The Turning Tide
Theosophical Forum, September, 1899
“There are those who draw near to Thee through will, holding Thee ever in their hearts: there are those who draw near in thought to the unchanging Eternal: which of these follow the more excellent way?”
“They who draw near to me, holding me ever in their hearts, and with hearts drawn into me, full of perfect aspiration, these I esteem followers of the highest way.
“Yet they who draw near in thought to the unchanging nameless Eternal, the unthinkable all-present, the unmoving foundation which stands for ever firm:
Checking every impulse toward sensual life, with souls for ever balanced, these also come to me, rejoicing in the well-being of all creatures.
“Yet the path is hard, for those who fasten their thought on the unmanifest; the unmanifest way is difficult for those who dwell in bodies.
“But they who rest all the works of their wills on me, who aspire in heart towards me, who draw near single-minded, seeking the vision of me,
“For them I become a deliverer, raising them up from the ocean of death and embodied life: I quickly lift up those who lodge their wills in me.
“Therefore lead thy heart forward into me: let thy soul enter me; and thenceforth thou shalt surely abide with me forever.”—Songs of the Master.
Century after century the tide has flowed in from the great sea of Life, to refresh the hearts and lives of men: and after leaving with them a certain measure of power and inspiration, has flowed back again lonely to the great lonely ocean.
But this time it is to be otherwise. The tide is to carry us with it to the immortal sea. Already the flood is full. The quiet time between flow and ebb is upon us, and the moment draws nearer when we must launch our boats upon the waves. Perhaps we should like it to be for ever high water, in a tideless sea: so that we might linger endlessly in the shallow margin; on the deep, yet within comfortable sight of the shore. Yet this may not be. The eternal tides of life must come and go, with the great heart-beats of the eternal Being; and the tide which flowed must ebb, carrying us out with it into the unknown, or leaving us stranded on the beach.
If it were a comfortable inland lake, there would be no tide, no ebb, and no hazardous setting forth for the unknown: but this is the boundless ocean, and we must soon make up our minds whether to go or stay; to remain sheltered among the sandhills, or trim our sails and set forth with the evening breeze into the gathering twilight, the purple gloom that covers the unknown.
There will be some among us who elect to turn hack at the last, thinking that their courage and desire for adventure in the unknown will have grown, and that they will be of better heart, next time the tide comes in. Yet many of us will make the voyage. and begin to learn the secrets of the immortal sea. The twilight of evening, while we still linger under the shadow of the shore, will soon become the first dawning on the deep, and we shall feel the strong life of the everlasting begin to tingle in our veins. Little by little, we shall learn to forget that we were once shore-dwellers, sheltering ourselves among time’s sandhills, and grow more and more into the life of our ever-flowing, yet ever restful home.
Every simile may he strained too far; and this one, perhaps, has been carried far enough. Yet we must speak in symbols, for only in the inviolate life of nature can we find images of the living powers of the soul. Our human life is too corrupt, too sophisticated, too full of wire-drawn subtleties, of artificial thought and wholly false values, to yield us even the material of true symbols. We are hardened, frozen as it were into strange forms and pressures of life; the sap has flowed from us, and we are left withered and dry, along the shores of death. Therefore, this symbol of the sea of life has its first application here. All that is hard and crystallized in us all rigid forms and dry husks of by-gone times, all the unchanging molds of mind which cramp our imaginations and limit the outflow of our hearts by fancied boundaries; all this hard, dry life must pass away, to give place to the everflowing waters of the ocean. We must be ready to live henceforward without any fixed barrier or defense; open on all sides to the flowing tides of life; responsive to the instant inspiration of the soul, an inspiration which each time surpasses itself, and makes old and outworn even our previous intuition. Therefore the truth of the symbol: we must learn to live on the ever-flowing deep, and no longer on firm and unchanging earth.
There is something very disconcerting in this, perhaps: we would greatly prefer some definite rule, some set task to be done; we would heartily thank the sage who prescribed for us some decalogue, saying that through fulfilling the law we might enter into life. Yet this is just what no sage will do, or would dare to do. Each of us must find his own light, discover his own genius, gain his own footing in the immortal world. We have to deal in the last analysis not with a school of sages, but with the Eternal; with immemorial Life, through which alone the sages come into their power. And no initiation, even the last and highest of all, will ever lift the veil from that mystery; we shall never know whence is the eternal, infinite Life. It must suffice us to know that the Life is, and that we are the Life.
Then comes the world-old question, often asked and often answered: how are we best to enter into the Life? Are we to follow faith or works, meditation or action, thought or will? One answer to this question is translated here. Let us apply the answer to our present needs.
The path of thought and meditation is this, and it will really lead us at last to the goal: we live between two worlds, the hissing sea of the senses on one side, and the quiet deep of the Eternal on the other. If we can make every movement of our imagination cease to respond to the seething waves of the sensual sea, and more and more mirror the quiet deep above, we shall in the fulness of time win a perfect oneness with that peace, and enter living into the living world.
Yet this is a hard way, and the heart of mortal man cannot often compass it. There is another path, the way of will. At every moment of the way, we have some best inspiration, some highest thought; and the path of will directs that we should instantly turn this thought into an act, without even inquiring whether we might reach some thought newer and higher, and in whose light our present act would show full of imperfections and shortcomings. Instant act, for every best thought; no delay, no question or hesitation; no splitting of hairs, nor endless refining of motives, but instant action; instant realization through the will.
The will itself is colorless, equally ready for every act, whether it be to mold earthen jars or carve marble statues. All acts are alike to the will. But if we draw its power into us, and gain the habit of instant act, even for simple and everyday inspirations, we shall be able to count on our will when the great day of illumination comes. Always let the will in us be creative, never let it fall from its divinity to imitate. The difference is this: we imitate, when we act from a thought in some mind other than our own, and thereby we make our will the servant of another’s thought; we are creative when we let the will in us answer only to the thought which rises within ourselves, and thereby we become free. Every imitation makes it harder for the will in us to regain its freedom, and carries us further and further from the fountain of our life. Every creative act, where the will in us responds to a flash from within, makes us stronger, and brings us closer to our home. Therefore we shall soonest become obedient to the immortal tide, if we gain the habit of instant act, and if we act only from within. This is the easier way, smoother for mortal feet to tread; more accessible for common humanity than the difficult path of pure thought.
The habit of will, of instant action, will serve us well at the present hour, and in the hours immediately to come. For as we begin the life of the immortal, the fountains of the deep will be unseated within us, and innumerable inspirations, long since forgotten and faded out of human life, will begin to make their way back into the morning twilight of our hearts. If we linger too long, too minutely pondering and questioning, the swift inspiration will flit a way to some other more responsive soul; we should embody each inspiration at once, without an instant’s hesitation. At the least, we shall have learned something, while hesitation has few lessons, and those few ignoble. At the most, we shall have given a new embodied life to the word of the Supreme.
This endless visible world has powers without end stored up in it, which men for ages have utterly forgotten; it has endless powers which no mortal ever knew. For the visible world is the outermost garment of the Life, and in no way less full of treasure than its source. An inspiration of the will, after we have once boldly embarked, may be the key to some forgotten secret, or to some secret never known. If we act, we may discover the secret; if we hesitate, we shall learn nothing.
Then there is the really magical world which surrounds us, and of which our ignorance is as great as the peace of God; the magical world of our other selves. We cannot learn its first secret until we embark; we shall never learn it at all, unless we act. For to those who have set out, there come endless flashes of intuition as to our other selves; gleams of that great secret, that our other selves are touching us immediately all the time, in direct defiance of the frivolous veils of space. And a life, keen, vivid, infinitely full of promise begins for us with the first intuition of human life; when for the first time our other selves begin to touch us from within.
That is a work which will still be new after ages; for us, it has hardly yet begun. So that we need have no fear that the time will hang heavy on our hands. Every human soul has endless needs and endless powers which are simply never touched in our present life as we have come to live it. That is something of what we mean by the crystallizing and hardening of life, which must all be melted away by the immortal waters. And we may begin at any moment to supply these needs and learn these unknown powers; at any moment after we have embarked with the turning tide. There is all the Oversoul yet to be worked into the tissue of human relations. and now is as good a time as any to begin. Each of us will have his own gleams, his own inspirations, unlike all others, for the great Soul is alive and original at every part; therefore we ought from the outset to eschew the bad habit of copying, and act each one of us bravely for ourselves. So only do children learn to walk. Yet one rule may be laid down as of universal application: let us always think of people as our other selves.
Last task of all, and one embracing all the others: we are to find and keep wide open the doorway between our private souls and the great heart of Life. If we fail in this, all else is futile. Acts of charity have no more virtue for us than crimes; crimes have even the greater virtue of sincerity. If we are faithful in this, ever invoking the immemorial light, and drawing the Power into ourselves, than all will be altogether well, though we have to work our way up from the very mire and madness of passion. We shall learn many things on the way, that the white angels do not dream of. Therefore, this last counsel of all: the light, and always the light, though the world be wrapped in darkness, though the heavens fall.