5. The New Consciousness

 

There is a radically new fact.

It is not old. It goes back only a few years. It is a new beginning on earth, and perhaps in the universe, as simple and bewildering as must have been the appearance of the first mental vibration among the great apes.

A new beginning is not aware of itself, not thunderous or earthshaking. It is simple and hesitant, frail as a young sapling, and one does not quite know whether it is still yesterday's wind that one feels or some new breath, almost the same and yet so different, which leaves one a little stunned and incredulous, like a marvel caught unawares, a smile ensnared, which vanishes instantly if one looks a little too long. A beginning is a thousand tiny beginning strokes that come and go; brush by and scurry off; crop up from nowhere, without rhyme or reason, because they are of another law; laugh and make fun of everything, because they are of another logic; reappear when we thought them lost and leave us looking foolish when we thought we had seized them, because they are of another rhythm or, perhaps, another way of being. And yet, yet these tiny little lines gradually make up another picture; these repeated little strokes make a nameless something that vibrates differently and changes us unnoticeably, plucking a chord that does not quite know its note but ends up creating another music. Everything is the same, and everything is different. One is born without realizing it.

Therefore, we cannot say precisely how it works, any more than the apes of old could say what had to be done to control thought. We can, however, try to describe some of these elusive little strokes, indicate a general direction and, along with our traveler of the new world, follow step by step the thread of a discovery that seems at times incoherent but eventually makes a coherent whole. We have never been in that country before. It even seems to take shape under our feet, almost to grow by our look, as if noticing this curve, that almost mischievous gleam, encouraged it to grow and draw this dotted line under our feet, this other curve, and that enchanting hill, toward which we run with a pounding heart. Our traveler of the new world is first and foremost an observer: nothing escapes his attention, not one detail, not the slightest encounter, the least conjunction or hardly noticeable correspondence - the marvel is born in droplets, as though the secret were of an infinitesimal order. He is a microscopic observer. For maybe there are no "big" things or small ones, but one and the same supreme flowing whose every point is as supremely filled with consciousness and meaning as the sum total of all universes, as if, really, the entire goal were at each instant.

Hence we have filled each and every wasteland of our day - there is no more waste - we have infused the vacancy between two acts with being, and even our acts are no longer so completely caught up in the Machine. We can talk, make phone calls, write or meet people, but behind in the background, something continues to be, vibrating, vibrating very softly, like a breath from a far-off sea, the flowing of a little river in the distance; and if we stop for a moment in mid-gesture and take but a single step back, we are instantly in that ever so fresh little river, that open space, that easy expanse, and we sink into it as into the repose of Truth, because only Truth is at rest, since it is. Strangely enough, this sort of slippage or shifting of the center of being does not loosen our grip on life, does not throw us into a sort of dream state we would be tempted to call hollow. On the contrary, we are utterly awake - it even looks as if the sleeper were in the one who talks, writes and telephones - in a state of alertness, but not alert to the machine's wheelworks, the play of the features, the calculation of the next step, the whirl of appearances: we are engrossed in something else, as if listening behind our head, in that vibrating expanse, that leisurely flowing; and sometimes we feel variations of intensity, changes of rhythm, sudden pressures, as if a finger of light were pressing there, bringing something to our notice, calling our attention to a particular point by shining its light. Then, without knowing why, we utter some words, make a gesture, or, on the contrary, are kept from making a gesture, we turn here instead of there, smile when the person we were talking to seemed so unpleasant, or, on the contrary, dismiss him rapidly when he seemed so well intentioned. And everything is exactly as it should be, to a T. What we did or said was exactly what had to be done or said, just where we had to turn to avoid the accident or have the necessary encounter - two days or two hours later, in utter amazement, we understand the meaning or exactness of our action. It is as if we had been introduced to a functioning of truth.

And we begin to be struck by a first peculiarity. These indications coming to us, these perceptions or sudden pressures, have nothing in common whatsoever with those coming from above when pursuing the path of ascent: they are not revelations, not inspirations or visions or illuminations, not the flashes and thunder of the higher planes of the mind. They seem, rather, to be a very humble and material functioning, one concerned with the tiniest detail, the slightest passing breath, this street corner, that automatic gesture, these thousand little comings and goings. It looks almost like a functioning at ground level.

But at the beginning this functioning is still unsure. We are constantly snatched back by the old machinery, the habit of mulling over thoughts, judging, deducing, calculating, and immediately it is as if a veil fell, a screen came between the quiet clarity behind and the arduous whirlwind here: communications are jammed. Again we have to take a step back and find the comfortable expanse - and it is irritating, uncommunicative and apparently indifferent to our fate, opposing a neutral silence, an unrelieved blankness to the question we send it and which would yet call for an immediate answer. So we yield once more; we start up the machine again - only to realize that everything was blank behind so we would not move in front, and that the time for an answer had not yet come. We keep stumbling along and persisting, trustful but awkward outwardly (or in front), when circumstances would call for swiftness and efficiency, and those who work with the old reason may scoff, as perhaps the old veteran anthropoid scoffed at the clumsiness of the apprentice man: we miss the branch. We fall and pick ourselves up. We go on. But gradually, as our "demechanization" gains ground, grows sure-footed and more perfect, the communications become clearer, the perceptions more accurate and precise. We begin to unravel a whole jumbled network that had previously seemed like logic itself. From within the tranquil clarity, we notice a multitude of movements rising from below, from outside, from others; it is a mixture of vibrations, a cacophony of minuscule impulses, a battlefield, an arena filled with obscure contenders, blind drives, dark flashes, microscopic and stubborn wills. And all of a sudden, in all that muddle falls a tiny little drop from our quiet river - without our wanting it or trying or even asking for it - and everything loosens up, smoothes out, disappears, dissolves. That face there in front of us, this grating little circumstance, that knot of difficulty, this stubborn resistance vanishes, melts away, smoothes out, opens up as if by magic. We begin to enter mastery.

But it is a curious sort of mastery - it does not obey us at all! On the contrary, the minute we try to use it, it eludes us completely, slips through our fingers, pokes fun at us and leaves us looking foolish, like an apprentice sculptor trying to imitate the stroke of the Master: our stroke misses. We even hit our fingers. And we learn. Perhaps we learn not to want anything. But it is a little more complicated than that - complicated from our standpoint, of course, because everything is complicated on this side; it is complexity itself. In fact, it is simple. We are learning the law of rhythm. Because Truth is a rhythm.

It has swift flowings, precipitous cascades, slack stretches that go deep into themselves like a sea into a deeper sea, like a great bird into the infinite blue. It has sudden urgings, minute diamond points that probe and pierce, expansive white silences like a steppe in the eternity of ages, like a fathomless gaze spanning lives upon lives, oceans of sorrow and toil, continents of struggle, road upon road of prayer and fervor. It has abrupt bursts, miraculous instantaneous outcomes, a long, untiring patience that follows each step, each quiver of being like a murmur of eternity upholding the minute. And behind that instant or swordlike flash, that vast slowness unfolding its trail of infinity, that burning point bursting out, that commanding word or compelling pressure, there always lies a kind of tranquil clarity, a crystalline distance, a little snow-white note that seems to have traveled and traveled across expanses of calm light, filtered down from an infinity of clear-sighted softness, trickled from a vast sun-washed prairie where no one suffers, acts or becomes - a sweeping expanse upholding the little note, the gesture, the word, and the abruptness of an act springing from a fathomless peace where the noise of time and the press of men and the swirl of sorrows are cloaked in their mantle of eternity, already healed, already past, already wept over. For Truth enfolds the world as in a great robe of softness, in an infinite sky where our black birds and birds of paradise, sorrows from here and there, gray wings and pink ones melt away. All becomes one, adjusts to that note, and is in tune; all is simple and stainless, without trace, imprint or doubt, because all flows from that music, and this minute immediate gesture harmonizes with a great swell that will still roll in long after we have left.

But if "I" interferes, even for a second, a little eddy, a little me, a sticky and hard little nodule, a little self-will, everything goes awry and starts grating, wants or does not want, hesitates and fumbles - there is instantaneous muddle: the consequence of the act, the consequence of everything, the haunting memory, the sticky trace, the toil in everything. For it is not enough to be clear in our head; we have to be clear everywhere.

In that tranquil clarity behind, we stumble in fact upon a second level of confusion, a deeper one (this is truly a descending path). As our mental machinery grows quieter, we appreciate the extent to which it covered everything up - all existence, the least gesture, the slightest flutter of an eyelash, the tiniest vibration, like a voracious and ever-growing hydra - and we see the bizarre fauna it concealed starting to appear in broad daylight. This is no longer an arena but a teeming swamp seething with all sorts of psychological microbes: a throng of minuscule reflexes like the jerks of the pulses, thousands of desires, complete with the larger speckled fish of our instinctive idiosyncrasies, our innate tastes and distastes, our "natural" affinities and the whole discordant play of our sympathies and antipathies, attractions and repulsions - a mechanism that goes back to the Precambrian era, a massive residue of the habit of devouring one another, a huge multifarious vortex in which selective affinities are scarcely more than an extension of gustatory affinities. Thus, there is not only a mental machinery but also a vital one. We desire and we want. Unfortunately, we want all sorts of contradictory things, which mix with our neighbor's contradictory wills, forming a blind mixture; and we do not even know if the triumph of today's little will is not preparing tomorrow's downfall, or whether this satisfied desire, this austere and righteous virtue, that noble taste, that well-intentioned "altruism" or stern ideal is not working some disaster worse than the evil we were trying to cure. All this vital hodgepodge, adorned with mental labels and justifications, which philosophizes and spouts its wonderful and faultless reasons, now appears in its true colors, we could say, in the quiet little clearing where we have taken our position. And here, too, we gradually apply the same process of "demechanization." Instead of rushing headlong into our sensations and emotions, our tastes and distastes, our certainties and uncertainties, like the animal into its claws (but without its deftness), we take a step back, we pause and let the torrent abate, we rein in the reflex, the peremptory judgment, the mixed or less mixed emotion - at any rate, it is a mixture for the clear little stream flowing in the background, the undeceivable ray of sunlight: suddenly the rhythm is broken, the water no longer clear, the ray fragmented. These breaks, these interferences, these jarring intrusions become more and more unbearable. It is like a sudden lack of oxygen, a sinking into mud, an intolerable blindness, the shattering of a little song behind, which made life smooth and vast and rhythmical, like a great prairie wafted by a breeze from elsewhere.

For there is really a rhythm of truth behind, and around and everywhere, a vast and tranquil flowing, a space of weightless time in which the days and hours and years seem to follow the unalterable movement of the stars and moons, rising and falling like a tide from the depths of time, harmonizing with the movement of the whole, and filling this present little fleeting second with an eternity of being.

That is where we have taken our position, in that little clearing. It is our base, our crystal-clear retreat, our Himalaya of the boulevards, our tiny unalterable song. And finally we realize there is no need "to do" or "not to do," to get involved or not, to want or not, to master; all we need is to be there, securely, and to let that little rhythm flow into things, that clear cadence into the darkness of circumstances, that tranquil ray onto all beings. And everything straightens out, simply, marvelously, without our knowing why, by the single fact of being there. All the shadows are dissolved, order is restored, peace and harmony are settled, the rhythms are corrected - for there is no real evil, no enemy or contradictions, only discordant rhythms. When we are in harmony with ourselves, everything is in harmony - but not according to our ideas of good and evil, happy and unhappy, failure and success, but according to another order, which gradually turns out to be infallible and endowed with extended foresight - an order of truth.

And each minute becomes clear. Each face behind its shadows, each circumstance behind its turmoil, each chance step, each accident, each fall reveals its meaning, like a core of pure truth trying to become. There is no more judging, no more wrong impulses, no haste or tension or eagerness, no fear of losing or missing, no disquieting uncertainties or soon questioned certainties: there is that, which flows, which is true, and which only wants to be truer and truer, because Truth is life's great sweetness, peace and breadth of being, exactness of each gesture and perfection of each moment.

And again we are struck by the same phenomenon. This is not a sublime consciousness like that found on the peaks of the Spirit, which is only a paroxysm of self. There is no sparkling here, but minuscule sparks that crowd our seconds with a sweetness of eternity; no dazzling ranges, just little clearings where breathing is easy every instant; no cosmic visions, but tiny little drops of truth that seem to fill each point with total meaning; no prophecies or predictions; no ecstasies, no revelations, just a simple and clear look that does what is needed when it is needed and humbly prepares the marvels to come; no momentous revolutions, but a little revolution every moment hinging on an imperceptible sun in the heart of things; no big things, no little ones: a sameness of truth growing with each step and each gesture - one could almost say a consciousness of the Truth of Matter.

This is the great new Fact in the world. This is the new consciousness announced by Sri Aurobindo, the microscopic beginning of an earth-of-truth. Because they had not seen (or the time had not come), the sages of old searched for heaven by scaling the high peaks of the Spirit. But heaven is in our midst. It is growing by our look, becoming stronger with each obstacle, each gesture of truth, each second really lived; it is outlining its graceful hills under our surprised footsteps and vibrates imperceptibly in a little eruption of being wrested from our great wastelands.


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