“And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.”*
I wonder whether there are three basic forms of knowledge: general, specific, and deeper.
General knowledge is what we are picking up throughout our lives, it includes everything we take in from the people and world around us; its higher forms includes reading and writing and numeracy.
Then there is specific knowledge made up of the kind of information and skills which we apply to life in roles and and careers.
Deeper knowledge is when all of the general and specific knowledge is brought together into something that embracers the complexity and perplexity of ourselves and others and our relationships with all things, through space and time.
What Ursula Le Guin expresses in the opening words for today suggests to me a way of touching our deeper knowing: where the physical and spiritual (non-physical) meet and define each other.
Philosopher Rebecca Goldstyn captures something of this when she claims:
“a person whose one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world”.**
Maria Popova brings out how important our mortality is for understanding ourselves and others, claiming:
‘it is death that illuminates the full spectrum of our beauty’.^
Perhaps it is for our knowledge too that death with be the definer. Le Guin tells of the beauty of her mother’s life beyond her painful experience with cancer of the spleen:
“I see her rocking, weeding, writing, laughing — I see the turquoise bracelets on her delicate, freckled arm — I see, for a moment, all that at once, I glimpse what no mirror can reflect, the spirit flashing out across the years, beautiful.
That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep.”*
In the presence of such beauty we might reflect how, for all there is so much general knowledge and even specific knowledge, it can be skin-deep compared to the deeper knowledge that creates life as a work of art.
We cannot go back. We cannot unknow. There’s only forwards.
I read more from Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, as she identifies what she names the “nostalgia of the young”:
‘We have seen young people walk the halls of their schools composing messages to online acquaintances they will never meet. We have seen them feeling more alive when connected, then disoriented and alone when they leave their screens. Some live more than half their waking hours in virtual places. But they also talk wistfully about letters, face-to-face meetings, and the privacy of pay phones. Tethered selves, they try to conjure a future different from the one they see coming by building on a past they never knew. In it, they have time alone, with nature, with each other, and with their families.’^^
Here is an illusion of deep knowledge. At the same time, Alex McManus senses that we are deepening our knowledge at least in knowing something is wrong and we’re trying too put it right – whoever right means:
‘Yes, we are broken, but at the same time we are awakening to our brokenness.’*^
It is to be seen whether our burgeoning personal technology will help or hinder us. At the moment it seems we do not know how to live with it, Alan Lightman describing the world it offers as a prison:
‘I believe I have lost something of my inner self. By inner self I mean that part of me that imagines, that dreams, that explores, that is constantly questioning who I am and what is important to me. My inner self is m true freedom. My inner self roots me to me, and to the ground beneath me. The sunlight and soil that nourish my inner self are solitude and personal reflection. When I listen to my inner self, I hear the breathing of my spirit. Those breaths are so tiny and delivcate, I need stillness to hear them, I need aloneness to hear them. I need vast, silent spaces in my mind. Without the breathing and the once of my inner self, I am a prisoner of the world around me. Worse than a prisoner, because I do not know what has been taken away from me, I do not know who I am.’^*
There’s a deeper knowing in all of us waiting to be discovered.
I have spoken many times of the power of Michelangelo’s unfinished statues for me, four huge figures straining to be released from their prison of stone.
Irving Stone’s Michelangelo, in his biographical novel The Agony and the Ecstasy is asked, “How did you make that astonishing figure of Night?”:⁺
“I had a block of marble in which was concealed that statue which you see there. The only effort involved is to take away the tiny pieces which surround it and prevent it from being seen. For anyone know how to do this, nothing could be easier.”⁺
This same sense of knowing lies in Carl Jung’s remark:
“The treasure lies in the depths of the water.”⁺⁺
Philip Newell, who is quoting Jung, reflects how:
‘When Jung speaks of our consciousness, he is referring to what we already know, to what we are aware of or fully conscious of. By the unconscious, on the other hand, he is referring to what we do not yet know or what we have forgotten. He is pointing to that vast realm of unknowing, the the world upon worlds within us that have yet to emerge into the light of awareness.’⁺*
A life-deep wisdom is waiting to emerge.
(*Ursula Le Guin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Ageing and What Beauty Really Means.)
(**Rebecca Goldstyn, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Ageing and What Beauty Really Means.)
(^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Ageing and What Beauty Really Means.)
(^^From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(*^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire – eBook version.)
(^*From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(⁺The protagonist Michelangelo, in Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy.)
(⁺⁺Carl Jung , quoted in Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(⁺*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)