The Choice

I watched Doctor Zhivago tonight. Keira Knightley as Lara. Hans Matheson as Yuri Zhivago. It’s a well done TV miniseries from 2002. Moving, especially at the end. It’s not David Lean. But it works in its own way. Expanded, because of the extra time. And updated to allow for more modern depictions of the love affair.

Many things jumped out at me. But especially this: brief, ecstatic joy in the middle of a sea of sorrow. The embrace of that joy. Being consumed by it, perhaps because it is so brief. As is life. Especially life in the middle of revolution and civil war.

Some might respond: all life is brief. Yes. True. But in relative terms, which is all we really know, it is shorter and has fewer moments of joy in the midst of violence–violence surrounding you, taking away your loved ones, your friends, your freedom. And those brief moments are all the sweeter because of that contrast. As if the word “contrast” really could convey the extremes between dancing with your lover in a snow-covered house, away from the war and the murderers and the tyrants. Away from the slaughter and the irrational hatred between human beings. Compared with, say, watching a DVD and enjoying it, in the midst of a peaceful night, in a peaceful town, and state, and nation. Relatively speaking.

Which brings me back to another form of high contrast. Another field of extremes, and choices, and decisions. As mentioned in my last post, mystics were and are the Olympian athletes of spirituality. They do things we mere mortals don’t generally attempt. Ever. And they do these things daily. On their Way, through their gateway of choice, to find, embrace and hold on to their vision of God, Nature, the Universe.

Most mystics, simply by way of the process, because of its dynamic, go beyond names and histories and scripture. They have passed through all the gateways most of us stop in front of. They pass through. They don’t accept the name on that gateway or the gateway itself as the end, the definition, the only way. They know “everything” exists beyond that human-made definition of the divine and their goal is to move beyond all goals and become one with everything.


Casper David Friedrich’s The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. 1818

Nietzsche said that one rewards a teacher poorly by forever remaining a pupil. To me, when it comes to mysticism, the teacher is not just the man with the bamboo stick. It is the sum total of all culture, all sacred and profane writings, art and music, and all worldly matters. Nietzsche’s aphorism is a call to surpass the teacher. It could also mean to transcend everything worldly, though I doubt he meant it in that way.

It is possible that some mystics wanted union with a god, or a goddess, or some other hand-me-down definition of divinity. It is possible that in the past and present and future this did occur and will occur. But, I think, it is impossible for a true spiritual athlete to accept his or her resting place on this side of the gateway, instead of going beyond every name or symbol or sacred book.

If someone seeks union with a god or goddess who is more or less a tyrant, more or less like human tyrants, with the same hideous behavior and history of destruction and imperialism, then that goal is not a higher thing, or a noble thing, or something to bless or admire. Seeking to be at one with a tyrant is the opposite of the sacred. It is the embrace of ugliness and the profane.

So we have choices. If we must choose to be at one with . . . . at one with someone . . . we automatically remain on this side of the gateway . . . We can claim for ourselves a level of spiritual athleticism that few can attain . . . but we can not claim to have gone beyond earthly, even pedestrian definitions of the sacred. Which means they aren’t really sacred at all. To achieve that, we must embrace the full kit and caboodle. The center without locale. The circumference without beginning. The radius without a center or circumference to tie it down to anything. We must embrace the paradox of nothing and everything being one and the same.

Choosing to bond with that, making the decision to leap into everything and nothing simultaneously, gives us the moment when the lovers dance in the middle of a war zone, in their snow-covered house, away . . . for just a moment . . . from the partisans and the Whites and the Reds. But, unlike our vision of Lara and Yuri from afar, that dance lasts throughout eternity. Nothing but that dance. In a sense, in the mind of Pasternak, he must have thought, at least for a flash of time, that Yuri and Lara saw the dance as eternal too.


The Choice
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