Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 11


Letter # 7 August 22nd, 1948


I see that the swimming analogy has made an impression, so let me pursue it further.

Think of the mortal plane as an ocean or vast lake in which, when you are born into a human body, you are immersed. Your body’s first instincts are to keep you ‘alive’, but not perhaps in the way in which you think, for the organising principle known as the ‘body’ knows full well that you, the individual, cannot perish: its task is to help you to continue to exist in this new medium, the ‘water’ of the material world. Death is not a cessation of existence, then, but merely a termination of continuance on this plane — not quite the same thing.

Having said that, your whole existence on this plane tends to take primacy with you from the very beginning, as you have arrived imbued with a mission, and the foundation of that mission requires that you survive materially in order to accomplish it. But operating on the mortal plane consists of more than mere biological endurance, and, as you grow physically out of infanthood, you begin to grasp the tools you need to function in this new environment and to accomplish your mission.

Unfortunately, almost universally in some cultures, an individual living a mortal existence is afraid of biological death as a prime fear, and the more that this is fed by the surrounding culture, the more mentally domineering it becomes. Swamped by thoughts of mortality and overly focused on the physical, the individual forgets that the reason he or she is living a mortal life is in order to learn how to deal with the forces and flows it brings with it, ultimately with an eye to greater spiritual expansion and understanding, just as learning to swim trains our bodies’ muscles so that we can better cope with physical motion out of the water.

This fear of termination of the physical body, in a materialistic culture, becomes confused with a general (and somewhat woolly and diffused) terror of overall termination. In some cases, the terror of ceasing to exist entirely becomes overwhelming and prevents the individual from learning crucial lessons.

It is easy for me to write ‘Let go of your fear’. But fear can be intensely powerful and debilitating, and we will look at it as a phenomenon separately later, I hope. The main thing at present is to recognise that fear compels many people to put off learning how to operate in the mortal world, or how to ‘swim’, because they are afraid of cessation (or, to continue our analogy, ‘drowning’). Drownings do occur, in the sense that people can shut themselves down so badly as to become unaware of their surroundings, but consciousness is the most senior power in reality, rather than the other way round. If you wish to overcome your fear of death and begin to learn the real lessons which mortal existence can teach you, it’s possible to develop a set of ‘safety principles’ which will help you to avoid the ‘drowning’ which you feel threatens your existence.

Perhaps this is best explained in terms of our analogy. ‘Swimming’ is here learning to manage the mortal world so that you can increase your own chances of surviving well in it, learn to help others through it, and grow as a spiritual being.

So our first rule for safety purposes might be ‘Don't swim alone’. Always go swimming with one other person who is a strong swimmer, if not several other people. This would equate to learning about the fundamental truths of mortal existence with at least one other person already familiar with them. Just as when learning to swim, an area with a lifeguard is usually the best place to begin, so in managing mortal existence, one ideally should seek out a place where known masters operate.

A second rule might be stated as ‘Don't start out swimming in moving water’. Learning to swim in an ocean or river means that a person needs to be more aware of the motion of the water. It is more difficult to learn the principles of mortal life when one is surrounded by active, moving and changing sets of circumstances. To find peace and mastery sooner and with less effort, it is better to seek places of quiet, remote from the hustle and bustle. This is why, throughout mortal history, those searching for spiritual wisdom have established monasteries and temples and other places of retreat and refuge. These are locations in which the ‘waters’ are still; routine and practice set up calm rhythms which equate to a peaceful lake or serene pond in which the individual can learn to master the basics of ‘floating’ on the mortal plane.

If you must learn to ‘swim’ in an active environment, make sure you are with someone who knows what he or she is doing, and be sure to cover with them the basics of avoiding or controlling situations of extreme anxiety or panic, just in case these arise.

At all times, whether in a serene environment or an active one, seek to stay within a depth you can handle. When a person is first learning how to swim, they do not immediately venture out into water that is too deep for them to stand in. That way, if something goes amiss, they can simply stand up and breathe. The same principle applies to mastering mortality: if you are feeling overwhelmed, recognise that you are ‘out of your depth’. What should you do in such a situation? Similar to swimming, you need first to master the act of floating, which is what I shall examine next, along with how to recognise when you are out of your depth, and how to ‘stand up’ in those circumstances.

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