The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 2015 – Vol. 17 Issue 12
The food of human progress is experience. Like food for our bodies, it must be taken in, digested, the vital components absorbed, and the waste thrown off. For billions of years humanity, unconsciously to most of us, has been feeding itself experiences of every kind, spiritual, mental, physical, from which the good has been assimilated and the waste elements cast aside. Any disturbance of this process in our physical body brings illness and suffering. When this occurs, antibodies go to work to try to overcome the diseased cells and restore natural equilibrium. These antibodies have acquired their unique ability through eons of evolutionary training so that they perform their task automatically in the right way, when and where they are needed.
As we raise our thought to the higher levels of awareness, we recognize the tremendous implications of our self-conscious determination to evolve through the proper use of individual free will. We realize that the full responsibility of discrimination falls squarely upon the shoulders of every man and woman to select what "experience-food" to take in, not merely to maintain the status quo but to advance in inner strength and health. As intelligent and self-conscious units in the body corporate of mankind, we have the continuing choice of aligning our forces with the progressive qualities of nature or, if we prefer, with the disintegrative elements that work to vitiate every true evolutionary impulse. We have also the choice of preparing ourselves to become, in time, an alert and active antibody in the life-stream of human affairs.
One might ask, "But how can I, one among billions, consciously help the cause of progress? How can I within the burdens of my day contribute something worthwhile to the upbuilding of human character?" If we return to our analogy, we find the single cell contributing, within the burdens of its “day,” its full share of vitality, and this in spite of the impingements upon it of many types of germs. We, likewise, amid the complexities of our lives must try consciously to distill from the flow of day-to-day experiences those qualities that build, and reject those that tend to tear down.
"But this requires greater moral stamina than I possess!" With this I cannot agree. True, no one can perform to perfection, but all of us can perform far beyond our self-limited comprehension. It is a sobering thought to realize that you and I, as individual units in this great army of humankind, each with our destined responsibilities, can and do affect the whole nature of mankind (and by so much the future of the human race) with our every thought and feeling. If one cell in our constitution malfunctions, our entire body feels it; and when a number of cells fail to cooperate with the over-all purpose of growth and instead work for their own limited interests, we have the beginning of a malignancy which, if not checked, can bring on serious disease and possible death.
What then can we do about the present global crisis, where we have daily evidence of individuals and groups not only causing themselves unnecessary difficulties but who, by their blind and self-centered actions, are bringing anguish and unrest to the whole of mankind? We are one world, in consciousness and in actuality, and we cannot cut ourselves off by saying "that is not my problem" and go about our business as usual, forgetting our responsibilities as easily as we forget the daily headlines. On the other hand, we can become so over-disturbed by the doings of this or that distant group that we not only end up being no help at all, but we may, by our own distraction, actively bring harm to the very ones who are near us and for whom we do have a direct obligation.
There is always the "middle way" which embraces the larger view and recognizes that there is not one spark of life that does not contribute some measure of good or ill to the growth and progress of every other life-spark; and that because of this unceasing and universal interchange of energy-impulses each person’s supreme duty is to reorient himself – to re-learn that the inmost center of his potential is one with the inmost centers of his fellow men and women. Once we comprehend that all "others" are in truth ourselves, we come to intuit more clearly the warp and woof of destiny that binds us all together in this living fabric of human souls. We reach then that deeper quality of understanding and compassion, knowing that through the pains of growth nature is compelling us to decisive spiritual action.
It is my firm belief that civilization today is exhibiting a higher degree of moral fortitude than in any previous era. Otherwise how account for the unprecedented and wide-spread resolve of peoples everywhere to find a better way of life and to grow in a freedom of spirit unshackled by an outgrown psychology of conformity. It is indeed an enormous step forward to realize that the effects of our thinking and feeling cannot remain with us alone but must, by the universal law of attraction and repulsion, affect all the other billions of human beings. To the degree that we, in our respective corners of the globe, can become aware of our universal value and our essentiality to the whole, to that degree will the inner bond between us and our divine source find positive expression through our lives. We will by so much have become stronger elements in the soul of mankind – purifying antibodies in human society. – James A. Long
How little we observe of the uniqueness that is nature. Our awareness, skipping from one object to the next, fails to detect the patterns and intricate relations that go to form our great Mother. One tree or wave or insect looks to us like innumerable others, and only those willing to give themselves in total concentration are initiated into her secrets and come to recognize her distinctive fingerprints, inner and outer.
In all ages such direct knowledge of any aspect of nature has been the hard-won prize of a disciplined elect. Such extended study and close observation forms the basis of Pacific Island navigation. The system of each archipelago had its own particular features, but all centered around the stars, sun, clouds, currents, birds and waves. While many island peoples have now lost their nautical traditions, Caroline and Marshall Islanders continue to practice theirs, which also are studied and recorded by scholars.
All Pacific Islanders used the orientation of ocean swells to help steer at night or in overcast weather, but Marshall Islanders used navigation by ocean swells much more extensively. Their method has died out, as a 1978 interview in the Los Angeles Times with Marshall Islander Tarkwon, then 78, foreshadowed. "It was mainly the waves – but also the stars, the clouds, the currents, the winds, the birds, the gods and magic," he said. Each wave, "east, west, south, north," has a name, and navigators read them as we would read a nautical chart. Tarkwon explained further: “Each island sends back a different wave, a different swell. Waves bend around the islands and atolls like the whorls in fingerprints. Waves bounce off landfalls. We navigators know every wave pattern, know every island by the waves of each island. Put me anywhere on any ocean as far from land as you can get and I will find land on the quickest, shortest path.
“All my life I feel the waves in my body. I feel the waves here with every breath I take. I feel the waves in my dreams.
“We navigators ourselves built and supervised construction of our canoes – outrigger canoes 30 to 40 feet long. Before [my] time my people had canoes more than 100 feet long. It took over a year to make a canoe. My cutting tools to carve the breadfruit logs were the cutting edges of the mouths of huge clams sharpened on rocks in the surf. . . .
“The navigators' wisdom was handed down, generation to generation, to a chosen few. These secrets we kept to our-selves. We navigators were looked up to by other islanders. For we alone knew the sea. “We always made it, one island to the next. The waves never let us down. We were never lost at sea. . . .
“It is really sad. Sailing by the old way, sailing by the waves, is a lost art.
“Our skills as navigators took years to learn. The older navigators looked hard and long and sometimes for years to find their successor, a young boy, to take to sea to learn the waves, to tell the secrets of the sea.
“It took years to learn the wave patterns, to learn how to catch the right wave to where you were going.
“After my generation it became much easier to use the compass and the sextant. Nobody wanted to take the time to learn the sea as I did when I was young and as all those other navigators did who came before me.”
Such has been the fate of many traditional systems of knowledge, handed on from adept to pupil until no appropriate and willing students could be found to carry on the wisdom of a lifetime, and of collective lifetimes. Once this fragile tapestry of thought and experience has disappeared, we can only look with wonder on the accomplishments of those cultures. Failing to understand the means of their success, we doubt whether such feats were more than the stuff of legend or postulate unlikely ways in which the results might be attained. Fortunately, it seems that both people in traditional cultures and foreign students are taking a greater interest in preserving such heritages before their last guardians die out.*
While for some cultures, languages, and techniques it is too late, what remains is an inspiration for all of us. What new windows on the world are opened with each fresh realization that nature's subtle signatures can be recognized, read and stored in human minds and hearts. It may be, too, that this knowledge of what can be done may help us catch the right wave to where we are going.
*We the Navigators by David Lewis (1972) is a fascinating introduction to this subject. “Nautical Cartography and Tradi-tional Navigation in Oceania” by Ben Finney (in The History of Cartography, 1998) explains Caroline and Marshall Island navi-gation in some detail and includes many helpful charts and illustrations (also at http://press.uchicago.edu/books/HOC/HOC_V2_B3/HOC_VOLUME2_Book3_chapter13.pdf).