The Metaphysics of Knife Sharpening

(Posted after written over the past weekend)

I'm holed up in Bedford, with the great company of three loving dogs, a spotty internet connection and beautiful fall weather and four books--only one of which was for a guilty indulgence.  Though it had many fantastically lauded reviews, I couldn't get beyond the first couple of pages.

On to another book, Jose Ortega y Gasset's "Some Lessons in Metaphysics" opened conjointly with Sri Vivekananda's works.  Oddly enough, I read two passages in the space of less than 15 minutes first in one book, then the other that were so similar (existence v. perception or "being v. knowing"), that I had to but marvel at the coincidence of that proximity v. the disparate cultural and time distance of the two authors.

If we are to think of anything about ourselves that is unique, nothing is more accurate than our own weaving of the threads of our experience, and our thinking about any one or multitude of things.  None can have our identical experience.  I'm pretty sure that the experience of my observing a tree is not the same experience as Van Gogh's observation of a tree.  Would that I have such a perspicacity to observe a tree in like manner as Van Gogh, or view a bird in flight as DaVinci would.

Nevertheless, I recognize that my own observations are uniquely my own.  When I read JOyG, or Sri Vivekananda, so much of what each writes is so resonant and clear -- something that I had always 'known' but was unable to articulate. JOyG writes,

 "Truth, for the moment, is what quiets an anxiety in our intelligence". 

When I read both S. V. and JOyG, my intelligence is quieted. In this world of distraction, to focus one's attention on the smallest thing is a great discipline.  And to use one's hands and focus to transform something(s) into another thing, is the essence of being an artisan.  Are not the very creation mythologies of various cultures centered on this penultimate, yet essential, idea of creation?Accordingly, the simplest things such as growing plants, crocheting an item, making pottery, cooking, forging a tool from metal or sharpening stones into an implement are all necessary and good things.  In 'knowledge based society' we get so wrapped up in our intellects and forget that it is indeed the simplest things that ensure our survival.

I think that there is no more sacred a word than "create".  However the universe and ourselves came to be, we emanate from some creative force.  This space is not a theological space, and I don't debate religion with any.  Suffice to say, though, I believe that there is a strong creative force from which no thing escapes.  We'll spend the entire existence of (wo)mankind (however long or short that is) arguing about the who, what, when and how that all came to be.  For my own part, I do not care.  I'm here.  I exist.  The creative force is deep within every living organism:  plants, mammals, bacteria, insects, fish and any other thing that I've left out.  Even the interaction of 'inert' items are subject to physics.

We create first out of necessity: ultimately we must have shelter, food, protection -- and fairly reliable ways to reproduce those things on a daily basis should we expect to exist even if it is subsistence. I'm fortunate to not be subsisting.  Accordingly, I have the luxury of having a computer and the necessary accoutrements to speak about these things in this space.  Nevertheless, I never stray very far from subsistence, which brings me back to the point of the post.

Today, my hands are sore and my fingertips relieved of some dermis cells, as I retreated from the distractions of the world and focused rather singularly on the task at hand:  transforming the blade of several knives back to serviceability.

While not so dramatic as the creation of the metal from the contributing organics + heat + formation, the process of transforming a tool to its former glory, is at least within my skill (though still nascent).  It is impossible to 'know' how to do a thing until one does it.  Part of the learning process as we create a competency in a learned skill is the creation of true understanding.  We can research all of the espoused methods of how to cook a turkey, sharpen a knife, hammer a nail...until we get a dry bird, an uneven edge or a bruised thumb a time or two, we really have not exchanged knowledge of  the essential mechanics of how to do something to true understanding of having done it.  It's a useful thing to remember.  Nevertheless, we should understand the method of a thing that we are setting about to do before undertaking it.

So what is metaphysical about cooking a turkey, sharpening a knife or hammering a nail?  It is our interface with the physics of the task at hand and the solidifying of the process of moving from knowledge of a thing to understanding of a thing through our experience with it that makes it metaphysical--the movement from existence/observation to understanding/perception.  (At least that is the leap that I made!)

As we come to any task at hand, our experience with it is unlike any others; our understanding of it will be unlike any others.  On the most elemental level the experience is the same -- I see the same tree as Van Gogh, but my relationship with that experience is unique.  For it is not only our observation of something, but our interpretation (assimilation and communication) of that experience to others that gives that 'something' a reality in our specific purview.  Trees that I do not see are not in my reality.  Things exist for us so long as we give them our attention.  If you are in isolation, the stock market, starving children, genocide, or a plague have little reality for you. What we chose to see, then, has much to do with our reality.

Bottom Perspective of a Bird House
Perhaps no truth can be more universal than the simple one that my truth is uniquely my own. Your truth is uniquely yours.   My intelligence is different than that of others--better or worse, it makes no difference--and my intelligence will have different anxieties.  So the truths that quiet the anxieties of my intelligence, are likely quite different than that of any other.   Accordingly, my realization over my contemplative days in Bedford with my books (SV/JOyG), laptop, spotty internet connection, camera and three dogs was this very distinction.

When I read or write and feel that I have a clear view of the truth, it is only my truth.  That others may find that equally soothing, means that though unique, we share particular organic similarities--I'm pretty sure that my intelligence and the relating anxieties are substantively similar to many others, though not identical.

There is no greater hubris, then, for one to say that his/her truth should be your truth.  Ultimately, truth is how each of us (1) defines his/her relationship to life and (2) resolves his/her anxieties. That's not to say that personal truths are healthful.  I'm not saying that in the least.  Each of us is plagued with biases that blind/distort truth.  It is, though, our truth.

If we are to have any hope of grappling with truths that are worthy of pursuing, we should look first to the proclivities of the "anxieties of our intelligence."  It is the quality of those anxieties that matter in how we focus our energies and what truth we find (or manufacture).

For the moment, I will reflect more on those anxieties, and may have more to say about it.  The passage from JOyG was very intriguing to me.  I hope that for any reader it inspires some contemplative fodder.  The quieting that I experienced was rhythmically sharping steels against stone, feeling the grass under my feet, taking pics of my sister's dogs and other things -- seeing, feeling, and doing out of my normal element, and thinking about 'stuff' in a different way through JOyG and SV's inspiration.


Post a Comment