We observe that we exist as independent individuals, and that our independence and individuality become an intrinsic part of our understanding of living values. We come to recognise clearly that we would have virtually no value for one another if we resembled each other completely. In fact we find we have more value for ourselves and others the more our individuality grows and develops. But growth produces a series of changes in our understanding in such a way that our idea of valuable individuality becomes naturally governed by parameters which are initially not apparent to us. For growth produces an ability in us to become aware of, and to use, our creative imagination. This means that we are able to choose how we behave and do not have this behaviour dictated to us by the conditioning effects of the environment or the conditioning effects of the lesser, undeveloped nature that our growth commenced from.
If we achieve the ability to observe clearly from the ground where this imagination is free and relatively unconditioned we can begin to ask ourselves the question, "What is the greatest and most valuable gift I would like to be given?" We should take a long time to delve into our whole private universe to come up with the best possible answer. I think that the answer we would find we arrived at would be that the greatest and most valuable thing we could ever wish for is 'Ourself'.
We would find, I believe, that, when we had become satiated with all the immediately beautiful and delightful things that our imagination first of all thinks it would like, such as 'the heavenly life' with all the attributes of peace, beauty, serenity, love and bliss, then, and only then, might we begin to realise that there was something we might learn to value even more. This deeper value, I feel, would be based on our realisation that we were not able to use and develop our independent creative and responsible faculties in such a heaven.
Now these independent creative responsibilities require all our integrity and effort to function properly because, if we look at them, we will discover that there is only one thing which they want to be engaged in, and that is the discovery and expression of 'the impossibly beautiful and valuable thing'.
Our real independent spirit is not truly interested in doing the possible beautiful things, although it does them as a proper part of its natural and responsible behaviour. This spirit is more truthfully always preparing to take a deep breath and try to do some wonderful thing that it can only aspire to and cannot already achieve. This is a fact which stems from the truth of our Being which reflects the nature and attitude of the Creator.
I shall now turn the tables and say that, if we next use our independent imagination and put ourselves in the place of the Creator, there is nothing we will be able to come up with as a more worthwhile thing to create than a means of bringing into existence some other real independent beings with whom we could enter into creative living as friends and sharers of one another’s experience. And then we can look at what we consider the nature of friendship to be, and find out why it becomes such an important part of our experience.
We have a deep desire to share our independent imaginative and creative living with other independent beings. To bring an impossibly beautiful thing within the scope of our expression is a very desirable achievement, but to be able to share the values of the achievement with other independent sources of appreciation and valuation, such as another person who is your friend, is even more desirable. We feel that to get the greatest benefit from our creative endeavours we must share the fruits of the endeavour with others.
Another cannot be another unless he or she is truly independent too, and they cannot be valuable 'other people' unless they have achieved a degree of growth in their own private universe which is able to give attention to and appreciation for the qualities which you yourself have valued so much. They do not have to agree about the value of what you have found, but they must have reached a level of understanding from which their reasons for not agreeing with you are as valuable as the treasure you are showing to them. This begins to enable us to understand the astringent and virile side to the creative aspect of true friendship, and it also points out for us the difference between true friendship and artificial friendship.
Artificial friendship is the activity of the preliminary self, the selfish self, which bases friendship on the use people have for its relatively small and self-centred desires and needs. It is a perfect parody of the higher true friendship, but its order of behaviour is not based on the free independence of the spirit but on the fear and anxiety surrounding the selfish nature of a personality divorced from its true spiritual identity.
The artificial friendships of the selfish self are based on the ability of its so-called 'friends' to boost and support its artificial and substitute existence. Its 'reality' is a substitute for its spiritual reality, and its 'values' are a substitute for its spiritual values. In every way it parodies the proper activity of its spiritual counterpart. It also parodies the sense of purpose and achievement, and this ultimately leads to its downfall, for the individual eventually becomes sickened by the lack of real satisfaction its artificial substitute behaviour brings to it. It then begins to look about for an alternative life which does not consist of a sense of futility and emptiness.
After many mistakes the perception of the spiritual self and the artificial self begin to overlap and integrate, but only if the pain of vanity continues. If it is successful, the individual person is able to begin to value and express the qualities of the spiritual understanding and live them out through its physical personality. It can also begin to understand the nature of true friendship which can only belong to the higher spiritual nature and cannot properly exist at the lower level of the selfish personality self.
Only the true Self, which carries with it the attitude of the Creator, can enter into the feeling and nature of true friendship. This true friendship has an attitude which we can call that of 'gladness' towards its friends. Now this use of the term gladness is trying to draw attention to a forward-going, non-clinging, non-dependent attitude. This gladness contains what we understand of the word love and affection, but it also carries a zest of joy and livingness which results in a paradox which can only be expressed by a phrase like 'careless caring' or 'unconcerned concern'.
I do not wish to suggest that there is any hardness or lack of sympathetic support in this friendship, but there is a wisdom in it which knows that we destroy one another with too much comfort and support and sympathy. This friendship also recognises that the creative impossibly beautiful aspiration can only be enjoyed and worked on between two independent friends who are able to stand firmly apart in order to become two polarities which are different from one another, and yet whose concern is unselfishly for the greater fulfilment of the other. In such a friendship a creative vortex can arise between them, from the play of forces between them, from which can come the impossibly beautiful thing. In this way the higher spiritual friendship assists each friend in their ongoing, never ending livingness.
The true spirit of man does not want to arrive at an omega point that is an ultimate point. Any omega point is only considered to be a point of new departure for a greater endeavour. There is of course an omega point in the growth of man’s spirit, from which he takes his first steps into his true life, and that is the point at which he consciously and deliberately enters into the Divine spiritual family of friends. This is also the proper species to which he must belong if he is to enter into eternal life and within which his individuality will be developed to its limits.
What is it that friends of this sort have to offer one another in friendships? It is the depth and quality of their unique characteristics combined with their species characteristics. So a measure of the regard you have for your friends and for yourself, and for your species, is the amount of effort you have put into building experience and character into your own universe, into your unique individuality.
The more living of a productive sort that you have done, the more real substance you will carry round with you and be able to offer in creative friendship to all your friends. This is all that we ever possess for ourselves, or for our loved ones: our characteristics.
We cannot have a deep and productive friendship with an individual who has only a thinness of character in him; we can only have a deep relationship with an individual who has a great depth of character in him. Such ultimately real belongings cannot be gained easily; our instinct tells us so. Such depth of character is only hard won on the battlefields of the hardest forms of living experience.
These hardest forms of living experience can never be in a heavenly environment, as we understand the term, in an existence of spiritual ease and bliss. It must be axiomatic that these characteristics can only be won by an individual effort to live the highest quality of being in the most resistant environment. Such an environment is exactly that of earth, which is not too far removed from heaven, but far enough from the heavenly environment to be called unheaven.
It is here in unheaven that we can work on the possibilities of our nature in a suitably resistive situation, which can call out of us the very utmost of our integrity and endeavour as well as our understanding of peace, beauty, serenity and bliss. It is here on earth that man can become familiar with the great gift that is being offered to him, which is his own Self. There is no other gift we really desire, and this is a way of arriving at an understanding of the great and wise giver of this gift, our Creator.
Our God thus turns out to be our great friend, and turns out to want from us nothing other than our great friendship. He does not want us to continue in childish dependence on him or in servile or childish obedience to him; he wants to give us the whole gift of our independent reality. This requires us to untie the Gordian knot which causes us to remain in an obedient or childish condition, and, when we have untied it, and made a lot of mistakes in consequence, then, and only then, are we in a position to be able to make a real deliberate friendship with him, and this is his great reward.
If we achieve enough independence and growth to become his friends, we will be able to participate with our God-friend in creative, responsible, aspiring endeavour. We will also be God-friends to one another and we will taste the life which is never ending and never accomplished, which is always virile, creative and new. And therefore, when we look around the world and see the state it is in, and throw up our hands in horror, we should take thought for a little while. We can now face the proposal that there is no gift we would rather have than the one we are being given. There is no other way that the gift could be given to us than in an environment such as earth.
Rather than disbelieving in a God who is trying to give us to ourselves, we should notice that this God is doing exactly what a god must do in order to give us what we want more than anything else. He is offering us from a distance the great gift of our own unique individual divine reality, but this is such a subtle and great gift that we must enter into the process by which we receive the gift. Our own initiative, and only that, can enable us to develop unique characteristics.
There are three aspects to the great gift: the separate life given to us out of the Creator’s own life; then intelligent understanding of the significance of the qualities inherent in that life, and lastly the strength and integrity to carry and sustain it.
The more these facts are considered and realised, the more we come to realise the value of our earthly life, and the Creator’s thoughtfulness in not being present in a dominant personal form which would have prevented us knowing about and developing individual independent characteristics and identity.
How could we have gathered such an important part of the gift if the strong and dominant person of the Creator had been at our side in a form which we could have recognised? We would have been merged into duplicates of his own nature if our God had done that, and then what value could we have for him as friends? What value would we have had in creative friendship for one another either? But if we are being given such a great and real gift then there must also be a risk that we will not enter into the spirit of the gift sufficiently to take it. There must be a possibility that we will wilt and fade in our spirit.
If we can have real success we must also be able to have real failure, and I think this is why we sense that there is a beautiful heroic yet tragic element in life. We must become aware of its failure as well as its success. Only our Creator can know what is real failure, but we can share the grief which he must feel for his children that he nearly wins, but who then slip away from life and from his love.