From the Executive Editor - Winter 2009

Originally printed in the Winter 2009 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard. "From the Executive Editor - Winter 2009." Quest 97. 1 (Fall 2009): 2.

Richard SmolleyFew of you need to be told about the financial upheavals that have been taking place over the past few months. I would like to be able to tell you that the Theosophical Society is immune to these, but unfortunately we are not (at least from a materialistic point of view). The rapid drop in the stock market in the fall of 2008 has hit both our endowment and our grants funding quite heavily, and it seems that, like much of the nation, the Society is in for a time of austerity.

While this should only have a minimal effect on programs, it does mean one change for members: You will be finding Quest in your mailbox a bit less often than you once did. Financial necessity requires us to cut back our frequency of issues from bimonthly (that is, six times a year) to quarterly. From now on, you will be receiving Quest four times a year, in the beginning of January, April, July, and October. For nonmembers who are subscribing, don't worry: your subscription will be extended so that you will receive the number of issues that you have paid for.

This decision is not ideal, but it is a necessity. On the brighter side, I'm determined that it won't lead to a decline in quality, and in fact we have been working to include a wider range of contributors and ideas in the magazine—a change that should be particularly apparent in the Spring 2009 issue.

In the culture at large, it seems, the current malaise extends far beyond the realm of banks and corporations and stock markets. In science, Darwinism has frozen into a stale orthodoxy at which even the younger biologists are starting to chafe, while the mind-blowing theories of quantum physics are now quite old; many of them were devised in the 1920s, a time that is already slipping out of living memory. Attempts to update or supersede them, however fascinating, have made our picture of the universe even more confusing and less coherent than it had been. Religion and philosophy are regressing to where they were when the Theosophical Society was founded in 1875, with a ridiculous biblical literalism pitted against an equally ridiculous materialistic skepticism. On the political and economic situation I reserve comment, if only because I suspect you are as sick of hearing about it as I am. Even the New Age movement is starting to look more than a little shopworn.

One common response to a situation like this is simply fear. Certainly there is enough of it to go around. It sometimes seems as if there is a belt of fear that dwells in the collective unconscious like an enormous underground aquifer into which the mind can tap at any time and for any reason. It is, perhaps, natural for many people to fall into this trap. But as esotericists we ought to demand a little more from ourselves.

In these times, I believe, we need to remember that no matter how good or bad the world situation is, there is always work for us to do. Some of this work is internal, the constant striving for illumination and self-perfection that will never cease for as long as we are alive on this planet and quite possibly for long after. Another part of this work is external. It is oriented toward the world. Whether you conceive of this in terms of the Theosophical ideal of service, of G. I. Gurdjieff's "work for the work's sake," or of what A Course in Miracles calls your "special function" hardly matters. There is a work, a task, large or small, that you and only you can do. It may take you onto the grand stage of history, or it may leave you in obscurity for your entire life. It does not matter.

This work is yours and no one else's. For this reason, no one else can tell you what it is. Because it is so intrinsically connected with your innermost being, to discover it is to discover yourself. It can be revealed by still, small voices or by visions on the road to Damascus, but also in a career aptitude test or by answering an ad in the classifieds. It may remain steadfastly the same, a ridgepole on which your entire life depends, or it may shift and change over time. In any event, it has one central feature: it gives you the unshakable sense that this function, whatever it is, is why you exist, is what you were created to do in this lifetime.

To have this sense of your function is not a magic recipe for peace of mind in every moment. It may even prove unsettling. As William Butler Yeats wrote in "Under Ben Bulben," one of his last poems:

Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

All this said, knowing your function, knowing where you best can serve, does promote peace of mind at a deeper level. It provides a sense of inner security that the Gospels symbolize as building your house on rock rather than on the shifting sands of circumstance. It means that you know you have this task to do regardless of what the news reports say, who is elected, or what magnificent institution collapses. Such work requires us to face our destiny stoically and unflinchingly, with a spirit of sacrifice, but it is not only a matter of sacrifice; often when we most expect to give up something, we find gifts and joys given to us unexpectedly. Even when this does not happen, the work fosters in us the long, slow growth of knowledge in the truest sense, which may be the only thing of any real value in this world. To cite the Gospels again, "The labourer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7).


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Richard Smoley


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