Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Big One That Always Got Away

 [ source ]

[...] And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a reflection which they will express in words something like the following? 'Have we not found,' they will say, 'a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied? and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being: it fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body--the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows--either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth.'
[...]  And the true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying, wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible. Look at the matter thus:--if they have been in every way the enemies of the body, and are wanting to be alone with the soul, when this desire of theirs is granted, how inconsistent would they be if they trembled and repined, instead of rejoicing at their departure to that place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they desired--and this was wisdom--and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many a man has been willing to go to the world below animated by the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is strongly persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, O my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there and there only, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were afraid of death.
- Plato, Phaedo

When I was young I used to go down to the Boathouse at the Lake. I would find an empty slip - where the owner had taken his boat out fishing - and lay down on my stomach on the walkway, my face close to the water. After laying down there for a few moments, the fish would return, darting here and there, tending shallow nests on the sandy bottoms. And I would feel let loose of my flesh. I forgot my body all together and dreamed down there in the water.

I came to have a hunger for it. When my Grandfather asked me if I wanted to go out fishing. I would decline, wanting to go dream down by the water.

One day, as I was laying there, an enormous catfish drifted slowly into view. I had never seen a fish that big in the wild. I remember feeling my excited mind was too big to fit in my skull. I stopped breathing for a few moments. The catfish swam a lazy eight underneath me. Finally, I couldn't stand it and slowly slowly slowly got to my feet, tiptoed a few more feet and then ran to find Charles, the Boathouse Caretaker and Fish Cleaner. He was down at the end of the Boathouse repairing a boat. Breathlessly, I told him about the catfish. I wanted him to come see it. He got up and walked quietly down the walkway with me.

Of course, the fish was gone.

Charles laughed and said that that was the Big One that always got away.

But I did see it, I told him, it was right in front of me.

I'm sure it was, he said.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day with my small fishing pole sitting in the Boathouse trying to catch the Big One.

And for many, many years after that.

The point I am trying to make is about when I first started to feel my "spirit" move within my "flesh," felt my bones first begin to laugh, when I started to attain a sense of God. What's interesting to me now is that initial hunger for transcendence, for freedom from the "foolishness of the body" and freedom for being the world of the spirit.

Until I was in my early teens, this connection between my flesh and my spirit was strong - a bright golden braided chain. Being young I took it for granted. Then came years of resentment where I pulled and twisted the chain, eventually breaking it in a kind of mis-guided Zen rebellion. Then came a time of no connection at all - just haunting memories.

And now...

I ride my bike down to the beach, sit with my back against a boulder, listen to the waves, occasionally pull out a length of braided cotton thread, lay it out in front of me and draw it slowly over the stones, imagining whales under the waters.