This month's missal takes a look at William Blake, a visionary mystic of the late 18th to early 19th century. He was a major poet, profound thinker, and one of the most original English artists of any age. A visionary from childhood, Blake struggled to reproduce his visions in various forms, from painting and prose to handcolored etchings with poetic text.
Born in London in 1757, the son of a hosier, Blake was apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver, in 1772, where he learned much of the skills which would later come to fruit in his art. In 1782 he married Catherine Boucher, who would help him with his etching and art throughout his life. It is said that when she first saw Blake as he entered the room, the sight of him caused her to swoon. Blake's younger brother Robert was also to play an important role in his life. Robert died in 1787, devastating Blake. He later attributed his method of illuminated printing to his departed brother, saying Robert, soon after his death, showed Blake the technique in a dream. This painstaking method of etching, which he used in conjunction with hand coloring, is not completely understood. The most likely explanation is that he wrote the words and drew the pictures for each poem on a copper plate with a liquid impervious to acid, which was then applied, leaving the text and illustration in relief. Ink or a color wash was then used, with the printed picture finished by hand in watercolors.
I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception, but my senses discovered the infinite in every thing, and as I was then persuaded, and remain confirmed; that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.
Blake lived his life as a poor artisan, and was not recognized as a major poet until long after his death. Even though he was never a commercial success, he worked tirelessly right up until his death in 1827, convinced that mankind would profit from his efforts. Blake's final years, spent in great poverty, were cheered by the admiring friendship of a group of younger artists who gathered round him. He died in London, August 12, 1827.
" Is he honest who resists his genius or conscience only for the sake of present ease and gratification?
It can be said that while much of his poetry is rant, having no clear plot, rhyme or meter, his philosophy is timeless and succinct. One of his chief ideas was that of the duality of creation, the 'contraries', and how each was necessary for existence. He realized tension was necessary for creativity and spiritual progress. Alfred Kazin
writes in his introduction to The Portable Blake,
" Blake realized that the triangulation of opposites led to an understanding on a higher plane; a Holy Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This spiritual Union of Energy and Reason creates a higher order born from the tension of the Contraries, leading us back Home from whence we came. Blake was...a mystic who reversed the mystical pattern, for he sought man as the end of his search.
" Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys reason. Evil is the active springing from energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
All Bibles or sacred codes, have been the causes of the following errors:
1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body and a Soul.
2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body, and that Reason, called Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True.
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight. "
- from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
is both a humorous satire on
religion and a work that expresses his essential philosophy. Through his 70 aphorisms, The Proverbs of Hell
he reveals the depth of his understanding of both mysticism and psychology:
Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
Where man is not, nature is barren.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
Opposition is true friendship.
Enough, or too much!
Blake believed that the inner world of his visions were of a higher order than that of physical reality, and that ideals should be taken from that world of inner vision rather than from the world of matter. His work again and again tells of how energy, that which springs first from the unmanifest, is primary to that which later constrains and inhibits, which Blake called reason. Much of this reflects the time in which he worked, that of Victorian England, a time when restraint was king, and freedom restrained.
"Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire."
Through all his rant and raving, Blake seems to have kept a sense of humor, and never compromised his vision to fit the demands of health and wealth, remaining poor until his end. In an attempt to ground him in necessity, his wife is said to have once set an empty plate before him for dinner, trying to pull him out of his inner world long enough to put bread on the table. It probably didn't work.
"The inquiry in England is not whether a man has talents and genius, but whether he is passive and polite and a virtuous ass and obedient to noblemen's opinions in art and science. If he is, he is a good man. If not, he must be starved."
All quotes unless indicated - William Blake
- Related Sites -
The William Blake Archive: "
A hypermedia archive sponsored by the Library of Congress. Over the course of two centuries, respect for the prints, paintings, and poems of William Blake has increased to a degree that would have astonished his contemporaries. Today both his poetry and visual art in several media are admired by a global audience. In the broadest terms, the William Blake Archive is a contemporary response to the needs of this dispersed and various audience of readers and viewers and to the corresponding needs of the collections where Blake's original works are currently held." The best site for viewing Blake's original works. http://www.blakearchive.org/main.html
Tricks and Traps
Trap: remaining unconscious of our dominant decision-making process, either thinking or feeling. Most of us are heavily weighted to one or the other, and equally oblivious of it. To illustrate how this trap works, let's take a person who is feeling-based. One afternoon, they decide to quit eating donuts. This decision is feeling-based, meaning they felt it to be good idea from an emotional reaction regarding the negative consequences of continuing the behavior. They don't feel good about the behavior because fear, let's say, has entered the picture. They decide to stop. Then, the secondary function, thinking, comes in and rationalizes the decision in order to bring verbal thought in line with it: " They make me gain weight, they cost money, I need discipline, I need to cut back on the sugar", etc. This is the main clue that their thinking is secondary: it is only used as a rationalizing tool for the already made feeling-based decision. This is best seen when the flip-flop occurs the next morning. The urge, or positive feeling, to have a donut now outweighs the previous day's emotion, and the decision is made to eat one. Then the thinking processes come in and rationalize why: "I can do what I want, I'll start exercising, I won't have one tomorrow, nobody will know," etc. This thinking is directly the opposite of the previous days, but this doesn't matter when the feeling or desire is primary. This feeling-based system alone is a wobbly, painfully slow way to walk through life.
This one sided trap can be seen in thinking-based people, too. In them, the decision is based on rigid rules of logic, and then reinforced with the emotions. If the situation dictates that the thinking should change, the feelings will arise to support the decision to stick with the old rules, regardless. This can be seen in literalists who fall back on unbending rules for all decisions, and then use the feelings to support them in their foolishness. One will encounter many head-on collisions with brick walls on this path.
Trick: Understanding can only occur when both of these functions, thinking and feeling, occur together in a marriage of reason and emotion. Each should be used to check on the other, forming a system of discernment, rather than thinking being only a rationalizing tool for desires and fears, and feeling only an emotional support for literalism.
Together, they can form understanding and find the truth, enabling us to walk the walk, steady and sure; apart, they breed strange creatures as varied as the wishy-washy flip flopper and the unfeeling monster of fanaticism.
and this month's comic below.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
- William Blake
from 'Auguries of Innocence'
What Do You Love?
" If a thing loves, it is infinite." - William Blake
Progress on the spiritual path can be thought of in terms of value, or love. What is most important to us is what we value the most, what we really love. The path of self-discovery can be seen in these terms. We observe ourselves, and discover what our true motivations are, leading us to see what we value. Another way to see this is by checking our fact status. What we actually do everyday tells us much about what we value, and perhaps shows us the gap between our personal storyline and our actions. If this fact checking and self-observation are carried far enough, we may begin to get a look at something called our 'self' or personality, and begin to see its illusive nature. We may be forced to admit to its exalted status as our real true love, despite our ego's protestations to the contrary. Using this shock as further fuel for the search, we become a bit more honest in our future assessments. If self-inquiry is carried even further, through this process of elimination we may find something more real to love than this 'self'. Back beyond our mind's motion, something still and silent lies. If you find a love of truth, rather than fiction, it may take you there.
Finding this still-point depends largely on our state of satisfaction with our beloved 'self'. If this state becomes one of dissatisfaction, we have the incentive to look for something more stable. Hearing from others that have gone before that there is something somewhere 'within', and that it is worth any effort to find it, also adds to our incentive. By looking at what we love, we can come to love the truth, and find there is something worthwhile inside us other than mind-motion and change. Let's take a look at how this path might turn out, and some of the pitfalls and signposts along the way from love of 'self', to Love Itself.
We hear of this so-called still-point, called by such names as silence, stillness, the center, the Source, what we really are, etc., and wonder. If our intuition is not clouded by the dissipations of relentless pleasure seeking and the resultant fear, we may discover a longing, a nostalgia deep within that tells us we may have once known this silence, and still love it more than we might know. This longing is fed too, perhaps, by being tired of the jostling effects of life, its traumas and endless no-win scenarios, leading to death and dissolution.
So, we read the books and search the Internet, finding many who tell of the way back to this stillness. They vary from the intellectual work of Hubert Benoit
, to the practical experiments of Douglas Harding
. We find the paths back to this center also called by many names: 'the inner movement', 'self-remembering', a 'double-pointed arrow of attention, one directed in, one out', 'observing the observer', or 'looking back at what we are looking out of'. Many speak of 'silence', and even the many forms of silence. From this information alone, we may not come any closer to really knowing this still-point, but if we persist in looking, we may get lucky and discover much that it is not. We begin to see that it cannot be something of the mind, for we find the mind is motion. We may be fooled into thinking that the stillness is something we can manufacture, that it's found only in ashrams or monasteries, or that we can force it onto the relative world through controlling the environment. Or we may decide to create it within by controlling our mind, forcing it to think only what we have been told we should think, and discover that this too is folly.
When the still-point is finally reached, even if only for a moment, it is unmistakable. If we have allowed ourselves to hone our intuition and clear our thinking, we will find that this silent place within is not just a concept, but very real. The movement necessary to turn our attention back away from the outer and inner movies of the mind and senses is found to be also something real, and not a thought or concept at all. We find too, that we forget, and are carried back into the mind at every instant. But if our love for the silence is true, it will turn us back into it again and again, provided our previous experience with the mind and its motion has been enough, or too much.
This is where what we value or really love comes in. If our meaning is taken from the changing scene of the relative world, we will keep our attention directed towards it. We will turn away from the silence within, and our longing will be for the excitement and changes of the mind. We may declare our love for the center, but our attention will long for the agony and ecstasy of the world of form. Boredom with silence too, means our value has not yet moved inward from the world to truth, but remains trapped by the colorful kaleidoscope of the mind, and the energy releases of the body.
This part of the journey is a journey within. We retreat from our former love for motion and change, and move inwards toward simplicity and truth. After the still-point has been found, and correctly valued, our attention is then turned round, and we begin a new phase, one of our new love being tested. While we continue to hold a part of our gaze on the still-point, it being what we really are, we also turn round and engage in the world of action. This is to test our love, to see if the trials and tribulations of the outer world can knock us off course, and change our point of reference. If we come back to the center, time and time again, during and despite every trial, we find we are becoming less of the world and more of the silence. In any situation in life, no matter how difficult or how often we forget, if we eventually return to the still-point as our anchor, we find we are becoming one with it. We become that which we love.
- Quotes of the Month -
" As a man is, so he sees.
" When the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite.
" Do what you will, this world's a fiction and is made up of contradiction.
" I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.
" I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.
" God appears, and God is Light, to those poor souls who dwell in Night; but does a Human Form display to those who dwell in realms of Day. " - William Blake
" He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." - Rafael Sabatini
" One of the most useful factors in the conditioning of a man is praise.
Training by means of praise has the following advantages: it makes the object of praise dependent, it creates an addict, and it increases productivity. Long before man is in a position to choose his own way of life, he will have formed the necessary addiction to praise. For man, who was brought up to be proud and honorable, every working day is merely an endless series of humiliations." - Esther Vilar
" Death is a tragedy ... but only for the living. We who have died go on to other things."- Charles de Lint
When a Man has married a Wife he finds out whether her knees & elbows are only glued together. - William Blake
If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life. - Brooke Shields
Copyright 2003 - 2004 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.