Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Sheltering Sky

‘The sky hides the night behind it and shelters the people beneath from the horror that lies above.”  This line from Paul Bowles book ‘The Sheltering Sky’ could be translated as  ‘the ego hides reality behind it and shelters us from that which we imagine we cannot bear’. What is it that we imagine we cannot bear? Look into a mirror and who do you see? What is seen is usually a person, with all their memories, their likes and dislikes and their history and all of this and more is seen as the identity of the seer. This is like looking at a pure blue sky and not realising that what is actually seen is an illusion. There is no pure blue sky, like the blue of the ocean which disappears when we dip a glass into it and hold it up and see there is no trace of blue in the water. If we could dip a glass into the ego we would find that there is no trace of any identity or ego to be found. What is taken for the ego is only pure intelligent consciousness but dip a glass into this and it would emerge apparently empty. We are not enamoured of emptiness even though in this case what is seen as empty is in fact full. We prefer the blue of the sky and ocean to something that cannot be named or seen. Given the choice we will always choose the ego over consciousness, the apparent to that which is not apparent. The book ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin opens with a doctor removing a pea from the ear of a patient, the pea had been lodged there since childhood and as a result the old man had been partially deaf as well as in recurring pain for most of his life. Towards the end of the book this man asks the doctor if he could put the pea back in his ear. His reason for this is that he no longer has any excuse for not hearing what is expected from him by his wife. Without the ego there are no more excuses for what we do; we are confronted by the world as it is rather than the world as we wish it could be. In this world we choose nothing yet are responsibly for everything. It is not possible to choose, as it is not possible to be anything but what we are, if you doubt this watch Sam Harris’s ‘free will’ video on You Tube. As to being responsibly for everything this is simply a truthful statement of fact, whatever we do has a consequence whether we know it or see it or not. There is no way to escape this truth, not knowing the consequence of our actions in no way gives us immunity from the consequences of such actions. Like the man with the pea, we can hear better without the pea in our ear but may not like what we hear.


  1. The only objection I have of having no free will is that it doesn't help to heal addiction and the subsequent consequences that it entails.

    This knowledge can be used by the addicted mind to justify the meeting of the desire to indulge although it might take the guilt or pride away it still doesn't solve the problem.

    As you know, I have no problem accepting this concept but can you explain the mechanics of how it can help in any way to live it experentially? Because there seems to be no utility value of this concept (at least I can't see it) I tend to ignore this fact and live as if I did choose my actions even if it isn't the truth.


    1. In the last part of your comment you state that you ignore the fact concerning no free will and that you live as if you did choose your actions. This is a subtle point, many take this notion of no free will to mean that if you are unable to choose freely then it is ok to do anything or another variation that it is ok to do nothing. Either of these responses would indicate to me that no free will can give us an excuse to do what we want to do anyway and to use no free will to justify this. Having no free will means that what you are is not free it is conditioned and programmed and while this is true it does not absolve us from responsibility from our actions. Our actions will always have specific and I think predictable results and no matter what we think or do this will alway be the case. It is precisely because we believe that we can choose that we choose the things we do. Without this belief the truth would begin to dawn upon us that all of this mysterious existence and universe is unfolding through us but is not dictated by us. Our so called choices are the result of misunderstanding what we really are. It is the ego that chooses but the ego does not exist and so the choices are made by something that is not true and as such these choices are also not true. What we are is consciousness and consciousness chooses nothing but is aware of everything and is itself that awareness. Awareness responds truthfully in all circumstances and this cannot be compared to the choices of the ego. Without the illusion of choice we are free to just respond as necessary and always to learn from those responses and their outcomes. The body and its senses are designed to do this, the problem arises when the ego gets involved in this process.

    2. That's clear.
      Can you explain the last statement a bit more though. When you say the body and its senses are designed to respond naturally, what about responses that require the mind via remebering, thinking, analysing etc. and to come to a decision to act or speak accordingly

    3. Memory, thinking and analysing are only tools that are available to the body and its senses but tools to be used in a practical and useful way or not at all. It is the body, senses and consciousness that run the show not the tools.