Monday, September 14, 2015

The Fire within Being

I recently decided to revisit one of my favorite books ever, The Poetics of Reverie by Gaston Bachelard, and I discovered something that I found remarkable. So obviously I decided to make a post about it!

In the chapter called Reverie and Cosmos, he quotes an extraordinary passage by an obscure French writer named Henri Bosco. Speaking of fires burning in a hearth, he writes:
These fires have such a power over our memory that the immemorial lives dozing beyond the oldest memories waken within us at their flame and reveal to us the furthest countries of our secret soul. Alone, on this side of the time which presides over our existence, they brighten days previous to our days and unknowable thoughts of which our thought is perhaps often only the shadow. In contemplating these fires associated with man by millenia of fire, one loses the feeling of the flight of things; time sinks into absence, and hours leave us with no jolt. What was, what is, and what will be becomes by founding for itself the very presence of being; and nothing else in the enchanted soul distinguishes it from itself except perhaps the infinitely pure sensation of its existence. One affirms in no way that he is; but there still remains a faint gleam that he may be. Would I be? one murmurs to himself, and he no longer holds to the life of this world by anything but this hardly articulated doubt. The only human element that remains within us is warmth; for we no longer see the flame that communicates it. We are ourselves that familiar fire which has been burning at ground level since the dawn of the ages, but from which there always rises a living point above the hearth where the friendship of men keeps watch."
When I read this I was dumbstruck by its beauty. What's more--it makes sense, though I can barely explain why! But I want to try explaining that passage here, even if I don't do it justice.

Sometimes I feel like I'm just the echo of something far more real than I am. I get "glimpses" of that reality, mostly just the hint of a thought that intimates far more than it actually "says." These thoughts paint a picture of a life beyond life, one that is nevertheless nestled within life like a walnut in its shell. And what is this life like? It is warm; it is bright. Like a fire, I get the impression that it sustains life from within, linking things together as they share in its warmth. And I can feel that warmth anywhere. When I read a fiction book, for instance, I get a sense of the characters' presence, a distinct "feel" about them that I can't explain in any meaningful way. It's like the sensation of a color, but more the way the color--or a sound--makes you feel. Maybe I could explain it better by saying that what I feel in these books is their emotions, but it goes even deeper than emotions. I feel what the emotions grow from.

I guess the best way to explain it is to simply say that what I feel is fire--a warmth emanating from within everything: people, animals, books, ideas, or even inanimate objects. It comes through especially strong in scripture, almost as if the words there were an open door to the fire's heart. And I find that if I let this fire "lead" me--that is, letting it teach me where to go by what it shows me--I find the ideas I need to find and meet the people I need to meet. I sometimes wonder if the fire is simply leading me to the parts of my being "scattered" throughout the world, almost as if the fire has been "gathering" me.

And the fire also contains wonders. I get impressions that there are hidden universes dozing in even the most mundane things, that the fire in a book or a flower could open up to worlds beyond worlds, and forever on ad infinitum. And when I lose myself in that book or meditatively contemplate that flower, the fires in our depths meet and mingle; it becomes one flame, one depth.

Then I get a thought: could the fire which "reveals the furthest countries of my secret soul" be something we've all heard of before? Could it be that this flame--concealing worlds within even the most mundane things--is actually what we Mormons call the pre-mortal world? I think there's good reason to think so. I believe that when I gaze into the eyes of a loved one, I see into the deepest parts of their soul. In that warm intimacy, our co-mingling depths experience that which those depths spring from: the being of God Himself, the fire from whom all our flames spring.

And there's lots of precedent for this in the writings of spiritual teachers. Emanuel Swedenborg taught that God appears to the angels in heaven as a bright sun, illuminating that whole spiritual country with its warmth of love and its light of truth. But he also taught that human beings have a microcosmic version of that same sun: the aura:
"The angels went on to say that all angels have this kind of aura around them because the Lord does, and that the aura around the Lord is similarly derived from him. This aura is their sun, or the sun of the spiritual world."
Basically, the physical world shines out from the spiritual world and ultimately from God. From this perspective, auras are just the evidence we feel of that eternal fire's warmth and light of that eternal fire as it shines through the people and things we encounter in the world.

The philosopher-esotericist Rudolf Steiner also said something like this. He writes in his Foundations of Human Experience that what we see through our perception is the "reflection" of life as it was before birth. In other words, the things we see in the world are the evidence of something that existed "prior" to their existence, and he writes that when we see them we're using our will to bring them into the actuality of something "after" our life. Think of that--perception as resurrection!

I guess that if this "fire within being" means anything, it's that we get to our origins not by going into the past but by going into our depths. There is a fire at the heart of being, one which opens up into life before life, life within life. So I think that perhaps the pre-existence didn't happen chronologically before this life; maybe it rather exists within this life as the flame expressing itself through our thoughts, actions, and perceptions, that of which we are perhaps only a shadow.

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