A Certain Something that Keeps Us on Track


In relation to the Figure of Eight (see 30th November 2011) it might be wondered how we are to keep ourselves at the fertile point of stasis at the centre of the Figure?

The place where maximum energy is accumulated… Where self-remembering is at its most intense…

What is there in us that is almost certainly determined to keep us on track?

With a resolution, say…

Some might reify the certain something or other that keeps us on track by giving it a label: ‘will-power’, for instance. But that really is no use;  all labels are inventions without a patent. Stabs in the dark.

The existence of a label never ever confirms the supposed content. The box is empty.

In her brilliant novel A Far Cry from Kensington, Muriel Spark makes a very sound comment on will-power: she says it does not exist in the present but only, perhaps, and rather grudgingly, as a description of an application of something or other in ‘past’ or ‘future’: so we may utter the words “I have exercised will-power” or “I will exercise will-power”; in each case an abstract idea is plucked out of nowhere to justify something that did happen or to imagine something that might happen; if  ‘will-power’ does not exist in the present then it does not exist as a workable thing at all, since the present is all the time there is… Well, then… What is there in us that is almost certainly determined to keep us on track? As opposed to all the far more excitable parts of us that seem to conspire to derail us?

Muriel Spark: On the question of will-power, if that is a factor, you should think of will-power as something that never exists in the present tense, only in the future and the past. At one moment you have decided to do or refrain from an action and the next moment you have already done or refrained; it is the only way to deal with will-power. (Only under sub-human stress does will-power live in time present but that is a different discourse.) I offer this advice without fee; it is included in the price of this book…

There are parts of us that seem determined on derailing us and another part that keeps us on track… And there’s nothing in between.

How to discover the part of us, the ‘I’, that keeps us on track in spite of everything?

5 thoughts on “A Certain Something that Keeps Us on Track

  1. “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” If thine “Is” offend thee, pluck them out.

    Notice how things are divided, separated, split-off and then somehow in our own individual way are reconciled. This process or dynamic is at work, whether we admit it or not. The proof that this inner process is at work is the fact that we do not control our inner dialogue. We have no will to control our thoughts and feelings. We identify their incessant movement as unmistakably ours. This only serves to divide things into groups and camps along the river. In silence these camps dissolve, time in this state of motionlessness tastes different; it tastes like dirt, leaves, a forest, a host of pangenic offerings. We can focus and direct our attention but only for so long, and only in limited degrees. A single atom contains more knowledge than we can understand, a single drop of rain, science can only answer the how not the why in connection to life on earth. Why does the idea of unification exist, and how does that idea feel?

    Now my mind may begin to spread out wider and wider into areas of philosophy, religion, anthropology, mathematics, and on and on. I may participate in strenuous emotional exercises, or push my body to the edge of collapse. I may even go to war and kill another human being. I may even believe that killing that human being was for a greater good. I may experience on my own without killing, the many sordid levels of hell on earth. I may go off into the wilderness and live like a hermit. I might kneel for twenty years and pray for God’s forgiveness. I might work at a gas station in the middle of New Mexico, drink until I die. I might even get married, have a bunch of kids, work, have grand-kids, get very ill, grow old and live out my last days in some wretched home. My experience informs me that if I lived out all these scenarios, none of them could disrupt or significantly change my core being. You could show up at my door, or the gas station in New Mexico, and discover that our last conversation picked right up where it left off.

    The thing is my internal dialogue will still go on and on, and will probably always reflect Patrick’s myriad of “Is” On one side of the pendulum is this physical world, and on the other is deception. In the middle there is this precious life force that is neutral to all and everything. What Merton calls the natural/supernatural? How does one move to the center when things get stressful, or just too much? I can’t will it to happen. Why? Why did God seemingly create a universe full of paradox? We learn to surrender our will to gain control. We think we understand that this is the same for everyone, and if everyone did this our lives would be so much better. There would be no one or nothing to blame for our mishaps and ignorance because God’s light would be at work. How deep the trance goes! But it doesn’t matter, the internal dialogue continues feeding on us, and feeding us all sorts of strange ideas and contradictions about our surrender (that is only one “I” and can be useful, but how long before it joins up with our mechanical thinking?) Listen to how many contradictions flow from our mouths on a daily basis. All of us suffer from obsession, the obsessive inner dialogue of the mind. This one fact is the crux of man’s desire for truth, love, knowledge, power, Freedom, and understanding. Imagine for a moment yourself without this internal interference? What does that look and feel like? Is this imagination, a dream, an untapped reservoir, hidden in each of us? Is this my own jest at work?

    To understand a little about ourselves is to understand a lot about life.

    So many “Is” in opposition, so many in conference. When our internal dialogue flows through our minds it contains a limited view based on a one dimensional line, moving from the past into the future, or the future into the past. As this line moves we unconsciously inflate it. We add a personality to this line, our own self-imposed prison. It may be prudent to embrace the idea that inside we are a messy affair. It may also be prudent to work at seeing ourselves from two or three views at once – internal/external/above/below. People are dangerous because real thinking and feeling is absent of false imagination. Real thinking and feeling doesn’t add things to our messy selves. So much of keeping on track seems to be keeping a distance off track. It just makes sense to me to think in opposition first. It helps me to gather whatever resources that are there and not there. It helps when things are off balance, messy, clouded, and hidden. This inspires me to begin somewhere, and from there things begin to unfold. Everything I have left out and forgotten may rise slowly when I begin my day. The incessant line must STOP! A gap opens and this gap provides an infinite number of tracks that were not there a moment ago.

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  2. Is attaching an image to something the same as labelling something with words? When I reflected on “What is there in us that is almost certainly determined to keep us on track?” it was a sense of buoyancy that occurred to me, an image of an empty buoyant vessel. When I say empty I mean in the sense that it is full of clear free space. Like looking up into the sky and momentarily catching a glimpse of clear blue between cloud. It occurs to me now that I perceive ‘falling in’ to be going off track and staying buoyant to keeping on track (I’ve lost my ninja star Mum says Eliot) Holding lightly the image of buoyancy, glimpsed blue sky, deep breaths is perhaps the place in me that could keep me on track. ‘Buoyant I’ is the flash of blue sky, the deep breath, the holding together of the potent vessel on the murky, stormy waters. Buoyant I is perhaps, for me, the meeting place on the figure 8-how to stay there or get back there when I have fallen out of my boat- well…is it enough to hold lightly to these images? (If only I hadn’t lost my ninja star says Eliot)

    Anyway the stormy wave of ‘sceptical I’ is going to dismiss these as romantic images from youth meaning very little really to others or indeed my self!! Whilst ‘buoyant I’ is going to stay afloat in clear blue sky and go and help Eliot to construct another ninja star-whatever that is!!

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    1. Words, I suppose, are only a rough & ready way of trying to pin down images. Images, being what occur to us most naturally, are always worth going with, I think. If the image of buoyancy – Buoyant-I – is one that’s been with you from youth, it’s obviously one that has stuck: it’s a ‘somatic marker’ for a sensation you have deep within in you somewhere. One worth holding on to! Much as Sceptical-I might wish to wash it overboard…

      If Buoyant-I was strong enough to help Eliot construct another ninja-star it must be powerful enough!

      Always hold on to the clear free space, looking up into the sky and momentarily catching a glimpse of clear blue between cloud… That feels good to me. Putting the feeling to words does perhaps help to anchor it all.

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  3. Re Muriel’s thoughts on will power. How often I look at the job in hand with the idea of will power in mind, ie fixing the workshop roof in cold wind off an adapted ladder leaning on a plastic gutter, with only the wrong tools at hand, and no proper screws. Fuck! comes to mind, I’m too old for this. Meanness and lack of funds take over, then I’m standing back to look at the finished job. Have I done this? A painful knee bears some witness. I seem to remember beginning, and now its done, just the memory of some highlights, all very vague. Did it take will power? Was it character building? I’ll never know. Same goes for making art! I always feel that I’m finished before I’ve begun.

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    1. I always feel that I’m finished before I’ve begun.

      This feels so familiar. When one of my professors gives an assignment I often times see the finished project before I’ve begun any work. There is this intellectual construct that just flashes in my mind’s eye. I wonder how much information is contained in this image that somehow just appeared, maybe the whole project is contained there? With a job that demands a lot of physical energy, a similar thing happens, painting a room, or cleaning out the gutters. But when I’m confronted with an emotional situation that concerns my wife and children, friends and such, the ending does not flash in my mind’s eye, even when I pull back in order to get a perspective that is helpful. Maybe the immediacy of this sort of emotional pull demands a different focus and attention. The vicissitudes of thinking and feeling maybe?

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