DEATH IN LIFE:
Walled-in & Nowhere to Go
 
"The task of philosophy is to tear itself loose from life during life, if only in part.
And even as man comes into the world wailing, or awakes with a cry from
a torturing fever dream, so too the transition from life to death must clearly
be accompanied by a senseless, desperate effort whose proper expression
will also be a senseless, desperate cry or a wild sob. I think that many
philosophers have known such an 'awakening' and have tried to tell of it."
(Lev Shestov, In Job's Balances)

Because of film's innate ability to capture human experience on many different levels, every now and then it will happen that a film succeeds at recording a genuine spiritual experience. This happened a couple of years ago with the American film Dead Man Walking. The film documents, in a coarse but effective way, the struggle of the spirit of a young man sentenced to die for a terrible crime. During the course of the film one becomes increasingly tuned into the entrapment of the spirit of the main character, as well as of the actor (Sean Penn) portraying him. The dividing line between actor and role vanishes. It is Penn himself, who is awaiting execution. The walls of reality move in upon the arrogant, but insecure youth, forcing him to confront the tenuousness of his earthly existence. With the help of some incredible intuitive (mostly non-dogmatic) guidance from a courageous woman (who is also a nun), he is able to experience an all-too-rare revelation for today: the Darkness that has completely walled-in his spirit can yet be turned back by taking full responsibility for his every action, by concerning himself seriously with the questions of his existence, by recognizing a greater Will in Creation than his own. Why is it that only when we are put into the most extreme circumstances, with the cold wall of death pressing down upon us, that we even begin to consider the possibilty that we might be spiritual failures; that on the road of life, we just might have missed the most important turn-off of all?

There is a point in the film Ashik Kerib by Sergei Paradjanov (1924-1990) at which the main character, after journeying far and wide and continuously suffering at the hands of the Darkness, encounters a dead end on the way back to his beloved. The young minstrel (Ashik Kerib) desperately pounds his fists on a pair of large blue doors, which refuse to give him entrance. But why won't he be let through? After all, did he not learn his lessons on his path of suffering? Did he not successfully play at the weddings of the deaf, blind and dumb? And did he not endure the enslavement of the evil pasha and his many cohorts? And did he not, through his struggles, find a greater spiritual meaning to his life and his art? And yet, the doors will not relent. There is something that he must have missed in his experiencing, some lesson left unlearned. He cannot make it any further merely on the strength of his own talent. He needs a connection with a power greater than himself. And it is precisely this realization, which then makes it possible for him to receive exactly the help he needs to complete his journey. What seems like a miraculous conclusion to the film, therefore, is in reality a natural and just process of separation. If Ashik Kerib did not realize this need to connect with a greater power and did not desire it more strongly than anything else, he would have simply remained on the other side of those doors, baffled and tormented. And so it is with the entire world: everyone must make the personal decision to connect or not to connect; to be or not to be.

And what of humanity's readiness to make this decision? What of their ability to perceive their own spiritual dead-endedness? 2,400 years ago, Plato (ca 428-348 B.C.), opened his eyes to see the world this way:

"--Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them . . .

. . .their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite end of the wall . . . .

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images." (The Republic)

When, in King Lear (Act 1, Sc. iv), William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote, "I think the world's asleep", he was assuming that he himself was somehow awake enough to perceive this fact. But how would he know if he were awake or asleep when making this statement? Surely, there are gradations of sleep, so how can one tell if one has reached a true awakening?

There are many obstacles that stand in our way of achieving this awakening. The most paralyzing obstacle of all is the spiritual comfort of our lives. People either consider themselves already awake (and even already saved!) or they never even give it a thought. It is not until death knocks on their door that they are suddenly gripped by a terrible fear:

"The pathos of the fear of death is the greatest known to man. It is hard even to imagine how trivial life would become if it had not been given to man to have a foreboding of his inevitable death and to be terrified of it. For everything that has been created of the best, the strongest, the most significant and profound of all human endeavor. . . has had as its source reflections about death and fear of it." (Lev Shestov - 1938)                                                                     

It is just this fear that finally forces even the most shallow people to begin to confront the crucial questions of their existence. In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) writes about a man facing the void of death:

"He cried about his helplessness, about his terrible loneliness, about the cruelty of people, about the cruelty of God, about the absence of God.

'Why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me to this? Why dost Thou torture me so? For what?'"

For those of us, who are ready to confront the questions of existence, the prelude to an awakening comes in a state of self-recognition. It takes courage to achieve an honest perspective of one's self and one's life. In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the main character, under the immense pressure of his impending death, begins to see his life for the first time in its true light:

"'What if my life, my entire conscious life, simply was not the real thing?'

It occurred to him that what had seemed utterly inconceivable before - that he had not lived the kind of life he should have - might in fact be true. It occurred to him that those scarcely perceptible impulses of his to protest what people of high rank considered good impulses which he had always suppressed, might have been precisely what mattered, and all the rest had not been the real thing."

OR, as Rainer Marie Rilke (1875-1926) wrote:

"Is it possible that, in spite of invention and progress, in spite of culture, religion and wisdom, one has remained at the surface of life? Is it possible that even this surface, which at least has been something, has been covered with an incredibly dull material till it looks like salon furniture during the summer vacation? . . .

Is it possible that there are people who say 'God' and suppose that this is something one can have in common? . . ."

(from "The Notes of Malte Laurdis Brigg")

When considering the question of God's existence, we usually think in terms of only 2 choices:

1) There is a God.

2) There is no God.

But neither one of these choices sheds enough light on the reality of our own human predicament. In order to be objective and thorough (as every true seeker must be), we have to consider yet another choice: could it be that something is wrong with our own sense of perception and that it is our own limitation, which prevents us from recognizing the presence of God? Thus, we must consider not 2, but 3 possibilities:

1) There is a God.

2) There is no God.

3) There is a God, but we cannot perceive His presence.

Now we have a clearer picture. Only the third choice sheds enough light on our situation to be of help to us in our quest for Truth. And so, when considering the question of God's existence, we must first back up one step and realize this: we have done something hidious to ourselves, something so monstrous that it resulted in limiting our vision to such an extent as to render us incapable of recognizing the presence of God. This is, actually, what Nietzsche was trying to convey in the story from his book The Joyful Wisdom, where he announced that "God is dead":

"We have killed him - you and I! We are all his murderers . . . Whither are we moving now? . . . Do we not now wander through an endless nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker?"

So what have we done? What have we killed? The most popular interpretation of Nietzsche's story is that it is the belief in God that has been killed. However, it has already become clear to many serious seekers (before and after Nietzsche) that outward adherence to any set of rituals not only does not bring one closer to God, but often has a further distancing and deadening effect. So the question remains: what have we killed? Why are we all murderers?

The answer is unveiled in the same book, which brings the New Knowledge to mankind about the Judgment Process and which sheds the Light of Truth upon ALL questions of utmost importance to mankind, "In the Light of Truth: the Grail Message" by Abd-ru-shin. In the Light of this Knowledge, it becomes tragically clear that we have systematically killed within ourselves the capacity to understand the Language of the Living God. Thus, in the End-Time, we find ourselves completely cut off from any comprehension of True Life. If now we wish to feel and understand God, then we must FIRST restore OURSELVES to at least a minimal level of life. For only that which is alive can understand Life; while that which is dead will perceive all else as also dead. And, such as we are now, we are as though dead - dead to God. That is why we feel that He is dead, that there is nothing.

"I stick my finger into existence - it smells of nothing. Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it that has lured me into the thing, and now leaves me here? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?" (Søren Kierkegaard 1813-1855)

 

Unless we take steps to restore ourselves to true life, we will never be able to comprehend anything of our existence or of God. The wall that separates us from Him is of our own making. Therefore, it is up to us to dismantle it. And just as it was constructed by us brick by brick, so now it has to be laboriously dismantled by us brick by brick (in other words, we mustn't be seduced by promises of quick-and-easy solutions.) Equally, it does us no good to blame others, because, in one way or another, we have all contributed to the construction of this colossal "Berlin" wall between ourselves and the Creator. Each one contributed at least a brick until now we all stand uncomprehending before it, no longer able to hear anything of what He is saying to us. And eventhough this wall surrounds us quite literally on all sides, the origin of it actually lies deep inside every one of us - so that it is only by starting from WITHIN that we have any chance of dismantling it.

The step-by-step process of how this can be accomplished is given in the book of New Knowledge. But only we can decide (each one individually for himself or herself) whether or not to start on this process. Without it, however, there can be no escape from the meaninglessness and despair. No escape in dogma; no escape in family comfort; no escape in art; no escape in a ludicrous attempt by man to become his own god - but only through honest recognition of our desperate need for INNER CHANGE can we yet help ourselves by grasping the Helping Hand stretched out towards us!

"Nowhere to turn
There's growth in pain I feel it
I pray to God it's not too
late for me
Hard to believe one man could
lose so much
All that I've lost can never be
conceived
I have failed..."
 
(from the song "I Have Failed" by Crowbar)