"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first
... Thomas Stearns "TS" Eliot, Four Quartets #4: Little
Gidding, circa 1942
On Knowing The Place For The First Time,
is the companion piece to
I am indebted to Hermann Hesse and to Mary Murray who inspired this
When I first met her, she was delightful company. By that I don't mean
she was delightful company only when I first met her, and
then she stopped being delightful company later. No, I
mean her company was particularly delightful when I first met her, more
so than anyone else I knew at the time. She was like a tall, frosty
glass of ice cold water waiting for me in the middle of the Sahara
Everything about her was unaffected and spontaneous. Life was clear for
her. I enjoyed that quality. Unlike hers, my life seemed ... well ...
complicated. I had just started my university studies.
Everything was up for grabs. Everything was up in the air.
Everything. I liked walking on the beach with her early in the
morning. I would vent (I can hear it even now, not without a certain
amount of embarrassment - you know, I had it on automatic)
all my complications, all my concerns, all my worries. She, on the
other hand, didn't seem concerned or worried about anything.
It was a way of being which fascinated me. Although she listened to me
venting (I could say although she humored me venting), she
shared nothing similar with me. That wasn't because she was
withholding. It was because her life was the epitome of
un-complication. Really it was.
But there would come a time when, in spite of the generosity of her
listening, I had been complaining non-stop for too long. Then she would
take my hand in hers, and suggest "Why don't you just listen to the
ocean for a while Laurence?" - which I did. The effect was dramatic: I
stopped being frantic immediately.
"How does she get to be this way?" I wondered, listening to her, taking
her advice - which always worked. Soon, "How does she / he get to be
this way?" became a fundamental inquiry of mine whenever, later in
life, I found myself in the company of great people whose qualities I
admire, people whose qualities (whether I understood them or not) I
What You See Is What You Get
When I followed her suggestion "Why don't you just listen to the ocean
for a while Laurence?", it gave me an experience of being grounded.
With it, I keyed in to the world around me, the physical
world, the real world. Instead of allowing my
complications, my concerns, and my worries to dictate my equilibrium,
with a simple shift of
I began to allow what's already here in the world to be my
balance, my focus. Sometimes this wasn't always possible. Sometimes
complications, concerns, and worries got the better of me anyway (many
times, actually, to tell the truth). But once I realized they had
gotten the better of me, "listening to the ocean for a while" always
back to the real world, and restored my equilibrium.
That's how it went for many years. If I saw it, it was
real. If it was physical, it was real. It's not that there wasn't more
to it than that. It's that I didn't look any deeper than that.
There was me ... and there was the real world I lived in. They were
distinct. The world, by the preponderance of its existence, ruled.
Whatever was going on with me, however my mood fluctuated, by coming
back to the real world, by listening to the ocean for a while, I could
restore calm. I was clear about the dictatorial,
tyrannical nature of the real world. I didn't mind it. I
didn't question it or
It wasn't that I had figured out the world and how it came
to be. It wasn't that I had come up with the meaning of it
all. Rather I was simply taking my cue from the world as the foundation
of my life. I mean that literally: I live in the world, I stand
on the world, ergo the world is the foundation
of my life.
There wasn't anything else. I thought everyone saw it the same
way as I saw it. I hadn't yet learned how much of that was
just my own projection. That would come later. But for then, it was
true for me.
Things Aren't What They Appear To Be
Then there was a shift in how I perceived things. I'm not certain
exactly when it happened. It was gradual, however, whenever it
occurred. The world began to beg questions which it didn't before. How
did it get here? How did
get here? "The big bang" and "Birth", as answers to these questions,
suddenly seemed inadequate, naïve, simplistic - there
had to be more. How do I think? How do I perceive? How
am I conscious? And more importantly,
areas of Life came into question which weren't in question before.
What does it all mean? What is the truth? Where is the
truth to be discovered? At some point, a most compelling question
arose: What's the answer? Or: What's the
secret? Again, I don't know what prompted it or exactly
when it arose - it seemed to appear quite by itself. But once it was
there, it overtook all the other questions. What's interesting was
everything was starting to suggest there was a secret. It
couldn't be this incorrigible. There has to
be a secret.
I had no idea at the time that the creator of its
incorrigibility was me. None. I thought it was
And so started the next phase: finding the answer, finding the secret,
finding the meaning - otherwise known as getting
there - wherever there was. Various paths
pointed to there. Some were physical
Some were psychological
Some were spiritual
At the time there was a great interest in all things eastern.
From the east came a special sound. The sound was sure to lead to and
reveal the secret. The sound was "Om ... Om
... Aum ... A ... u ...
m". For the merchant, for the renunciate, for the married, for
the celibate, there was "Om". It was sure to lead to the answer, to the
secret, to the meaning.
It was widely held that until the answer was discovered, until the
secret was discovered, until the meaning was discovered, life could
only be lived in a state of illusion - called
maya in the Sanskritlanguage
by the great
There had to be an answer ... but what was
it? There had to be a secret ... but what was
it? Things always mean something ... but what do they
mean? There had to be a reason (the most touted
cliché of them all was "Everything happens for a
reason") ... but what was it?
I became surer and surer that things, in and of themselves, aren't
what they appear to be. But as for what they really
were, well that was the question. There had
to be something more than this which I wasn't getting. The purpose of
Life was clearly to search for the answer, to search for
the secret, to search for meaning, to find a reason. I never questioned
that finding them was the purpose of Life. I took it for granted that
Behind every conversation was the unspoken, the implied but not fully
communicated question "Do you know? Do you know the
answer? Do you know the secret? Do you know the meaning?
Do you know the reason? Do you? Do you?". And if
you were cool, you winked or implied "Yes" without actually
directly lying about it. But if you told the truth, you'd say "No". You
see, no one knew the answer, no one knew the secret, no
one knew the meaning, no one knew the reason. - yet there
had to be an answer, there had to be an
secret, there had to be an meaning, there had
to be a reason. And everyone was on the path to find them.
Knowing The Place For The First Time
Let it be said that in terms of finding "the answer", there are no
worthwhile answers. None! There are only worthwhile questions. Even
the best of answers is an end, a conclusion, the stop at the end of a
line of inquiry. Answers, you could say, shut down
inquiries. A good question, on the other hand, generates lots and lots
and lots of answers, keeping inquiries open, ongoing,
revealing, and productive.
It's when I ask the question "What am I?" which, because I'm a human
being, creates the possibility for asking the question
"Who am I?",
that I get the most answers. And the more answers I get, the more I see
that what I am is prior to everything I've ever complained
about, been concerned about, been worried about, vented about, inquired
into, looked at, or wondered about - all of it occurs
of what I am /
who I am.
I realized the first distinction I drew ("there was me ... and there
was the real world I lived in") on which many of my earliest inquiries
were founded, was flawed. This is the flaw: the real world I live in
isn't distinct from me ie from
who I am.
Who I am
of my experience of the world I live in. The world I live in is the way
I say it is because I experience it that way - and I am
of my experience.
The questions I asked, while challenging and fascinating, didn't take
into account the such-ness, the thus-ness of it
all. It wouldn't be until much later when it dawned on me how much of
my craving for the answer, for the secret, for the meaning, and for the
reason, is arbitrary and self-imposed. There's no answer.
There's no secret. There's no meaning. There's no reason. It just
There's nothing to getand I already got it! A
is simply a human being with a great deal of compassion for the
penchant we have for craving the answer, the secret, the meaning, and
the reason, who found out
there's nothing to
may have said).
When I go back to the beach and listen to the ocean, I get
the Big "IT"
was always there (always there, even as I, much to my own chagrin and
wry self‑deprecation, look back in time and see myself venting
and complaining) - as it is now. I am
there back then - as I am
here right now. I am the
of it all. All of it. It's mine, ... all ...
I know this place. Man! I really know this
place. I really know this
same old same
unchanged beautiful place, for the first time, as ... my ...