The car we’ve been waiting on finally made it out of the strange limbo it had gotten lost in, some sort of automotive Chapel Perilous, in which dueling mechanics – one old and nearing complete apathy, the other young and endlessly obsessive – fought for its very soul. That, at least, is a way to briefly fictionalize it. The real story is too tedious to tell.
Which brings me to a thought that’s been dawning since the drive from Harper’s Ferry, involving the similarity and difference of marketers and shamen. Both address themselves to the persistent human error of imagining that the desired end lies along the path apprehended by appetite. Soda commercials provide an efficient summary of this cognitive error, in the way they willfully conflate sugar water with all that is good in the world… with, in fact, Love Itself. The marketer encourages this conflation, while the initiator must always counter it, untangling the sublime end from the sensual one.
Such an effort, while being grounded in truth, runs straight away into profound difficulty. This difficulty might be addressed in several ways.
Liu I-Ming, the Taoist alchemist who lived in the latter half of the 18th Century, offers an image of Yang (the sublime alpha and omega of primal awareness) following after Yin (the conditioned appetite awareness) in order to ultimately lead the conditioned back to the Real. This same pattern might be seen in the gnostic story of Simon Magus, who claimed to be the Man of Light, descended into the Material Creation of the Archons (those nested Lords of Appetite) to rescue his beloved Sophia, the Wisdom who gave birth to this Creation but then fell into it, falling deeper and deeper until she ended up as a prostitute in a brothel in the Phoenician port city of Tyre. Meeting her there, he recalls her to herself, realigning her to the true object of her adoration, the limitless light fragmented in the shattered mirrors of existence. The Hologram at the End of Time.
William Blake touched on this same dynamic in saying that the Palace of Wisdom was reached by the path of excess; not because excess is ever ultimately enough, but because through excess we might finally in exhaustion learn that the Object we are seeking cannot be reached by the means we are employing. As Einstein put it, in essence: the problem can’t be solved on the level of cognition on which it is conceived. These are the problems that figure centrally in Thomas Kuhn’s seminal The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the niggling details that force a fundamental reorganization, the threads that unravel the sweater.
When Rumi sang that this Truth cannot be found by seeking, but only seekers find it, he was referring to the way this deep desire might drive evolution to develop the capacity finally to apprehend its Object, growing beyond the frustration of want to the satisfaction of need.