A nut has a sweet kernel: a date has a useless stone.—Proverb
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
The bride and groom stood far away under an arch in front of the lake at the Taconic Retreat Center in Milan. I sat toward the back of a large group of wedding attendees and could only hear about every fifth word of the officiant's narrative and enunciation of vows. I could see her lips moving, and the beautiful couple standing in the sunshine, dressed in connubial whites. In the atmosphere of the assembled group's intense listening there was a deep, pervasive silence, and a vortex of attention that conducted a feeling of poignant joy, and pregnant possibility. I found myself weeping, despite comprehending none of what was said.
I remark on this moment because it reminded me of the potency of ceremony, which, at it's best, can be a real Event; which is to say a kind of bunching of the fabric of time-space to let more meaning in. In my experience this phenomenon arises in situations where people come together to engage in an activity that has a particular form. Often these are meta-activities, without any readily apparent productive end, like theater, or music, or religious ritual free from the inertia of judgment and dogma.
Idries Shah, in introducing a telling of a traditional Sufi teaching story, describes the phenomenon thusly:
"When a number of people come together, and if these people are harmonized in a certain way, excluding some who make for disharmony—we have what we call an Event. This is by no means what is generally understood in contemporary cultures as an event. For them, something which takes place and which impresses people by means of subjective impacts—is called an event. This is what some term a "lesser event," because it takes place in the lesser world, that of human relationships easily produced, synthesized, commemorated."
The real event, of which the lesser event is a useful similitude (not more and no less) is that which belongs to the higher realm.
I am often taken by surprise when I encounter an event that seems to draw my consciousness into a higher, more coalesced sphere. It is a pleasant, even joyous sensation of liberation from the inertia of my habitual mode of being and perceiving. And yet I always feel that there must be a method, or science, behind this—a kind of science of the invisible, qualitative world.
Counterfeiters exist because there is such a thing as real gold.—Rumi
Exploring the temples and monuments of ancient Egypt I was confronted with an indubitable sense of a society and culture that understood this science of the invisible. Simply being in and traveling through the architecture of the temples along the Nile, I was drawn into the realm of qualities, as though the geometry of the constructed spaces with the ubiquitous reliefs carved into their surfaces were an intentional means of liberating human consciousness to perceive and participate in a larger, freer, interpenetrating world of qualities and meaning. Though these buildings were only vestiges of a once living society, I could feel the coherence and vibrancy of the culture that gave rise to it.
Just as there is a subjective event, and a real event, so too there is a randomly formed "culture" (which is what we take to be culture) and a real Culture, which arises from a whole society focused on a singular aim of elucidating and actualizing higher meanings, or truth. I had the sense that the ancient Egyptians lived in a perpetual state of actualizing a real Event, employing a science of its production, and had, as a result, a real culture.
Despite what I have said about the monuments of ancient Egypt, which are unfathomable both in technical prowess of construction and engineering, and in the magnitude of meaning and impeccability conveyed in even the smallest detail, I do not believe that massive constructions or structures are necessary to give rise to real events or real culture. Rather I think the ancient Egyptians' buildings and monuments are byproducts of real events and real culture.
To boil water you need an intermediary—the vessel. —Rumi
In my experience there are several aspects of the architecture of real, transcendent events. One is subject matter that points to a higher possibility that is true on several levels; for instance a wedding is both about two people making a commitment to one another, and at the same time is about a union of the masculine and feminine polarities that exist inside of each person.
Another aspect of a real event is that everyone involved fully and actively occupies the roles they inhabit; for instance, a concert that includes performers and an audience. In the case of a real event the audience is outwardly passive but inwardly active with their attention, not consuming content but contributing attention to the larger whole; and the performers are outwardly active but inwardly receptive to the audience's attention and interest, thus becoming a vehicle for, as opposed to a source of, the material.
This outward/inward engagement creates a kind of sounding board that allows the material to come to life, and another order of information to enter.