The Pearl of the Mind






The mystical opening bars of the sonata began to play, like petrified terror quietly knocking on the gate of consciousness. As the music proceeded, the player felt more and more uncomfortable and strained. Eventually, the performance was interrupted, and the young pianist raised his eyes, puzzled.


‘I don’t know if I should tell you this,’ the student began to say to his teacher, feeling fearful and ashamed. ‘But... a terrifying doubt has started to gnaw at me, and it feels like, in my case, this is a waste of time, and precious time and life are running into the sand. These days, I constantly wonder if it makes any sense to press black and white buttons every day for hours,’ sighed the young pianist. ‘I love music and playing, I believe, but it feels so forced... and I can’t act according to my feeling. I can’t get a grip on it, as if the wires were broken!’


He seemed to visibly suffer from the piercing conflict. With a lump in his throat, he still managed to utter:


‘Why?’


A complete silence descended over the class.


A couple of decades went by.


* * *


‘Well, did it become clear to you? Did you find a solution to what was bothering you? You disappeared just like that, and I feared the worst.’ The spoons rattled against the coffee cups and the crystal glasses shimmered in the sunlight, reflecting the colours of the rainbow everywhere. In the middle of gypsophila, a pale pink rose scented the air. Two souls were sitting in the charming café.

‘I found a silence that went on and on. It brought an unreasonable amount of fear and a thick fog of assumptions and beliefs without a torch lighting the way.’

‘That doesn’t sound like an inviting path!’ the other exclaimed instinctively.

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, as someone has written.’ [1]

‘Appears to be a Romantic,’ thought the other aloud. The artist sitting opposite laughed and looked around the quiet café for a while before replying.

‘Yes, these criticised and adored Romantics; is there something in them we can’t forget?’

‘There is no denying that the fruits of their creativity are still significant, but...’

‘In the fog and darkness, something started to dimly gleam,’ the artist said, wanting to continue his thought.

‘Really?’

‘It arose little by little. It was fragile but I tried to follow it.’

‘Follow what?’

‘A certain... gold thread that had faded away into the surrounding pattern—disappeared, even broken.’


‘Gold thread? Could you put it more plainly than that? Too many things remain open here and now, and I’m absolutely tired of sorting out other people’s thoughts!’ huffed the interlocutor.


‘You said it! My own thoughts were missing! This flickering golden thread...,’ continued the artist, leaning excitedly forward and lowering his voice, ‘it was my own thought, my will, my voice, my power... my sadness, my exaltation, my anger, my love, and, not least, my truth—the list could be continued.’


‘Sounds excellent, congratulations.’


‘Well, thank you.’ The artist became silent for a moment and then continued: ‘You make me feel ridiculous.’ The old sparring partners silently sized each other up.


‘You’ve always been one... one heck of a dreamer, and so poetic...,’ began the companion, weighing his words.


‘Honestly, wouldn’t you envy or admire a free and vibrant soul that radiates such characteristics?’ the artist demanded from the other side of the table.


‘Why... I don’t have a habit of being envious. I’ve succeeded just enough in my life, damn it! With hard work and wits, there hasn’t been much time for sentiment, as things have had to get done and carried out. But grumpy I certainly have become; there is some power and emotion for you!’ The pair fell silent again, savouring their coffees. After thinking for a while, the artist continued.


‘It’s me who should congratulate you. You’ve had the courage to live and to seek what you wanted. You took a plunge into the middle of people, and you took to it like a duck to water. I was too afraid of the world. And of people, mostly.’


‘So, did I travel outwards and you inwards… but you have been afraid of people?’ replied the companion in disbelief. ‘I thought that people were afraid of you; you’re so strong with your art, distant and independent, and in some ways annoyingly, above the ordinary life.’


‘Is that so? It has been my private bulwark, I guess. I also wanted to break free from the noisy, confusing, and even misleading web of opinions and influences and learn to live, think, and feel, and, at the same time, listen to the healing voice of my primitive instinct. I noticed that the persistent work towards one’s own goals and spiritual alertness has made my life more meaningful and, therefore, happier.'


‘That golden thread of yours—I think that without meaning and direction, without a compass, our life tends to be unconscious wandering. However, surely everyone doesn’t have to wander a lonely path for years to find those things? We need dialogue to see ourselves, to develop and to stay mentally healthy. And, consequently, to be able to better see each other.’


‘Perhaps not, luckily for them. On the other hand, the more incomplete the dialogue and the more sunken the thread is... I confess, the longer must one search, I guess. Awareness of my inner world, if you like, keeps me safely on my own natural path, like the pulse in music and the paths and gravitational pull of celestial bodies. Oh, to be an artist, a human being who is brave enough and able to avoid the pitfalls of being other-directed, needing to please, and self-indulging by following his or her own inner compass like an experienced mariner on the open sea. And to readily sail the winds of creativity by following one’s enthusiasm!’ the artist reflected.


‘Because I know you, I can better understand your way of thinking. If you walked out into the streets of the real world trying to sell golden threads, retreating into solitude, exaltation, winds of creativity and the paths of celestial bodies... with all due respect, old friend, one might think you were trying to sell a drug or a new psychopharmaceutical.’ The artist stared at his old school friend and burst into peals of laughter.


‘Now you know how to bring one back to earth! But how one puts one’s point really seems important,’ continued the artist, becoming serious and absent-mindedly sniffing the rose. ‘At the same time, it highlights the difficulty and value of dialogue,’ he said reflectively and disappeared into his own thoughts. They both rested in silence.


‘I’ve become interested in your gold thread,’ said the companion after a long pause. ‘You think it is still worth all that to search for one’s own voice, will, and truth?’


‘Yes, to search for the beautiful and artless power, certainly. Otherwise, what would be our genuine and honest pathfinder? What else would fill us up, if not our inner world? Actually, falling into an abyss of physical and mental sluggishness is one of my many fears. When everything is on a plate in front of me, with meaning and content defined by others, and all I have to do is to reach out my hand and satisfy the acquired needs that first come to mind, the result is a distressing feeling of emptiness, and life feels meaningless. The deeper and more personal needs, often the most painful ones, lie deep. You can’t get a grip on them by focusing on the churning swirls on the surface. Thus, in my opinion, one’s mind is worth protecting, exploring, developing, and, when needed, clearing, for what more precious thing do we have? It is our mind that we have to face every single day and night.’


Loyalty to your mind’s truth and beauty is your salvation, I remember you saying a long time ago. And here we are, after a couple of decades, discussing the same subject. However, I still see the danger of withdrawing from the world and from people: the illusion of empowerment, not to mention ending up a prisoner of your own mind, where your world shrinks unnoticed and inevitably. In that case, what can you offer as an artist and as a human being anymore?’


‘I’m more ready to confront your thoughts today. Based on my experiences, however, I understand how necessary it is to improve our own mental well-being and capacity and, as a result, our ability to confront others with humanity. If we are lost inside, and therefore become numb, blind, and deaf weather vanes that make a noise because of our malaise and discomfort or even become threatening, what good could we offer to ourselves or to others then, not to mention offering honest and fulfilling encounters between people? Hence, I would like to ask a question: which one is more dangerous and imprisoning? To separate from the world, or from oneself?'


‘I see, I see... but we can’t uphold, develop, and guide our world by turning inwards, meditating, dreaming, and getting sentimental! Many things outside of us desperately need firm and rational attention, and we can’t run after every inner vibration like hungry hounds! And this certainly wouldn’t hurt in relationships either. Feelings are seldom reliable,’ the companion curtly stated with finality.


‘I do understand that point of view—on the other hand, our world, let alone our relationships, can’t be developed by ignoring, fooling, escaping, suffocating, denying or manipulating our thoughts, our feelings, our truth! But to blindly run after our every inner vibration...,’ repeated the artist and nodded as a sign of assent before continuing. ‘Our thoughts really tend to bounce on the surface like a pack of hounds, to curl up around our mental wounds like muscles after a physical blow, and to go round and round in narrow, even false, circles, in which the creative pulse of life has weakened. And the longer our thoughts and beliefs keep tangling around the wound, the closer and the more dominating they become in our mind, and the harder it is to live without them. As a result, we may be caught in a painful trap of some kinds of deficient emotions, in a state that is lifeless and waxlike—destructive at the worst. Undeniably, this is a great challenge for more free and truthful movement of our thoughts and feelings, and for the recognition of our intelligence and creativity. But if we become aware of it, we have taken a step towards the pearl slumbering in the depths of our mind!’


A journey into the depths of our mind, towards the slumbering pearl...,’ the companion repeated his friend’s words. ‘Are you talking about selfhood, a journey to our deeper self? To freedom? Where, in fact, can you find self and freedom? Could you be more concrete?'


’By my hidden wounds,’ replied the artist.


‘What do you mean?'


’By my hidden agony and pain, from a place with its own uncompromising laws. Imagine yourself to be diving into the depths of an ocean where you can breathe only by feeling,’ the artist tried to explain with a vision. ‘If one is brave enough to recognise the wounds and by them, to obey the laws of this ocean, one will sooner or later become aware of a creature that is separate from one’s wounds and beliefs. That untouchable, unfalsified, deeper self that is always following you. A creature that is freer to choose its own path, freer to think, feel, and be aware.'


‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by...,’ continued the companion. [1]


And that has made all the difference!’ [2]


‘In other words, your appealing suggestion is that let’s feel agony all together; carpe diem!’ the companion teased his beloved friend, whom he nonetheless had to respect. The artist smiled at his friend’s irony.


‘Agony and pain would be meaningless and unnecessary, sheer insanity, without human development and liberation. It would be like an arduous, painful journey without a destination, like an eternally cold and dark glacier... like a dead standing tree, like a desert without a spring and an oasis, like a dried and hardened, rancorous human heart,’ he thought out loud. ‘In case I’m curled up around my wounds, in a way that hurts myself and my surroundings, I will, before long, notice it from the messages from deep down and from my surroundings. In the ocean of its own laws that I mentioned, I can’t pretend. But I can slowly pause, awake, and listen. And when the time comes, indeed, surrender to the moment. If I can confront the sensations caused by my wounds, I try to think of it as a great gift. Going round in circles is about to come to an end and I’m finally stronger and grown, ready to confront the painful core that I’ve possibly circled for a long time—and the release from it.’


‘If you go too close to the abyss of darkness, you might get swallowed—or, contrastingly, as happens to moths: if you fly too close to a torch lighting the way, you burn up. These ‘emotions’, they are not lightweight usually, surely you understand that?’ the companion said seriously.


The artist understood only too well and began to back off. Filled with suspicion, he sighed and felt puzzled– and tried not to be wise anymore. Humble, he stared at the table for a long time, until the words just wanted to come out.


‘There was this strange light; my deepest personal happiness... that came too close. It blinded my eyes, and I suffered from pain—the pain illuminated by longing, understanding, and awareness. Right away, I wanted to turn away and go back to the dusk where I had always wandered. You know what? It’s easier and safer to walk in an emotionless dusk, albeit crippled and blind, and to not be aware of the light and the lack of it. Fear threatened me, keeping me on its grip and pursuing me, sometimes masked. It wanted to keep the happy creature that is separate from my wounds and beliefs away from stepping forward and guiding my life. But with growing awareness, adequate volition, and courage, I can make a choice and step into the light, again and again, out of my dreamlike, wounded circle. And finally, accepting—bid farewell to it. Almost unnoticed, the past shadows begin to disappear, and the pulse of my own life starts to beat again! I have a palette of richer emotions in use, and my ability to live fully in the moment is becoming stronger.’ The artist began to believe in his thoughts again, and his face was glowing.


‘You’ve got a point there,’ the companion admitted reluctantly. ‘For some reason, the idea of our thoughts and muscles curling up around our wounds reminds me of a pearl oyster; it protects its soft body against an external, rubbing particle that accidentally appears, by secreting smooth and hard nacre around the particle, layer by layer. After a couple of years, the irritant is completely enveloped in the layers of nacre, and the pearl is formed.’


'So, a pearl is originally formed as a defence mechanism... this is fascinating!’ the artist said with enthusiasm. ‘But what does a pearl mean to a pearl oyster? Is it a petrifying, distressingly hard armour or a beautiful treasure and precious salvation resulting from hard work?’ the artist threw in a rhetorical question, partly amused.


‘Well, what does the art you have created actually mean to you as an artist—an armour or salvation and a treasure resulting from hard work?’ the companion asked suddenly, studying his friend, who visibly startled.


‘You made me speechless,’ the artist said after a while. ‘I always have to grow in your company—it’s exhausting.'


‘The feeling is mutual.’ 


The artist started to doodle in his notebook, lost in his thoughts. The companion grabbed the newspaper lying on the table next to them, and time passed naturally for the friends who had become close over the course of time.


‘Listen...,’ the artist said, and stopped doodling. ‘I couldn’t imagine I would learn a lesson from an oyster. But hardly any of us manage to avoid the rubbing particles that get inside of us. It is important to understand their arbitrariness or inevitability so that we don’t take them too personally and seriously, and don’t suffer in vain. I believe that we also have an ability to influence what we create from the most persistent particles—a freezing armour that turns into hate and bitterness in the course of time or a growing and enlightening pearl representing the art of living. It is not difficult to realise which one of these requires more effort and a mass amount of work to be born. An armour is made up of fears, and a pearl is born of love. Could it be so simple?’


‘Yes, that difficult ability to love and the gnawing, hidden agony of lovelessness. Apparently, you yourself have decided, in spite of everything, to love humans along with your art. I can well believe that the pearl representing the arts of creativity and living is born of persistent work towards finding our own truth and love. It often happens through suffering—despite of it and exactly because of it. We would like to love genuinely, coming from us, but without the experience of another person’s loving or at least accepting ‘eye’, it’s naturally difficult. We would like to grow, but without support and dialogue broadening our understanding, the growth dries up. We would like to feel freely and sincerely; but without safety—attention through someone’s steady understanding and empathy—feelings become petrified and hide, from ourselves too. I, in turn, believe that at one’s best, it is Human who is the most necessary and irreplaceable for another human being. Like a piece of a puzzle, of which the matching part can’t be anything foreign or artificial. Our greatest and most productive quality—the ability to love—is worth our constant attention, nourishment, and development.’


Touched, the artist listened and was well aware of his own loneliness—and aware of who, in the end, had patiently stayed to nourish and support his love. And his mind was churning.


‘For a long time, I’ve had a feeling that the mental structures I have created are somehow incomplete,’ the artist admitted finally and honestly. ‘I’m even more convinced than before that the human mind is far too complicated and deep for ourselves to pass—and it is far too complicated and deep to be passed by others either. Luckily, we can try to seek, if need be, our way to safety, into a loving and understanding environment, and with more and more conscious equipment, we can offer each other mutual support in our path of awakening and growth. The hard and protective composition of our human nacre may break at this very moment and melt into liberating and cleansing tears. The recovered needle of our ocean compass starts to point towards the purified and original, self-honest thoughts and emotions. In fact, I believe this golden thread of ours then leads us deeper and deeper beneath our exterior—towards our own human core, towards love and creativity. Pleasure to be alive, pleasure to love, and pleasure to create! Is it being sentimental and running around, or feeling deeply, having a firm meaning that guides life and decisions?’ the artist proposed.


The companion sighed and smiled as a sign of assent.


‘I notice it now, too, why we have remained friends in spite of our dissimilarity,’ he said finally. ‘With the help and support from each other, we have learned how to balance and improve our thinking. Besides, I feel that I can’t and I don’t want to deny the things you have raised.

We won’t fall into an abyss and we won’t burn up when we understand that our aim hardly is to systematically seek our wounds and infinitely immerse in them; instead, our aim is to hear and see the thinking and feeling self that is living inside of us, and, in that way, to reawaken our compassion and love towards ourselves again and again. As our life revives and comes to grow and bloom like this, what a deeply and far-radiating meaning, treasure, and fortune we have in our hands!’ the companion said inspiredly, visibly invigorated by the power of his insight. ‘Instead of our wounds, we are now standing by a clear and clean spring, with plenty to draw from and to share with others, too: safety through our human experience and knowledge—love, creativity, and wisdom to protect and cherish our lives and beautiful planet. For, without love, we don’t find meaning and don’t see beauty. But where we can direct our grown resources of strength—that’s another story!

In my opinion, we have just found fruitful dialogue, and, as a result, we know a little bit more about ourselves. Yes, I feel tempted to say that, together, we have practised the Moral of Humanity.’


The artist touched his companion’s hand, feeling grateful.


In his mind, he reached far back into the past, back to his own music lesson, and was now standing in the teacher’s place in front of a confused juvenile, the young himself. ‘Was the dialogue we just had enough of an answer to you?’ the adult asked gently. The adolescent nodded, tears in his eyes, before he was enfolded in understanding and compassionate arms. 


‘Play your love out without fear. I will protect you.’

 

The candles that were lit in the café sparkled in the darkening evening. Two souls left the café together and went their separate ways again.


-JF

English translation by Hanna Väisänen


[1] & [2]: Quotations from

the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’

by Robert Frost (1874–1963)










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