The Ineffable

I was reading a book this morning and encountered the unfamiliar image of “confusion” being the self’s way of “twisting not-knowing to gain control over it.” (Love of Knowledge, page 224). The passage went on to suggest that this twisting occurs when a central story (such as the story on which we base our sense of identity) fails to cohere.

What a radical idea! Can confusion really be a deliberate strategy to avoid acknowledging, and thus confronting, a recognition that our founding story (that we are separate from everything we discover in our world) does not really correspond with our experience? Can confusion really be how the self tries to avoid calling into question its belief in its own independent existence?

Even before I read the rest of this chapter (which I felt certain would portray not-knowing as a natural condition of being human, which–far from banishing the knowledge for which we yearn, reveals the presence of a knowing connection with everything), I caught a glimpse of how I might penetrate my own fog of confusion.

I thought of a word that I have rarely used to describe my own experience: “Ineffable”. When I have used it, I must have suspected that I don’t really deserve to use it, because I don’t practice the art of prayer and devotion and have never learned how to let my heart and soul reverberate with a presence that, deep-down, I know embraces my own presence within it. But neither am I ready to accept that to be human is to live in a state of exile.

Words like “ineffable” and “reverberate” invite further exploration. I ask myself if I have ever heard that calling from the vastness, which some call “the heavenly choir.” That choir doesn’t seem to bring wisdom into the world nor intervene in the lives of beings suffering in confusion–out here on the cold steppes of isolation and panic. I imagine them just singing; singing and reverberating together within a hallowed presence.

Could that choir be offering a way into the ineffable; allowing what cannot be comprehended or explained to simply blow in through the windows of our individuality, like trumpets summoning us to lift our hearts in harmony?

I don’t think the ineffable can be a particular place or even a presence to which we might assign qualities. I think the ineffable must be most present when we turn toward what cannot be grasped, without trying to reach outside of ourselves, and gratefully accept the gift of our being. Is the singing of the heavenly host, then, that state of being in which we feel the music of a great wholeness reverberating within our own hearts?

Confusion may be an ever-present possibility: a cognitive-emotional response to the unspoken and unthought recognition that beneath our stories lies ‘something else’ (in somewhat the way that random quantum motion is said to underly the physical realities of the everyday world)”. Love of Knowledge, Tarthang Tulku, page 225.

And in that “something else”, can we find the clarity and comfort for which we yearn?

2 comments to “The Ineffable”
  1. It seems the question ending your Blog opens to it… at least for an instant… for that instant inexpressible… just before the ‘self’ comes-out to narrate something to fill-in that open knowing. That’s the job of the self… to consolidate, narrate, and fill-in meaningful stuff.

    Reminds me of creating a list… prior to creating it all was available, until the narrowing down, that excluded all but the list of things that has been crystalized.

  2. Wow, Michael, you jist blew me away. I’ll need to read this post several more times before I can even articulate what arose when I read it. I think my experience of resonance points to a profound underlying Truth my soul is trying to bring up to my attention. Thank you for these amazing words!!

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