Yesterday I talked about the story of Adam and Eve in terms of metaphor. The metaphor of leaving the garden of blissful ignorance to become fully human. Today, I’m thinking about how much we’re drawn back to the idea of that blissful ignorance, from West to East, from ancient to modern beings. Many of us, whether or not we subscribe to any sacred text, organized religion, or group of religious beliefs, still find ourselves drawn to the idea of becoming at one with the all. Merging, blending, fusing with the All. In a sense, we seek a loss of consciousness, a loss of discernment between this and that, now and then, before and after, and all opposites. We want an end to discrimination, to the necessity of choosing, differentiating, singling out. We seek an end to foreground and background and want Cezannesque plains, bleeding into Rothko-like envelopment. Be it for a moment, a trance, a truce, or the final spacing out, we seek a return of sorts to that moment in the garden when we merely lived in the moment without consciousness of our place within the ancient nexus.
There are, of course, many shades and degrees and levels to all of this. On both sides of the ledger. There are many paradoxes involved as well. Perhaps the toughest to get around is the desire to be both unconscious and conscious of that loss at the same time. To be free of all demands and requirements involving choice and discernment and the awareness of that, while being aware of our spacing out into non-awareness. For how can we enjoy the loss of awareness if we don’t . . . . well, you get the picture.
A return to that garden in a state fully human would mean something quite different from our expulsion from that same garden after suddenly discovering ourselves, becoming conscious of ourselves. We would go back with the knowledge gained from thousands of years of civilization, along with billions of years in our DNA. As Rilke said, there would be no place that couldn’t see us. Our Freudian guardians would be watching too, from below the surface of the ice-cold waters. We would no longer be bursting forth into our creative selves for the first time, but going back with infinitely more on our shoulders.
That man from Asheville would be right in a cosmic sense. Perhaps in a comic sense, as well.
There are small ways to go part of the way back, however. There is music, dance, love, making love, singing, becoming one with the crowd at a concert, a sporting event, a political rally. There are walks along the strand, at midnight, with the wind and the waves crashing into us, and the seagulls laughing, and the memories pulling us harder than the strongest moon. There are the tastes and smells made famous by Huysmans and Proust, which draw us deeply into the past as we lose the present. There is the laughter of a child to send us back yet again to an earlier time when we, too, laughed in innocence and with abandon — laughed at the simplest things, at the sight of packages being unwrapped and paper floating in the air. Just floating.
But that’s not quite there, not quite. Something more drastic must be done to take us back to the garden. All the way back. Something that takes years of intense practice and daily sacrifice, if we want to avoid artificial means. Or the last leap.
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
From the Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu. Translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Consciousness of: Our way out of the garden. The non-contrived emptying of consciousness: Our way back.