William Segal was a successful businessman and magazine publisher who also emphatically embraced the inner journey. His interests were in Eastern spiritual traditions and most specifically, the work of Gurdjieff and his disciple Ouspensky. In addition to writing poetry, Segal was a painter. His primary output was self portraits. Lots of them.
A Voice at the Borders of Silence is an autobiography of sorts. Published a few years after Segal’s death in 2000, the book contains contributions by several of Segal’s famous friends including theatrical director Peter Brook and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. While the book’s appeal is uneven IMHO, Segal’s journey is an unexpected one. A man of great passion and drive, he approached life with full gusto. Even a life threatening car accident (which resulted in the need to wear an eye patch for the rest of his life) didn’t throw him off his game.
One of my favorite passages is from Thurman’s foreword:
Bill handed me…his charcoal drawings, which aptly got called “Transparencies.” Simple black and white, still lives of table objects, especially glasses, emerged in the luminosity of enlightened perception. Ultimate experience of this is called “clear light,” which is often misunderstood to refer to a bright white light. But the white light is a more superficial level of reality, the moonlit level called “luminance.” The clear light is just transparency, compared to the gray dawn twilight when you can see your hand but not the lines in it. It is a light that does not fall on objects, but comes from within them, casting no shadows. It is a self-luminous, non-dual awareness and presence. And Bill, untroubled by the sophisticated Tibetan phenomenology of such states, was bringing it into our dualistic awareness by scratching on paper with bits of charcoal. I was awestruck.
I can’t think of a finer compliment, Buddhist scholar to artist.
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