Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 5


Continuing with Marvels, by Tobias Green:


Letter # 4. May 10th, 1948


Dear Son,


Imagine that everyone around you is deeply engrossed in a book. They carry their book around with them everywhere, as they walk along, as they visit shops, on trains, on buses, at school, at home. Some even try to read as they drive a motor vehicle. There is not a moment in which their attention is not absorbed by whatever it is they are reading. So gripping is the material in their hands that you can approach them, speak to them, clap your hands in their faces, shout and jump up and down, and they will scarcely remove their eyes from the page.

In these circumstances, you might either lose patience with them and storm off elsewhere, or try to be clever and find subtle ways of attracting their notice. Perhaps you blow upon the pages of their books, or manage to scribble something in the margins as they read on, or tickle their noses so that they sneeze unexpectedly and wonder why, and other things of that nature. But, try as you might, you cannot tear the books from their hands.

For a book to be so absorbing, it must indeed contain elements which the reader finds so precious, so enthralling, that he or she cannot afford to miss a moment, no matter what else is going on. If you were to stop and think about it, you might decide that, in order to make their reading experience as effective and exclusive as possible, these readers who surround you must have closed off their other senses, and can in fact only perceive the words printed on the page in front of them.

Once they complete a book, they usually lay it aside reluctantly and sigh, and, looking up, perceive that they have been in a kind of trance for some time. They look around, surprised at where they have ended up, perhaps, and, for the first time, notice you standing there. Finally you are able to have a conversation with them. At first, they will want to relate to you their shock and perhaps dismay at finishing their book, and will possibly possess a huge desire to re-enter their book’s world and somehow continue with it, or relive it. Indeed, to get them to converse about anything else, you might have to spend some time allowing them to explain to you what the story they were reading was all about, and how it ended, and what they feel should have happened next, and what a sequel should contain, and so on, until, eventually, they exhaust the subject and are ready to discuss something else.

The reason for me drawing this elaborate parallel for you is because it is exactly that: a parallel of what happens between mortals and those no longer locked in their physical bodies. The mortals are the ones walking around absorbed in their ‘books’, or lives; those outside their bodies are observing these obsessed figures, unable to get their attention, unable to communicate with them in any effective way, until at last the mortal ‘reader’ puts aside his or her ‘book’ and begins to notice other things.

You might well ask what the purpose might be of such an arrangement, in which a great many individuals are so apparently absorbed away from a larger reality. Simply consider the parallel: why would these readers be so obsessed with their books? One answer might be because they are driven by a desire to know or learn; another might be because they want to be throughly entertained and immersed. In either case, permitting themselves to be disturbed by anything outside the book would disrupt the process. Just as when you read a book in reality, the constant presence of someone at your side wanting to talk to you would severely hinder any attempt on your part to enter into and experience the story. If you felt that the book was teaching you something which you vitally needed to know, you would redouble your efforts to ignore any companions and plunge more deeply into the text; and if you were being intimately or thrillingly entertained by the experience of reading, you would drive anyone standing with you from your mind in order to get the best out of that entertainment.

So it is with mortals; so it is with you, my son, immersed as you are in your own ‘book’ at the moment. You would not wish to be distracted from your experience. Those observing you who are without books may share a range of responses: some may be jealous, and want to participate in your specific reading experience, lacking one of their own; some may be kindly, watching you enjoying your story with compassion and love; some may be indifferent, wishing that you would finish quickly so that they might take you elsewhere. In this way, there is no ‘magical’ difference between your world and the next: both realms are filled with people much like yourself or me. The only observable distinction between them is one of attention: the mortal world is fixated on mortal things to the exclusion of all else, and understandably so.

Beyond mortality, fixations also occur — within infinity, there are various attractive ‘finities’ which are by nature capable of fixating the attention. You could argue, in fact, that any process of growth or learning which takes place within Infinity is to do with one’s command of one’s attention: to be gripped or not gripped, to be influenced or not influenced, to allow oneself an exclusive experience and then to be able to put it aside, these are the skills of the advanced soul. Controlling one’s own attention — or permitting it to be momentarily controlled, but at one’s own discretion —is the true mastery.

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