St John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci

Some years back I was in involved in a car accident. A man in a truck slammed into the back of my small car on the highway and totaled it. The man who caused the accident seemed very decent. He admitted fault at the scene and did what he could to help me deal with the police. He even called a tow truck for me. The car was not drivable as the trunk and the back bumper were pressing up against the back wheels in such a way that they could no longer turn.

My shoulder was injured in the accident and for a time I needed to see a chiropractor and a masseuse. This meant dealing with the insurance company of the man who hit me in order to be compensated. The agent that I dealt with was not sympathetic and did what he could to keep me from collecting any money. After two or three calls I was so confused by his attitude that I questioned him about it. I guess the attitude that I expected was that he personally would have no problem with me being compensated for my injuries, but that he had to uphold the restrictions and regulations set up by his company. But in fact, I was wrong. His attitude was that the accident was my fault simply because I was the victim, that I had attracted it. That his client had admitted that he was at fault was a detail that didn’t matter to him. Just the fact of attracting bad luck meant to him that I deserved whatever suffering I had to endure, and he felt no responsibility in his role as his client’s agent to assist me in any way.

I didn’t talk to him after this—I hired a lawyer—so I don’t really know what was behind his opinion of me. I can imagine that his job in dealing with people injured in accidents was not easy, and maybe his attitude was simply the way he buffered not being able to actually assist people. But there was something about his manner that made me suspect that he actually believed that his good luck was the result of his actions, and that my bad luck, in this case, was punishment for my actions. He told me that I was not blessed. I think he really believed that he had a right to judge me because he felt that he was favored by fortune and I was not.

Of course he knew nothing about me, and I found out little about him, but I wondered if his confidence that his actions determined his good fortune would be shaken later in his life when he was injured or became sick. Would he accept that his bad fortune was also the result of not being blessed?

Certainly his attitude showed an inability to observe the world with any objectivity. To believe that God or providence punishes the bad and protects the good is the kind of attitude you expect from a five year old, not from a grown man who is out and about in the world. Besides if good fortune means to not suffer, then we are forced to admit that almost all great and really good men throughout history were not blessed. Even if we, for the moment, remove the ideas of conscious evolution from the discussion, we still have account for the universally accepted maxim that difficulties build character.

Wisdom comes through suffering. ~ Aeschylus

Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men. ~ Seneca

The greater the difficulty, the greater the glory. ~ Cicero

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

DostoevskyIt seems that we could just as well say that suffering is good fortune and that an easy life leaves us unchanged and childish. But this isn’t quite right either because even though suffering can make a man, it can also destroy him. Men who succumb to self pity and envy when they suffer are changed, but not for the better. So suffering itself can hardly be used as the measure of good fortune. If my shoulder hurts, it does me no good if I sit in my room and sulk about it or if I envy everybody I pass in the street because they are able to move about with ease and lift heavy objects without pain.

I think we must say instead that good fortune is to possess the knowledge of how to transform difficulties into strength or goodness or wisdom; or at least say, along with the Stoics, that when difficulties come as an inevitable part of our lives, they are indifferent, and that it is only our judgment that makes them seem evil.

What disturbs men’s minds is not events, but their judgment of events. ~ Epictetus

Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears. ~ Marcus Aurelius

Of course most people will think that to possess knowledge, or even a discerning judgment of events, is not good fortune; they will say that is better to have houses and cars and money in the bank than knowledge. Because surely knowledge is a pitiful thing compared to wealth and possessions. In fact they will say that good, practical knowledge is acquired only so that we can come by security and possessions later on; and that the evidence of this is that so many doctors and lawyers and stock brokers are willing to spend eight or even ten years studying so that they can have a comfortable life. But do not doctors sometimes get sick? And do not lawyers sometimes get disbarred or injured? And is not the stock market so volatile that every so often stock brokers lose all their money and their reputation and become so wretched that they stand on window ledges of high buildings ready to jump? So really to study the law or medicine or economics, despite being practical, is certainly no guarantee of a secure or happy life.

The only way we can have a guarantee of good fortune is to find a way of thinking and living that transforms events that we now think of as bad fortune into events that we can consider good fortune. Because if history and life has taught us anything, it is that even though some men suffer less than others, no man is entirely spared.

There is a saying, attributed to Solon, that no man can be considered happy until after his death. I never really thought much of this saying because it seemed to me that if a man led a happy and productive life and then died badly, you could still call his life happy simply because the amount of time he was happy far exceeded the month or week of suffering that brought about his death. I also thought that in comparing men’s lives, you cannot really hold death against a man too much because it is a fate that is waiting for us all. But Montaigne had a different take on this axiom. He saw death as a test of our beliefs and philosophy.

I leave it to death to test the fruits of my studies. ~ Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne.This made sense to me. How many times have we read or watched biographies of famous actors or athletes or novelists who lived what is generally considered a blessed life, and who in the last years or months of their lives became bitter or depressed or angry because the public that had once admired them had moved on. According to what Montaigne thought, we can view their anger or depression as an indictment of their way of living. Put plainly we cannot call their estimate of wealth and fame good fortune because it failed to be meaningful and supportive at the hour of their deaths. In fact, in the end their values failed them.

In the fourth way it is a little different because we are taught from the beginning to account for death in everything we do. Self-remembering and divided attention and transforming negative emotions are all attempts to connect to the higher emotional center and the higher intellectual centers, which are the parts of us that survive death. In this work good fortune means to have a connection to higher powers, also called higher school or C Influence.

If this contact [with higher powers] is possible, it is possible only through higher centers. Our problem is how to approach higher centers. ~ P. D. Ouspensky

If we are going to imagine that we can create an astral body and have an existence outside the physical body, then we must also imagine that there are those who have gone before us and have realized what we want to achieve. In other words, we must imagine that some of those who have sought what we are striving to realize, have survived the death of their physical bodies and continue in an existence outside of what we ordinarily perceive. We must also imagine that it is possible that they would take an interest in helping us.

There are many theories in religion about why some people are favored by God and others are not. Unfortunately the idea that only a few are chosen has given birth to many misconceptions, and these misconceptions have had some pretty horrific consequences. Of course there are different esoteric theories about being chosen as well, but I will only give you one theory here. It is this: if you make consistent efforts to self-remember and to connect to higher centers, you will attract help from higher school.

One of the consequences of changing our state is that we also change the influences we are under. If we learn to live in essence, and not from false personality, we will see many things about nature and about other people that are normally hidden from us because of the veil of personality. In the same way if we can begin to have extended periods—I’m talking about an hour or two here—where higher centers function, we can see things about the invisible world that are normally masked by essence and personality.

The gods, willfully banished from the modern drawing room, have in fact always been with us, and only man asleep has failed to see them. ~ Alex Horn

What we want is to become a pure instrument of C Influence, to have our focus on our inner work, and to not think too much about our own desires and needs, or too much about what we think we can or can’t do.

Anyone who has really felt the idea that one can do nothing in the same realization must see that very great things are required by higher powers to be done through whatever instruments are available. ~ Rodney Collin

Rodney Collin2This much is certain: we cannot wait for C influence to come to us and prove that they exist, to some extent we need to pull ourselves up to their level. Again everything depends on connecting to higher centers. Sometimes the knowledge of higher school is presented as a cipher, but the real key to understanding this knowledge is not a secret interpretation; it’s higher centers, or illumination, or inspiration, or whatever you want to call it. Really what is missing in being able to connect to C Influence is that we are asleep to their presence. If we begin to awaken we have a chance, but without consistent work on self-remembering, C influence will be, at best, a belief. And a belief will not have the power to transform our bad fortune into the self-remembering we need to connect to higher powers. What we are striving for is to be able to perceive when they are in the room with us; we want to be able to feel when they are near and when they are helping us. And to know this, to really know it, is our good fortune.