Monday, 21 January 2008
To Be Alive
…Can anyone deny that there is an organic link, potent, magnetic, psychic-chemical, binding together all existence, “animate” as well as what they falsely call “inanimate”? It is by means of this organic link that I can speak of the psychic-sensuous feelings of plant and reptiles and birds and fishes and beasts, and for all that long series of sub-human lives which emerges from earth and water to breathe the invisible air. It is by means of this organic stream of innumerable lives, now stretching out their irresistible antennae in premonitory awareness of a dimension of Being beyond man, that I can speak for the sensual feelings in our nature that touch the super-human.
…The lonely soul must face the full basic implication of being alive. To be alive means to be as “good” as you can, and as little cruel as you can, in a System organised upon a mad substratum of monstrous duality… From the mud we spring. And the “soul” of the “body” of mud must be immortal, if there be any immortality anywhere. The “soul” of the “body” of that mud is as important as anything else. Good is it and evil is it, even as the soul of its creator.
…The reason why so many human beings give themselves up today to the modern malady of “futility,” is that the false, artificial, human idealism that has fed them with lies has been found out, and they are left with nothing else. Let them fall back on the lovely delights of a simple sacramental sensuousness. These delights never pall or fail; and, if we are not unemployed or mad or in the hands of the police, they never can fail. What, in fact, produces the futility-malady” among us is a refusal to concentrate upon the simple psychic-sensuous delights that everybody can enjoy, and the refusal to make of these little things a ladder to the ultimate.
… The happier the lonely soul grows to be, the more freely does it fling away itself and its possessions for the benefit of all who pass by. When the well-to-do person ceases to experience a craving to feed the hungry and to create some sort of pleasure in the nerves of the miserable, one may draw, as an absolutely certain conclusion, that his own inner life is sterile, abortive, pulverised. It is , as everyone knows, a psychic peculiarity of certain perfect spring days, that plants, birds, reptiles, animals, and even insects, seem to pour forth upon the air a surplusage of vibrant well-being, as though every tiniest organism there, every infinitesimalest cell inside every organism, were consciously lavishing its own psychic magnetism as a free gift to all the rest.
…The old immemorial “goodness” that Rousseau and Goethe believed in, natural to all entities, animate or inanimate – the ancient “goodness” that prevents even the most predatory of creatures from practicing cruelty for cruelty’s sake – is enough to save us from the adder’s-tooth of remorse. We need feel no remorse when we give up every “conviction” we possess, every “principle” we possess, every vestige of every “creed.” So long as you refrain from cruelty and from all cruel thought, you are completely and absolutely fulfilling the deepest purpose of life by being simply happy. The only real sin is not to be happy; and except for your oven extreme pain, or the extreme pain of anyone you love, it is in your own power whether to be happy or not. The Universe owes you no happiness. Life owes you no happiness.
…One of the silliest and meanest of human attitudes to life – an attitude taken only by beings of an extraordinary opacity of perception – it is the attitude which assumes that there is “One Great Law” running through everything, an implacable moral Law, full of Rationality and Righteousness, and that it is the wilful deviations from this Law, among the various living creatures, that cause the unhappiness in the world. There is no such Law! Down in the heart of every minutest nucleus of electric and psychic life, there is irrationality, arbitrariness, free choice, and an element of the undetermined. The mechanistic philosophers and logic-mongering pseudo-scientists who talk of “fate” and “determinism” must be singularly devoid of any kind of honest introspection.
What do all living things feel and see when they turn their minds inward? They feel and see two facts: first that not Fate but Chance is the dominant power in the world; second, that the secret of all movement, of all change, is a mingling of the creative energy of the First Cause with their own creative energy. Both of these two energies are unfathomably arbitrary, wilful, and irrational. When these dull-witted rationalists tell u, as they are always doing today, that no magical, no mythological view of the universe is any longer possible, let them be answered by a very brief retort. There is no view of the universe, there has never been any view of the universe, brought into real contact with the ways of Nature, that is not saturated through and through with magic and mythology! So far from magic being absent from the processes of life, there is nothing in these processes that is not magic.
…So many of us are compelled to live in hideously modern towns and cities; and the very prick and quick of our harassed lives depends upon the way we take our destiny. The great secret is to assume an attitude of ironical detachment from the whole spectacle of modern life. Not to take such life “for granted” – that is the trick. The mind can easily work this miracle. The mind within us is not merely the mind of a foolishly-sophisticated city-dweller, fussing about amidst shops, offices, studios, theatres, concert halls. It is the mind of a starfish, a bird, a polar bear, a viper, a sea-anemone, a sycamore-tree, a half-born planetary god! The best way to live in such places is to concentrate on all the sacramental symbols of “real reality” that we can disentangle from this machinery and from these prodding iron spikes. These house, these pavements, these noisy street can be treated as if they were so much primeval mud and sand and scoriac rock, across which we draw (ourselves), enjoying the aboriginal “feel of matter” - the feel of warm sunshine, of the cool wind, of the tossing rain.
When we first wake up, the best thing to do is to gather together those particular impressions of cumulated memories of our sense-life that have thrilled us most, and with the whole dreamy weight of our nature to taste them once again in a sort of stoical desperation. That is where memory is so wonderful a goddess; for nothing can take our memories from us. With the power of memory at our disposal, we can enjoy life to the bitter end. We must have the wit to copy the cattle. We must chew the cud of delicious memory and defy Providence to take it from us.
Round and about, over and beneath these precious sense-memories, hover the undertones and overtones whose heavenly essences are the purpose of our existence. It is to accumulate these that we live – not to acquire fame or wealth or honour. Any monotonous labour is a valuable aid to this secret ecstasy, to this furtive, hidden worship of the life-stream. But the advantage is lost if such work exacts too close an attention! It is sheer madness to waste our brief life in vulgar gregarious excitement, when a rapture so much more intense is awaiting every solitary moment of mental liberty. The insect-like human beings who hurry to join every buzzing swarm they can find, resemble sticky , silly flies going up and down a hot, shut window, while all the while, a yard or so away, is the wide-open door.
…the philosophy of the Missing Lind – does not need any unusual “orgies” in order to get its deep, profane thrill. It needs nothing but the taste of bread, of butter, of honey, of milk, of tea, of coffee, of wine. It needs nothing but the look of a lighted fire or a lighted candle. It needs nothing but the touch of its mate, of its offspring, of a patch of earth-mould, of a gust of wet, westerly wind, of a streak of sunlight between the wretchedest curtains.
…Figuratively speaking, we ought to take off our shoes in the presence of every living organism we encounter. The saint’s power of “loving” every organism he meets may indeed excite our astonishment; but it is well within our “animal-vegetable” scope to bend with scrupulous fetish-worship before the presence of a dead tree, a cut worm, a withered plant, a mangy cat, a faded doll, a broken idol, a murderer, any poor scrofulous devil, any God-forsaken whore!
Oh, the moment has come when we must break the prison-bars of our narrow human state and enter the life-religion of those great time-aeons and space-immensities that include all the cosmic children of Chance and the First Cause!
Higher and higher, every new day of our secret life, mounts up the intoxicating wave of sense-memories. Lilac-bushes in back-yards, smoke-blackened trees by murky pools, village-commons with broken railings where the small grey rain seems to fall for ever from the north-west, wet ditches full of yellow flowers by the wayside, faded stucco-houses with rusty ironwork on their roofs and red geraniums in their window-boxes, clearings in swampy moss-grown withy-beds, newly ploughed fields forged by querulous crows, gleaming sands with thin black windrows of sea-scum over which the foam-bubbles drift rainbow-tinted from the breaking surf, noon-drowsy road-banks where little blue butterflies hover above the hot dusty dandelions, lonely tollpike houses on wind-swept hills where groups of stunted Scotch-firs creak and murmur like exhausted sentries in armour – such are a few of the impressions that rise up upon us and flow through us when we sink into that inner world of real reality, which daily, monthly, yearly grows richer and richer – that sub-human, super-human world which the deep essence of Life itself gives to its children. Such things as I have named are drawn from country memories; but even city life has its own intermittent magic for such as have eyes and ears.
… Society is the most insidious fungus growth, into which all the most corrupt poisons of the human peril distil their plague-pus… This book is written to reveal the fact that it is possible, by invading the social humanity in us from both ends at once, to squeeze it out almost completely! The sub-human invades this human element from below, thrilling us with the lovely receptivity of the vegetable world, while the super-human invades it from above, thrilling us with strange intimations of a god-like state as yet unrealised.
Is it not a mysterious thing how some deep taboo in our inmost nature makes us dodge the issue and feel as if we dare not follow our natural instincts? What these natural instincts encourage us to do is to turn the whole orientation of personal life inside out, and make of what hitherto has been regarded as unimportant and unessential the only important and the only essential thing. In fact, we must make of what hitherto has been casually taken for granted as mere accidental feelings coming to us en route the whole essence of the grand matter of our days. We must take the fluctuating, undulating margin of our simplest sensuous impressions- that margin which has so many mysterious avenues and vistas, and which hitherto has floated round us unconsidered, disregarded, neglected – and our of it, as we hoard and store up its visions like miser’s farthings, we must consciously weave the inmost cocoon of our spiritual identity.
Oh, we must break loose from our human prison and thrust the tendrils and antennae of our being into both the non-human worlds. When we have done so, when we have squeezed our human sensibility into a very small space – squeezed it between our sub-human nature and our supper-human nature - why, then it will be seen what free, happy, profane spaciousness there is for our soul! There is, indeed, an incredible feeling of liberation when one realises one’s lonely identity in the midst of rocks and stones and trees and the great silent motions of the constellations; not to speak of planetary spirits and all the invisible organisms that fill the gulfs of space! How can anyone, thinking of the difference between emotions of this sort and the gregarious mob-emotions of any Megalopolis, but realise that the moment has come for the birth of what Spengler would call a New Culture?
In Defense of Sensuality
John Cowper Powys
Victor Gollancz Ltd 1930