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Some Cautions about Enlightenment

“Uncertain Strongman” by Lawrence Russ

As I’ve said, a part of what I plan to do for you in these posts is to give you what I’ve called clues, aiming to bring you closer to genuine reality.  As part of the preparation for that, sort of checking your spacesuit for leaks, let me dispel some common errors about the voyage.

In some ways, it’s too bad that one of the words used for what we also call satori, or awakening, is “enlightenment.”  It’s such a grand word that many people get wrong-headed ideas about what it names.  So let me say before we go on with this:  It’s not perfection; it’s not a final attainment, leaving nothing more required from us or possible to us emotionally or spiritually.  For that matter, it’s not, as many ambitious people have imagined it, an achievement or a medal.  Day-and-night meditation won’t necessarily bring it to you, and reading Zen “philosophy” will only take you farther from it.  Yes, we can do many things to prepare ourselves for its possible coming, but it’s more rightly seen as a gift (like an unexpected Christmas present, not like “a gift for math”) — a grace.

And, Yes, that waking up is a treasure.  It rids us immediately of all the abstract junk and categorization and hard-edged description and definition that lead some people to waste life and time in ghost-games of intellect and anger, that lead many people to murder one fellow being after another — in the cause of some delusional, narcissistic nonsense.  The flipping of the satori switch delivers a powerful blow (though unfortunately not a death-blow) to pride and the desperate pursuit of certainties

But while it’s a great gift to be able to see through the Matrix, there are things still more important, things further down or, rather, up that road:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians, ch. 13, v. 1-7.

And please don’t believe too much — to your harm or discouragement — in absolutes or milestones, in “is” or “is not”, like Ellen is loving and I am not,” or “Tom is enlightened and Sally is not.”  When I offer more clues to take you through the woods, please keep in mind that it isn’t just major epiphanies or obvious leaps forward that make you or your life valuable.  Every step along your way matters.  Every dim sense that you have of something mysterious below or ahead of you, every tranced moment created in you by a poem or a photograph or a flower (like the one that the Buddha held up when he was asked what enlightenment is), every sense of things that draw you on or draw you toward some nameless deep — whether or not you can understand or name it — is precious, crucial, not to be disregarded or mistaken as trivial.  If you’re open, if you’re yearning, it’s already happening inside you, though largely out of your conscious sight:

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

Mark, ch.4, v. 26-28.

In a coming post, I’ll give you an example (though I’m sure that you have plenty of your own) of such underground germination, from my recent artistic life.  In the meanwhile, for all of our sakes, go on believing in the unseen leading. . . .

“Rocky Path” by Lawrence Russ

Lawrence Russ View All

Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .

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