The Sense of a Felt Necessity


 “We are apt to forget”, says Ananda K. Coomaraswamy,"that beauty has never been reached except through the necessity that was felt to deal with the particular subject.” Which is to say that the creation of beauty depends upon a sense of burning conviction - a sense of a strongly felt necessity.

 One must feel an ardent burning desire to create something beautiful - a sense, we could say, that one’s motivation is related to the sense of a Divine imperative or command.

 Without that inner dynamic, one’s efforts to sing, dance, paint, write, speak, or act will fall flat, or at least seem artificial or inauthentic.

 That’s because a prior and necessary inner struggle has to occur before you get up on the stage or launch your ship. The inner work is an absolute prerequisite that demands all of your mind, heart and soul.

 Again, without that prior inner struggle, one's creation, whatever its nature, will not rise to the level of the beautiful. 

 If such an inner engagement has been bypassed, I think you can expect to witness an effort to compensate for that lack. To make up for it, someone may make extra noises and motions, but to no avail. For there is no evident substance or depth.

 It’s all surface stuff, amounting to nothing more than 'a sound and a fury, signifying nothing.' As someone exclaimed about one of these performances: “That vacuous laugh of his drives me nuts!” 

 It’s a lot of hoo-ha, without any depth of feeling.

 And thus everything depends on an inner struggle and the resulting conviction of a felt necessity

 An upheavel, an inner catharsis, is required to launch us out from some safe harbour into the tumultuous sea.

 Which means of course, then, that beauty doesn’t come from the potato on the couch, or from a creature slumped over in a bar somewhere. Nor will beauty arise from someone who lives in a perpetual drift mode. 

 Beauty is created by a strongly felt necessity to create. There is a deeply felt conviction: 'I must do this. I have to do this. I cannot do otherwise. It matters too much. I’m gripped by this. I have a sense of call with regard to it.’ 

 I recall, for instance, when some years ago my wife, who had never wanted to become a teacher, was suddenly seized by the conviction that she had to become one. She could not get away from what felt like a call. She was in its grip. It was like she had no choice, the sense of a felt necessity was so strong. For two nights in a row we were up all night talking about it. 

 There was for her such a sense of felt necessity. Her struggle and vision at that time has continued to carry her through a twenty-five year long teaching career.

 Beauty comes from such an inner struggle. Beauty comes from a certain eruption in the soul. 

 Otherwise, as Coomaraswamy states: "We sit down to paint a beautiful picture, or stand up to dance, and are surprised that the result is insipid and lacks conviction.” (Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Siva, Vol. 1 Fourteen Indian essays)

 No beauty appears. Instead there are insipid results, lacking in all conviction. Why? Because, as Coomaraswamy says: “There is nothing in us.” 

 For beauty does not come from nothing. It does not emerge automatically, without any kind of effort or struggle or suffering. 

 I think therefore that part of the struggle to find a sense of a felt necessity is to become aware of a certain lack. It is necessary, in other words, to come under the conviction that 'I’m missing something.’

 There could well be the feeling that ‘there’s nothing in me.' We may even be haunted by this and feel: 'I’m not living the kind of life I once envisioned for myself. I’ve somehow gotten lost along the way. Sidetracked or diverted perhaps from a former dream or desire.'

 This level of awareness of something amiss, of a felt lack, is the beginning of the quest. 

 In such a state, you may feel unsettled. Or undone. You may feel yourself falling apart, collapsing into scattered pieces everywhere. 

 Well this is a very good predicament to be in. Now, sufficiently troubled, you have the chance to get somewhere, instead of spinning your wheels all the time. 

 Now, if you’re very blessed, you will become fierce and determined.

 You are struggling and longing for something more, to the point that it hurts.

 Perhaps you’ve been waking up in the night lately with a gnawing sense of emptiness. Again - very, very good! You are becoming a candidate for some possible creation of beauty. 

 A necessary struggle has begun that, if you stay with it, will eventually result in the creation of beauty of some kind.

 As in the case of Ram, the hero of several East Indian tales. His adventure necessarily began with enormous inner turmoil. 

 As a teenager, Ram had been sent to some kind of summer camp or retreat. Upon returning, he was no longer himself. A change had come over him. And nobody knew what to make of it.

 As the story is told in the Yoga Vasistha: "A great change had come over, Ram, the young prince. The prince seemed dejected and shunned company. He had no interest in the company of people. He had no interest in jewels and precious stones. Even when offered charming and pleasing objects, he looked at them with sad eyes, uninterested.”

 Here on display was a whole new version of Ram, who, uncharacteristically, now “spurned the palace dancers, regarding them as tormentors.” 

 No longer his former self, Ram, now "went through the motions of eating, walking, resting, bathing and sat like an automaton, as one who is deaf and dumb."

 "Often he muttered to himself: What is the use of wealth and prosperity? All this is unreal."

 "He was silent most of the time and was not amused by entertainment. He relished only solitude. He was all the time immersed in his own thought. He said to himself: “Alas, we are dissipating our lives in various ways, instead of striving to reach the Supreme.”

 Family and friends were alarmed. Ram was no longer Ram! Everyone was asking: 'What has happened to Ram? How do you solve a problem like Ram? He had become some kind of societal mistfit, and nobody knew how to handle the situation.

 So in desperation the sage, Visamitra, was sent for. Surely the wise old man would know what to do. He could do an intervention on poor Ram.

 But upon delivering his judgment, the sage shocked everyone. He told everyone that Ram had no problem at all. The sage declared that Ram’s “condition is not the result of delusion. Rather, Ram is “full of wisdom and dispassion.” 

 Ram, according to the sage, was 'awakening from life’s illusions and on his way to enlightenment.' 

 Ram had been experiencing, both day and night, an explosive inner pressure, the felt necessity for enlightenment. The beauty that would follow was directly related to the intensity of his inner struggle.

 I had a very good teacher years ago when I took Dale Carnegie training. (Public Speaking and Human Relations) His greatness in particular was because he demanded that our two minute talks had to arise from an inner struggle. He demanded that we had fully to feel the fire of conviction about what we had to say. We had to be fully in what we had to say. 

 He was teaching the point of my article, that a felt necessity must be the driving motivation, if something beautiful is to arise.

 If the Dale Carnegie teacher detected that any of us were going through the motions as we spoke, that we were somehow not in what we were saying, that our presence was more like an absence, he would interrupt and tell us to sit down.

 We were only to speak when we were inwardly ready to give him and everyone the clear impression that our subject mattered to us - that we had become as one with our subject matter.

 This, on the deepest level, is what is meant by the sense of a felt necessity - that I have become one with what I care about.  

 In the Dale Carnegie course, we were to struggle with the two minute talk we were to deliver. We were to practice over and over again until the inner fire was created.

 To find such an inner felt necessity, requires, I think, paying very close attention to what Jacob Needleman calls moments when we have intimations of a great possibility - which is, a “wordless, obscure longing for contact with this something."

 Needleman calls it "a longing, a wish, a call, that throws into question every other aim and purpose of our lives.” (Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life, p. 6)

 "We do not hear that call very often or very distinctly, but when we do hear it, we see that it comes from a part of ourselves that is disturbingly unrelated to the rest of us."

 So he is not referring to that part of us that "eats, sleeps and produces children.” To what King Solomon called, our life under the sun - "to be born and die, to kill and to heal, to build and destroy, to weep and to laugh, get and lose, keep and cast away.” 

 Needleman is not making reference here to "this world that we see and know and call real.” 

 But rather, he’s calling our attention to another world, another dimension, another part of us - to that which is "above the sun, above all that our eyes can see and our mind can name.

 "There is a higher part of ourselves that senses this and calls to us.” 

 The specific call is to recognize what Blake called a “stronger and better light than what the perishing mortal eye can see.”

 Becoming aware of that light, is to ‘dip for a while into the source of life.' 

 To become one with that Light, is to enter a level of inspiration from which will arise “a new fertility” and “the fountain of youth." (Coomeraswamy)

 To enter that level of experience, is to find the inner fire and one’s own particular sense of a felt necessity.

 To find it, an age-old practice is always recommended:

 "Abiding alone in a secret place, 

Without craving and without possessions, 

He shall take his seat upon a firm seat, 

Neither over-high nor over-low, 

And with the working of the mind 

And of the senses held in check, 

With body, head and neck maintained 

In perfect equipoise,

Looking not round about him, 

So let him meditate, and 

Thereby reach the peace of the abyss: 

And the likeness of one such, 

Who knows the boundless joy that 

Lies beyond the senses and is 

Grasped by intuition, 

And who swerves not from truth,

Is that of a lamp 

In a windless place 

That does not flicker."

(Inspired by the Gita, A.K. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva, p. 60)


Abba Father, Swami Nirvanananda