“As far as the search for truth is concerned, 98% of our thinking is rubbish. The remaining 2% is garbage. Throw it all out and be empty!”
-Advaita Master Sri Mooji
The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway begins with this famous epigraph: “Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” Is it a foreshadowing of the last days and untimely death in Africa of the protagonist-a failed writer who, like the leopard, never reaches his pinnacle?
Or, did the animal suffer from altitude sickness as many do? Half way up that august mountain I endured the misery of waiting it out in a tent until my companions came back down for me. Many pundits have weighed in on Hemingway’s riddle, each convinced theirs is the right premise. Yet in the stillness of creativity, it’s impossible to know what is in the mind of the writer because the mind is empty.
When someone asked the poet Robert Browning what he meant in a love poem to Elizabeth Barrett whom he later married, he said: “When I wrote it only God and I knew. Now, only God knows.”
Hollywood actress Michelle Williams was asked by Time Magazine how she managed to convey so much realism in her characters. Where did all that raw emotion come from? She replied, “The truth is, I don’t know. I find that when I’m doing my best work, there’s a kind of emptiness that happens, and the source of where something is coming from is unknown, even to me.”
We humans seek out wilderness places to connect with that “unknown” source-the same silence that is our natural inner state. But until the realization “I am that silence,” the journey never ends. The peace of emptiness exists only within the divine realization of I Am. You can’t find it, you can’t lose it. It simply is and it is revealed on the wings of grace.
The Silence Of Seeing and A Seer of Silence
A few years ago producer-director Ken Burns gave us the trilogy, “Seeing, Searching, Being,” a documentary on the life of artist/magazine publisher William Charles Segal (1904-2000) who saw the light in all things and within every individual. In the film, Segal, a follower of mystics G.I. Gurdjieff and Daisetsu Suzuki, describes what he sees when painting a still life. “I’m not doing anything,” he says. “When I’m still and listen, I begin to be in touch with a mysterious element that is within each of us, which transforms and shapes us, and can help transform the world.”
Cinema’s Clint Eastwood says the daily deep silence meditation he has practiced for over forty years is essential to his work; and at 84 he’s at the top of his game. In the words of late movie critic Roger Ebert, “the Clint Eastwood hero almost always does what he damn well pleases. His White Hunter, Black Heart is a movie about a man who does what he pleases, but it doesn’t make him a hero.”
This year’s highly acclaimed American Sniper is not a good-gun, bad-gun missive. It’s a tragedy about a professional soldier who becomes a hero to everyone but himself.
A few years ago U.S. Navy Seals were hailed as heroes when they took out a group of Somali pirates holding Captain Richard Philips hostage. Ditto, Osama bin Laden. Today critics snipe at the late Chris Kyle for having performed the same function. Somewhere in the murky mists of judgments lies the truth. As Shakespeare points out to us in Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Navy Seals perform with unimaginable courage, efficiency and a state of mind that borders on detachment. While working as a civilian in Vietnam I was in a village that was attacked by Vietcong. A Seal team came from out of nowhere and saved my life. Completely focused, they appeared to be on auto-pilot and in the moment. Amid the chaos my mind disengaged and time stopped for me as I witnessed the unfolding drama like a movie in slow motion. In real-time the rescue occurred in nanoseconds. Our assailants died; I’m still here.
According to the Sanskrit Hindu scriptures, Karma is your destiny; Dharma is the path of righteousness and living your life according to virtuous codes of conduct. I doubt many will wade through the 700 Verse Hindu scripture called the Bhagavad Gita, where the battlefield setting has been interpreted as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of human life-a union of the yoga of action with the yoga of transcendence of action. But there it is. When living in the present moment, the mind is empty and everything happens automatically.
“All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.”
– Eckhart Tolle