Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why (K)not?


Mr. Thumbite gave the curt response over the phone. His school chum (from over 50 years back,) having at last located him, offered to go for a coffee, beer, or lunch. "Why?" Now, voice tone or adjectives, like “belligerent”, or “inquisitive”, or “dismissive” might well alter the story, consciously, but with the denunciation clearly denoted, the two old school friends did not meet.

Consciousness has it that we not only think about our thinking, but that we do it as a continuum of habit. (Surely we are conscious some of the time?) Surely we have a meta-cognition, that ability to realize we are thinking and to redirect, address, question, and even choose in which direction to steer our thinking. Animals are less so. Dogs, cats, pets, farm animals, they all learn and show intelligent choices at times, but not as a continuum. And even then, it is averred, quite a few humans do not live in much consciousness either. We are creatures of habit, reactionary rather than responsive, and atavistic rather than progressive. It is in our nature to nurture that which we already know, to perpetuate that to which we've become inured, and to settle for that which is on the TV. Or do we creatively compose our lives? Do we perpetually consider our choices, not just from a good or bad, left or right, or even an up or down perspective, but from the kaleidoscope of compassion? (Complete compassion, here, is comprehensively integrative.)

If Fifteen Dogs are given consciousness, and their lives followed, surely it is the degree to which each of them exercises that ability that will establish a bell curve along the continuum. So too for humans. Our bell curve, in the long line of history, would show that we've not exercised our consciousness very much at all. At least, not collectively. Yet it might be argued that if the measure of mankind's' consciousness in action may be by the metre (that French word) of compassion, then it is not so much about individuals in action, but what groups have done. And certainly not everyone in the United States need be aligned with the President, nor those in Russia, nor those in China, nor those in the long history of Time's sweep by an Alexander or a Genghis Khan. We rather easily ascribe a condition, any condition, of the human condition to an entire populace, forgetting that they are measured most often by what the leading edge of that populace perforce did to 'advance' the status quo. Think of the 'great' wars. Think of the ongoing wars. How does an individual without much power at all, like you or me, affect those? How do we influence with our consciousness the awareness of others? What communication, methods, or prayers will truly affect 'everything'? We can but do what we do in small measures, one by one, each by each, in an attempt to sway the vote. Ask the 'new' South Africa. Ask a North Korean, or a refugee from Syria. How conscious may they be deemed to be? What of you and me? And what we've done, collectively, given all history, is not show much consciousness at all.

Lunchtime meetings with four separate friends over the past fortnight have much invigorated this treatise. We are of an accord. The degree of meta-cognition impacts the degree to which one lives on in states of consciousness. (And consciousness may be defined as that quality of being aware not only of one's actions, but of the very reasoning process behind the action, most of the time.) Given my friends, when a topic is raised, or a given contention expressed, the essential question of 'why?' is an immediate invitation to further exploration, directed toward a more articulate exposition, and even a reverence for the journey itself. It is never dismissive, or funny.

Yes, sometimes the question is not ‘why’, but, "Why Not?"

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wise Words

How to avoid the pitfalls of being all too human? A marriage of intellect and emotion might guide us more clearly. Were we to read and read almost all of the very many books available to us on the journey toward enlightenment, we might yet more-better evolve. Some of us attend theosophical meetings; participate in congregations; watch documentaries. We might more purposefully gear ourselves toward monitoring our habits, question keeping our tradition for tradition's sake, or following along for the sake of following. Yet we enjoy being included into a group. After all, to teeter at the edge of being too different, particularly if there are no other birds of a feather to sustain one, becomes too lonely. "Who do you think are?" can cut to the quick.

Words wield wonders, or not. Books invigorate, affirm, entertain, instruct. So might an essay. And a collection of essays, threaded into a complementary narrative, can take one on a journey that is at once enlightening. Such is the work of Edward Butterworth. Heard of him? Then there is also Mortimer J Adler. Read his work? We could go on. You could inject into this missive a host of other authors. Our libraries are burgeoned by those who would have us see through their eyes. And my sharing the particulars of their narrative, that is, of Edward Butterworth and Adler's narratives, here, may not evoke further interest from you. Yet beyond individual styles of presentation, and beyond individual idiosyncrasies of contention, there is a synchronicity with our human condition that bares hearing, that bares reading about. Sentences that would inject wisdom into you, and me, are surely to be shared? (So too for the Bible, one may aver; or what about the Bhagavad Gita, might another. Or what about....? And the list may go on and on.)

"I have no doubt that there are countless millions of people," writes Butterworth,(p.1031) "who are committed to personal/spiritual growth in full knowledge of its implications for the wellbeing of the planet. Each of those people is affecting a circle of others around them, making a change that is below the radar of the mass media." Indeed! So too may each contribute toward the health of the whole! And as Adler writes (p.166): "The common elements that will unite all human beings in a single cultural community will be related to such essentials as truth in science and philosophy, moral values and human rights, man's understanding of himself, and the wisdom that is the highest good of the human mind." Yes! But oh what a tangled web we weave when we try to prescribe 'moral values and human rights', let alone 'truth in science'! Think of the enormous storms raging over whether we have 'climate change', or not. Think of the massive restructuring of morality in religion we'd need afore marrying the East with the West. Indeed, we think this, believe that, and feel honour bound, duty bound, and passionately devoted to the precepts and percepts of that which has guided us heretofore.

Butterworth backpacked India. Adler, apparently, philosophized from his ivory tower. Yet both men gleaned from life the essence of an integrative stance. They saw that the individual can evolve. They felt that one can progress through the maze of differentiators that separate and divide and adjudge man, so that one might attain a place of acceptance for all that is, that was, and even more significantly, that shall yet be. (Not to do so is perhaps to despair so deeply for the future that one becomes despondent, depressed.) And even more, both Adler and Butterworth continue to provide succour for those who would read their works, who would feel affirmed, who may be affected, intellectually as well as emotionally, by the insights of their contentions. Yes, they are influencing "the well being of the planet."

You and I are richer for their influence. We are richer for the very many other words that come our way, words that evoke us toward wanting to be yet more enlightened. And though there be countless tomes of books that so too may add to our personal oeuvres, I give full commendation and recognition of Edward and Mortimer's works. Here are the links, (both available at Amazon): http://edwardbutterworth.com  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Half of Life

Constraints confine us. (For children, even more than for adults.) Strictures cling throughout history, anchoring us down from wishful aspirations, cementing us to others’ realities. Lies abound. Children learn of Tooth Fairies, Santa, and the Easter Bunny. Teenagers bend to peers. Religions pervade. First-time lovers are told by a lot of literature and song that ‘love will last forever’. Our choices are often but a continuation of the acculturation to which we've become accustomed. What a parent believes is what we adopt. Yet slowly we may change; after all, being gay or ‘out there’ is no longer necessarily a significant point of departure from the norm. Divorce is now de rigueur. Yes, we submit to society’s expectations rather readily. Though some wear ties and suits, and some wear turbans, we all know where ‘tis safe to stand in the nude.

“I cannot divorce,” a friend tells me, anguished. “My religion forbids it. I made a vow before God, and now I must live with it. Perhaps that's why God had us make these vows before Him. He knows that if we did not, we would surely break them, over and over. I fall in love so often!”

He talks, I think: Commitment can be crazy. Without it we too easily can give up the marathons; leave when the going gets hard; divorce at the first fight. Yet there's many a mantra urging just one more step to Eldorado! Don't give up, we often hear. And somehow we’re supposed to keep at it, year after year, until we're old and grey and just plumb wore out. (And there, but for taking the gates toward other opportunities, goes many a malcontent.) Yet some deep sense of glory can pervade the self too, when not giving in, when not giving up! Matters of celibacy, of veganism, of spirituality, of belief, of maturation, insight, and of one’s very enlightenment can be so taxed by the presence of others, or not. Our reaction to everything, in the sum total, is a most internal thing. Others are not always privy to what's really going on. No, not necessarily.

“But I cannot divorce,” he restates. “And she won't either. Besides, she doesn't want to lose me. It is I who wants to go! I am….”

He talks, I think: Difficult spaces are the dissolution of paradigms in which we set up for the new.  They may result in horizontal shifts in which we accrete, accumulate, and swell, or they may be vertical spirals of enlightenment in which we garner yet more compassion, insight, and peace. Enlightenment indeed is a pathway, not a product. Such is the journey. Selfishness, egoism, self-righteousness, betrayal, dishonesty, and deception are all part of the parcel. We each in some measure live this. We fib to friends, to our bosses, to our parents, to our siblings, even to ourselves. Our 'sins', collectively, one hopes, become not only the reason no longer to perpetuate them, but also to have compassion for those we witness doing so. We can still love our friends, despite their misdemeanors. We can still love ourselves, despite our deceits.

He looks at me. He sighs deeply, "Tell me, what should I do?"

I say: “I am not the one to tell you what to do. Nor, actually, is anyone else. Only you can decide what you must do. Ideally it will feel right, will seem right, will be the best thing you can do for all. And even then, there will be consequences.”

He looks at me. “That does not help at all. I'm miserable. I have half of my life yet to live!”

Half of his life? Yes, time slips away from us all. Yes, perhaps one should say what one thinks!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eroding Elitism?

An ugly term inhabits a world view: 'Suurstofdiefie' (oxygen-thief, is the Afrikaans idiom.) Other expressions charge our sensibilities: Fool; idiot; fatso; wastrel. We deliver one-up-manships rather easily. After all, degrees of intelligence, of talent, of beauty, of ability are evident to us all. We live with differentiation. Still, despite conscious efforts at compassion, an unwitting sense of suffocation can arise. It gathers around the self in one's company, one's job, one's town or city or province, state, and country. Yet we each breathe hardly beyond the immediacy of need for our own oxygen. An aircraft fuselage is like that; a cigar box of recycled air. Air shared by all. Guests come, and go.

Apportionment is at issue. Schools are like that; constricting rules, or you're out! Associations are like that; a governance by forces. The Fukushima Power Plant eruptions; the South African farmers' genocide; these appear as isolated events beyond our apprehension. Yet they each affect the rest of us. We hardly can be isolationist. And in our collaborations, we conspire. We become invigorated, or dulled. Degrees of thinking can become impeded, or elevated, by communion with others, yes? Twit!

Quality is at issue. Yet there is much that would deny degrees of 'more-better' by comparisons, especially to others. Habits of speech, of thinking, of topics to discuss, of interests, drive deep into the status quo, such that to be an outlier, to be a dissident, to be ahead of one's time (or even too far behind,) is not to be de rigour at all. We rise or fall by meeting expectations. And we must perforce pretend to be on board, to be abreast, or to concur with the basic percepts at hand. To speak out of turn, above one's station, as an instinct at being precocious, or even as a matter of wanting to address a grievance can seems so snobbish, so up-start-ish, so misplaced as to bring upon oneself too severe an ire. No wonder we have kith and clan and nationhood and school districts and accents and neighbourhoods defined by the bell-curve. It is the anomaly that disquiets: "Just who do you think you are?" Even the most gentle of intentions, the softest tones, the most caring of dispositions may not be sufficient to dispel the raised hackles of the ones in distrust. We share space. We share ideas. We share expectations. We share air!

The big deal is that a huge disparity lies in the sharing of our oxygen, our water, our intelligence quotient. After all, if the sum of all energy indeed remains a constant, then might it not be true that we vie for bits of energy ourselves? (as though your using up energy is an appropriation of mine)! Oxygen thief! Well, when it comes to resources that is exactly what we do contend! We absolutely assume that we have rights to energy that others are evidently too lazy, incapable, impoverished, or recalcitrant to appropriate unto themselves. And as such, we each live with our own apportionment of resources, if not enclaves of such. Our country is richer, yours is poorer; we work harder, invest more, and thereby deserve more. So too for our quality of life. So too for our right to an education system, (if not heaven itself.) Is that not why there are various religions? (Matthew 17). Is that not why there are various nations, various neighbourhoods? An eagle, or a fish? My parents were not rich enough to outrank yours. I did not have the privileges. Snob!

Unfairness is a way of life. We see beautiful or handsome as an inherent trait, (especially in those not old enough to wear makeup). We are very conscious of weight, height, and even hair colour. "She is the one with buck teeth! He has jug-ears!" And we can be decided enough purposefully to maim our children, mar or dock pets, or scar even ourselves in the name of perceived beauty. (Psychological impacting can sometimes be so subtle.) Yes, we are indeed judgmental of material wealth, of talent wealth, of mental wealth. After all, "He cannot carry a tune. She cannot carry a ball." But she is, "first in class". And we easily name another a fool, an idiot! But openly to declare that another is stifling one's own development, is holding one back, is preventing potential, well now, that is another matter altogether. Elitism can be horridly arrogant. Idiot! Suurstofdiefie! Still, we do share space and time, and thereby needs share our air, indeed.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valuing the Venture

I’m going to offend you. Being human offends. Even those we love can offend. At issue is whether the stubbing of one’s toe, and consequently limping for a few days, is sufficient entirely to bear a scar so deep that we never walk barefoot ‘there’ again. We wear shoes next time. We are guarded.  It is our sensibilities that are offended. We have this expectation, this image in mind, that how-things-should-be is not met. And in our own inability to surmount the moment, to include, absorb, assimilate, and integrate the offense, we make a judgement call. One indeed can cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. One indeed can push the plate of delicious food away, its taste entirely spoiled by the table guest’s casual use of the phrase, “I don’t give a shi... !”

Some words hardly bear saying (depending on your sensibilities.) We are so used to foul words nowadays that their imagery has all but entirely vacated our sense of smell, sight, taste, touch, or hearing. We happily use acronyms to substitute a blasphemous phrase, OMG! And we easily use the vulgar acronym to express surprise, or even disgust, WTF? So it goes. It is for those of us who do ‘sense’ words that I would here walk through the mine-field, (or do I now offend as I take the liberty of expressing some valued values in my own mind-field?)

The garden of the spiritual warrior is always full of bugs. There is never a complete surcease of problems, however small, in the analogy. One is always tending to the self in relation to the whole. And stubbing one’s toe is inevitable (especially since rocks themselves can come to the surface after long winters of being buried deep.) Childhood; family constellations; teenage forays; a young person’s brashness; middle-age messiness; and an old-age dispassion can all intrude on the perpetual pursuit of the happiness we seek. After all, is that not what the end-all of the Famous Constitution reads (on the plinth under the big concrete lady who holds up a torch)?

Enlightenment occurs where the cracks get bigger. We break open from the shell of our containment only to discover there is yet some other cage around us. To travel one needs visas, passports, proof of means, proof even of destination. And as we see yet more, go yet further, there is a gradual letting go of fear, of uncertainty, of the distress of being sometimes ineluctably torn from our comfort zones. We are emboldened, step by step. And sometimes the journey can get longer and longer, more and more freeing, until we stub our toe! And that’s when reality, with all its aches and pains, can rise up and bite! Being tripped up is no fun!

The value in living lies in our self-worth. (We tend to give it over to our self-esteem.) We’d rather have people see our gardens when they’re in full-flower than have people visit while we are busily shoveling manure. We instinctively know that people will value us more if they see our best selves, see our beautiful houses, our clean cars, our neat gardens, our mowed lawns, our plaques of achievement on the walls, our wonderfully laid table, sniff delicate cooking smells, and enjoy the facility of our facile and fluent conversations. And then someone over the plate of food utters, indelicately about another topic, that something or other, “scares the shit out of him!”

 Yes, I told you I was going to offend you. (Or perhaps not?) At issue is that lightening up, really, truly, is about being more enlightened, after all! Yes, it's true, venturing trumps stasis, every time!

Friday, February 3, 2017

What Women Want

We were immediately vulnerable. They ranged above us, on the many overpasses. They carried placards and bottles and babies. They waved and hollered things. Our rented car was slowed to a crawl. Others honked up at them in support. And the Interstate 5 through Los Angeles seemed entirely clogged with the immediacy of the moment. Women were everywhere. Some men were among them. But the energy was female, vital, regenerative, and empowered. Still, this just past January 21st, 2017 (already!) it was a march that best not have needed to have taken place at all.

Women have freed women. History has had remarkable leaders. Boadicea; Elizabeth the First; Florence Nightingale. Even Margaret Thatcher inspired. So too did Hillary, unassured as was her victory. Her credibility was undermined so resoundingly that young girls everywhere saw themselves not as heroines, but as victims. After all, a boy-president who bragged of grabbing their private parts demeaned them. And boys, everywhere, will always be boys. Or will they?

Maturation is not necessarily the lode-stone of time. Accident is. Darwin's natural selection never was meant, as the fallacy goes, for "the fittest and the strongest." It was meant as an observation of the lucky and the adaptable. After all, throw a big rock into a small tidal pool and the organisms that are not crushed, and the ones who get dispersed into other pools, are the ones that may well adapt to the new. But adaptation is still not maturation. There is a physical component to adaptation that slip-slides through the quagmires, like snakes through mud, or even moves like those that clutch but briefly overhead as they swirl through a forest, like apes, lesser or greater though they may be. No, maturation is a component of insight and apprehension that goes beyond the mere braggadocio of the herd bull; maturation is a quality of wisdom that in accountability is essentially compassionate. And compassion, as a subject, is not an intellectual apprehension, but a lived experience.

Girl toys are stable: doll houses; play-kitchen sets. Boy toys are mobile: planes, trains, and automobiles. Pink and blue distinguishes toy aisles. We perpetuate the stereotypes on the TV, in advertising, in our social structures. And despite the hundreds and even thousands of women who are liberated and liberating, who are examples of free thinking and progressive and leading women, we retain an overall sense of a woman serving a man. Women marry and work twice as hard to keep their man (and then their children) clean and tidy and fed and clothed. Men go to work. Men come home, and as the McCartney opera states it, complain, "Where's my dinner?"

Thing is, mankind is feeding itself with images, with habituation, with expectation, and with at times unquestioned acculturation. If each of us were to rise up against the status quo we see mounting around us we would perhaps more quickly evolve toward....? Now THAT is the question. Our evolution is the subject of much contention. At issue is that, no matter what age, one be 'at peace with oneself'. Issue is: that 'peace' is so very subjective. Still, in the groups of people marching toward freedoms, toward social statements, toward a future that no longer is shackled by the past, there is at aim a sensibility, one hopes, that we all will be advantaged by the idea at hand. Or why march at all? Yet, tell that to the group members activated by hate and bigotry and discrimination and xenophobia.

Geographically we can easily change places, countries, provinces, cities. Especially nowadays. It is our interior spaces that are more of a challenge, it appears, for us to change. We can feel too vulnerable. We can lose control. Meantime, we can honk, give the thumbs up, but drive on. Yet as we know, real change begins within. Person by person. And freedom, history has shown, is always hard won, especially for women.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grace and Grit

'Twas the season to be 'false'. Much of a month before Christmas Day there was just so much to do! (And what was it all for?) There actually is little left of religion in "Happy Holi-days". (After all, they are not so 'holy' for many of us.) And the Xmas lights (er, Christmas) got strung out and affixed to the balcony, and wound around the tree. The decorations got hauled up from the basement storage and cradled out. There was eggnog, carols on the stereo, with the fresh biscuits-a-baking too! All very festive. All very manufactured. All very commercial. All of it much of a made-up occasion to arrive at a certain date. All of it, really, quite expensive. (The cost of gifts quickly mounts like unmonitored money in a bank balance.) All contrived and historically inexact. Like New Year. For what? To celebrate a lie? To promote a Santa, a Father Christmas, or an Easter Bunny? (Oops, wrong season.) One must get one's dates right. Keep the lie alive! Just make it a consistent event. Or is there too much of a bah-humbug in my tone?

Actually, the effort required to participate in the season takes one out of oneself, as it were. It is best done with grace. And with grit! You've got to expend a different amount of time than usual when putting up tree lights, hauling out wrapping paper and writing cards and tying bows and... yes, shopping for presents. It becomes about thoughts of others. It becomes about a consciousness of family and friends and people in the past and the present, and it becomes a wish that all will find peace and joy and happiness and health and wealth and all the good things that time and circumstance can afford. And in that wish, one connects with others. And it all can be, should be, ought to be, good!

Who did not receive a Christmas card? (Who was not left alive to send one to me too?) The last time comes to us all. There is a finality that is inevitable, sad as it may be. And grief, sweet grief, lingers long and abiding until you too must die. We each take our turn. But it is of the living people who become no longer in contact with us that I herein think, not those already departed. It is of the very many relationships one has had to let go (especially by the time one is in the seventh decade of life,) that I now recall, because Christmas, that singular event marking the yearly passage of one's life, recurs to remind us all: where were you last Christmas, and with whom? And what of the same event ten or even twenty years ago? And what happened to the people of one's childhood, one's workplaces, the students and the colleagues and the friends and the very many people cared for along the way? Where’d everyone go?

Meryl Streep (although dubbed in an infamous tweet as an "over-rated actress") had it right, I think. We best lead our lives "with grace and grit." It certainly was the topic of her speech at the Clinton Convention. And so too was it the thread through her speech at her Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award. That our leaders be imbued with grit is a given, (it takes great perseverance to get to stand before a country as a candidate,) but to have grace, now there's a stick with which to stir the mud-puddles. There are so very many alternative ways to handling a situation, to responding to questions, to pressure, to crises, and to the climb toward wherever one is going, in every case. In every case, indeed. At all times. Grace is a quality of choice, ideally a consistency of character, and of measured practice such that it may be observed in the physical, yes, but even more so in the manner in which a person treats another. At Christmas time or not. (We give grace not only at the dinner table, just before a meal.) And so we give thanks for Christmas and New Year and Birthdays and the Easter Bunny too. It all is about care and gratitude. And that is the grace we perpetuate, or not: the treatment of others. Despite our grit.