Across Time, Across Identities

Most of us who pursue mystical endeavors read documents that are hundreds or thousands of years old. People pursue writings on meditations and mysticism, looking for strong threads and useful practices. Worshipers of various gods read through translations and historical documents, embracing divinity by trying to understand the past. Human history is the history of the mystical, the spiritual, as that’s part of what we do.

Plus some of us want to make sure we’re not just following something a hack wrote on a page for a quick buck a few decades ago.

As I’ve noted before that in my own Taoist-infused work, I’ve tried to cultivate a mental “ecosystem” of Taoist thought for my practice. I read some of the Tao Te Ching each night and study a hexagram of the I Ching each night. This helps me better understand Taoist practices and have a mindset that is more expansive, having a system of symbols to relate to reality.

However in my practices I also find moments wondering as to the mindset of whatever author of long ago I’m reading. It might be a bit of obscure symbolism, a disturbing bias, or an intimate detail I just don’t get. One moment you’re reading a thousand-year-old document and truly getting the author’s deep point, then you’re wondering what you’re reading.

(And, yes, there’s a specific set of indicdents in my own studies that spawned these speculations).

I think it’s easy for us to forget that those we read and study are people who lived in different times and places. We may relate to them due to shared experience, their exellent writing, and/or a good translator but there will be a gap. At some point, there will be an alienness between us and those of the past we want to learn from.

That’s fine. That’s to be expect.

Remembering these gaps exist helps me get better at learning in my mystical studies. Why is this symbol so important to this one person Where did these strangely-phrased biases come from? What was the political situation at this time? Why did some food get classified this way (a personal one for me, a cooking enthusiast)? This way I can bridge that gap.

In fact, as I noted, my attempts at a “Taoist Mental Ecosystem” are part of that. If I want to understand some of these amazing writings, I have to get into the mindset. Best of all I get to update that mindset for the present, which may mean I can one day help others or write something that helps people appreciate the things I do. Come to think of that, some of that is posts like this.

I also think remembering these gaps helps us appreciate when these gaps are bridged by the effort of authors, translators, and record-keepers. Some works are timeless because someone(s) tried to make a piece of work be accessible to others. Even the smallest spiritual book or meditation guide that has stood the test of time is a monument to the effort that made sure it has.

So let your past authors and translators and so on be a bit alien. It’s OK. They did their part, so let’s do our part to connect to them.