Astonishing the Gods – Book Notes

Astonishing the Gods is a beautiful book written by Ben Okri. Read it with an open mind and it will touch the deepest part of your being. Here are some passages which touched me.

An answer for the ear of the questioner- ‘I don’t know why I am traveling. I don’t know where I am going.’ The second answer was for his own heart- ‘I am traveling to know why I am invisible. My quest is for the secret of visibility.’

You are seeking something that you’ve already found, but you don’t know it. Such are the causes of unhappiness.

It doesn’t have a name. We don’t believe in names. Names have a way of making things disappear. When you name something it loses its existence to you. Things die a little when we name them. So instead, we think of them. We dwell in them. We let them dwell in us.

The sea is always there, ships come when they will, the journey always continues, but his island is discovered only once in a lifetime – if you are lucky.

When he saw how all things multiplied everything else, multiplying him wherever he looked, he experienced the strangest sensation. It was a sense of the happiness he must have known before birth, a happiness he suspected was his eternal birthright.

We are masters of the art of transcendence, not happiness. We are masters of suffering.

Things are what they are. That is their power. They are all the things we think they are, all the things we sense they are, and more. They are themselves. If they meant something they would be less. Whatever you see is your personal wealth and paradise. Some people see wonderful things, others see only infernal things. What you see is what you are, or what you will become.

Don’t try to understand. Understanding comes beyond trying. It comes from beyond.

Learning what you know is something you have to do every day, and every moment.

I did not come from nothing, and I will not die in nothing.

The slower you walk, the faster you move.

The most ordinary goal is living the fullest life, creativity in all spheres of endeavor was the basic alphabet, and the most sublime lessons were always learned and relearned from the unforgettable suffering which was the bedrock of their great new civilization.

Understanding often leads to ignorance, especially when it comes too soon. It’s because you don’t understand that you carry on. When you make sense of something, it tends to disappear. It is only mystery which keeps things alive.

Stop looking, for then you would see beyond; stop thinking, for then you would comprehend; stop trying to make sense of things, for then you would find the truest grace.

Everything is what it seems. It’s only you who are not what it seems.

The air is always full of sounds. Silence is a sort of melody.

The first law is that what you think is what becomes real.

The law is simple. Every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully for the first time. It is one of the foundations of our civilization. At the beginning of our history there was great suffering. Our sages learnt that we tend to repeat our suffering if we have not learnt fully all that can be learnt from it. And so we had to experience our suffering completely while it happened so it would be so deeply lodged in our memory and in our desire for a higher life that we would never want to experience the suffering again, in any form. Hence the law. Anyone who sleeps through their experiences would have to undergo them for as many times as it takes to wake them up and make them feel the uniqueness or horror of their experiences for the first time. This law is the basis of our civilization, a permanent sense of wonder at the stillness of time.

The movement of time on a sundial is the measurement of a motion. Time itself is invisible. It is not a river. While you are in time all time is still. As in a painting. Day turns into night- the planet moves. Time is still. You don’t understand this because you move your mind too much.

The second law is-When you need to know you will find it out.

When you stop inventing reality then you see things as they really are.

There is a time for inventing reality and a time for being still. At the gate of every new reality you must be still, or you won’t be able to enter properly.

No one can teach you how to be still. You have to learn for yourself.

Do you realize that you know more than you think you know? Do you realize that if you use all you know, and all the possibilities within you, that there is almost nothing that you can’t do? More serious than that is this fact: if you use more than you know that you know, the world will be as paradise. What we know compared to what we don’t know is like a grain of sand compared to a mountain. But what we don’t know, our unsuspected possibilities, is immense in us. That is our true power and kingdom. When nations do amazing things, that is because they create from what they know. And that is a lot. When they do extraordinary things, that is because they create from places in themselves they didn’t suspect were there. But when a nation or an individual creates things so sublimein a sort of permanent genius of inventiveness and delight- when they create things so miraculous that they are not noticed or remarked upon by even the best minds around,then that this because they create always from the vast unknown places within them. They create always from beyond. They make the undiscovered places and infinities in them their friend. They live on the invisible fields of their hidden genius. And so their most ordinary achievements are always touched with genius. Their most ordinary achievements however are what the world sees, and acclaims. But their most extraordinary achievements are unseen, invisible, and therefore cannot be destroyed. This endures forever. Such is the dream and reality of ours. I speak with humility.

All that you will see are the lesser things, the things meant to perish. The most important things are the things you don’t see. The best things are in the invisible realm.

A great law guides the rise and fall of things. What is of the greatest importance grows and keeps on growing as a result of this. Don’t despair too much if you see beautiful things destroyed, if you see them perish. Because the best things are always growing in secret. We have discovered an invisible way. The next stage of our evolution is to be free of our visible things. Then we will become sublime forces in the universe. Therefore, don’t despair if you see death. Nothing really dies. The unseen things are our masterpieces. The seen things are merely byproducts. What would seem like victory would be a defeat. What would seem like a defeat would be a victory, an eternal victory of Light.

Forget what I say, then maybe you will remember. But you will remember in spirit.

The good things should be visible, but the best things should be hidden.

The light he brings is absolute, difficult and luminous.

If you look for something you won’t find it. You have to find things first before you look for them. If you are looking for something, that means you have lost it. And if you have lost it, you can’t find it.

Things only disappear, only become lost, because you’ve stopped thinking about them, stopped living with them in some vital way. Things and people have to be planted in you, have to grow in you, and you have to keep them alive. If you forget to keep them alive, you lose them. Many people have walked out of life because they stopped seeing it. Many have fallen because they were looking for solid ground, for certainties. Happy are those who are still, and to whom things come. Answers are like that. They go to those who expect them. So if you want to find something find it first. Find it in yourself.

The simplest things are riddles and paradoxes.

Those who find love find it in themselves. When you look for love you find something else. Something that looks like love, but isn’t. Others never look and they find. They find it in abundance. It is always there. It is always alive in them. It is always there. Everywhere. They merely invite it, and it comes. They merely are, and it is attracted. Love goes to where love is. And where love is, love is never lost. Lucky are those who know how to find, for they will never lose things.

To be invisible is like living with your own death all the time. To be visible is to live with your life, your mortality.

I have to learn how to give life, and I have to learn how to find.

You will have to learn to love without illusion.

You can only receive what you already have. You can only be given what you’ve already got.

The purpose of invisibility is perfection.

Time is different here. We measure time differently, not by the passing of moments or hours, but by lovely deeds, creative accomplishments, beautiful transformations, by little and great perfections. Size is also measured differently here. For us something is great if it is beautiful, if it istrue, and if it has life. Something is small if it has none of these things. A little perfection is large for us. A large thing without beauty or truth is small for us. A creative seed is greater than a mountainous lump. Hence the invisible things are the smallest and the highest things amongst us. If a thing, a quality, an art, a gesture, a form becomes so refined and pure as to become invisible then it has ascended into the eternal. On the whole big things are small for us. Great fame, great visibility, great temporal power is the easiest things for us to accomplish, according to our way. Hence we deem them small, and not worthy of our efforts.The most difficult thing for us is to do things which achieve permanence in the higher universe, and which are unseen, and can never therefore be destroyed. Sometimes, by mysterious grace they transcend so many boundaries and enter so many realms that we occasionally astonish even the gods. The best things in the world dwell in the realm of pure light, from where they spread their influence to all corners of the universe, to stones and men and worms, and even to stars and the dead and to angels. We are learning to be masters of the art of transcending all boundaries. We are learning to go beyond the illusion that is illusion. Our way and our discoveries are still young in all their possibilities. We wake everyday in a state of absolute humility and joyfulness at all that lies possible before us. Therefore we have no fame. We live quietly, as if within a sacred flame. We dedicate ourselves to the perfection of our spirits, consecrated to serving the highest forces in the universe. We do not want to be remembered, or praised. We only want to increase the light, and to spread illumination.

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