I found this quotation decades ago; probably in the 80s, and carried it with me ever since (the reason I assumed it was the 80s is that I had carried around me for years, a typed manuscript on oversized paper, to allow the full text on a single page; it might still be here, in the Archives). It had been presumed lost in the jumble, until I could retrieve the file from the original floppy disk, when I input it the first time.
I think it’s Aldous Huxley, probably THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY, which means I first read it in college, in the early 70s. The emphasis, the capitalization is all mine; if I could find the original, I would know if even the line spacing itself were original, or entirely my own invention, to preserve clarity of phrasing for the modern reader (oh, listen to me).
Well, on with it …
Contemplatives have compared distractions TO DUST…to SWARMS OF LOCUSTS, TO THE MOVEMENTS OF A MONKEY STUNG BY A SCORPION. ALWAYS THESE METAPHORS CALL UP THE IMAGE OF A PURPOSELESS AGITATION. And this is, precisely, the interesting and significant thing about distractions. The passions are essentially purposeful, and the thoughts, the emotions, the phantasies connected with the passions always have some reference to the real or imaginary ends proposed, or to the means whereby such ends may be achieved. With distractions the case is quite different. It is of their essence to be irrelevant and pointless. Preoccupations connected with the passions will most probably come to the surface of consciousness, but along with them will rise a bobbing scum of MISCELLANEOUS MEMORIES, NOTIONS AND IMAGININGS … in a word, every kind of nonsense and silliness.
We are creatures possessed of a very complicated mind-in-body machine which grinds away incessantly and, in the course of its grinding, throws up into consciousness selections from that infinite number of mental permutations and combinations struck out in the course of its random functioning.
These permutations and combinations of mental elements have nothing to do with our passions or our more rational mental processes; they are just imbecilities — mere waste products of the activity of this mind-in-body. True, such imbecilities may be made use of by the passions of their own ends … but even when not used by the passions, even in themselves, distractions constitute a formidable obstacle to any kind of spiritual advance.
THE IMBECILE IN US
is as radically an enemy of Higher Power
as the passionate and purposeful maniac,
with his insane cravings and aversions…
The imbecile remains at large and busy,
when the addict has been tamed or actually destroyed.
In other words, a man may have succeeded in overcoming his passions, in replacing them by a fixed, one-pointed desire for ENLIGHTENMENT, and yet STILL be hindered in his advance by the uprush into consciousness of pointless distractions. THIS IS THE REASON why all advanced spirituals have attached so much importance to these imbecilities and have ranked them as GRAVE INDISCRETIONS, even AS SINS. It is, I think, to distractions that CHRIST refers in that strangely enigmatic and alarming saying, “THAT EVERY IDLE WORD THAT MEN SHALL SPEAK THEY SHALL GIVE ACCOUNT THEREOF IN THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT. FOR BY THY WORDS SHALT THOU BE JUSTIFIED AND BY THY WORDS SHALT THOU BE CONDEMNED..
Verbalized imbecilities, spoken irrelevances, all utterances, indeed that do not subserve the end of enlightenment, must be condemned as being barriers between the soul and ULTIMATE REALITY.
They may seem harmless enough; but this harmlessness is only in relation to mundane ends; in relation to the eternal and spiritual, they are extremely harmful.
Judged by everyday human standards, they seem matters of no account. And yet, as they are in themselves, as they are in relation to that “PURE LIGHT OF this HIGHER POWER”, which they are able to eclipse and darken, as the sun is darkened by a dust storm or a cloud of locusts, these trifling imperfections have as much power for EVIL IN THE SOUL as anger, or an ugly GREED or some OBSESSIVE apprehension.
“It is true that you have not adequately expressed your sins; but the fact is that, in this life, it is impossible to represent them in all their hideousness; we shall never know them as they really are until we see them in the pure light of HP. HIGHER POWER gives you an impression of the deformity of sin, by which he makes you feel it to be incomparably greater than it appears to your understanding or can be expressed by your works. Hence your anguish and distress. … You must therefore conceive of your sins, as faith presents them to your mind — in other words, as they are in themselves; but you must content yourself with describing them in such words as your mouth can form.”
Every sensitive human being has, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER realized the POINTLESSNESS AND SQUALOR of the common life of incessant and reiterated distractions, and longed for ONE-POINTEDNESS OF BEING and PURITY OF HEART. But how pitifully few have ever chosen to act upon this realization, and tried to satisfy their longing!
ONLY — but this is rare —
When a beloved hand is laid in ours…
A bolt is shot back in our breast…
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow
And hears its winding murmur…
And then he thinks he knows
the hills where his life rose
And the sea WHERE IT GOES.
Note the sad lucidity of the phrase, “he thinks he knows”.
…Those who enjoy the natural ecstasies of passion and affection do not know; they merely think they know. And for the unlucky ones who do not happen to have a beloved hand to clasp THERE IS NOTHING but to …demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupifying power;
And yes, and they benumb us at our call!
But they benumb us only for a little while,
and then the old misery returns more unbearable than ever…
…`each sin begetteth a special spiritual suffering…
A suffering of this kind is like unto that of HELL, for
the more you suffer, the worse you become; this happeneth
to sinners; the more they suffer through their sins,
the more wicked they become, and they fall CONTINUOUSLY
more into them, in order to get FREE of suffering.