The spiritual wisdom imbedded in Lewis Carroll’s tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Part: II
Remember the Mad Hatter’s tea-party, celebrating an ‘un-birthday’. An un-birthday is when nothing happens, but nothingness—that is, ‘no-thing-ness’—is everything! When we come to know the no-thing-ness of all reality, we can truly say we have come to know the Self—as one.
And what of so-called ‘time’? The watch-carrying White Rabbit provides a launching pad for an exploration of the nature of time and eternity. ‘Time’ and ‘space’–which are really one–are no more than mediums in which all things exist. Life itself is timeless and spaceless, with everything contained within ‘the Now.’ All duration–or time–is total and complete in the Now. In Through the Looking-Glass we find the Red Queen crying ‘Faster!’ and ‘Faster!’ as Alice runs hand in hand to keep up with her. We read, ‘The most curious part of the thing was that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. “I wonder if all the things move along with us?” thought poor puzzled Alice.’ Also, at the Mad Tea-Party Alice is told by the Hatter, ‘It’s always six o’clock now.’ Yes, there is an ‘eternal’ quality about the Now. It is forever new.
And what of the ‘path’? Well, there are lots of paths in Alice, but none of them really lead anywhere. Funny, that In Through the Looking-Glass Alice remarks, ‘Here’s a path that leads straight to [the garden of live flowers] … no, it doesn’t do that … how curiously it twists! It’s more like a corkscrew than a path!’ And so we find Alice ‘wandering up and down, and trying turn after turn.’ So must we. We must never become complacent and settle for just one ‘version’ or ‘brand’ of Truth–say, the church or religion we were ‘born’ into. Alice asks Tweedledum and Tweedledee, ‘Which is the best way out of [the] wood?’ The fat little men ‘only looked at each other and grinned.’ Love it!
The paths taught by so-called experts–the priests, teachers, saviors and gurus–are not the true paths. They represent other persons’ versions or ‘understanding’ of reality, and they are of no use to us. At one point–one of many such points–Alice has had enough of Wonderland, and wants to go ‘home.’ However, she can’t find her way out. She finds a path to follow, but a dog with a broom comes along and sweeps the path away. Ha! Isn’t that always the case? But that’s a good thing, really. We don’t need paths–at least not those sorts of paths. Truth is a pathless land, as the iconoclastic Krishnamurti pointed out more than once. Why? Because we are always in direct and immediate contact with ‘Truth’ or ‘reality’ at all times. There is no separation or distance to be made the subject of a path or otherwise ‘bridged’ by some supposed mediator or savior. Sad we don’t realize that to be the case.
Alice then hears the voice of the Cheshire Cat, telling her to go to the Queen. The Cat refers to a ‘short cut,’ and it is that which I have referred to above–namely, the letting go of the notion of self-altogether, with all that entails. That is indeed the short cut, and the moment-to-moment practice of mindfulness is a wonderful means of freeing oneself from the bondage of self. In a very profound sense there is no path, for–as mentioned above–a path presupposes a separation or distance between the person that each of us is and reality (or Truth) itself. The only apparent separation or distance is the illusion of self, which we must eliminate. The Queen constantly shrieks, ‘Off with her head!’ However, it is the Queen’s head–the ego-self–which must be topped.
Alice learns that not only is there no ‘path’ as such–except the ‘short cut’ referred to above–there are also no ‘rules.’ (Carroll eschews moralizing, unlike others such as C S Lewis.) Alice’s encounters demonstrate that. Words tend to mean whatever we want them to mean. Yes, we invariably get lost in our own self-constructed mental prison of ego-self–a veritable Jabberwocky which must be overcome (‘killed’) if there is to be any progress at all. The good news, as Dr Norman Vincent Peale used to say, is that there is in each of us a spiritual giant, which is always trying to burst its way out of the prison we have made for it. This spiritual giant–as I see it–is not something ‘supernatural’ but nothing other than the conscious recognition or awareness that ‘self cannot change self.’
Along the ‘way’ Alice finds some spiritual nourishment in some bits of mushroom. Love it! Then there’s the associated Zenkōan in the form of the Caterpillar’s advice about the mushroom, ‘One side will make you grown bigger and the other side will make you grow smaller.’ Alice asks, ‘One side of what? The other side of what?” ‘Of the mushroom,’ says the Caterpillar.
That reminds me of the old Buddhist story, ‘You are on the Other Side.’ Reason, intellect, and book knowledge–not unimportant things by any means–are not the ‘short cut’ described by the Cheshire Cat. Indeed, they are hindrances to spiritual growth, as are all the things that the world deems important. The latter–along with those who seek worldly fame and success–are not only deluded, they’re ‘nothing but a pack of cards.’
Lewis Carroll takes a not-so-gentle swipe at the silliness of beliefs. ‘I can’t believe that!’ says Alice to the White Queen. The latter says, ‘Can’t you? … Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’ Alice laughs and says, ‘There’s no use trying … one can’t believe impossible things.’ Not so, says the Queen. ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice … When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’ So do multitudes of adherents of organized religion. They, too, ‘draw a long breath and shut [their] eyes,’ believing ‘as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
Shakyamuni Buddha referred to beliefs as thought coverings or veils, which block and distort reality, and thus prevent us from knowing and experiencing things as they really are in all their directness and immediacy. In addition, beliefs are always someone else’s ‘version’ of reality–the result of someone else’s conditioned mind, mental habits and fragmentary thinking, that is, the past. Buddha got it right, saying, ‘Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don’t believe.’ Even if, like Alice, you ‘don’t quite understand,’ always remember this–’It gets easier farther on,’ as Humpty Dumpty pointed out in Through the Looking-Glass. Such is the reality of knowledge, experience and understanding.
Alice finally masters the underworld (‘Wonderland’ or the ‘Looking-glass world’) and becomes an ‘initiate.’ She awakens to her true ‘be-ing’ and full potential as a human being. She comes to know Truth. You can, too.
Choose–like Alice–to be mindfully different. And don’t forget the short cut.
Notes: Some of the scenes described in this post come from Lewis Carroll’s writings while others come from other literary as well as cinematic versions of Carroll’s works.