Initiation Into the Subtle, an Approach to Quality


I’ve typed the title of this post. It is a concentration of four recent and current preoccupations made in the hope that something will come of attending to them in common. These phrases – a sentence is left implicit, waiting to be discovered – lay out a series of relationships. Initiation is a starting place, a premise? The Subtle is named. It has the place of a center from which to move, outward? An Approach qualifies any potential action as a kind of action that holds to attitudes developed within a practice as opposed to those demanded by a goal-driven agenda. And Quality is placed as an object towards which this incantation is aimed. Quality hangs over the whole. Quality is somehow related to the Subtle.

Stepping stones….

That’s misleading. Stepping stones imply that the effort is intended to get us from this side of the stream to the other. That our goal is somewhere beyond. A fault/trap of language, one of so many. Why we need to enter into riddles….

The impulse behind this essay is to illuminate a place. A place where we are. A place where we lack initiations beyond their brutal, toxic simulacra or the random affects of trauma and our various capacities to survive them. A place where the subtle is not only lost from sight, but actively buried beneath ever more aggressive demands on our attention intended to objectify us and turn us into the means for the ends of those who insist on deepening divisions. A place where we are pushed not to approach questions but to demand answers. A place where the entire notion of quality has been dissipated in the rituals of a cult of consumption where every quality, be it material or not, is sacrificed to a harsh, brutal, and diminishing belief in the primacy of egotistical desire.

This desire is sometimes chased after directly and, as often, sublimated into pursuits of violent negation cloaked in religious trappings. A place where our most blatant hedonists and our most fanatical ascetics, tied to faiths of negation, share an equal disregard for any form of quality that might be recognized by an organism fulfilling its relationship with existence, living a life.

I’m often brought to wonder why I’m drawn to such a convoluted way of addressing things. It makes what I write dense, and often frustrating to read. It makes my speech, halting, hesitant. Sometimes running ahead chasing a connection. Sometimes falling flat, retreating into a collapsed silence as if the air that had borne me has bled away. It might all be an elaborate trick. A perverse insistence that results in much friction. To what end?

One way of looking at it came to mind as the title of this post wrote itself. It is centered on the Subtle. How can we address subtlety without slowing down perception, providing impediments to hasty conclusions, and questioning the proliferation of assumptions that drive us towards a simulation of clarity we take for certainty?

At the risk of making a bald statement, an unqualified assertion, I must say that I find subtlety to be the central quality of the Universe. That without developing and pursuing a practice of discerning subtlety we are impoverished and left at the mercy of every violence and every form of suffering.

Beyond such an exclamation of enthusiastic belief nothing more can be said about subtlety without entering into a dance of implication, acceding to the demands subtlety makes of us. We run into the limits of our perception and every form of conditioning that leads us to form and deepen ruts of repetitive behavior, habits of thought and of action that take us farther and farther from what-is, as existence unfolds around us. From this condition we require of a practice that it holds us to finding the subtle by honing our capacities for discernment and maintaining a relationship with creativity in as many of its forms and guises as we can apprehend. Subtlety provides an entry into an awareness of violence. Without subtlety we are trapped in violence, unable to understand our complicity. We chase after partial expressions of justice in which we perpetuate violence as our projected shadow. Unable to see violence whole we perpetuate suffering as we chase after divisions. All of this while maintaining our righteousness.

Another way to talk about subtlety is to say it is a relationship with mystery. The mysterious, that which is beyond our capacity to illuminate completely as we are unable to hold onto it within an expectation of certainty, is precisely why humans have always relied on forms of initiation.

An initiation implies that there is something hidden that requires us to pass through a form of introduction. This implies that explanation is not adequate. That what needs to enter our sphere of awareness cannot do so without some form of guided experience of that element of life, that mystery. So much more so when it is the entire concept of mystery that is in question.

What we see around us in so many ways can be seen as what happens when the entire notion of initiation, even the entire realm of the mysterious, of the subtle, is actively ignored in pursuit of negation. In so many ways we are broken. Broken in ways that can be tied directly to this lack. A dual lack. A lack of the transmission of the value of mystery and subtlety down the generations. A break in a chain of inheritance of both the means of discovering mystery and an understanding that mystery is essential.

We stumble about haphazardly attending to ruptures in every aspect of life. We confront the results of an all-consuming desperation to chase after destruction in a deluded attempt to escape from the entirety of being. We attempt to find ways to lead us towards becoming whole. All these aspects, every aspect of our lives today, is blighted by this dual lack.

We cannot commandeer rituals from the past or expect to engineer relevant forms of initiation to address our situation. That we consider such an option viable is a symptom of our condition. We have no connection with mystery and the subtle. Instead, caught-up in strategies aimed at defending our certainties, we adopt the attitudes of technology. We see everything as a problem and any scrap of a recipe as a potential solution. We turn our will upon our perceived difficulties and seek to strive our way – if not to achieve our goal – at least to convince ourselves and others that we are right.

Turning this approach, this attitude, loose on questions of mystery and initiation, we only show how clueless we’ve become! This leaves us in a predicament that can only be approached creatively by staying with the absence. Whatever subtle approach to the question of initiation, considered as a relationship with quality, we may arrive at will be a response to this lack. We will only find it once we have stopped reacting to its symptoms and turn to allow its wider implications to sink in.

These four aspects: initiation, subtlety, approach through practice, and relationship with quality; are inextricably linked. This essay only points to their relationship without going any further. It brings us to a resting place where the whole and its implications can resonate. It is both an approach to illuminate the question, and also, a holographic embodiment of this approach. In a rough and un-mediated manner it reflects a notion of how initiation might take place. How an acclimation to this approach to questions is in itself a form of initiation into mystery. That through approaching a relationship between a perception of subtlety and an appreciation of the qualities expressed in our relationship with it we might find a way to proceed.






  1. That was great. Honesty is a kind of subtle awareness without conclusion; proprioceptive I suppose, which is too subtle for any static form, although words do seem to allow us to reach these starting points, or resting places, limits or disentangled clearings (meaningful silences). Meanwhile, in the trivial world that is fed to us through media and schooling and every form of indoctrination — a world that I cannot oppose myself to as if from the outside, as if from some more subtle vantage point without losing that very subtlety — the subtle in THAT context is ironically taken for something trivial. These worlds seem like photographic negatives to one another. When we begin to scent the signs of this indoctrination (and I’m picturing a dog here sniffing out the pathways of a rabbit, because my dog spent the better part of a morning do just that), then we awaken to the subtle implications of what had seemed so trivial! By sniffing out the trivial with attention and interest and joy and humor subtlety emerges.


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