27. Work on what has been spoiled
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
This is the only question worth answering: can we regenerate ourselves? It is this question that stands behind science and the death of Christ. The desire to return to a more vital time, to conquer old age and death. This desire animates the quest for the Holy Grail and half the laboratories, their test tubes rotating in lazy unison, in the world.
The world is different once you realise that you will die. Children lie in their beds trying to imagine death; they imagine blackness, but they know blackness is something—death is nothing upon nothing. You cannot imagine it, so do not worry yourself about it. This was the advice of Socrates. We are not reasonable people, Socrates. We keep asking: how can we stop it?
There are people who fail to live through fear of death. Their minds become consumed by the final horizon and they cannot act. They remain paralysed, waiting for the moment; the moment finds these people last of all. They die perfectly preserved, not a day over ten, but without having made a single mark. Those men who go out on a quest, who go looking for some immortality, do, at least, make an impression. The careful people are carefully waiting for death. So we find that death and reality are intimately connected. Reality is a vicious place: we would prefer not to have too much to do with it. We would prefer a comfortable delusion. Reality, like death, forces its way inside; and, in truth, there is something remarkably fun about our proximity to death and reality. There is no real joy without risk of some kind.
Only children are concerned about material immortality, and only children think heaven is childish because it is ice cream forever. Later, if they do not give up the quest, they will come to see that immortality and restoration and heaven are real enough, but the process has nothing to do with the shadows on the wall that are our waking selves. The act of restoration is far more subtle, and it grows from the closest engagement with reality.
So we find that these alchemists in their caves and learned doctors were worth paying attention to after all. The sage in the mountain cavern, steeled to an ascetic life, is also worth listening to in this regard—as are all the children’s storybooks you discarded when you first became afraid of death. The image is of a knight making a crossing; the crossing requires a bold attitude. The crossing requires that he does not care if he lives or dies. You have to wake up to the signs that are all around you. Far too many people are asleep; they have fallen into the cotton wool sleep that they think will protect them from death. The only protection is engagement.
Civilisations decline just like men, and the pure materialist, looking from the outside, sees no hope. He is a pessimist. Now, he has good grounds for that. Recovery is rare, but it is not impossible; even material science records the reverse of entropy. So, you battlers, forget hope—but look for practical alchemy. The culmination of your dream is possible, and it is not written in old books: the answer is inscribed on your hearts. Of course, few men want to open their own chests…
So, you must choose: adventure or cotton wool. Do not be surprised if most choose cotton wool, it is a very comforting balm; it kills in its own soft way. Regeneration and restoration: the turning of the circle. This is the great story. You set out in an illusion, lose the illusion, and return to the great true illusion. You will demand answers from books, but the books have no answers to give. The answers are within, the stone is within. The sage grasps it with firm but gentle hands; he has escaped corruption and dwells in the brightest cave.
Return to the centre of the eternal sphere.