Posted in Books I love

Ah Sunflower!

Yesterday I read a quote from Yeats on the Symbol Reader’s wonderful blog about symbolism, astrology and Jungian mythos and transformative imagery (my tortured words.) Yeats (for my money, the greatest poet of the 20th century,) spoke of the “one adventure that is the image of his secret life,” and the necessity to preserve its motivating influence.

I won’t bore my readers with details of the “adventure” which opened the door to my own secret life-the door to which I feared I’d long since lost the key. Monika’s post reminded me of it- reminding me not to squander the gift on the same distractions which mired the lotus eaters in forgetful apathy .

Many years ago I encountered a book that (while I struggled to understand its convoluted thought) transformed my inner life. It was Henry Corbin’s book on Ibn Arabi called: Alone with the Alone.

He begins with citing the ancient philosopher Proclus’s meditation on the heliotrope (sunflower.) This flower exemplifies, in its continual sun-ward orientation and movement following the solar path, the method of theophanic prayer.

( I think of The great poet Rumi who, in grieving the death of his teacher Shams [the Sun,] began turning as he composed his verse. This lead to the inception of the Mevlevi Sufi order.)

Corbin speaks of the phrase which opens each Sura of the Koran: Bismallah er Rahman er Raheem, (we begin in the name of the One who is most merciful and compassionate.) The spirit of theophanic prayer is not a petition for deliverance from evil, but a practice where all actions are begun with full awareness of our reciprocal bond with the creator. It is a recognition of interdependence. By intoning this prayer, the faithful proclaim their allegiance to the primordial pact which confers existence upon both Lord (Rabb) and vassal. Our breath is united with the existentuating breath of the all-merciful and allows knowledge of God by a mutual sharing of essence. 

As in Buddhist teachings, it stresses the breath-inhalation, exhalation and the vast space between.

I’ve come to see that all creative work depends on this. It reminds me of the need to strike the right balance of egoistic intent I project upon the world, with a receptivity to what the world has to say to me. This holds true in painting, writing and human relations.

This is the wider perspective Yeats’ words reminded me of-that which makes true, angelic inspiration possible.  It is a creativity motivated and vivified by a wish to benefit all beings.

I thank the Symbol Reader for reminding me.

Posted in Musings

The Anchor-a cosmology

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Here is a painting of the Vickers memorial in Kane cemetery.

anchor 2 An angelic stone figure holding an anchor stands on a pedestal gazing up into the golden light that filters through the maple trees.

jacobs ladder
Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

The anchor has long been a symbol variously interpreted as faith, hope and soul.  But I think there is another level of interpretation.  The anchor and movement of chain as the tide rises and falls is  a cosmological image.  As the tides rises, the circle occupied by the vessel in its revolutions gets smaller until the chain is vertical, and remains, theoretically, in the center.  This movement describes a cone shape.

Single Gyre

The geocentric, medieval image of the universe, though out-dated by Copernican discoveries, has its origin in human experience and is set to the measure of man’s ratio. It is a true cosmology because it defines spiritual co-ordinates  and gives meaning to a world that, at certain points in history, tends toward a state of dissolution, of entropy. This image of the universe reflects a recurring pattern in civilization’s rise and fall,  yearly cycles, and, on the microscopic level, the alternation of breath.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the downward vortex where Satan resides at nethermost point of hell, cast down by gravity and the weight of sin, is mirrored  in the ascending spiral of Mount Purgatory.  In the medieval scheme of salvation, this point is the earthly paradise at the mountain’s summit.  Martha Heyneman in her fascinating book, The Breathing Cathedral, likens this spiral to the movement of thread on a spindle.  She sites Yeats’ vision of  gyres, where the  reciprocal upward and downward movement of these vortexes occur simultaneously.  This reciprocal movement is like the souls ascent through the heavenly spheres at death and the corresponding descent of Divine Intellect into the manifest world, of the timeless dimension into the field of time.

In traditional societies, the dead were honored for their humble service, and the relationship between the dead and living was one of mutual reciprocity. We are culturally enriched by such simple gestures of remembrance. The honor conferred upon the dead completes a pact with the living and the departed are helped in their ascent toward knowledge and liberation.