Signs of two directions, two worlds, the outer and the inner, exoteric and esoteric. And the bridge between. Where and how does a person find spirit? For me, it’s like this: looking into the outer, going inside for the unique grain, the symbolic fingerprint, playing into the crossing, purifying, polishing, praying. It’s dedicated and reflected engagement of the kind I’m finding and making in this back-porch project, part two.
Why this fascination, some might say “obsession,” with realizing symbolic activity in what could be taken as simple matter? In this case, what’s the value of elaborating on the grain and knots in a plank of wood in the decking? Why photograph and write about this? Why connect it with spiritual text?
To respond, I might first step back to firmer footing. The broader question begins with the sense that cues importance: when is anything worth doing? Given limited time and other resources, where is the “go” signal (as well as the “no”) that guides selection and engagement. While doing the pro/con chart can be helpful, I’m relying more on an almost inarticulate sense; maybe the cue comes in the language of the heart. The best way I know to explain is through examples:
1. I’m convinced that enthusiasm tops the chart of Good Teaching. Although my certainty could be contested, about five decades of personal experience in teaching convinces me; this is also reinforced by reviews of published research on the study of teaching.
2. I’m also convinced of the importance of resonance as a key to teaching with stories. When a person feels the resonance between a story and his/her inner being, a signal is presented saying: This is the place!
3. In midlife, I discovered the need to invest in experiences with horses. When I’d find myself sorely in need of revitalization, I learned to spend the time and money for natural horsemanship because it provided energy for the physical, mental, and other demands of life.
The three cases point to sensing the source for vitality. Stories sometimes call it the water of life. Concerning the back-porch project, I was very surprised that this dreaded task offered a water-of-life opportunity. It was a doorway or bridge that I could easily missed. Sometimes the signal is very subtle and this one presented in a blip of fascination. I recognized a slight zing that had sufficient affinity to the scent of the water of life I’d learned to trust in cases like the three named just above. Following the invitation, I invested more willingly and expectantly as I cleaned the wood plank, then photographed the knots in appreciation of their beauty, and further explored this phenomenon as a symbolic bridge between the mundane and the divine through readings, meditating, and writing.
The whole back-porch-project thing gives me a stepping stone for stretching toward a dream. I’m aware that I may be “off” and that I might come to realize I’m going the wrong way on this. That’s ok because then I’ll try a different approach. The dream/goal is to move further into the Real. I’m treating the back-porch project as a practicum for teachings such as those in Corbin’s Alone with the Alone. From this, for example, the almost invisible bridge between the worlds comes more into view; and I’m building understanding of how the act of interpretation (hermeneutics) makes the bridge.
when a thing manifested to the senses or the intellect calls for a hermeneutics (ta’wil) because it carries a meaning which transcends the simple datum and makes that thing a symbol, this symbolic truth implies a perception on the plane of the active Imagination. The wisdom which is concerned with such meanings, which makes things over as symbols and has as its field the intermediate world of subsisting Images, is a wisdom of light (hikmat nuriya), typified in the person of Joseph, the exemplary interpreter of visions. (page 190)
Corbin elaborates on the meaning and purpose of Active Imagination and takes my breath away with the connection to Story:
This imagination can be termed “illusory” only when it becomes opaque and loses its transparency. But when it is true to the divine reality it reveals, it liberates . . . The function [of Active Imagination is] effecting a coincidentia oppositorum . . This manifestation is neither perceptible nor verifiable by the sensory faculties; discursive reason rejects it. It is perceptible only by the Active Imagination (Hadrat al-Khayal), the imaginative “Presence” or “Dignity,” the Imaginatrix) at times when it dominates man’s sense perceptions, in dreams or better still in the waking state (in the state characteristic of the gnostic when he departs from the consciousness of sensuous things). In short, a mystic perception (dhawq) is required. To perceive all forms as epiphanic forms (mazahir), that is, to perceive through the figures which they manifest and which are the eternal hexeities, that they are other than the Creator and nevertheless that they are He, is precisely to effect the encounter, the coincidence, between God’s descent toward the creature and the creature’s ascent toward the Creator. The “place” of this encounter is not outside the Creator-Creature totality, but is the area within it which corresponds specifically to the Active Imagination, in the manner of a bridge joining the two banks of a river. The crossing itself is essentially a hermeneutics of symbols (ta’wil, ta’bir), a method of understanding which transmutes sensory data and rational concepts into symbols (mazahir) by making them effect this crossing./ An intermediary, a mediatrix: such is the essential function of the Active Imagination. ..The intellect (aql) cannot replace it. . . it [Active Imagination] is also the place where all “divine history” is accomplished, the stories of the prophets, for example, which have meaning because they are theophanies; whereas on the plane of sensory evidence on which is enacted what we call History, the meaning, that is, the true nature of those stories, which are essentially “symbolic stories,” cannot be apprehended. (from pages 188-90)
I think Corbin’s meaning of Active Imagination extends well beyond the work I’m doing with cleaning planks and entering a bridge to “beauty” through the engagement with knots. But this might be a bit of practice. I didn’t find a way to integrate authentic passion into my teaching in the first years or decades, and learning to ride in natural horsemanship extended far beyond those first lessons. But a person has to get on the horse.