“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
My sophomore year of college was to be the time when my mind opened up to the question that started this process I am sharing with you now. My life to this point was about small things, personal things and I had not yet begun to ask the questions that would lead me to the beginning of life’s journey. I was about to begin to clean my own doors of perception and peer into the world of mind, spirit and consciousness.
It all began with my Intro to Philosophy course. All of a sudden I was whisked into a world of questions with no grounding into what was real. The ideas that first caught my imagination and seemed to make the most sense to me were found in the existentialist writings of Albert Camus and John Paul Sartre. I could feel their sense of loneliness and despair, but there was a deeper message that spoke to my inner being; that existence precedes essence, that I am an individual responsible for my own thoughts and that life has no meaning save the meaning that I give it. I grabbed on to these ideas and began to expound on them in my other classes, including these existential ideas into my writing for my Literature class for one, getting an A and special mention for my explanation of Ralph Ellison’s book “Invisible Man“. This gave me confidence that I was on the right path.
The next most important happening in my spiritual awakening came by way of my brother Roger. He gave me a book that opened my mind up and spoke to me in ways that I was unable at the time to fully grasp but that would begin me on a lifetime spiritual journey that is still in progress. The book was “The First and Last Freedom” by J. Krishnamurti. This was my first experience with non-Western thought and with a man who had a grasp on life that made sense to me but seemed just out of my reach. It did however fit right in with some of the Existential teachings I had been studying and I was caught by this quote in the introduction to the book;
“Clarity is not the result of verbal assertion, but of intense self-awareness and right thinking. Right thinking is not the outcome of or mere cultivation of the intellect, nor is it conformity to pattern, however worthy and noble. Right thinking comes with self-knowledge. Without understanding yourself you have no basis for thought; without self-knowledge, what you think is not true.”
As I am rereading this text now as I am writing this I can see why it had so profound an effect on me, but the words mean so much more to me today as I am listening from a different place. Get a load of this simple statement;
“To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine; because, however small may be the world we live in, if we can transform ourselves, bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large, the extended relationship with others.”
The whole idea of Philosophy was to know oneself and to that end I was beginning to ask the questions and to search for the meanings and as a result I changed my major to Philosophy. I also was interested in how man developed and who we are as a race so I made Anthropology my minor course of study and so the course of my college career was set. I had no particular destination in sight but I was on my way.
One of the first chances I had to use my new knowledge came in the spring of my sophomore year. The Vietnam War protests finally reached the LaCrosse campus and my new friends were eager to cut class and hit the streets. They tried to persuade me to join them but I had done that already and I saw the futility of trying to change the system before I had changed myself. I was now on a different path and where that path led I did not know nor could I imagine what people and experiences awaited me.