauran labh jal jaaye"

To translate,

"Naive is the one who confuses the label "water" with water (the experience of it)
 Although chanting "water, water" (contented with just the label), they are bound to die of thirst

 Those who chant "fire, fire" have not a scratch on their lips for doing so
 But when they put a spark of fire on their lips, their lips burn instantly."

That is the difference between the label and the experience that evoked the label, brought out so powerfully in the imagery of water and fire.

The author says at the end of the piece that "Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve." I haven't met such people. However, I've met a lot people who've had to work hard on doing the by-pass surgery on themselves. I liked the metaphor of by-pass surgery - that I have to by-pass the blockages in my own heart. To step up the metaphor, I believe that the surgery has already been performed by nature. We are simply unaware of it. When there are blockages in our heart, our body sends signals which we do not know how to process. If we train our mind to honor those messages, we can perform the by-pass more successfully.

A story to illustrate this. The other day, I was sitting with someone for my research, obtaining data. As my informant was giving me data, I became aware that she was hard-pressed for time. This is an ordinary experience that most of us have felt at some time or the other in our conversations. Immediately, a part of my mind said, "Ignore this - you need to get the data. If she is really busy, she will tell you." And so, I pacified my mind and ignored the signals. And sure enough, there came a point where she panicked about the time and requested to end the session. We did that, but it didn't feel wholesome to me. I should have honored the signals that I'd received and responded with compassion - asked her if we could meet again (which is what we ended up doing anyway). Although this was a small incident, what amused me was that the voice that was trying to fool me was my own voice.

People had lots of reflections on languages and after we went around the group, I remembered my own time in Japan, when I attended Aikido lessons. I had only learned some basic Japanese to get around, and Aikido is full of philosophical Japanese. I couldn't understand a word of the language, but somehow, it didn't matter, and I was able to partake of the experience that the teachers were trying to share with me. I remember much later, after I'd finished the first basic exam, the teacher pointed to me while training his new batch (all Japanese) saying,  "This guy doesn't understand a word of what I'm saying, and he still understands what we're doing here. You guys should not have any problem." (this is my paraphrase from the gestures, sounds, few words that I understood and the "aah" responses :)

Viral shared the notion that awareness is a spectrum. When awareness is concentrated, we call that focusing, which is very helpful. When awareness is broadened, we have a different experience, that is also helpful. Wisdom is about knowing which awareness is needed in this moment, and that is what we can develop.

One participant talked about a trip from the east coast where he sat next to a woman who shared her life and how she'd done so much for her family. After listening to the long story, the listener, in that moment, with his full heart, appreciated her for who she was, getting beyond duality and into a space where both had an experience they cannot put a label on.

Guri gave the only defense for language (thankfully, or else we shouldn't speak a word from now on), where language can spark off deep experiences. We have all these iJourney reflections through the language used in these pieces. So, we must be balanced and recognize the benefit as the piece suggests.

Finally, it is hard not to be touched by aunty's compassion - she went off for a 10-day, but had cooked for all of us!



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