“Schools have the privilege of making effort in the right place,
for the deity within—one’s own presence.”
Robert Earl Burton

June 2017

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Butterflies and bells

I sat and watched two butterflies trace and re-trace their lazy loops above the green edge of the river bank. The river was wide and fast. The sound of bells clanging caught my attention and I looked intently to the other side of the river to find its source. There I saw first only a few and then many cows, slowly walking along the path by the river, each with a bell hung around its neck. As they gathered to turn away from the river on their route home, the chorus of their bells grew to a grand crescendo. A gentle sense of wonder and gratitude began to rise in my heart, and suddenly I was there, alive to a different reality: aware of myself and the moment unfolding before me.

O the joy of my soul leaning poised on itself, receiving identity through materials
and loving them, My soul vibrated back to me from them, from sight, hearing, touch, reason,
articulation, comparison, memory, and the like, The real life of my senses
and flesh transcending my senses and flesh, My body done with materials,
my sight done with my material eyes, Proved to me this day beyond cavil
that it is not my material eyes which finally see...”  
Walt Whitman

Strange that I hadn’t noticed the moment when my world had contracted to just the two butterflies, how clear and simple the distinction was in the state I now found myself. It is so easy to slip into fascination or day dreams without even noticing it. I was lucky the bells caught my attention and then the rustic charm and beauty of the scene evoked my moment of awareness. Is it possible to invoke such awareness? Yes, such techniques are part of the esoteric knowledge available in Schools that exist for the sole purpose of teaching those who wish to learn, how to be present to their lives.

As human beings, we inherit the right to be present by just being born. Everyone’s life is enriched by moments of Presence whether we are aware of them or value them: they are the moments we remember.

Schools have the privilege of making effort in the right place,
for the deity within—one’s own presence.
Robert Earl Burton

The surprising thing is how easy it is to simply forget the magnitude of the shift from our normal waking state to Presence. There is an overwhelming tendency within us to reduce this delicate, internal radiance to something ordinary. The momentum of our day-to-day activity produces a levelling effect that dulls our sense of valuation for that heightened state. We find ourselves carried along by the rushing currents of life—our fears, illnesses, and obligations; the need for money and the agitation of wanting; the getting or not getting—these things distract us from our deepest aspirations.

To be present is glorious. . . . But we so lightly forget what our laughing neighbor
will neither confirm nor envy. Into the visible we want to raise it
when even the most visible joy only can disclose itself to us
when we have transformed it within.
Nowhere, my love, can there be World but within us.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, ‘The Seventh Elegy’

Fortunately for us Presence can be produced not only by beauty but also by suffering. Perhaps you too, have looked on as a loved one was lowered into the ground, and you glimpsed the subtle secret of life. Time and appearances dropped away and for a moment the veil was lifted.

No one would wish for such things, and yet the joys of our lives are interwoven with tragedies, irritations, and emotional pain: this friction gives the heart of our longing for the Beloved its opportunity to rise against the passions and ardent self-interest we find churning in our heart, and so be propelled toward the clarity and peace of Divine Presence.

There is a basket of fresh bread on your head, and yet you go door to door asking for crusts.
Knock on your own inner door. No other. Sloshing knee-deep in fresh river water,
yet you keep wanting a drink from other people’s water bags.
Water is everywhere around you,
but you see only the barriers that keep you from water.

Sydney Russell