Everyone is looking for something…. In honor of the great Greek mystic philosopher Plotinus, and the upcoming Athens Olympics, here’s Day 1 of a Page-a-Day excerpt from each chapter of my book about Plotinus's teachings. Fifty-four chapters to go. I’m pleased to be able to gradually share with the blogosphere a healthy taste of Plotinus’s matchless blend of rationality and spirituality.
From the “Introduction” chapter:
Looking at the world, people appear to be going in myriads of different directions. It is difficult to discern much rhyme or reason in the wondrous diversity of human pursuits. Some devote their lives to selfless service, others to egotistical self-aggrandizement. Some avidly pursue scientific knowledge, others spiritual wisdom. Some hold family and friends dear, others find companionship in solitude. Where, in all this chaotic activity, is there any sign of the universal order Plotinus speaks of in the Enneads?
The sign is in the seeking, not in what is being sought. Everyone is looking for something—desperately, passionately, ceaselessly. There is no end to the number of different “somethings,” but the looking is common to all. So we are drawn to ask: What if the seeming multiplicity of the cosmos is an illusion and a clearer vision would see that unity underlies all this manyness? Then the quest for any particular thing would, in truth, be a quest for that single thing.
Perhaps all of the seemingly random motion of life on Earth, with six billion people scurrying here and there, each seeking a unique this and that, actually results from an astoundingly simple and largely unconscious impulse: to return to the One. Here is how Plotinus puts it (see the “Reading the Writings of Plotinus” chapter for a description of the numbering scheme, such as “VI-7-31,” used in the Enneads):
“The soul loves the Good [the One] because, from the beginning, she has been incited by the Good to love him. And the soul which has this love at hand does not wait to be reminded by the beauties of this lower world, but since she has this love—even if she does not realize it—she is constantly searching.” [VI-7-31]
Almost every one of us is looking for meaning and well-being everywhere except the most obvious and closest place: the center of one’s consciousness. This is, of course, the place where we are right here and right now, for if you or I were not conscious, we could not be reading or writing these words. The problem is that we are aware not only of a conscious core but also of the many peripheral sensations, thoughts, and emotions scattered throughout the consciousness.
The great Plotinian goal is to discard from consciousness all that is not the One. What remains is, logically, the One—divine reality, plain and simple. In this sense, then, Plotinus is highly religious; the root meaning of “religion” is found in the Latin religare, to bind back, or reconnect, the individual with God.