Now I am writing to you all on paper, day by day, to be typed in later. This, to better capture the pace of the days themselves. Sitges is a very peaceful town. Although the small corridors between shops are filled with people – and sometimes mopeds, or cars – at night there is hardly a sound to be heard. It is also cool and dry, when the big city is getting hot.
The shops all close at 2pm, then open later for a brief stretch before sundown. The hotel keeper tells me this is for enjoying the beach, or to take a café by the seaside. In everything there is this pace of being relaxed. I expect that tomorrow (Sunday) there will be nothing to do but enjoy the nothingness of doing.
My three days in this hotel end Monday, so today I arranged to rent an apartment in the middle of town for three weeks. The price is still less than the exact same would cost in downtown Santa Cruz, in northern California.
I can tell that I haven’t heard or spoken enough English lately when I spent several seconds puzzling over a store named “Legend”, trying to figure out what “gend” might mean in French. On the streets I hear a great deal of Spanish, Catalan, German, and French, with only a bit of accented English now and then. Most people, it seems, can speak in English, but are also willing to talk with me in Spanish, which is a good sign.
All of the street signs are in Catalan, rendering “Plaza de España” as “Plaça d’Espanya”, though the pronunciation is identical. Stores are “trancat” instead of cerrado (closed). And their are strange spellings using “x” and “g” that I have yet to figure out.
I also must remark on the beauty of the people, since it is in fact remarkable. One could fall in love ten times before turning the next corner, if their outward selves were a sure sign of the inner. This goes for both genders. There are also a large number of same sex couples here, though oddly exclusively male. Coupled with the tendency for topless bathing on the shore, this town would be much changed by a shift toward Bahá’í morality. Am I seeing a town that provides an outlet, or a characteristically liberal oasis; or just the European relaxation of sexual mores, I cannot tell. But since there is no air of “flaunting” here, people are just as happy leaving the conservatives to enjoy the sun as well.
This week has been spent so far attempting to figure out the difference between “quality” (as described very well in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and “unity” – as in the Divine Unity depicted in the verse, “Absolute unity excludeth all attributes.” These two ideas seem opposed to one another in a manner very difficult for me to resolve, which arises in such contradictions as the verse, “Waste not thy precious life in employment with this swiftly passing world”, and other such verses, contrasted with the injunction to be “anxiously concerned with the exigencies of one’s own time”, and that “all men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”
The essential sticking point so far expresses itself in these terms: Quality is the life of the world, in the sense of Plato’s Good. The fulfillment of existence is found in finding quality. Yet, the fulfillment of the soul is described as the escaping of “this world” of quality, in order that the soul’s awareness may enter the realm of unity, in which end and beginning are one, and all that one sees is God.
As Pirsig points out, to find quality one must care. It is essentially revealed when an individual, caring about the presence of quality, devotes fascinated time to the creation of something “good”, both for the joy of creating as for the desire for that quality of goodness to become manifest.
Unity, however, renders all phenomena equal, not in appearance or value, but equal in purpose, role, essence. If the objective is to learn, any teacher will do; if the desire is to learn well, then we must start caring about the attributes of every particular teacher, and seek the best.
The discovery of “best” requires an ability to evaluate properly, which I think shows the unfoundable nature of quality itself. Humanity has always put faith in quality, seeking it as the goal of life’s striving. But our private understandings of quality are far from indicative of an objective standard – which is the central idea of “quality” itself. Why did humanity reject each of the Prophets? Because they did not fit the image of what the people were looking for; They lacked the qualities associated with the One Whom they imagined possessed the capacity to improve their lives.
Our world is nonetheless a world of Quality. Everything is evaluated, judged; we are all of us constantly seeking the “better”, to improve, develop, change from a lesser state to a greater, even if the change is to move away from the intent to change. All of this implies a journey, the end of which is the ultimate good.
This seems to contrast with the depiction of Unity found in Sufi and Bahá’í mystical texts.1 Bahá’u’lláh does not invalidate the meaning of quality within this world, but He does describe a state of the soul in which it appears to transcend this seedbed of differentiation.
In Unity, all mankind is one, the Faith of God is one, the Prophets are one, the meaning of all events is one (“whatsoever occureth in the realm of being is as light to His loved ones”). The end and the beginning are one, and then even the nature – the basis – of the distinction fades away. In this world there is only God, and the wayfarer knows, sees, and thinks of nothing else, for there is nothing else.
Given these apparently opposite worlds in which the soul may live and move, the question I cannot resolve is how one exists in both simultaneously. There are Writings clearly addressed to striving in the world of quality; and there are others that plainly indicate abiding within the world of unity. The former is turmoil, suffering, transformation, joy, variety; while the latter is peace, freedom, bliss, and happiness. If one exists in world where there is no greater profit in one read than in another, caring is lost – and also, by the same token, attachment. But without caring, where does craftsmanship go, or intense involvement? We learn that humanity is one, but if our spouses did not feel especially loved, what would distinguish the marriage bond?
Perhaps the world of quality is meant for souls of a particular state, while those of unity and above continue to interact for their sake, but not for their own? Perhaps the greatest quality comes from the absolute inclusiveness of unity, rather than the exclusiveness of quality?
This quandary remains for the day. It represents, I think, a holding on to quality – a residual faith in quality – that is preventing a real faith in unity owing to the contradiction. It feels like holding a mental picture of the one, but since the mind I use to approach it is in the other, I can go nowhere. It must require some moment of grace to reach beyond that point.
And what is the point, if anyone has read this far? It would all seem very metaphysical, but here is a concrete example of the outcome: In quality, we are saddened by its lack, and gladdened by achieving it; in unity, we rejoice only in God, and material changes cannot affect us. As I listened to a group in the hotel last night making noise until an insane hour – and being much bothered by it – I knew that a being of unity would have reacted emotionally, behaviorally, exactly as though it were the sound of peace itself.
So, perhaps to escape from “the owes that flesh is heir to” is the point. “Free thyself from the fetters of this world; loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.”2
You may notice that I am not doing very much, just noticing. Most of my time so far is spent thinking, trying to delve into a puzzle between Quality and Unity that has been on my mind for some time. It is quite gratifying to have entire days to devote, nibbling at the fringes of an idea through long hours. This is perhaps what I wanted most from a vacation, more than any particular experience. Have been reading the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is a wonderful examination of the idea of Quality, written is very relaxing style.
Sunday in Sitges
Today is Sunday and the swarms of humanity turn like baked loaves in the huge furnace of the summer sky, honeyed skin waiting to be flipped over to the other side. They fill the spaces of the shore, and each time one is done another takes the spot.
All the shops are closed, but the cafeterías and restaurants are open. Hands are holding their ice cream cones like olympic torch runners, but it must be a slow race. I’ve found a shady spot behind a palm tree, which gives me a place just to watch them all walk past. The tents on the beach cost a ridiculous amount, but the grass and the palms are free. I wonder how much the sailboats rent for…
The town itself has several piers that reach into the sea. There is a large, very old church with a giant clock at one end. The middle of the town is filled with shops and restaurants, while the west and east are quiet, residential area. There is a fancy hotel to the west, but it’s too long a walk to be interesting. I see people on rented bikes. Maybe a way to go.
Moved into apartment
Monday. I have moved into the apartment now, which is 5 euros cheaper (each euro is about $1.32 right now) and at least ten times nicer. I am the only person on my floor, the fourth floor of a building whose bottom is an oriental decorations shop. There are two bedrooms, one with a bunk bed. I think I will take the top bunk. There is also a kitchen, two outdoor terraces north and south, and since I have the top floor, the sky is my overhang.
Mornings I have taken to going for breakfast at a small place in the west of town called “La Granja Elsa”, which is on the same street as this apartment, the “Carrer las Parrelladas”. There they serve many wonderful things, among which the hamburger sandwich is currently my favorite.
I don’t know what it is about the food here. The ingredients of the hamburger sandwich would be easily recognized by anyone, and yet I would never be able to reproduce it at home. It’s basically a hamburger patty in a french roll with lettuce, cheese and tomato. The hamburger is cut in half, giving you a sandwich for each hand – if you were so inclined.
However, there is a lightness, an airy quality to everything, perhaps an aspect of freshness. I take the sandwich in hand, and none of it resists a quiet, clean bite. The same configuration back home would be tougher, the affrontery of teeth clamping down enough to mash the burger and shoot the tomato out the end. I’m not exactly sure what is so different, perhaps the Quality…
Today finished Zen. The last two parts have left me stunned, wandering around town with barely a thought in my head, and a strange feeling of being immersed in fluid. It has answered many questions, though, and explained some eccentricities. The mystery of Unity is now deeper, and like a rising smoke that tells of a fire…
After waking, had an idea which finally draws a thin connection. But the psychic pulverizing of yesterday makes today feel open, like a holiday. When things are shaken up, something new is sure to rise to the surface.
Walked to the marina, but training for a Title of Navigation costs a huge amount, and wouldn’t be completed for another three weeks. Sailing will remain a spectator sport, looks like.
Hope that things are well in all your respective locales. A cousin of Betsy’s will be coming here to visit me on Saturday. I haven’t spoken to anyone about anything in so many days, it’s starting to feel like a luxury, as if speaking were only for special occasions.
A Prophet’s sign
If the Prophet’s sign is perfect quality, then the labor of the true seeker is to prepare his heart for the perception of that quality, and to reflect it back into the world.
Quality is the value of plural existence, care of which directly relates to depth of involvement – or in an exalted mode, worship. Does “to know and worship” refer to a perception of the Divine as manifest in quality? Then the title “Most Glorious” would refer to the utmost plenitude of quality. As well, the Prophet’s life and revelation, being the greatest proofs of His station, it is their quality that demonstrates the Prophet’s role as an icon of superlative quality.3
And of “scaling the heights of the divine unity”, perhaps the search for quality does not occur outwardly, but in. That is, perhaps all things, if perceived deeply enough, partake of quality equally, making the journey of life one of depth instead of breadth. At surface levels there is differentiation, and these facilitate or disturb according to the perceptions of souls; but deeply enough one may commune, not with discrete events, but always with God. “Where he seeth nothing in creation save the Face of his Beloved One, the Honoured…”
I later saw the flaw in this thinking.↩
This essay reveals a dichotomy in my being which later thinking finally resolved (after so many years of trying to get beyond it): That quality and God are different forms of the same reality, rather than being opposite concepts as this essay imagines. That resolution caused me such joy, I believe it alone accounts for the feeling of wonder evidenced in later chapters.↩
Here I am beginning to realize a connection between God and quality.↩