My whole life I have been seeking something. I have made many wrong turns and gone down countless gloomy alleys. Ever hoping that somewhere might lie a better place; I found only dead-ends and darkness. What was I seeking?
In my early twenties I was a dreary, tub-thumping, Dawkins-esque materialist-atheist. Later I became infatuated with the ideas of Schopenhauer, or more precisely, as I’m lazy and cannot speak German, I was infatuated with Bryan Magee’s presentation of the ideas of Schopenhauer. Someone once said something along the following lines, that Kant leads you up to the cliff edge, but Schopenhauer makes you look over the edge into the abyss.
This was a particularly dark time in my life. I tried to live my life with the belief that the reality behind the world of perception is a world that we can never have any knowledge of whatsoever. Any word we could apply to it, it was not that. The best word that we could apply would be Will or Energy. A dark, uncaring force, seemingly malevolent, that drives everything. Even suicide would be no way out because we would simply return to this dark, malevolent will. Our own being, as-it-is-in-itself, is also this dark malevolent will.
An image of my state at that time would be a cold, shivering wreck, shrunk back from the edge of the abyss, bowed over to the ground, weeping, lost.
I couldn’t endure this state. I turned back from the abyss and walked into the other direction seeking something else. I did not know what is was or where to find it, but there must be something. For the next dozen odd years I sought my quarry under different guises, different names: enlightenment, salvation, a saviour, a teacher, to change my being, theosis. But what it was I was truly seeking, or where I was going, I had no idea.
As I look now, I see that the fruit of my search is a mind laden with beliefs upon beliefs. Setting one down, picking up three more. Going everywhere, getting nowhere.
Skipping over the next ten odd years, I found myself as a monk in a Russian Orthodox monastery. My state was worse than when I started. Under obedience to a false guide, one who has never walked the path, nor seen the destination. Two of us stuck in mud, one telling the other how to get out whilst we both sunk deeper.
It has now been almost a year since I left monastic life. I am an apostate and a heretic. An infidel to both my materialistic and religious past.
Since I have been back in the world, I have been dabbling around the edges of the Western esoteric tradition. I’ve given up on guides but not on collaboration. I have a friend who is experienced in such things. I asked her to show me how to do a basic tarot reading so I could do them for myself. As she demonstrated the procedure, the 10 of staves came up in a position which indicates something that would hinder me in the quest-ion that I had asked. It was the image at the beginning of this post: the ten of staves – a caged man.
Of all the cards in the reading this one stayed with me. I compared it the ten wands in the Rider-Waite deck, a man laden with wands. See the picture above.
A few months ago a, I became a member of a fine website called http://johnlebon.com. This is a website about deep scepticism. Engaging with the work on this website has been an important factor in realising how many beliefs I carry around with me. I feel like I’ve been the man in the ‘ten of wands’ card, struggling along, bent over with the weight of the wands of belief, with a cage over my heart. I started to consider how I have been programmed by these beliefs, both actively and passively. It seems to me that belief is to man, as a software script is to a computer.
An actor reads from a script. He is playing a role. He becomes a character who is not himself. Actors are transformed, their thoughts become someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (c.f. Oscar Wilde.)
How to lay down these wands of belief? Often I feel like the ‘how’ is the problem, that I could just drop them, but something in me has become addicted to them. If I do not know how to do it must I rely on a guru or priest, be they spiritual or secular? If I was not cowering in my cage perhaps I could just lift it up and walk away. If I have created or accepted all these belief, can I then not reject them unaided?
But what would remain of me? Can a computer function without any software? If we can be negatively programmed by beliefs, then perhaps there are other beliefs by which we can programme ourselves to reach the goal we have been seeking. Or is the goal precisely the problem? Is my belief that I can lay down these sticks one more programme that my body is running? Perhaps the only way to lay down the wands of belief is to give up the quest.
Before I go any further, I would like to state that I do not know the origins nor the purpose of the Tarot. I am very sceptical of the tales of history. I do find tarot cards useful in triggering thoughts or ideas, or helping me to understand myself. Or better still, a mirror in which to see the inner man. Perhaps gazing at the patterns in the clouds or reading tea leaves would be just as useful.
After comparing the 10 of wands with the the Fool, some ideas came to mind. The lightness of the Fool as he stands at the edge of the cliff. He is not shrouded in darkness, nor anxious about the abyss. The gracefulness of his stance, his aloof, almost disdainful gaze. In my earlier visit to the cliff’s edge I was the anti-Fool.
I also noted that he had turned his back on the sun. I had sought enlightenment and salvation but had become lost in a dark haunted wood, laden with false belief, bowed down with other peoples thoughts and opinions. The fool has a lightness of being, unhindered, carrying only a single black wand, with a knapsack on the back.
From my study of this card it seems that the Fool represents both the beginning and the end of the journey and that the rest of the arcana represent his journey. Has the fool returned having laid down all his beliefs? If he has not yet set off, is it the seeking itself which leaves him weighed down by his beliefs in the middle of his journey.
Once the journey has begun, it cannot end until the seeking stops and the futility of the search itself is realised. The very seeking of the light is what obscures the light. If one looks into the sun it will blind you from everything else. Turn to the reality of nature with the senses of the body, and the resplendent glory of the sun shimmers in and shines out from all.
Once the journey ends, I like to imagine at the foot of the cliff all the hustle and bustle of the world. Men scurrying like ants, convinced that they are free but programmed by belief. Some seek salvation in gods and gurus, others in democracy and scientists. No one able to think for himself. If the Fool desired he can descend down for a while and interact, having no desire to save anybody nor to be saved.
My own interpretation of this black wand and the knapsack is that it is the single wand he has before his journey, and the single wand that remains at the end. I see it as his spinal cord and brain, his nervous system including our own senses and cognitive faculties. This is all the Fool really needs for his journey.
Perhaps it would be better for the Fool to have never gone on his quest. But he cannot know that before he starts on his journey. I do not believe that modern man has a conscious choice about the beginnings of our quest. We are propagandised with belief from the very start of our lives, perhaps even the beliefs of our parents infect us in the womb. To what degree we willing accept these I do not know, but after this we do consciously choose to accept and even add to these beliefs. We fall in love with them and to let them go can be traumatic, even heart-breaking.
I am intending to use this blog to document my attempts to question my beliefs with logic and deep scepticism; to lighten my load; to rely on my own judgement and not the word of authorities or consensus. I believe (oh dear), that beliefs act on us like magical incantations, or like software on a computer, or a like a script on an actor. Belief based on authority and consensus, is like drinking poison or being possessed by a demon.
Who is the magician, who is the programmer, who is the playwright?
I don’t think that scepticism and logic can produce positive knowledge. This comes from the experience of our senses and our inner observations. Logic and scepticism can hone our experience, can help us to understand it better and its ramifications. If we have premises based on observation, then the conclusions are already present. The genius can already see them. The average man can use logic to tease them out and check he has not made a wrong turning. He can try to maintain an internal consistency.
Logic and scepticism can also defend our being from the viruses of belief, lies and hoaxes that teem within the system we inhabit. They can give us the confidence to say to ourselves, ‘I don’t believe that,’ even if everyone else does.
At the moment, I am not sure if man can live without any beliefs. Try living for a day without the belief that life is worth living, or that there is any point in getting out of bed. I think that perhaps these kind of beliefs may become unnecessary, but they may be the last beliefs that we lay down. Not that life is no longer worth living, but that the problem no longer exists; it is not something that is needed to be believed in anymore.
The solutions to the problem of existence seems to be the source of all its problems. Suicide is the ultimate solution to a problem that does not exist.
I feel like I was closer, not to the truth, but to a lighter way of being, in-between my scientific/religious phases. I was at the cliff’s edge but I desired to look into the abyss then I desired the light. I wanted to know the ground of being and I ran in fear towards something else. I desired to gaze right into the glory of the spiritual sun and I became one more cripple in the valley of the blind. The quest began once more.
All I want now is to lay down these magical wands. As I drop one I see another that I did not realise I was carrying. I see scepticism as like a firewall and logic a malware scanner for anyone trying to deprogram the harmful propaganda we have downloaded our whole lives.
In comparison to me, the Fool stands before the abyss unburdened by belief. He observes the world of perception as it is, without poisoning his natural knowledge with beliefs, without worry for the fantasy of a world-as-it-is-in-itself, accepting his life and experience for themselves.
At home in the dream without concern for the source of the dream.
I believe that I can unburden myself of the beliefs of consensus, the beliefs of authority, the beliefs that are opposed to my senses. Then perhaps the journey will have made sense. I will know not to take another one. When I stop seeking fantasies and return home, I may find myself having become something else after all.
But where I did get this belief from?