The Father Spirit
I walk casually through the kitchen, preparing a cup of tea, as my gaze is drawn to two photographs placed side by side. I am struck by the resemblance between my young son and deceased father. Who placed these pictures this way? Was it myself, and now have forgotten? Was it once a deliberate act? It is affecting, to say the least. They both stare into the camera, or rather through the camera, into me, and across time. That which animates is plainly present, especially in their eyes. Those of my father sparkle with presence, while those of my son seem eerily distant. Frozen now, looking upon these images, I am struck by the magnitude of what a life is, its majesty and grace. An old man, a young child, life begot by life, with myself the link between.
My son here is just departing that time of childhood marked by big mind, the unacculturated and pre-individuated condition that we are born into wherein the luminous quality of all phenomena is as yet unabstracted into conceptual detachment. We experience life directly, in all its largeness. But we cannot survive that way, not without the loving care of adults to guide and sustain us. So we learn, but this learning is a slip into forgetting. In labelling the chair and assigning its function by which it supports us, we come to concretize this reality, that is relative to perception and definition, as a singular truth. As we grow, we become absorbed in small preoccupations. How does my hair look? Do they like me? This is all okay, because this too is survival, in the social sphere that has become so tantamount in the modern age. We become culturally enmeshed, but eventually it is necessary to free ourselves from entrapment within these identifications. Do I think of myself as a rebellious outsider, or as a high-achieving businessman? Leather jackets and blue blazers are both essentially the same, though they signify differences, in that they are social memes enacted by persons, as first identified by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 publication The Selfish Gene. We do not truly enact these memes, but are enacted by them. We are like empty vessels filled up by culture, and what comprises that culture is memes, units of cultural information, pieces of identity. We identify as that content, the particles of our social-psychological selves, imprinted bits of self, but are instead the blank structure. We are the vessels. Various streams of Buddhist wisdom present this slightly differently, as they tell us that we are not the images reflected in the mirror, but the mirror itself, pure and unvarnished.
It seems, we are something still not fully understood. Perhaps no thing can be understood by another thing, but only altogether. In relative experience truth shifts with perspective. So life is a series of pretending, pretending to be what appears, a star soccer player, a drug addict, rather than what those features appear in. Even the label human being is not expansive enough. These are not who we truly are, for as they cease, we remain. Who we are is something greater: post-individuated. I see this in these pictures of my father and my son. I see their souls, if I can be indulged to call them that. The experience is beautiful, transcendent and beyond expression. But it is also banal, there in so everyday a thing as photos on a fridge.
My dad always liked to say that we should love the man, as we do the child. This is too true, as we are all children, and all too unforgiving toward those who most need help, just because we feel that their circumstances are their responsibility alone, as if all weren’t interdependent. This is one of the great curses of our age, but it is the age in which we live, and that we can only seek to remedy. It is this long view of time that these images connect me to. I see the ancient woven through grandfather and grandson, as it must also be woven through me, and I am awestruck. It cannot be conveyed.