Jean Toomer, “The Experience,” Part VI

Toomer’s relationship to his body now began to change. He had previously made observations such as how, looking around his apartment as if for the first time, he saw the toilet, and “body promptly made use of (it)” (51). I had overlooked the importance of this before: it signifies how even when higher centres are operating, so too do the lower centres. Further, they have their own rightful power of initiative. It seems from this, and other descriptions of how his body acted, that it knew what it had to do, and did so, unhindered by the higher intelligence which was now active. But Toomer himself was now objective to the legitimate functions of his body.

In an equally noteworthy section, he states: “And I, interested in its behaviour, (was) somewhat surprised to see that its habits were seemingly unaffected by what had happened to it, observed it.” (53) I recall disagreeing when someone at Newport asserted that all habit was bad. Toomer’s experience supports me in this: the problem is not useful habits but the deterioration of some habits so that the automatic aspect of them displaces my presence at those times I should be more conscious.

Another point is how, after the passage of just a little time, although Toomer was still not identified with his body, yet he “seemed closer to it. There was a new nearness. Body was more real to me, and in a sense, more “mine”.” (53) Several people have observed that when Deputy Steward, or something like it, is observing, it can at first appear to be without feeling. However, after time, one realises that there is a feeling: it was just subtle and new. One is almost startled to realise that one is feeling gratitude, for example, and that this has been a factor in one’s psyche for a day, a few days, or a week, one just had not seen and articulated it. Toomer explains the larger phenomena with great clarity:

The force that had taken me out of me and far away from the body, now seemed to be returning me to it. … During the first night I had reached the maximum dissociation; already on this first morning a new set of connections was being established. I was retaking my body. It was becoming, in a new way, an integral part of me. It was becoming, to me and in fact, an instrument of my being – a means of contact, not a confinement, an ability, not a liability. (53)

Now his relationship with his room and the things around him started to change, so that he experienced them “with wonderful immediacy, as though I were in direct communication with them, appreciating them.” (54) Again, there is real feeling here: “appreciation” and a sense of wonder. Nothing histrionic, nothing overblown, just a view of reality and my living part in it. Thus, when he took his shower, “I experienced water with a feeling of regard akin to tenderness.” (54) Everything came alive for him with its individual vitality: the towel he dried himself with, the faucets, the wood of the chair, the coffee, milk and roll he had for breakfast. This was a recurring recognition. Toomer states: “When a man opens and awakes he becomes real to himself. When he becomes real to himself the world becomes real to him.” (54)

After breakfast, his body did something “quite contrary to habit. It washed the dishes right away.” He was in the habit of stacking them to get onto his “work” first thing, as being the most important. (54) This new habit was purposeful, the former habit had been a slavery to his identification with his writing:

Now I functioned as I had never dreamed possible. As body washed the dishes, I was growing in being and in consciousness. What more important work? As body dried the dishes, I was discovering, meeting, circulating. … As body put the dishes in the cupboard I was moving nearer to the Presence that interweaves the Universe. … I was being. Therefore I was doing. Being and doing are not different things, but one and the same. (55)

Again, others have noted that as their inner work progresses, they overcome any resentment of “menial” tasks, or “chores.” These have a legitimate and necessary place and do not prevent our engaging in the most important thing of all: being present.

In chapter 8, “Let Be,” he describes how having lost his identification with the things and activities of the material world, he now was amazed that others had this identification, like “eagles scratching around the barnyard like chickens.” (57) He adds:

Possession? To me it was an obvious fact that no one can own anything – not a pencil, not a fortune, not his “own” body, not even his “own” soul. The things of the earth are of the earth. The things of man are of man’s commonwealth. All things are of God. All that we can do is use or misuse. (57)

The relationship and understanding of his body continued to transform. His body:

… seemed purified, as though a deep-seated illness had been cured. Now it was recharged with tender vitality. If walking, it seemed to flow. If seated, it seemed to rest in perfect equilibrium. What unity, what serenity! … It knew something about itself that I did not know. (57)

Everything he has written is related to his study of Gurdjieff’s ideas. In this instance, Toomer established for himself the truth of Gurdjieff’s teaching that the instinctive centre usually only needs to be conscious for itself. Strikingly, the more conscious he was, and the less identified with his body, the better it felt and worked as a body: the more harmonious it was.

to be continued

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