'The Wisdom of the Heart' by Henry Miller (1941)

A selection from an essay written by Henry Miller in 1941 called The Wisdom of the Heart.

The art of living is based on rhythm, on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all the aspects of life... the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, 'the dance of life,' as Havelock Ellis called it. The real function of the dance is- metamorphosis. [...] ... by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed... . [...] To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. [...] It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender. ...full unequivocal surrender. It is the religious view of life: the positive acceptance of pain, suffering, defeat, misfortune, and so on. It is the long way round, which has always proved to be the shortest way after all. It means the assimilation of experience, fulfillment through obedience and discipline: the curved span of time through natural growth rather than the speedy, disastrous short-cut. This is the path of wisdom, and the one that must be taken eventually, because all the others only lead to it.
The whole fourth-dimensional view of reality... hinges on this understanding of acceptance. The fourth element is Time, which is another way, as Goethe so well knew, of saying- growth. As a seed grows in the natural course of time, so the world grows, and so it dies, and so it is reborn again. This is the very antithesis of the current notion of "progress," in which are bound up the evil dragons of will, purpose, goal and struggle- or rather, they are not bound up, but unleashed. Progress, according to the Westerner, means a straight line through impenetrable barriers, creating difficulties and obstacles all along the line, and thus defeating itself. Howe's idea is the Oriental one, made familiar to us through the art of jujitsu, wherein the obstacle itself is made into an aid. The method is as applicable to what we call disease, or death or evil, as it is to a bullying adversary. The secret of it lies in the recognition that force can be directed as well as feared- more, that everything can be converted to good or evil, profit or loss, according to one's attitude. In his present fearsome state man seems to have but one attitude, escape, wherein he is fixed as in a nightmare. Not only does he refuse to accept he fears, but worse, he fears his fears. Everything seems infintely worse than it is, says Howe, "just because we are trying to escape." This is the very Paradise of Neurosis... .
...this philosophy of life..., unlike most philosophies, takes its stance in life, and not in a system of thought. [...] It is a thoroughly religious view of life, in that it recognizes "the supremacy of the unseen." Emphasis is laid on the dark side of life, on all that which is considered negative, passive, evil, feminine, mysterious, unknowable. [...] "There is no progress other than what is, if we could let it be..."

It favors the slow, rhythmic movement of growth rather than the direct method which would attain an imaginary end through speed and force. It seeks to eliminate the doctor as well as the patient, by accepting the disease itself rather than the medicine or the mediator... . 

It seems to be generally admitted by intelligent people, and even by the unintelligent, that we are passing through one of the darkest moments in history. (What is not so clearly recognized, however, is that man has passed through many such periods before, and survived!) There are those who content themselves with putting the blame for our condition on the "enemy," call it church, education, government, Fascism, Communism, poverty, circumstance, or what not. They waste their forces proving that they are "right" and the other fellow "wrong." For them society is largely composed of those who are against their ideas. But society is composed of the insane and the criminals, as well as the righteous and the unrighteous. Society represents all of us, "what we are and how we feel about life," as Howe puts it. Society is sick, scarcely anybody will deny that, and in the midst of this sick world are the doctors who, "knowing little of the reason why they prescribe for us, have little faith in anything but heroic surgery and in the patient's quite unreasonable ability to recover." The medical men are not interested in health, but in combating sickness and disease. Like the other members of society, they function negatively. [...] Here is the picture of our so-called "normal" world, obeying, as Howe calls it, the law of "infinite regress"... .

The system is threatened with disaster, but we have no thought but to hold it up, while we clamour for peace in which to enjoy it. Because we live in it, it seems to be as sacred as ourselves.

"Normality," says Howe, "is the paradise of escapeologists, for it is a fixation concept, pure and simple." "It is better, if we can," he asserts, "to stand alone and to feel quite normal about our abnormality, doing nothing whatever about it, except what needs to be done in order to be oneself."

It is just this ability to stand alone, and not feel guilty or harassed about it, of which the average person is incapable.

His [Howe's] mind is, as the Chinese well say, "alive-and-empty." He is anchored in the flux, neither drowned in it nor vainly trying to dam it.

 Whoever has dipped into the esoteric lore of the East must recognize that the attitude towards life set forth in these books is but a rediscovery of the Doctrine of the Heart. The element of Time, so fundamental in Howe's philosophy, is a restatement, in scientific language, of the esoteric view that one cannot travel on the Path before one has become that Path himself. Never, perhaps, in historic times, has man been further off the Path than at this moment. [...] Howe is not alone in thus summarizing our epoch: it is the opinion of earnest men everywhere. It might be regarded as an equinoctial solstice of the soul, the furthest outward reach that can be made without complete disintegration. It is the moment when the earth, to use another analogy, before making the swing back, seems to stand stock still. There is an illusion of "end," a stasis seemingly like death. But it is only an illusion. Everything, at this crucial point, lies in the attitude which we assume towards the moment. If we accept it as a death we may be re-born and continue on our cyclical journey. It we regard it as an "end" we are doomed. It is no accident that the various death philosophies with which we are familiar should arise at this time. [...] Nor is it strange either that so many varied expressions of a fourth-dimensional view of life should now make their appearance. The negative view of life, which is really the death-like view of things, summed up by Howe in the phrase "infinite regress," is gradually giving way to a positive view, which is multi-dimensional. (Whenever the fourth-dimensional view is grasped multiple dimensions open up. The fourth is the symbolic dimension which opens the horizon in infinite "egress." With it time-space takes on a wholly new character: every aspect of life is henceforth transmuted.)

"Life is not in the form, but in the flame," says Howe. For two thousand years, despite the real wisdom of Christ's teachings, we have been trying to live in the mold, trying to wrest wisdom from knowledge, instead of wooing it, trying to comquer over Nature instead of accepting and living by her laws.
"To live in truth, which is suspense," says Howe, "is adventure, growth, uncertainty, risk and danger. Yet there is little opportunity in life today for experiencing that adventure, unless we go to war." Meaning thereby that by evading our real problems from day to day we have produced a schism, on the one side of which is the illusory life of comfortable security and painlessness, and on the other disease, catastrophe, war, and so forth. [...] We have got to become more inclusive, not more exclusive. What is not acknowledged and assimilated through experience, piles up in the form of guilt and creates a real Hell, the literal meaning of which is-- where the unburnt must be burnt! [...] We are trying to live only in the light, with the result that we are enveloped in darkness. [...] As Howe rightly says, "if we must have our ideals achieved and gratified, they are not ideals at all, but phantasies." We need to open up, to relax, to give way, to obey the deeper laws of our being, in order to find a true discipline.
Disicpline Howe defines as "the art of the acceptance of the negative." It is based on the recognition of the duality of life, of the relative rather than the absolute. Discipline permits a free flow of energy; it gives absolute freedom within relative limits. One develops despite circumstances, not because of them. This was a life wisdom known to Eastern peoples, handed down to us in many guises, not least of which is the significant study of symbols, known as astrology. Here time and growth are vital elements to the understanding of reality. [...] An attempt, in short, to arrive at a total grasp of the universe, and thus keep man anchored in the moving stream of life, which embraces known and unknown. Any and every moment, from this viewpoint, is therefore good or right, the best for whoever it be, for on how one orients himself to the moment depends the failure or fruitfulness of it. In a very real sense we can see today how man has really dislocated himself from the movement of life; he is somewhere on the periphery, whirling like whirligig, going faster and faster and blinder and blinder. Unless he can make the gesture of surrender, unless he can let go the iron will which is merely an expression of his negation of life, he will never get back to the centre and find his true being.