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Beauty,Spring 2005
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The Path "Home"

Annabella Wood

Beauty & Chemistry

I have always pictured my path through life to be somewhat linear. Though I am quite aware that I wander off the path often, I also felt that the path is moving in one general direction, carrying me from my starting point to my ending point. I also liked to believe that the starting point was nearer total ignorance than the ending point. But in the reading on "The Rainbow and Cartesian Wonder" that perspective changed. I saw our paths to be of a circular shape. There is not start and no end, and no point is any nearer nor further from ignorance or from awareness. The entire path is made up of both in equal measure.

This change in perspective came suddenly as I was reading Philip Fisher's contrast between Pascal and DesCartes. I found this entire section fascinating because it supported my main idea about quality of life, and I love to find support for any of my ideas. I hold that the quality of life that we experience is a result of how we receive that which happens to us, not what happens to us. Though this may seem a small technicality, it goes a long way toward helping me enjoy my life.

When I see that how I receive an experience (past, present, or future) in my life determines my happiness or sorrow, my joy or pain, I know that I am self-instructing my brain to create the feelings I want to feel, and I will use any experience to create these feelings. Sometimes I have to go into the past to "feel" these feelings, sometimes the future, and sometimes I just get into whatever is taking place right now. But I am always the chooser of what it is I am feeling. This is total self-determination.

I don't always choose my feelings consciously. In fact I almost never did until I thought a great deal on my actions and the related thoughts and their related feelings. Most people I know have given nearly no thought to any of this, and therefore are completely run by unconscious decisions. And they often mention that they feel their lives are out of control. In a very real way, they are right.

But most of us know this on some level. If we want to relax, we put on soft music. When we want to be rowdy, we put on lively music and turn it up loud. We are aware on some level that our actions illicit feelings. What most of us are unaware of is to what extent this is true.

It is in this same way that we are at choice about how we receive events into our lives. Stuff happens in life. It happens to all of us. And we all respond in our own way to what happens. That's how it works. We are pretty much aware of that.

What may be new to some people is the idea that we can choose how we receive what happens in our life. We have total control over how we receive events, just as we have total control over how we feel. And similarly, it is done entirely subconsciously until and unless we bring the process of receiving events into the realm of conscious thought. And the way in which we receive events paints our experience of our past, present and futures.

All of this brings me to the contrast between Pascal and DesCartes. Here are two men, both brilliant mathematicians, of the same era in time, and deep thinkers. They have experienced very similar events as scientists. They both lived at a time of new visual input on a regular basis. Telescopes were just coming into their own, as were microscopes. Lenses were becoming better understood, and therefore allowing observations of the details of the miniscule as well as the grandeur of the heavens. New objects were being viewed on a regular basis during their lives. Some of what they saw was being seen by man for the very first time. Times like these would indeed inspire wonder frequently.

DesCartes' thoughts on wonder brought up feelings of joy, buoyancy, and the desire to explain. The entire experience of wonder was a very pleasurable experience for him. As a scientist he used these moments of wonder to inspire himself to explore the explanation of the object of his wonder. That was his next project. In this way he kept himself in the passion of wonder even after the wonder-filled moment was long gone. This is not to say that he felt the awe of wonder all the time, but he did always benefit from its existence and he used it to bring joy into his life.

Pascal, on the other hand, had very similar experiences, but received them in the opposite manner. He obsessed on the fear brought up by wonder inspiring events. Of the vastness of the heavens he said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread." Things that DesCartes would have deemed "wonderful" and therefore wanting of explanation, and accompanied with joy, Pascal found terrifying.

Pascal's method of receiving the events in his life determined his experience of life. Though he lived in a time of great scientific and mathematical revelation, he lived the life of a terrorized and fear-filled individual. He sought solace in religious realms, hoping he could ease the pain of his fear through religious fervor. Because his fear was so intense, he threw himself whole heartedly into the religious world seeking relief. His mind and it's imaginings of a frightening world so haunted him that he succumbed to severe depression and eventually sought relief by turning to "reliance purely on God."

Reportedly he wrote about a mystical experience leading up to his total renunciation of his own responsibility of his life, and his subsequent relinquishment of control of his life to Jesus Christ and his spiritual director. I find this fascinating, because he had to have control of his life in order to turn it over to someone else, anyone else. And he had to be in control of his life to let it remain in the control of anyone else. This is the problem with ever trying to relinquish control of your life. It is an impossibility.

This relinquishment of control of one's life is a goal of many who walk spiritual paths of many genres. Most who seek to turn the reins over to another entity want to achieve this act of humility through the portal of trust. I used to think that as one moved along their spiritual path toward enlightenment they moved from enmeshment in the physical world to freedom from emotional investment in the physical world. This process included movement from large amounts of anguish diminishing to nothing as joy grew to be everything. And I saw this movement as linear as if from left to right across a time line.

But Pascal reached this goal from the other side. He reached relinquishment of control of his life from the place of total anguish. In an effort to make my story accurately describe how this all takes place, I could see that I had to amend my story.

The only way he could reach the point of relinquishment from anguish is if the line I had pictured in my mind is actually a circle. And relinquishment can be reached from either side. And indeed I find this new story of the shape of my life's walk to be much more accurate. It has been my experience that more people reach nirvana through anguish than through joy. We have a few people walking the Earth right now who have done this. Yet I have heard of none walking the Earth right now who have achieved this state through joy. I am not saying it can not be done, just that it is less common.

I have heard it stated many times that "no one is any further along the spiritual path than any other one." Byron Katie says this as does A Course in Miracles. And I can see the verity of this now. I would have said that DesCartes was further along his spiritual path than Pascal. And yet Pascal "arrived" and DesCartes didn't. Not that Pascal remained there. Few do. And if the path is circular, then we have all been there and pass through it frequently and then move on, which I believe to be true in my experience. Maybe we visit this point of relinquishment as often as each time we go to sleep.

The path is also never ending, as is the circle. We never arrive at our destination, for there is no end, and no beginning as with a circle. Yes, my life's path is circular. "And so I walk on a timeless journey on a path with no end." A Course in Miracles.

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