Written reflections inevitably lead to insights, and it’s easy to assume that the work has been done. But there is a depth to our discoveries which itself awaits discovery. This mirrors our own existence because, ultimately, depth is what we seek in ourselves and in each other. Commonly, however, as is the case with the ocean, the depths can scare us, and we spend most of our time avoiding whatever lies there. But that is precisely where we must search because, as so many stories inform us, it’s where the treasure is buried. Here’s a reminder from the final paragraph of Always Know That You Always Know:
‘…follow that knowing through to its conclusion. Fully. Completely. Courageously. Karaj was always one for taking our reflections and insights all the way. He encouraged us to go as far and as deep as we possibly could, given what we felt we knew. […] The whole experience echoes with the familiarity of Karaj’s words: ‘Go further. You haven’t gone far enough.’’
I have been asked to translate a book (from German into English). ‘Insight Into The Tao’ is an examination of a handful of chapters and lines from the Tao Te Ching. With its own careful choice of words, the book necessarily highlights the difficulties of translating the original Chinese characters, each of which carries a myriad of interpretations. But then it goes on to unlock, unravel, and lay bare the words of Lao-Tzu in such inviting and insightful detail. We are indebted to the author for that unravelling. Without it we would be left floundering amongst the sparsity of content and the confusion of interpretation.
The clarity he creates is possible because of the depth of his experience and the depth to which he is prepared to go on our behalf. As he writes, the entire process was ‘an incredibly enlightening and enriching, as well as time-consuming endeavour.‘
The result is reflected in the richness of the insight he provides. However, even with help, it’s still difficult to hang on to the concepts. As I read the book, I felt as though I was grasping at disappearing truths. Like the vapour trail left by a plane passing overhead. At first, the trail is distinct, but two minutes later it has dispersed and is barely tangible. I hope to descend more deeply into his words through the translation process. It will be a form of disciplined practice.
It requires practice to go deeper, to go further in your reflections, your explorations and conclusions. Thoughts and feelings always offer themselves up for examination, but we tend only skim the surface. Taking the time to see them clearly can disarm them. Further scrutiny can point to their source, and may reveal a way through them. Practise regularly. Be curious and play with whatever arises.
It’s even possible that the deepest emotions – love, sadness, fear, anger – are attractive because of their depth. In a conversation with my father about the recent series of posts, If Space, Then Time, he wondered aloud why he revisits pictures of his wife even though they trigger his pain. I suggested that maybe it’s because it puts us in touch with the deepest experiences of what it means to be human.
That is what we yearn for. We spend so much time on the surface, playing with the superficial, when the real treasure of life lies buried beneath. We know from countless childhood stories that to reach the treasure, we have to dig. Search the depths. No matter how painful it may be, that is where true beauty and profundity dwells.
I heard Karaj’s words when I was writing the first part of that series. They came towards the end when I was trying to make sense of that deliberate exposure to sadness, and to find the healing in the experience. I had written something but it did not seem to do justice to the intensity of the experience. Then I heard the words, ’Go deeper. You need to go deeper.’ It was only when I did, that I rested on this insight:
‘I actively sought out the poems and the music which would make me cry. Maybe I did so in order to express more easily how I was feeling inside. Maybe that was my saving grace. As sad as I felt when I was doing it, maybe it allowed me to retain a broader smile for longer. A survival strategy to prolong the radiant spirit of childhood, and permit me to reach the point where I can heal myself across time.’
In all the years since my childhood, that explanation had never occurred to me. Yet with a little persistence it seemed to volunteer itself easily. Go deeper into your insights; look more closely at your feelings and emotions. Exert your curiosity again and again. Sometimes, it may even be effortless, as if the deeper insights are willing their own discovery. Other times you may have to be patient. But persevere, practise regularly, and be unwilling to accept the surface-level satisfaction. In time you will be lead to the depth and richness at the heart of all experience.