The Invisible Indivisible

(Alone into the Alone)

 

Published in Graeme Todd - Street Hermit (Galleria Alessandra Bonomo, Rome, 2018). Exhibition publication for exhibition of Graeme Todd's paintings.

 

 

The hermit disengages from society, alone. Traditionally, the artist is necessarily alone with his work, and particularly the painter, who must confront his canvas alone, a solitary figure facing the vastness of space. In this sense, the artist is a type of god, or even his replacement, containing the entire world in his mind. The lone pilgrim in the mountains is also an analogue for the lone god in the cosmos.

Jesus, as another type of god, went away for forty days in the wilderness, fasting and praying, to be finally preyed upon by the devil.[1] To find yourself alone in the wilderness is to find yourself confronting the limits of your perception - the sublime, if you like - becoming more keenly aware of the unpainted back of the canvas, the unseen shadow area. The Hebrew prophet Moses on Mount Sinai, seeking to see God, was only allowed to see his ‘back parts’:

 

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.[2]

 

Moses; one of the earliest known in a long line of solo mountaineer-mystics, scaling their respective mountains, holy and unholy. Climbing the mountain to (what?), then:

 

There, on a summit more pointed than the finest needle,

He who fills all space resides unto himself.

On high in the most rarefied air, where all freezes into stone,

The supreme and immutable crystal alone subsists.

Up there, exposed to the full fire of the firmament, where all is consumed in flame,

Subsists the perpetual incandescence.

There, at the centre of all creation is he

Who sees each thing accomplished in its beginning and its end.[3]

 

An analogue for the seer’s quest, penetrating far upwards with eyes aflame, beyond the realm of the seen and the known (the phenomenal world), to the nuomenal world; the back of the canvas that we will never see.

 

Or the trees and rocks may waver before his eyes and become transparent, revealing what creatures were hidden from him by the curtain, and he will know as the ancients did of dryad and hamadryad, of genii of wood and mountain. Or earth may suddenly blaze about him with supernatural light in some lonely spot amid the hills, and he will find he stands as the prophet in a place that is holy ground...[4]

 

To voluntarily go alone into the wilderness on this particular path, then, is to seek glimpses of this nuomenal realm; or to be more precise, to temporarily expand the realm of phenomena so that it eats into what were previously nuomena.

 

To become continuous with the rest of matter can be terrifying (it usually is), to apprehend the great whirring dynamo of being that swallows up all duality. This is what all of the lone mystics, hermits and ascetics seek. But if you open that particular door, take care to ensure that you close it after you.

 

Little by little, the subtle language of nature is learned. Amidst the roar of the diverse winds and breezes, shrieking din of torrents and rocks, the chattering of ancient trees, you discern signs and meanings, immutable symbols and delicate concepts.

 

What if there was no nature to revere, or to commune with, what if there was no self, as a kind of guide, to refer back to as the measure of all things – what if it was all an illusion, some kind of trick?  What if our lives were invalid, unrecorded, unremembered?

In this world of flows, everything enfolds and swallows, penetrates and embraces everything else, endlessly. Matter is marbled. All nature is devouring and digesting, an endless massacre is presented before us in any landscape that is characterised by living organisms. We do not notice this very often, that we are surrounded by a carnival of multiscalar slaughter. Is not the cosmos an ever-unfolding traumascape? What will be left when all matter devours itself, when the universe caves in on itself?

If humanity has become expert at anything in this world, it is the ability to divert itself from these glaring questions. Nowadays, as we know more about the way in which the universe differs so hugely in character and form from what our limited senses can detect, that we inhabit an insignificant, forgotten corner of an unimportant galaxy, we are diverted more than ever from any contact with the night sky, with nature or the land, or from having any spare time which would allow us to dwell on these fundamental questions of existence. Why do we divert our thoughts so? Is it because we would not be able to bear the realities that we would have to confront? When you are finally entirely alone, stare at yourself in the mirror for too long, become aware of the infinite gulfs behind your eyes, of the finite pulse and ebb of your blood that encases an infinity of plenitude, yet which is ultimately a nothingness. We are told that there are more synaptic connections in our brains than there are stars in the universe – well, is that a comfort, dear reader? Or is it perhaps terrifying to consider the emptinesses of space as you gaze upwards on a clear night from your cosy valley, your warmly lit cottage, or your brightly lit flat on a sleeping city street, and to realise that you are looking at one tiny corner of the vast empty spaces of your own mind? Is there anyone out there, way out in those deep fathoms of spacetime?

Is there anyone in there, inside the event-horizon of your own cranium? Who is he that gazes out from behind your eyes? Who is he who gazes down on you from those infinite vastnesses? He does not appear to be there, does he? If he is there, then he is hiding, occluded, hopefully just shy and not lurking spiderlike in the shadows with malefic intent.

It is difficult to keep looking – perhaps it is easier to keep looking up at the sky than to keep staring in the mirror. Just a glimpse – that is all we need. Where are we in this world that we have constructed for ourselves? Keep gazing at it, alone and wide-eyed, for as long as you can, and maybe you will begin to see through the distracting facade that we have built up around us, see into the ultimate reality, alone.

 

We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.[5]
 

The invisible indivisible lies at the source of our river, the tail of the serpent oureboros that we can never uncoil.

 

Don't believe A.E
See for yourself the summer fields
See for yourself the summer fields
Before the tractor comes and wakes you
Before the cereal is sown
Walk along on your own
Don't believe the guidebooks
See the glimmer on a wet stone surface
Be an idiot
Be yourself
Drink the dew
Drink the dew
[6]

 

Go alone into nature for a while, up along the riverbank, up and away to the source, on your own, and thence become aware in a primary sense the correlation between mind and matter.

It seems natural to us to assume that consciousness and the brain are inextricably linked, and are linked in such a way as to make the world appear to us as it does, and us appear to ourselves as we do – that is, as autonomous ‘selves’ whose self-identity depends on our memories, desires, fears, and hopes, together with the sensory data that endlessly stream into our brain from ‘outside’. Nobody knows how this connection is made, yet it is assumed that consciousness and brain are tied up together. How this consciousness of self happened in the past is not clear, and cannot apparently be determined by palaentology nor anthropology, nor can the moment when ‘matter’ became ‘nature’, or ‘living matter’.

 

The knower and the known seem to form a continuous relationship; they cannot be forced apart. In this sense, mind, consciousness (as the knower) and matter (as the known) are one and the same – a landscape we enter determines the patterns of our thoughts. Looking at it from the other side, we understand that the landscape has a ‘mind’ that forms our thoughts. In this sense, the world forms us as we form the world. All animals allow this relationship – as demonstrated by migratory salmon, geese, or housemartins, and on a deeper level, so do plants. We, too, apparently, once had this innate connection with the land, but it has been broken. This breaking, a kind of fall from grace, happened when we gained our godlike ‘superconsciousness’, which  paradoxically also caused us to be banished from the garden. The vast majority of our creation myths depict this fall from grace.

 

This fall from grace finds itself in microcosm when the mystic psychonaut prises himself apart from the chaosmos of nature in order to re-enter the gravitational pull of the ‘world’. The hermit or solo mystic is therefore not apart from the world as such, but is fundamentally immersed in it, seeking dissolution of the usual boundaries that separate us from things. When he returns, he is necessarily cutting himself off from it all, a fall from grace, yet again. The descent from the mount of transfiguration. We long to be back up there...

 

 

 

[1] Matthew 4, 1-11 Holy Bible

[2] Ibid. Exodus 33, v20-23

[3] René Daumal Mount Analogue (1952) (Penguin Metaphysical Library, 1974) p.55

[4] A.E.  Earth in The Candle of Vision (1919) (Coracle Press, 2008) p.171

[5] Herman Hesse Reflections (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1974) p.195

[6] Jhonn Balance  Bee Stings from Summer Solstice by Coil (Eskaton, 1998)