Beyond Cha Cha Cha.


 Have you heard the news? A world-renowned artist is going to paint a picture, on the spot, before everyone's eyes at the Cathedral! You must come to see it! Everyone’s going to be there. You must drop everything to come. You don’t want to be the only one who misses it! It’s going to be awesome

 Afterwards, there’s going to be a great party and we’ll have so much fun! We’ll cha cha cha the night away! 

 And thus it was, centuries ago, that a great crowd, in a heightened state of expectancy, gathered to hear the character, Til Eulenspiegel - known to have been engaged as the court painter to a prince - make his grand presentation. (Til Eulenspiegel was a medieval prankster figure - a notorious scamp.)

 Before the wide-eyed onlookers, Til Eulenspiegel, then "painted" a blank white  picture, declaring that "whoever was not the child of highborn parents, that is, illegitimate, would see nothing on the canvas.” (Frithjof Schuon, Language of the Self, p.102) 

 Til Eulenspiegel was telling everyone that they would see nothing if they were lowborn - if theirs was a commonplace or ignoble birth.

 Well, those in attendance, as we can imagine, each thought to themselves: 'Well, I don’t want to be perceived as a lowborn,' and 'I don’t want anyone to think my parents made a mess of me,' and so, against the fact that what they clearly saw was only a blank canvas, everyone joined together to ooh and ah with praise at the sight.

 Ponder, for a moment, if you will, this deluding scene. We know, and they do, too, that before them, in plain view, is a lie, a deception.

 It’s only a blank canvas - something entirely worthless, pointless, without any value whatsoever. 

 And yet, regardless, a wave of enthusiasm permeated the gathering.  

 The crowd’s response had nothing to do with the apprehension of real beauty. It had nothing to do with being deeply moved and inspired - lifted to the heavenlies - tears of joy running down their faces. 

 No, none of that.

 The crowd responded with approval, giving their assent, because of the social pressure to do so.

 Their denial of what they clearly saw was the fear of how they'd look, how they’d be perceived, if they didn’t go along with everyone. 

 It was the fear of standing out and alone with one's own perceptions and convictions. 

 Thus, as it states in the story: All pretended to admire the blank canvas.” 

 'All pretended.' Well, that's nothing new in all kinds of instances - everyone pretending, instead of being true to themselves.

 Instead of shock, dismay or revulsion, there is acquiesence to what is deemed to be socially or politically required. 

 Nobody stands apart from the crowd to exclaim: 'I will not go with this. I will not participate in the delusion, in this hysteria!'

 A similar denial of accurate seeing occurs sometimes, I think, when we are  presented with somebody’s so-called sincere expression of himself.

 There’s a rule now that has become a kind of absolute, that sincerity itself, without other considerations, deserves and commands respect. As Frithjof Schuon has said: "Sincerity has been elevated to the rank of an absolute criterion.”  

 And so there are artists who express themselves sincerely, but in all kinds of desultory ways. 

 But because of the absolute rule that sincerity is everything, we are not to question them, as if they live in some kind of protected zone beyond the rest of us. 

 Schuon puts it well: "They believe themselves to be “sheltered in a subjectivism which they deem interesting and impenetrable.” 

 So here’s some ugly painting, or some sordid piece of music, and in the spirit of tolerance and acceptance, and in conformity with the established dogma of relativism, where nothing is better or higher than anything else - where all should have prizes - one becomes silent, instead of crying out that this is not right - is not good, true or beautiful! 

 How many times, I’d like to ask, have each of us perhaps been presented with some work of very bad art, or disgusting behaviour - felt revulsed by it, but continued to stand there anyway, nodding and smiling, as if everything’s okay - when it damn well isn’t?

Well, you just don’t want to be the one who cries out that the emperor is naked, or exclaim that there’s nothing on the canvas! Or that said painting is revolting!

 When in fact the clarion call to the person of integrity is to exclaim that this so-called art, is but some troglodyte’s way of expressing himself.

 And, that you hate it means that your instinctive ability to perceive correctly is still intact. You are, in other words, not at all lacking to be so offended, but are full of discernment.

 It’s because you have understanding, that you’re inclined to vomit at the sight of a work of bad art, or bad behaviour.

 And if, on the other hand, I accept the bad art, perhaps not wanting to be perceived as narrow, that I reveal, in failing to discriminate against it, that I am but a knuckle-dragging barbarian.

 Which is say therefore that there is something deadly wrong with the dogma of art for its own sake. For, art for art’s sake, is as pathetic as living your life for your own sake. 

 After all, what is universally admired is when a life points beyond itself to something greater and higher. And the same is true of art. 

 Art is not about mere self expression but, if it’s to have merit - if it’s to be regarded as good - must point to something higher, something noble, or sublime.

 Great art is an icon of something higher shining through it.

 But it may that you have not cultivated your powers of discernment about what is good or bad, right or wrong, because you live in some kind of cha cha cha mode, words that writer, Michael Lederer, used to describe the practice of stupidity that characterized his life pattern for some thirty-five years!  

 From the age of twelve, Michael began to stupify himself with marijuana and alcohol, until an eleventh hour awakening at the age of forty-seven.  

 Lederer’s humble admission is that his life was a failure to grow up, living for thirty five years in a haze. For the last ten years, bless him, his project has been to re-invent himself. 

 While living in the land of cha cha cha, his language, he said, always included an emphasis upon having fun. "Can’t we just have a little fun?” was his constant refrain.

 Another constantly repeated statement was: “Is there a problem?” In his stunned state, always lying to himself and others, there never were any. (Cadaques, Michael Lederer, p. 278) 

 In an interview on DW (German) TV, Michael was asked if there was a specific moment that served to wake him up? He answered that it took several mighty wake-up calls to make the difference.

 One of them was when a beautiful woman, the most beautiful he’d ever seen, said chow to him. She’d had enough of being with a man who always had to have a drink.

 A second jolt was the occasion when he fell from the fourth story of a building.

 A third rather jarring experience was when he rolled a car down the side of a mountain.

 The fourth wake-up call occurred at the Italian embassy where, at a reception for an artist from Rome, he learned that "the ambassador had once been a student of his father’s at Yale."

 An inebriated Michael heard the words: "Your father was my favourite professor."

 Michael was so thrilled in response that he started slapping the ambassador on the shoulder, but went too far. The ambassador was a small man, and the continual slapping was too much.

 As he behaved like a "drunken cowboy," a friend intervened with a whisper in Michael's ear: "Stop hitting the ambassador.”

 These events together had the effect finally of helping Michael determine that he would commit himself to go beyond the cha cha cha lifestyle.

 To go beyond cha cha cha is, I think, a very promising prospect! 

 Life beyond the cha cha cha mode could ideally be about affirming one’s immortal nature - affirming one’s higher possibilities and caring about one’s potential to be God-like.

 On the spiritual journey, many have emphasized the need to cultivate what has been called an inner faculty of perception, or way of perceiving, that pierces through this world to a transcendent dimension beyond it.

 It is this way of seeing that Martin Lings states is the chief characteristic of a medieval portrait, as in the above picture of St. Francis and St. Claire, by Simone Martini. 

 Plainly evident in the above painting is what St Francis and St Clare primarily  care about and are aware of. It is their sense of the Divine. They stand humbly before that dimension of reality in a state of prayer.

 St Francis and St Clare are primarily aware of Spirit and direct their gaze accordingly. 

 We might imagine the two of them praying: "Lead me from the unreal to the real.” That is, may I clearly distinguish between the unreal world of cha cha cha and the real world of eternal verities that bring lasting joy. 

 The perception of the real is the perception of the Light at the heart of reality, which also exists in the heart of each of us. 

 This perception, says a spiritual teacher, is "dearer than a son, dearer than wealth, dearer than everything else."

 The one thing to be known and realized, he states, is Spirit, which is dearer than anything else in this world.

 Spirit must be realized. At present we may know it only hazily. "Now we must learn what exactly is its depth and its dimension."

 We have to go deeper and deeper, on a descent, which is actually an ascent,  from gross to subtle, from subtle to still subtler levels, and the subtlest truth is the Self or Spirit, that transcendent point of pure consiousness.

 The breakthrough finally is to say that I’ve had enough of cha cha cha. I’m looking for the Light. I want my life to be bathed and saturated in the Light. 

 As a morning prayer reads:"Rather than this passing world or possessions, which do not remain, blessed is he who acquires the spirit of God.’ (Lauds, Daily Prayers from the Language of Jesus, p. 78) 


 Be Still, My Soul, John Serrie