In the earliest part of his life, a would-be-human sees everything as a marvel. He wonders what it is, and what significance it may have. With deadly speed, however, he learns to label what he sees. And these labels accrue ‘meaning’, which is to say they link to other labels and memories. Through this process, the labels acquire personal meaning and significance: positive or negative emotion, relating to a central concept or label of “I”. They also get linked to language, so that the growing ‘person’ can negotiate with others. And thus the early sense of wonder gets muted and ‘mastered’. Knowing overtakes being.
If the would-be-person is lucky, they will retain some of their wonder – in spite of the labels. They will, in the course of their life, stumble upon that feeling, at unpredictable times: times when the labels stop and the understanding that a label is just a label emerges. If they are unlucky, they will learn a whole new system of labels, called ‘authorised science’. They may never again be able to see flowing water without that system of labels flooding their mind. In the language of the philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, one who loses all labels and just basks in wonder is a ‘stupid saint’, while one who has a label for everything is a ‘weak Yogi’.
We call people ‘saints’ when their being is infused by the ’emanations’ of the universe. That very being triggers our own memories of wonder at what lies all around us. It probably also triggers labels that we use for the mystical, but that’s because we are not yet saints, ourselves. But a saint who merely lives in tune with ‘grand nature’, without understanding it, is missing an even deeper communion.
Likewise, we call people whose knowledge seems intuitive – such that the inner workings of everything are revealed to them – a ‘Yogi’ (or, in the language of the West, perhaps a ‘natural scientist’). They, too, trigger our wonder, at the way they can see deep into the world, where we have to rely on our incomplete labels and imagination. But the Yogi who only ‘objectifies’ their insight, without living it, is also missing a deeper communion. Although knowledge may live for him (or her), it becomes only labels when it touches others.
Gurdjieff once, famously said, “Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West, and then seek.” The West, in his time, was ahead of the world in mastering knowledge – science – but still lived with the very primitive being of the hunter-gatherer. Little has changed, there. The East, by contrast, had been through thousands of years of civilisation, and saw the nature of ‘spirit’ much more clearly than the West. Little has changed there, either, except to copy the ways of the West. Of course, both were producing weak Yogis and stupid saints – and still do.
Knowledge becomes understanding through contact with Being. Likewise, Being becomes deeper, richer and more inclusive through fusion with Knowledge. Yes, the universe is indeed ‘poetry in motion’, but it is so much more than even clever labels can convey. Energy expresses itself though matter, and matter is only energy in cyclic stability. Likewise for Being and Knowledge; knowledge is only frozen snapshots of being, in cyclic stability.
Of course, one can live the life of a tribal hunter-gatherer – or that of the ‘civilised’ man – without absorbing anything new: content in the sufficiency of one’s labels. Or one can seek to re-kindle the sense of wonder, and the certainty of not knowing, yet. And if one does, that last, little word is very important. We will have to start with our labels, but we can try to make them vibrate with reality, and not just be safe harbours for stale knowledge. It is our nature to make labels, just as it is the nature of the universe to make matter. But there is a vibrant dance in nature, and that dance can live in us, too.
Featured image from Shutterstock: artwork by Tim Kats.