I love me some Treatises1.
I love me some Jesus breakin’ it down,
makin’ that holy road clear.
I love me some Truth expo-zishuns!
I love me some brotherly tutelage,
some way pointin’,
some little bing-bang dose of reality checkin’.
I do, I do, I do–
I do love me some Treat-sies…
* * * * *
1In the second book of A Course of Love there are four Treatises, the first of which is entitled “A Treatise on the Art of Thought.” The first time I read these particular offerings I bored through them like a hydraulic-powered, diamond-tipped drill rig cutting through frozen tundra. This is what you do, after all, when just hours before, in a far more desperate version of yourself that was flying over a particular swath of unexplored terrain in a sputtering helicopter equipped with state of the art, second-hand geological x-ray devices, necromancing paraphernalia, and other treasure-hunting apparatuses, you discovered to your considerable surprise a big huge X marks the spot engraved into a a few hundred square acres of real estate, along with a note on a stone tablet laying on the ground right at the vertex– a note signed by your own heart, oddly enough– that says Drill here, Mac. When you encounter revelations of this order of magnitude, certain safety procedures, long-tested customs of geotechnical investigation, and rules of personal decorum are indiscreetly nullified.
Two years later, now that I have finally gotten the drilling fluid, sprayed dirt and bulletized caribou dung off of my safety glasses and nearly completely rehabilitated my trigger finger, I realize I may have– may have— not availed myself of all the life-affirming, eternity-beckoning, suffering-and-delusion-conquering content that was deposited there. Lucky for us, when you read with such reckless abandon, you don’t actually rip the words right off the page, so you can, in point of fact, glean enough of the idea to get yourself going, and then go back and review them once again in light of all that has occurred in your life since that first tumultuous encounter.
So, relatively recently I had the exquisitely good fortune of reading A Treatise on the Art of Thought for what was likely the fourth or fifth (hundred) time. I kind of knew it hadn’t fully computed the first time I had read it, but over time had become pretty convinced it had in fact rubbed off on me quite substantially. Then, after six or eight weeks of professional gang-bustering with an intensity and a magnitude that had narrowed my cardio-cognitive wherewithal down to a single pixel, I read it again and walked out of the room feeling like a human who had just hatched from an egg.
You know the difference between the moment when you encounter a beautiful idea, and it rings your heart like a bell, and the moment when you realize you had the whole thing backwards, and it is your own nature that was sounding the idea in the first place? And pretty soon you realize it’s a breath of insight, flowing in and out of your like the tides? If not, you will. If so, thank you for standing by me during all those presumptuous eons.
The Art of Thought is both parts simultaneously– allowing oneself to be rung by every single experience in a beautiful way, and simultaneously recognizing that you are a bell uniquely suited and desiring to ring beautifully into every single experience. We get our bells rung (by grace). We ring back, for we are bells (of grace). And then of course, as we all start allowing ourselves to ring, in the lovely tapestry of sound that emerges, we clue in: oh(!), this entire tapestry of sound, all of that is who I Am. And then you starting ringing right along, naturally and without forethought, with all sorts of delightful tones and harmonics tailored specifically to the instant in which you find yourself.
Now, maybe you can see: you can’t ring like that by thinking about how you should be ringing all the time. You can’t ring like that by constructing ring models out of your past experience and worldly knowledge so that you can predict how best to ring to impact the experience in ways that you also thought long and hard about being the best and highest good ways of impacting it. It’s already too late by then, and you’ll botch it anyway. And you can’t ring like that by having pre-tested rules about what types of rings to offer in certain situations. All of that… is how we used to roll…
The Art of Thought begins with hatching from an egg and discovering you don’t need to upgrade your bell to a newer model, or fix any of its cracks, or hold it differently when the time comes. The Art of Thought begins by appreciating the fact that you were created by the same Bell Maker who created the sunset that rang you last night, and that as such you are equally a majestic and endless gift given to all beings. I daresay we may feel differently and respond differently, were we to enter the room knowing we are each the warmth and mystery of a sunset turned loose upon the world.
How do you tell a sunset it’s not doing it right? How do you even think that? How or why then, would we ever apply such logic to ourselves? Well, you wouldn’t, after you realize and accept the nature of your Self and the nature of the sunset are the same. This appreciation is the Art of Thought. Jesus acknowledges that we are thinking beings, but that does not mean we have to come up with all the thoughts– or even could if we wanted to. The really, really good thoughts are given, the way water is given to a river, the way a rung bell reminds us we are all bells ringing. Through the Art of Thought, we can come to realize and experience this.
(Mmmm-mm! I do love me some Treatises…)