The Infinite Way
Chapter - Introduction by John van Druten
Sitting before a blank sheet of paper and wondering what I was going to say by way of introduction to this book which I know so well, leafing its pages in search of some line or passage which might cue me to a start, I found my thoughts turning away from its contents to the essential mystery of my profession as a writer -- the mystery of whence they would be coming, those words that I was going to put down, which are already these words that I am putting down. I need hardly say that this was not the first time that I had asked myself that question; it confronts me each time that I find myself with no idea of what I am going to write next, causing me to ask where they have all come from, all those thousands of words and thoughts that I have in the past put down on paper, to be reproduced in print or on the stage. It is the sort of question that one is apt to ask only in such moments of frustration; for the most part we take for granted these things that are in fact the daily miracles of life, as we take for granted the miracle of growth and germination, scattering seeds in a garden and never being surprised that from those tiny black specks next summer's flowers can be relied upon to come.
That attitude is one for which G. K. Chesterton was always rebuking the world, for taking its mysteries and its miracles as a matter of course. It is the theme of his too little known fantasy, Manalive, whose hero was in a state of continual amazement at the miracle of living, and was so eager to keep that amazement alive that he traveled around the world to order to recapture the excitement of coming home to his own house and his own front door, and courted, eloped with, and remarried his own wife under six different names, so as never to lose sight of the incredible wonder of love.
It is our tragedy that we live so in a state of acceptance, and yet the essentials of daily living seem to demand it if we are to get on with our business and our work. I use the word "seem" quite deliberately, for, actually, the truth, I think, is just the opposite, and what has been called "the rich, full life" is impossible on such a basis. Even an ordinary, humdrum life is difficult. Its mechanics have a way of breaking down, and the hard facts of opposition and mischance a way of turning into brick walls against which one butts one's head in vain. It is in those moments that men start asking themselves questions about the world they live in, and to look for some explanation, help, or sustenance. Religion, the conventional forms of religion, involving a personal God to whom petitionary prayers are addressed, is apt to prove fruitless and to lead to no more than a pious, gloomy resignation, and the philosophy of pure materialism, an acceptance of "That is the way things are," leads only to a cursing despair.
Something else is needed, has always been needed, and has always been there to find, though it would seem that man has almost always missed it. It has eluded him through all the writings of the seekers of the truth about the eternal mystery, from orientals such as Lao-Tze and Shankara, through Jesus, the mediaeval European mystics, and the thinkers of the New World. Essentially, they have all taught the same things, which is why Aldous Huxley has named his anthology of religious thought, The Perennial Philosophy. But always the answers, as they have been revealed, have remained somehow apart, "out there," set off from man in his daily life and the facts of his daily living, so that there has grown up a kind of unfortunate snobbery on the subject, as though it were somehow vulgar to expect tangible or practical results, and man has been forced into a fatal dualism, trying to live on two planes at once, the material and the spiritual, both apparently equally real, yet without any understandable relation to each other, like a firm composed of two partners who are not on speaking terms. That is where, I think, this book goes further, removing that duality, showing the two partners to be one only, so that the world becomes one, and the eternal truths a part of the very fabric of our daily life, enhancing its harmonies and erasing its discords.
What is this book? Readers today want labels, want to know what it is they are buying. But they are apt to be put off by labels, too, which is why I find myself in a difficulty if I try to anticipate that question in relation to this work. Half the world, though it is desperately in need, and even in conscious need, of an answer to its problems, will not open a book that it is told is a religious one. Give it a title such as "How to Get More Health, Wealth, and Happiness," and though an enormous public will buy it, the fastidious and discriminating will avert their heads from it as from a bad odor. Use the word "metaphysics" and it has a chilly, intellectual sound; present it as a volume of essays, and we have the reason why Emerson is read almost exclusively as literature today, instead of for his answers to the same questions. Can one ever by any one road reach all men? The very word God is a deterrent to many. It is all over this book. The instinct that I have to apologize for it is an illustration of my problem in writing this foreword.
If it is hard to label the book, it is harder still to label the author. Who and what is Joel Goldsmith? A teacher? A healer? They are suspect and off-putting words at best, to all but a very few, and they are words, too, that I cannot but feel the author himself would vigorously repudiate, since his whole philosophy is the denial of any personal element in either teaching or healing. I am reminded of a passage in this book. "Always there have appeared men bearing the divine message of the presence of God and of the unreality of evil . . . [who] brought the light of Truth to men, and always men have interpreted this Light as the messenger, failing to see that what they were beholding as a man 'out there' was the light of Truth within their own consciousness."
Let me therefore leave both the man and the book for a moment and return to my starting point. In moments of trouble and frustration, man begins to ask questions, even if only such questions as "Why does this have to happen to me?" or "How can I stop this happening?" He looks for an explanation of what the world is about. I believe he will find it here. He hopes that this explanation will act somehow as a cure for his troubles. I believe, too, that if he understands it aright, it will. But here again I must sound a note of warning. In the very first pages he will find a paradox which may frighten him. He comes to this quest with a human problem, in the hope of a solution for it. He is told that if he wants to use spiritual truth to improve human conditions, it neither can nor will do so. He is shown logically why it cannot. But he is told, too, that if he seeks that truth for its own sake, his human conditions will be improved. It sounds like something out of a fairy story, some defeating injunction laid by a quibbling wizard upon a magic wish. But the point about fairy stories is that their basis is often universally true. There is a legend about an alchemist who promised to turn any substance into gold, provided that no one in his audience thought about a blue monkey. The point might be improved by substituting the condition: provided that no one in the audience thought about the gold. It sounds impossible. But it can be done. It must be done. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." But you must not think about those other things.
The point of this book is that it teaches you to look away from your problems instead of at them, and in doing so to find their solution, just as in looking away from the problem of what I was going to write in this introduction, I have found myself writing it, good or bad. It is not an easy task that it offers, but I think it is an essential one. I think that without some understanding of what this book is about, life is just not quite worth living.
John van Druten
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