COMMON SENSE AS COSMIC “The mind creates attachment to the body and the things of this world. Thus it binds a man, as a beast is tied by a rope. But it is also the mind which creates in a man an utter distaste for sense-objects, as if for poison. Thus it frees him from his bondage.” -Sankaracharya: The Crest-[ewe] of Discrimination “...and all else but the heart.” -Hart Crane “In what resides the most characteristic virtue of humanity? In good works? Possibly. In the creation of beautiful objects? Perhaps. But some would look in a different direction, and find it in detachment.” -Lytton Strachey Witty and tart, Lytton Strachey emphasized in
his essays that quality of the‘ 18th century on
which he based his style: common sense. Detach- ed observation, criticism of the most subtle kind, and a love of life were the point from which he viewed the minds, the manias, and the extremes of those in power.
At the center of his work is Voltaire, that mo- del of reason’s cold eye, for whom the apparent was the best of all worlds. As Strachey described Lady Montagu, and by extension the 18th century, “She was, like her age, cold and hard; she was infinitely unromantic; she was often cyn- ical, and sometimes gross.” Voltaire, embodying the right of reason in an age of thought, came at a time when Western consciousness was emerging from under the superstition and darkness of the Middle Ages, and just as every generation corrects the foibles of its antecedent, so the intellect of the 18th century rectified the disorder into which it had been born.
If Shakespeare incorporated witches in to Mac- M and fairies into The Tempest , appealing to an audience who believed inthe possibility of such things, then, according to the intellectual currency of the new classicism, the playwright had not used right reason. He was foolish and not at all modern. What was important was what was obvious to the mind alone. The artist, the dreamer, the madman, and those who believed in something more than the immediate were relegated to the slot of innecessity. Yet Shakes- peare embodied the creative wisdom of the heart, and, as though in Divine balance, the next cen- tury, the 19th, brought with it an awakening of a different kind. Romanticism swept in like a breeze through a just-opened window. Instead of reason and order, the emotions and the passions were extolled. Instead of individual-in-socie ty, it was individual-of-himself. The interior of man was to be examined, not the trappings. The rhythm of God was swinging once again to balance the mind with the heart. Enthusiasm, that feeling so sus- pect in the 18th century, became in the early 19th the true measure of man.
In Islamic legend the bridge on which one passes to heaven is narrow and bounded on one side by the abyss of logic and on the other by the abyss of gullibility. To live by the mind is the old Greek ideal of the Apollonian, the pure idea, to live in stasis. To live by the heart alone is to impose no order on one’s world, to burn out in a frenzy. If one does not temper one’s ex- perience with both logic and feeling, both discern- ment and love, then one is treading close to the edge of the abyss. The unquestioned heart is as
extre.ne as the unquestioned mind. Both are pol- arities between which the spirit is pitched like a ball to create synthesis and transcendence. III
The age of Atlantis was one of psychic warfare, especially toward the verge of the cataclysm that sent the continent under. Man was given a tool of realization which he used to destroy himself. Our own age has been an age of reason, of the rational mind, to 1) balance out that former age of psych- ism, and 2) make man whole, to give him unity of heart and mind. If man misused his feeling nature on Atlantis and Lemuria, then he has come back to learn the balance of that, the leveling of fear and anger with reason.
This is not meant to be unfair to the heart, that subtle touch of the infinite within each of us, but simply to put excess in perspective. Just as Atlan- tean misuse of psychic energy can be paired with this civilization’s excesses of the mind (as in tecb~ nology), both can be seen as essential to the ulti- mate growth and balance of the soul of man. In a similar way, Eastern dispassion can be paired with Western passion; classical restraint with Ro- mantic effusion; the emotional sixties with the reflective seventies; night with day. Everything in the cosmos is a balancing of its equal and op- posite; unity is the result on each plane reached, after which there is a further unity to be achieved, ad infinitum. The heart and mind will balance to form a great and intelligent love, which is Divine and the source of all creation. From creation we move to separation to become whole again, and then separate again on an even higher plane, to then become whole again. The process incorporates the deep mysteries of the Universe, where all is one and yet constantly forming and reforming like a galaxy collapsing to form a black hole and the hole to a galaxy again, deep in the mystery of Love.
12 May 1974. Josh may be dying. It seems so witless and so unreal. I can- not relate to him as other than a living force. Words seem superfluous to the privacy and loneliness of his expe- rience. He is Josh as he always has been; I make clumsy assurances of my love and hope. My suffering for him can only make it harder.
16 May 1974. Josh has a rapidly grow- ing carcinoma, metastatic, inoperable. I feel cut off and far away. Many ques- tions, no answers.
27 May 1974. Relief to find Josh re- covered from his surgery. I am relieved for him but identify my own defenses. Don’t feel the full weight of his ill- ness when he is restored to a superfi- cial semblance of health.
20 October 1974. Josh is making plans for his death. He is supporting us; I hope we: him.
8 January 1975. Josh is holding steady. “How are your white cells holding up?” Laughter. Sunday, Josh, Dave and I drove to the mountains, sloping ridge and valley into clear blue sky, and rising moon behind. 20 March 1975. Josh: “The monster laid another egg” - and “despite all, life is a celebration.” He is a teacher. 13 May 1975. Josh is back in the hos- pital with a small bowel obstruction. Dr. Ferree is guiding things, which helps because of his confidence and love for her, and her willingness to be available for him.
25 May 1975. Josh is preparing for death, a process of withdrawal - he from us, his friends guiltily from him. He is very sick, thin and deeply de- pressed. It is fullblown summer al- most over night with a wonderful sweetness in the air of honeysuckle and ripening grasses.
29 May 1975. Josh stands at the edge of anything one could call life. He is home and we plan his death.
11 July 1975. Josh died tonight, after an overdose of sleeping pills. He vom- ited, aspirated and died. It was very
quick. I was very frightened. As Dan-
ny said, it is a crazy kind of pain/ joy.
My wrong starts are filling the wastebasket. Somehow in the transi- tion from heart to head clarity be- comes confused and tries to explain itself. I try again.
The journal entries above describe the illness and death of a classmate and loved friend. My childhood exper- iences with death are somewhat vague to me - the death of my father, who did not live with us and whom I did not know; our neighbor; friends of my mother.
As a health student and worker, contacts with dying and dead people became more intense and frequent. Bodies were wrapped, tagged, and transported to the morgue. A young man in the intensive care unit had a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated. Af~ ter long discussion, intensive support measures were continued and he died two months later, without ever fully regaining consciousness. A family agonized over honoring the decision of a cancer patient to die at home as she labored for breath, in great pain. I gaze helplessly at an examination question: “Is man truest to himself in struggling against his finitude or ac- cepting it?”
Needing coherence, l fashioned a structure of semi-borrowed, semi-own- ed concepts. Death is a process, not an event; we are all dying. Death is natural and inevitable; not a problem to be solved but a mystery, ambiguous and paradoxical. Death with dignity is a human right, increasingly violated by medical technology. Death practices and mourning rituals are necessary and creative, integrating loss, confirming love, restructuring community. Fear is tied to attachments, which can be given up; we create our reality.
My friend’s death widened the gap between belief and faith. The thoughts above seemed a bizarre epitaph, a hazy rationalization for my fear, sorrow, confusion, anger and impotence. Fol- lowing a self-imposed expectation of gentle and compassionate acceptance, 1 could not permit the raw, selfish terror at the possibility of my own death and fury at the removal of my needed friend.
Recently, my horse died. Young and playful, he became severely ill over a month and was unable to stand the last few days. We called the vet to put him down. At midnight l was wait- ing beside the open stall door when suddenly Shadow staggered up and out of the barn, heading for the woods on some ancient instinct. Confined by the fence line, he plodded blindly round and round. He died just as the vet in- jected the tranquilizer, before it could take effect.
I mourned Shadow as l was unable to do for Josh, permitting myself need, rage and doubt. I acknowledge my passionate attachment to the fu- ture, to evolving realities - loving rela- tionships, creative work, broader un- derstanding, self-acceptance and clar- ity, possibilities of intimacy and nur- turing. I recognize aspects of my health practices as bargaining and others as baiting. I detect secret agen- das of power, as death-denying as the high priests of technology. A friend radically ronverts his lifestyle and says he’ll never die. I fight feelings of spirit- ual ineptitude, thinking others grow toward resolution of these questions more quiekly than 1, I ;esist the urge to bring to this article a sense of clo- sure I do not feel.