Jean Toomer’s Essay, “The Experience,” Pt IV

The first three articles of this series were published as “In Practical Terms, What Is Self-Remembering?”, beginning with this one: For better or for worse, I have decided to rename it, but to retain the sequential numbering.

The second part of Toomer’s essay is titled “Transport,” stating that for some time he was aware both of “this-me” and “that-being,” as two “contiguous, yet perceptually distinct” entities (37). For a while, he identified with “this-me,” and not “that self-behind-me” (37-38). Let he who has ears to hear …

“As clearly as a man sees in what part of a lighted room he stands, so did I see that I was in this-me, and that this-me was the front or outer part of this astonishing combination” (38). What follows next could hardly be more significant for a student of Gurdjieff’s teaching, or really of any spiritual discipline:

There I was, stationed on the surface, out of the centre. There, I suddenly realized, I had been, all my life, but without realizing it. Always I have been out in front, knowing but not knowing it. Occasionally, my inward powers had come out to me. Never had I had a deeply inward centring. I had moved around as on the rim of a wheel, all the while assuming that that was my natural place, that so, in the nature of things, I must move. Never had I been poised in the hub. By why not? Apparently, I had been held where I was. (38)

I would add that one of the chief values of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is that it allows an ever deepening “inward centring.” The Gurdjieff methods point to the value of raising sensation and feeling in the solar plexus to consciousness. After giving the “I AM” exercise (pretty much as in the Third Series), he says: “The solar plexus is your conscious centre. It is what connects all your parts. It is ‘You’. This is where you must feel your self-remembering resonate.” (Paris Meetings 1943, 11 February, p.17).

The sort of experience Toomer had is without doubt vanishingly rare, but we can all realise when our experience is in that direction, and when it is further. The process continued:

Meanwhile that-being was growing in size, solidity, power. It was rising as a tide of life. Presently … its force of attraction became stronger than that of the personal self, became irresistibly strong – and then the transit began. I was withdrawn from this-me, from the body-mind, extricated from life-long involvement in the personal self, and set in motion towards that-being. (38)

No doubt his time with Gurdjieff and Orage allowed him to say that now he had “moved across … to that World of Being. … I was. … Precisely I was being transported from exile into Being. … Liberation is the exact term. I was being freed from my ego-prison.” (39). At this point, the distinction between “me” and “being” ended – he was one: “Thou art that.” He affirms the truth that he experienced: “I AM! And AM is greater than I!” He even describes this as a proof of the reality of resurrection (39). His ordinary self had vanished, from thoughts and feelings alike, and he could not return to it even had he wished to do so (40). However, he notes, when he later “fell from Grace,” his ordinary self was there.

Yet, and once more, this is quite important, Toomer saw that: “There was an identity – a tenuous but persistent identity that survived the radical changes.” He asks himself: “Is ‘I’ then the seat of one’s sense of oneself? Does it enable each one somewhat to recognize himself, no matter what transformations occur? is it the core of our sense of continuity?” (40) This conjecture, if correct, would mean that it is not that we have no permanent I, but that it is generally passive, its influence barely showing itself. He continues:

… my ability to be aware of and move about in the world of daily affairs remained with me … This was no trance I had entered, but a higher state of consciousness in which many of my ordinary faculties were retained. … I awoke again, that is, awoke from the waking state, yet I did not lose It. I left its limitations. (40)

This is critical: his ordinary consciousness now merged with the greater consciousness, so that, as he said, he had not left it, but its limitations (40-41). When he looked around, trains were still trains, and people were still people. But as he wrote, describing his perception of the night and the stars: “No night had ever seemed so sheerly beautiful, so fresh, so complete, so original.” (41) Even more significant .. close paragraph of part II:

That there was and is a Creator was the most evident fact and mystery of my experience. The existence of the Reality we refer to as God was more real to me than my own existence. But now I used no label for that Reality, or for myself. I was discovering the Life behind labels. (41)

This has been stated by others who have experienced higher consciousness. For Mr Adie, the existence of the Creator was something he could see. He even had glimpses of the entire natural world offering up adoration. This is a noteworthy aspect of Toomer’s account, even if he does not dwell upon it, because the existence of God provides an eternal and objective significance to the meaning we find in our lives. This is the link to part III, “Birth above the Body.” This opens:

From my depths came a thanksgiving, a rejoicing, a hymn to the Nameless. I was penetrated with aliveness in every particle. I was and felt newborn, utterly exposed to a reality whose quality was electric. I felt everything I had ever wanted to feel, and none of it was as I had thought it would be.

How strange to have awakened and to be! (41)

to be continued

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