So, I’m reading a novel where the character is describing the moment of death, according to the "Tibetan Book of the Dead", and I’m struck, again, by the evidence that a core of truth underlies all our fabrications. Awareness of the same scenes as though from a template, arising in such varied lives gives a glimpse of everything as part of a grand idea, individualities structured on a universal core. In the book the daughter is telling her father that it says the only moment of clarity we have in life is at the instant of death. The scene transports me to a moment when my father and I were the only ones left at the dinner table after a family gathering. He was in that early stage of his mental withdrawal which made him less reactively argumentative (he became much easier to be around as he continued away from us) and I suggested that at the moment of death we would realize something about life that could not be seen while still clinging to the personal being, that when all the urgencies of living fell away, the striving and intention over, it would be then that the meaning of it all might be clearly visible. It was an idea that made sense to me, though hadn’t come across it in my reading yet, an idea floating up from the depths of the collective consciousness that now resonated with the thinking of the daughter in the story. We all draw from the same well.
The imagining of scenes draws from the materials of personal memory where it resonates with the chords of being human. Reading a story by David Foster Wallace has left me shuddering with its radical honesty. James Baldwin affects me like a force of nature, which leads me to consider whether it’s the “nature” in human nature we should reflect on with compassion. The deep truth of fiction is often the stuff we don’t see or admit to ourselves, and then are reassured seeing that those traits are there in others. The complex emotional bindings intertwining in human relationships are nature unfurling within us. Intellect grows with the size of the social group. Every individual has unique quirks of signaling so each different relationship has its own patterns and associated feelings. We are each other’s best education. Yet in the past that mental/emotional schooling had levels of physical signaling to draw from. Body language, facial expression, tone and pace of voice can be lost as technology intervenes. So looking at art is all the more necessary to compensate for the lack. We can use the essence of feeling distilled by the artist to extend our sensitivity to the expression of places and people. Works that stir personal depths mirror unrecognized emotions triggering thoughts, memories and ideas that help us makes sense out of life. All of the arts can serve to sound the depths and it’s the depths that provide our guidance whether we’re paying attention or not. It’s revealing to discover what draws attention whether in a museum or in a book or on line. Choices in art are highly individual and mirror personal truth. Literary fiction uses character and scenario to invite insight. The reader imagines with the palette of personal imagery that resonates with the universal.
If a response is there it’s because something within relates to it. And recognizing it means strengthening that area of sensitivity. The feeling guides attention and that makes it very powerful. Understanding personal feeling helps avoid misdirected reasoning and open depths for insight.