Absorption: A Universal Law

Mind, Aug. 1903

Vol. XII No. 5, pp. 369-374


All life is absorption—a sucking up, a blending of forces. Absorption and dissipation are the laws that govern all the processes of the organic and inorganic worlds. I say absorption and dissipation, but, properly, there is nothing but absorption. Dissipation is but absorption seen from the other side.

The sun dissipates heat and light, but the earth consumes both. Moving bodies pulse their vibrations into the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is lost in ether. The seed drops to the earth and is lost in the soil; the oak comes forth and in time passes into decay, and is soil again, and seed again, and oak again. In the gaseous flames of the nebular orb a universe of forces is absorbed, and from the flaming retort of fire they are belched into infinite space in forms both new and strange, to be absorbed again by withered worlds an passion-spent spheres.

A mighty and consuming thirst pervades things. Naked forces skirt the topmost heavens and the nether depths of the seas seeking to be clothed, hooded, wrapped, shod, absorbed in matter. Who are the dead but those who have absorbed life, who in coffined silences await new unions in mystic spheres? Who are the quick but those who have come to this plane to imbibe planetary life and its myriad pulsing streams of sentiency? Indeed, are the live aught but the peelings and tailings of ancestral existences—pale, wan relics of the dead, vibrant wraiths, trailing after them the forces and tendencies of their ancient lives?

The living breathe and move and have their being because they have absorbed their dead past selves, because they have passed through unimaginable modes of life and sucked into [370] their souls the breath of the Past. They stand before us mere echoes, sounding-boards on which a note or two of the Great Diapason is registered. As a sponge sucks up water, so do we suck up life. Our eyes suck in the colors and forms of the material world; our ears suck in sounds, our palates suck in tastes, our nostrils suck in odors. These sense-ducts flow to the brain carrying their flotsam and jetsam of impressions, and in that wondrous and ever-mysterious alembic the raw materials which the senses furnish are absorbed, minced, blended, and from the magic cells flow those complex ideas that give us “The Eve of St. Agnes,” or “The Angelus.” 

What is the vast dream that underlies the somnambulism of the ages? What is the Idea which coheres through incoherency and stands forever calm through the Cosmic din? What is it for which the seer has pined, the saint has prayed, and the devotee has wrought? Absorption—reabsorption in the One. Names differ; tendencies change not. And whether we be Buddhists and accept the idea of the non-personal Divine Intelligence that is the substratum of the phenomenal world, where phantoms squeak and gibber and call it life; or we believe in the One of Pythagoras and Plato, or we accept the Christian metaphor of the Father; or we yearn for the Pure Being, or Non-Being, of Hegelianism, or crave for immersion in the Oversoul of Transcendentalism—whether it be any one of these, it is reabsorption we are consciously or unconsciously seeking. It is this intuition that is the basic concept of all religions and religio-philosophic systems.

Absorption in God is the primary instinct of the religious soul and the last hope of man. The temporal order is built of expediency; its construction has been piecemeal; its forms are transitory. It is a mere stop-gap between Eternity and Eternity. It is a buffer state. Built in time, grounded in the shifting sands of Change and Circumstance, it is destined to die with the planet.

It is the wildest generalizations we crave. Science does not [371] crawl from point to point; it circles from generalization to generalization. Each ending is but a beginning, and each outermost an interior. The horizon broadens with our ascension. Line merges into line, circle into circle, cycle into cycle, and still the press is ever forward. We believe we are absorbing, while in reality we are being absorbed. We believe we are discovering, while in truth we are being discovered. With each new obstacle surmounted, the under, hidden private Self circles into broader life. We pierce the chrysalis of our last limitation and believe that in sloughing it off we are discarding it. But the Great Thaumaturgist never discards anything. The new is the old revamped. The skin we slough off drops silently into the Unconscious, where it is remolded nearer to the heart’s more urgent desire. It emerges transfigured as our present self. The mind, like the heart, has is systole and diastole. We escape into higher forms of life by daily dying unto ourselves.

In Society—that vast and complex network of organized, objectified Will—this all-powerful law of absorption is seen at work pursuing as relentlessly and as inexorably its obscure end as in the purely physical or psychic world. The individual is canceled in the family, the family absorbed in the tribe, the tribe obliterated in the nation; and into the brain of great dreamers there now comes the thought of effacing all national lines in a brotherhood of man, a federation of the universal social spirit.

The social unit cannot escape the fate that awaits it. As surely as the needle turns toward the pole does part overlap part and the segmental become indistinguishable in the whole. This law that passes up through the circles of social change is to-day apparent in the commercial world. We hear much in denunciation of the trusts, those giant combinations of capital that absorb the small dealer and dangerous competitor, not by main force, but by a process as natural and as legitimate and as inexorable as the drop of rain is absorbed into the sea or the dew in the atmosphere. The trust is our widest commercial [372] generalization—the instinct of the sublime manifesting itself in the sordid world of give-and-take. As the great nations of the earth assimilate the smaller ones, and they, in turn, assimilate the tribes within their borders—so the great purveyors of the necessaries of life are drawing into their hands the means of production and the machinery of distribution of the whole commercial world.

The logical question that now forces itself on the thinking mind is: Why not let the nation instead of the individual do this? Why not make the nation a trust and the people the trustees? Why not absorb these giant corporations into the fabric of the State, and put the stamp of approval on a law that will have its way, willy-nilly? This is the dream of Socialism. It is founded on the incontrovertible proposition that all things tend toward a common center, no matter how great may appear to be their surface diversity and differentiation from a common standard.

No one thing can long remain wholly independent. A human being may rise to indefinite heights on the rungs of his environment; but in these altitudes the air is difficult to breathe. Gravitation tugs. Froward man channels his own descent. A remorseless Nemesis pursues those who rise above the common level. The ligature which binds man to man in works and days cannot be dissolved with impunity. There are moments in life when the individual may, like Ibsen’s Master Builder, achieve for a moment absolute Selfhood, but his fate is written on the scroll of natural law, and from his dizzy height he will be dashed to atoms. The ideal of absolute individualism aims, consciously or unconsciously, at achieving this quixotic independence. At the basis of individualism lies the competitive system. Man competes against man, and achieves power and place—or poverty and death. There needs a ring to tether these plunging forces.

Civilization to-day is chaotic because it is too highly differentiated. It is brilliant—stalactitic, but brittle and insecure. It [373] is stucco, frieze, and gargoyle pasted on paper. The orb keeps to the plane of the ecliptic because of the perfect balancing of the centripetal and centrifugal forces. The human unit is over-balanced, overweighted. The centrifugal is greater than the other. There is no common center. Each man’s hand is against his fellow man. There is no cohesive power; nothing that welds. We are like comets that hurtle through space in purposeless gyrations, plunging from Void to Void.

Socialism proposes an equal balancing of these distraught forces. It proposes to weld man to man in a closer union, to amalgamate the Like, and allow the Unlike to flourish in that wondrous individuality that gives color, form, and symmetry to life. It proposes to absorb just so much as is necessary to construct a powerful center of social gravitation. In absorbing certain elements of individual life it will follow that great law which this essay has hinted at. The Socialist aims at restoring the equilibrium of mass and mass, a balancing of the static and dynamic forces; an equalization of responsibilities, and a union of effort. In the rending struggle for existence, as we see it to-day, there is a continual shifting of weights from individual to individual. Nationalization proposes a shifting to a common center, an absorption, a taking up, a revelation.

And thus are all things woven of one thread. Who shall trace the curvetings of Law? Circle on circle towers above our heads in rhythmic windings. Whorl upon whorl rises above us, and its mystic spirality is lost in the Unapparent.

Our souls are engulfed for an æon or two but to reappear on the curved surfaces of consciousness. Like vigorous swimmers who plunge beneath the watery avalanche only to rise do we sport in the eternal forces. As an eagle circles round and round over unknown seas, so we rise higher and higher on the crest of the laws that have ferried us hither and that shall ferry [374] us beyond. Microcosm melts into macrocosm; the less flows molten into the greater; the trivial dissolves in the significant, and through all the Will is promulgated.

In spouting mud and elemental mist—the Dream of Absorption was there; in paleozoic slime—the Dream was there; in the boundless underworld of instinct and blind procreation—the Dream was there. Belt and buckle and chain have burst and fallen into the past; belt and buckle and chain are forged—and the Dream persists. When the earth shall be hooded in flame and its poles capped and shod in vapor—the Dream will be there.

Plunging from birth to rebirth, the soul of Man gnaws and files at his gyves. Limitation he recognizes as his one enemy. Through storm and gloom and the press of circumstance he seeks to clasp the Ultra-Generalization. Systems and codes he sloughs off like snake-skin. Time and space wilt in the breath of his Desire. He labors to force the Northwest Passage to the Polar Seas of Quiescence. He ponders on his latest, newest route to the Indies of Passivity.

Absorption is God’s method—God, who is the last, the final Equilibration, the Spent Dynamic, the Eternal Static.