The Things We Carry

Tim Boyd – USA

Theosophy TB 2
Tim Boyd during the opening of the School of the Wisdom at Adyar in January 2016

Some time ago a friend of mine shared something wondrous with me. It was a paperweight. One of those clear plastic things that contain an object inside, something intended to be interesting or inspiring. I have one on my office desk now that contains a simple business card. The card reads “Clarence A. Jones Attorney and Counsellor at Law”, and has the downtown Los Angeles address of his office. To anyone but me it is plain and without meaning, fit merely to hold some papers in place. Of course for me, it is a different story. It was my grandfather's business card, and though he died shortly before I was born, it is rich in meaning. It is the profession and the address that convey something extraordinary to someone who knows. The key piece of missing information is that my grandfather was African American. He was the first black graduate to receive a law degree from Ohio State University and the first to do business at a downtown Los Angeles address – the one on his business card.

For most people today the significance of such accomplishments is lost on them. In today's world it is accepted as normal and natural that anyone should be able to study and work wherever they are qualified to do so. However through most of the 1900's this was not the case. Racial discrimination, de jure and de facto, were the norm for the nation. The level of sacrifice, strength of character and will that were required to make the simple information on that card a reality, speak to me across the generations. On some of my more demanding days I have found myself looking at the paperweight and the card inside and being reminded that my lot is not so tough. It is remarkable to me that the mere thought of someone who has accomplished great things brings perspective and strength - even a person I never met.

The paperweight I began talking about, my friend's, had something very different inside. Encased in the crystal clear plastic cube was a dandelion; not the yellow flower, but the perfect white orb of a dandelion gone to seed. As a child I can remember picking them when they reached that stage and blowing on them to watch the seeds hang in the air and float off on the wind of my breath. They were so delicate. Looking at this object I could not imagine by what process it could have been captured and preserved undisturbed. Except for the encasing plastic the flower was fit to be blown. It was a wonder.

More fascinating than the object itself was the person who had owned it. It had belonged to someone who had been dear to my friend – a person of great depth and character. He was a judge, and a wise one. For many years prior to his death he had been her mentor. Weekly they would sit together and talk, often in his chambers with the paperweight sitting between them on the desk.

During the course of his career he had made a number of influential decisions. Early in his time on the bench he had been recognized as a rising star, someone who would certainly soon be chosen for a much higher position. It was in the late 1960's at the height of the anti-war and civil rights movement. Students in a local university had engaged in a protest and had been arrested. Out of conscience they had broken the law and were now being brought into his court to be tried and presumably sentenced severely. There was great coverage of the case and great pressure from the people in position to advance his career to convey a harsh judgement on the students. It was a critical moment for him. A normal interpretation of the law would allow for harsh sentencing and would pave the way for his own bright future. For many the outcome would not have required great reflection, but he found himself torn. He knew that a conviction on the charges before him would ruin future possibilities for all of these students. Placing the felony charges demanded by the prosecution on their records would bar them from entering the medical schools many had applied to; would prevent others from pursuing careers in law and education. To him the legal consequences for the students' act of conscience, though justifiable by law, could not be justified at the bar of his own conscience. When the day came for his decision, he chose to release them all, to err on the side of the spirit, rather than the letter of the law. In so doing he opened doors for the students by closing a door on himself.

When he died and his family asked what of his possessions my friend wanted, she chose the paperweight – something she keeps in sight as a reminder of possibilities and of greatness of spirit.

Basically these paperweights are nothing more than two lumps of plastic with either paper and ink, or a common weed inside, yet clearly there is more to it. What is it that makes these objects special?

In many of the world's spiritual traditions there is the recognition that everything is alive; that even inanimate physical objects have a life force and can also be charged with the life force of a person. I have known people who could hold an object that belonged to someone, some object that they commonly carried with them like a watch or a set of keys, and describe in great detail not only the character of the person, but also specific incidents in that person's life. It is called psychometry - “the power to bring up before the mental or spiritual eye, a panoramic view of all that has occurred to the object examined” (William Quan Judge). It is based on the fact that every object receives and keeps impressions. This is the foundation for the belief in the healing power of genuine relics and for the creation of amulets; that objects can be highly charged with life force either through the process of having been within the aura of a holy person, or in the case of amulets, can be intentionally charged by someone familiar with the metaphysical process.

While most western people do not hold to any conscious belief in amulets, in countless ways we act as if we do. The art one places around oneself, the colors we choose for our living spaces, the books we read, the foods we eat, the fragrances we apply to ourselves, the clothes we wear, the photos of relatives and friends with which we surround ourselves, are all material things that exert a constant and profound influence on our feelings and overall state of mind. Although convenient for purposes of discussion, the lines dividing the realms of matter, mind and spirit are clearly artificial. At some level we all know this and behave accordingly. However, when we really know this, it presents opportunities to us.

In the book The Divine Plan Geoffrey Barborka states the axiom “that which a man longs for, that he becomes”. In the Sermon on the Mount a similar statement is made that “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied”. People who are aware of this principle, those who are consciously pursuing a spiritual path, use this knowledge to enhance their awareness. Like a farmer provides the optimal conditions for the growth of a seed, the spiritual practitioner surrounds himself with the objects, sights, smells, people, and most importantly the thoughts that feed the spirit.

In today's world it is common for us to feel consumed by the demands of daily living. The fact is that we have little or no control over most of the influences that affect us from day to day. I can't control whether the sun will shine today, whether the people in some country on the other side of the world will decide to change leaders, whether the economy will expand or contract, or even the choices in food and friends that my daughter will make when she is away from me. My wants or behavior have little impact on such things. For many this fact leads to a sense of powerlessness. The key thing to remember is that we always have a choice – a choice in how we respond. Though we may not yet be able to alter the outer climate, we have complete control over our inner climate. As we connect ourselves more intimately with the “inner ruler immortal” present within us, new possibilities arise. When the storms of uncertainty and emotion arise within us we are able to say “peace be still” and watch the winds and thunder die down.

This inner mastery does not come to us all of a sudden. Like everything else, it develops over time. Until the time comes that our normal consciousness is rooted in the mind which is illumined by our divine nature, we will need help. We will need the methods and even the objects that remind us of our potential for self-awareness. We need to be reminded, frequently, about our connection to greatness, to the hidden splendor within us. Through simple things we can bring ourselves back to center. The memento of some worthy person placed on the desk; the photo of the spiritual teacher on the wall; the stone we picked up in some special place; the words of wisdom printed on a card placed within view, call out to us from our depths. Whether it is in our pocket or purse, or in our hearts and minds, the things we carry do matter.

[This article was previously published in Quest magazine, Viewpoint, fall 2011.]

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