Finding Our Way Forward

                                                         

 

 

Even though the world seems to be under a cloud of serial struggles and daunting difficulties presently, there is still good cause to be hopeful that we will find our way through whatever comes.  It’s not because we can just wish it all away, or because we can delude ourselves with confabulated stories about what is actually taking place in the world.  It’s because we humans have, over the millennia, consistently demonstrated the capability to repair what we’ve done or begun in the wrong way, and to turn the challenges we face into opportunities, by deliberately and purposefully working toward those aims with hope and determination to make them a reality.

 

We sometimes lose sight of our history as human beings.  Our focus is too often narrowly confined to recent history, and only to the events of our collective recent memory.  Thirty or forty years ago, none of us who are old enough to remember well the state of the world back then had any idea what the state of the world would become in 2020.  Young people who weren’t even born yet in the 1980’s and 1990’s have only a very short span of history to draw upon for viewing the events taking place now, and unless those of us who can remember those times have some sense of the history of humanity, it may not be possible to have sufficient perspective to conclude that we have endured through times that contained much greater peril and challenges for the world.

 

 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned or that the difficulties we face currently are any less urgent to address.  It’s not simply a matter of the degree of peril that informs the times we live in; it is the need for us to bring a degree of perspective to these times informed by our mutual history. 

 

We are capable of fixing what’s wrong and we can educate ourselves to better understand what it is that is needed to put us back on the road to progress, but the way to start back in that direction requires us to step back a bit first, and at least look at what led us to be in these circumstances, aside from the most recent news reports on television and the internet.  We don’t really have to go back that far to see the difference between the way things are now and the way they used to be before the technological explosion brought the invention of digital devices and instant communication of events from all over the world. 

 

A good illustration of how life has changed over the years can be found in my experience of responding to a recent column by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, which expressed sadness about the loss of the neighborhood bookstores to the much more economical and less complicated practice of ordering books online at places like Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon.com. In much the same frame of mind as many of us who cherish the experience of walking amongst the rows of freshly printed pages and browsing our favorite sections, inhaling the scent of new books and cappuccinos, and thumbing through our cherished, secret, and silent worlds, Mr. Fisher’s lament struck such a chord with me that I emailed him expressing my empathy and agreement.

 

 

Not even thirty years before that, I wrote a letter to a well-known columnist, Darryl Sifford of the Philadelphia Inquirer, about a column he wrote. I typed my message on a manual typewriter, neatly folded the single sheet of paper upon which I typed, stuck it in an envelope with a stamp on it, and mailed it. A week later, he responded with a nice note, which he also typed on a manual typewriter, and mailed to me. I sent my email to Marc Fisher by clicking “send” on my Hotmail account with my “mouse” at 5:58 PM and received his response at 6:04 PM, just six minutes later!

 

 

Going back a bit further in time, the presence of televisions in homes across the USA only became commonplace in the 1950’s, and was, at that time, the primary medium for influencing public opinion, with newspapers a close second.  Prior to WWII, the invention and usage of the telegraph took place in the 1830’s and 1840’s, and radio communications came later in the 1890’s.  These inventions revolutionized long-distance communications of the day, which previously took place over much longer periods of time.

 

 

Within the time frame of the establishment of the independence of what would become the “United States of America,” writing letters or conducting any sort of regular correspondence between individuals took weeks or months to send, be received, and for the recipient to respond.  Communicating with individuals overseas in England or France was only possible by placing your correspondence on a boat heading that way, and news of any kind was painfully slow in arriving and being dispersed out into the world-at-large.

 

 

There was no formal highway or railway system. You rode a horse or hired a carriage to travel whatever distance you needed to go.  At Monticello, the famous home of Thomas Jefferson, when anyone was invited or expected to visit, they had to plan weeks in advance, and no guest could be expected to stay less than a week or so. Travel was an onerous endeavor for anyone needing to arrive anywhere with any urgency.

 

 

Imagine the logistical challenge faced by both the British and the American militaries to marshal their forces for battle, slogging their way through largely unchartered terrain, with no well-established roadways or knowledge of which route might best be chosen. It’s a wonder at all that our country was able to get itself off the ground under such daunting conditions, and other urgent matters like healthcare, education, commerce, social interactions, and the necessity of conducting the foundational financial operations of such a large organization must have been exponentially more difficult given the state of the world at that time.

 

 

We take so much for granted these days as we travel with relative ease, flying large distances to nearly any destination in a matter of hours; driving our cars and assorted other vehicles to places even hundreds of miles away in a day or two.  I can communicate with anyone interested in receiving such communication instantly just about anywhere in the world. 

 

 

I can speak to and see each of my family members simultaneously, regardless of their location, as long as they have internet access, and before long, depending on the affordability and widespread availability of recent technological innovations, it’s likely we may eventually be able to enjoy a virtual reality experience of sitting next to them in real time.

 

 

There are a number of options in this regard which exist already that are not widely available, but which can mostly be accessed by those with sufficient resources and relevant knowledge of how to access them.  Eventually, it will likely be as common to possess such technology in the future as owning a cell phone is today, and people may one day look back at our options for communication in our “modern” society in the 21st century and muse about how quaint it was to push buttons and swipe screens on one of those “old-fashioned communicators.”

 

 

As always, the future holds enormous promise and potential for both progress and difficulty, and it is really up to us which option holds sway in the main.  I suspect that the choices we make in the near future will have lasting effects that may be even more difficult to mitigate unless we begin to take the time to consider the broad scope of ideas and efforts made by our ancestors to resolve and build upon, what were for them, serial struggles and daunting difficulties.

 

With best wishes for a prosperous and healthy new year to all my subscribers and readers…John H.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

 

 

                                                                        “Hope” is the thing with feathers—
                                                                       That perches in the soul—
                                                                       And sings a tune without the words—
                                                                       And never stops—at all—

                                                                       And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
                                                                       And sore must be the storm—
                                                                       That could abash the little Bird
                                                                       That kept so many warm—

                                                                       I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
                                                                       And on the strangest Sea—
                                                                       Yet—never-in Extremity,
                                                                       It asked a crumb—of me.


                                                                       Emily Dickinson – 1861

 

 

 

Anyone paying attention to the state of affairs in America recently knows well the challenges we have had to face these days, some of which we share with the rest of the world like the global pandemic and its economic fallout, and some that are uniquely American, not the least of which has been a terribly divisive and contentious election process this November.

While these issues have often seemed to dominate the relentless range of available news in the world’s media outlets, they often haven’t fairly and accurately represented the broad range of positive and noteworthy efforts by innumerable individuals that have accompanied those difficulties. News organizations tend to emphasize the more sensational aspects of these events generally, and in order to get a more balanced perspective, it seems that we must not only temper our exposure to such reports these days, but we also need to dig a bit deeper for sources of information that can provide additional input to help us gain that greater balance.

 

 

Emily Dickinson provides us with a good starting point in her poem, which begins with “Hope” is the thing with feathers, immediately leading us to infer a metaphorical association, as a feature which “dwells inside the human spirit,” according to an analysis on http://www.litcharts.com, and which was “written to honor the human capacity for hope.”

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief in America when the news came that there would be a change in our national leadership, and while there has been an unfortunate lack of acknowledgement by everyone in the positions of influence regarding the ultimate outcome, there can be no doubt that the tide has now turned back toward the preservation of our democracy, and away from the deliberate efforts to undermine the collective values enumerated in our founding documents.

Beyond these pressing considerations of our current national circumstances, there are other concerns that require our attention, which are much closer to our hearts and minds as members of our extended families and local communities. This morning, as I slowly rose to waking consciousness, there was an echo of a particular theme upon which I have been ruminating of late, and it played subtly over and over in my head, prompting me to sit down at the writing desk to capture whatever I could of the momentum I had built as I contemplated the start of yet another day.

 

 

There can be no greater task for us as living beings than to achieve a degree of urgency in recognizing just how tenuous and fragile our existence might become if we do not attend to our individual lives as being a part of something much greater than the daily machinations of national governance or to the selfish tendency of some to restrict their concerns to a more narrow-minded viewpoint. Our fortunes clearly do rise and fall together in important ways, and unless we can step back to some degree from the limitations produced by such viewpoints, we may eventually find ourselves in even more dire circumstances than those which might have prevailed had we not done so.

Right within our own very personal environments now, we have come face-to-face with the necessity to avoid close contact with others in order to keep us safe from a deadly virus. The very structure of our social lives has been disrupted in a myriad of ways, and as we observe the necessary precautions to preserve our health and restore a sense of normalcy, we have begun to see much more clearly how important our personal connections to others have been all along, and their absence is keenly felt.

Our family gatherings and typical celebrations have been relegated to sharing in the much less personal venues of video images and exchanges made available through the internet. While these options have their own sort of appeal by providing opportunities to actually SEE each other and to interact when being together in person is not possible, the visceral experience of proximity with other human beings is immediately raised to a level of appreciation that we hardly knew would figure so prominently in its absence.

 

 

As the year slowly winds down, we reflect on the astonishing parallels of this absence, to those which we experience in a variety of situations of loss. We miss the proximity and the personal interactions with those we have already lost over the preceding years of our lives, having accepted as far as we can the unavoidable aspects of age, accident, or illness, as well as the inevitable changes which occur as a result of the variety of fluctuations within relationships of every sort. If we are even minimally aware of the importance of our social relationships, we quickly appreciate the significance of the consequences wrought by the pandemic.

Our celebrations this holiday season will be severely limited in comparison to other years, and perhaps there might not be any better circumstance for regaining our perspective on the importance of being able to interact with our close family relations and our dearest friends. We can no longer take such relationships for granted, and once the threat of illness from the virus subsides, we should not forget the sense of loss we now feel.

 

 

A few years ago, as I documented in a previous posting at year’s end, I wrote a scripted scene which my niece and I performed for my immediate family at our annual Christmas gathering. Within that text, I included this excerpt, which now seems prescient.

“There are so many reasons for me to have hope for the future, however long it might be for me. In spite of the sometimes unceremonious departures from this life of others in the same neighborhood of age as mine, I have seen the brightness of spirit that filled many of the moments of their lives, and I am heartened beyond measure to have shared such a range of wonders with these bright spirits, that it begs the question for me…What contribution have I made…and what might I still contribute in the days to come… especially at this time in my life, when every morning is a gift, and every effort requires the presence of hope.”

May all of my readers and visitors here at John’s Consciousness embrace the spirit of the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate it, and my wish for you all is a prosperous and healthy new year to come. I look forward to sharing with all of you in 2021 and thank you all for your continued generosity and kindness as this year winds down to a close.

Our Spiritual Path

 

                                                                           

 

It was quiet in the house the other day, and the stillness was a welcome respite from the noise in the world these days. I cannot remember a time when the noise of the world was of such a character in the same sense that I was so glad to be outside of it, even just temporarily. Normally, I am completely comfortable being out in the world, and in most cases, I will generally feel free to make my own contributions to the chaos and to the flurry of activity, except that I try to do so in a positive or creative manner.

More recently, I’ve looked forward more to being disengaged, and have enjoyed not being compelled by need or obligation to participate more fully in the world outside of my world, except by deliberately choosing to do so. Certain activities which were previously only available rarely are now available readily, altering the way I perceive them noticeably. Judging the quality and character of the silence and stillness can change relative to the conditions within which they take place.

 

Walking alone down the street, feeling at once completely unified with everything I see and feel and sense, in every way, and yet, distinctly alone, individual, apart. The differences between myself and other living entities is a signal that there is a variety and a number of differences in the way that consciousness manifests in the world. If you go down deep, and when we say “go in deep” or “go inward” we mean not temporally, but spiritually within us–when we do that–it emphasizes both our unification with all life and our inner separateness from it, and the simultaneous recognition of both while on our path through life becomes clearer when we withdraw within.

The spiritual path, by contrast, is not an actual “path” in the same sense as a path through the woods, or as the path of a tornado through the landscape, nor is it a clear path marked by indicators along the way to reassure you that you are aligned with a true path. Even what the Buddhists call “the path to enlightenment,” requires a particular series of steps, and is characterized by stages of development that can be achieved through right action, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and thought.

It’s not a sensory experience, nor is it an intellectual experience, although we may engage our spiritual nature in ways that affect our temporal awareness as well as our intellect in order to reflect upon it. Our genuine encounters with what we refer to as our spiritual path are “felt,” and that feeling is only acknowledged after the fact.

 

Once we let go of the temporal world of the senses, abandon the ego-centered world of thoughts and emotions, and open up to or engage our true nature, we may approach a state of pure awareness. It is the ABSENCE of these other aspects that makes it possible to connect us to our own unique spiritual path. Even as we endeavor to reach such a state, we must acknowledge the limitations and opportunities of our human nature, and try to understand how they are intimately intertwined with the spirit. Tonight, while contemplating these aspects of the spiritual path, so many emotions and memories have flooded my consciousness, and it gives me great encouragement to realize that all these things are alive within me.

I won’t be alive forever as a human being, but everything that composes the core person I have become, what I have gained by living as myself in my world, I will carry with me always and the value represented in those benefits will never be lost in the grand scheme of things. My physical life will eventually expire, but I believe my inner life, the life of the spirit, of that essence which has no temporal existence in the conventional sense, will not perish with my body, and therefore it seems likely to me that it must be essential to all life.

 

 

As I reflect now, with the onset of my 67th winter, I realize that a fuller recognition of the existence of the human spirit is a lifelong endeavor, and over my lifetime there have been few opportunities to achieve that recognition better than being in proximity to each of my children, as they grew from babies, and who now, along with their significant others, care for their newborns or toddlers. Watching how life unfolds for them, tallying my account of their progress as a family, and my close observations have often produced a visceral response to the underlying foundations of love and connection that I feel toward them. Naturally, we are joined by familial tradition and have a shared genetic inheritance that accounts for some of my instinctive responses in the expected ways, but also, the tendency to sometimes go against tradition—to consider a new path in response to the suppression I experienced as a younger person—is obviously also a part of that inheritance.

In taking a loving and just approach to figuring out how to connect with our spiritual resources, and where to put each of them, we have to at least consider what value this creates for those we love and for whom we are tasked to care, regardless of the basic nature of that connection. Some of us need more attention than others, and some of us need a greater opportunity to expand and explore. Some of us are fine with adjusting to new or otherwise unfamiliar circumstances, and some of us require more predictability and stability in order to prosper. Pursuing our spiritual path has a direct influence on how we live out our lives, and these ideas are integral, not just to our general well-being, but to the very essence of our truest nature.

 

There continues to be very few real local opportunities to engage in any sort of regular substantial conversations about the subject that occupies me these many years, but I have enjoyed nearly a decade of online conversations with the readers on this blog. I also talk to myself a lot. (You gotta go with what you got!)

If you ever get the chance to review the comments I have written in response to those who leave their comments about my postings, you can see that I welcome more conversation on this chosen subject. Sometimes, reading the responses to what I write, and then writing my responses can be equally as interesting to me as writing the original blog post. I try to keep the conversation about fundamentals at first, addressing the specific response, but often find myself providing additional material or expressing additional thoughts as needed.

I’ve been participating in a decade’s long conversation with people from nearly every country in the world, and, in spite of the size and diversity of that group, I still feel as though I should be doing more. It has always been my intention to share what I have learned, and when I receive an especially thoughtful comment, I tend to respond at length, and this seems to me to be a result of not having many other such opportunities to discuss these issues. There are layers and layers within me that I am exploring now, and which I have been exploring for over thirty years.

 

 

At times, I am overwhelmed by the avalanche of emotions, the expansive nature of my efforts to increase my understanding, and the flood of diverse thoughts and intuitions. I’m not sure at all that my efforts will eventually bear fruit in a way that gives me cause to suppose my efforts are worthwhile, but it still feels right to continue to press on.

What I can say with certainty, is that my experience of life has been a relentless affirmation of the existence of the human spirit (or whatever term you feel is appropriate to your cultural tradition), and my hope is that with the right resources in place, and the proper conditions under which our understanding can blossom, that I might be able to contribute in a productive way, and in a beneficial way, to the progress of our general understanding, as well as to the necessary expansion of what may constitute a fuller and clearer explanation for our richly textured subjective experience of consciousness.

Thanksgiving Isn’t Always Easy

 

 

 

                                                   It isn’t easy every year,

                                                   To utter thanks or pray,

                                                   When every time we look it seems,

                                                   We must have lost our way.

 

                                                   We sometimes fail to see the joy,

                                                    To listen with our hearts,

                                                    We get caught up in worried whirls,

                                                    And upset apple carts.

 

                                                    Without a measure of despair,

                                                    We cannot learn to find,

                                                    The path to try again when it’s

                                                    No longer on our mind.

 

                                                    Give thanks though troubles seem so strong,

                                                    And light years from forgiving;

                                                    Write down those troubles in a book;

                                                    Express your world while living.

 

                                                     And someday when the time is right,

                                                    You’ll see the silver lining,

                                                     To every lonely moment and

                                                    To all your heartfelt pining.

 

                                                     Thanksgiving isn’t always easy,

                                                     When troubles surround us now,

                                                     But giving thanks can lift us up

                                                     And help us heal somehow.

 

                                                      The world can turn without us;

                                                      No one understands it all,

                                                      But how we live can matter,

                                                     When we hear a distant call.

 

                                                     Life needs each human spirit born,

                                                     To bring the future here;

                                                      It doesn’t matter where you live,

                                                      And what we need is clear.

 

                                                      When all of us show gratitude,

                                                      We create the world we see,

                                                      When every heart is grateful,

                                                      Our troubles cease to be.

 

                                                      © November 2020 by JJHIII24

A Cascade of Autumn Leaves

 

Last Gasp of Summer

Sitting out in the backyard on a November morning with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures approaching 75 degrees F, sipping on my morning coffee, it seems almost surreal given the circumstances.  Perhaps it is the last gasp of summer, or simply a consequence of a random twist or turn in the weather patterns bringing warmer air from the south currently, but whatever is responsible, it is a welcome development. The warmth of the sun on my skin is oddly out of sync with the calendar as we approach mid-November, but even as I embrace the experience of the ambient air and savor the flavor of my morning jo, I know well that it cannot last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and allow the thoughts to flow out of me while it lasts.

 

 

The day is young and there isn’t much activity in the surrounding area yet, so it is relatively quiet, with a few more distant sounds barely discernible in the background. Within there is a barely noticeable sensation of anticipation, which seems to be cautiously awaiting acknowledgement as I let go of the temporal stream of events, and open to the vibrations of my inner life.  So much of what flows through the conscious mind can be ignored or cast aside in favor of the immediate circumstance one finds one’s self in until an effort is made to focus more specifically on a separate task, and it takes an extra degree of attention to filter out what may somehow interrupt the flow of attention and disrupt your focus.

 

As I sat contemplating my next sentence, a tiny baby spider dropped on my laptop screen, momentarily interrupting my concentration, just as a curious young squirrel stirred right beside my chair, apparently expecting some sort of attention as well. 

 

Intermittent Moments of Silence

The silence is intermittent as the neighbors on either side of us stir and attend to their chores, but as I wait for the next moment of silence, I begin to notice other audible intrusions in the distance.  The leaves have begun to fall in earnest now from the backyard tree and with the gentle wind stirring occasionally, bits of tree branches or other debris also drops to the ground, disturbing the intermittent silences.

It is curious to me how much is transpiring at every moment in the yard that is only apparent when sitting in a chair awaiting the moments of quiet.  The movements of nature are generally detectable as they catch my eye, whereas the actions of people are obvious at a much greater distance since they can be heard more easily than seen.  As the sounds reach my ears and are processed by my brain, I am able to discern what they are and to decipher the degree of attention they may or may not deserve, but the activity of the natural inhabitants in the yard barely make a sound.

Now it has become a contest to see how long I can go with near-total silence before being interrupted by one or the other of the distractions currently available.  The relentless drone of distant traffic is easy enough to filter out, and the occasional bird song or squirrel chatter isn’t particularly intrusive, but even a distant single-engine plane can intrude in a way that requires a pause in the absorption of silence.

 

Melancholy Beauty

There’s a distinctly melancholy beauty about such an afternoon.  There’s hardly a cloud in the deeply blue sky; the air is unusually warm and dry; the wind rises and then dissipates in an unpredictable rhythm.  The cats have joined me in the afternoon sun, attending to their routines at my feet, and as I type these words, I feel a degree of calm that is uncommonly pleasing and refreshing.  I’m almost hypnotized by the sweetness and delightful lack of concern I’m experiencing about what comes next. This is a new sensation for me, and even though I know it will not persist as the day rambles on toward the darkness of night, I am content to allow myself to absorb each and every aspect of this sensation for as long as it lasts.  I am able to close my eyes briefly and imagine a time and place where such delight might be available on demand, but quickly realize that the pleasure is heightened by the rarity of opportunity for such experiences, and easily dismiss the idea in favor of the kind of serendipity which produced these circumstances.  When I open my eyes, I begin to look around and observe my world of the moment, to take notice of this melancholy beauty.  

 

The leaves are thinner on the branches than they were yesterday.  They are falling all around me. The air is oddly warmer than usual for the middle of November; there is a gentle breeze that stirs every so often which releases the tenuous leaves for their short trip to the ground, and there are thousands of leaves already laying on every surface outside.  It’s hard to believe that I had swept off the porch out back just yesterday, when I stand at the wall looking out over the scene.

I savor the mildness in the air and the easy breezes which send a cascade of autumn leaves all around me, and I am able to catch a few as they descend in mid-air.  These are the ones I will press into my writer’s journal and preserve them between the pages as I have many times before. 

 

Occasionally, as I peruse one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office, looking for a passage to quote or when reviewing the pages from one of my journals, I will encounter a leaf that was placed there years ago, and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing that it was collected from some late autumn day, sitting outside somewhere, fully intending to rediscover it at some later date.

The coffee is starting to cool off now, as I approach the bottom of the cup, and it’s time to refresh it, and review what I have written today.  The words are only pointing toward a thought, a sensation, or a feeling; they reach out in an attempt to capture a moment in time, and to make it possible for the reader to share in that moment.  

For me, it is a delight and a privilege to have this moment of life, on a warm and luminously beautiful autumn afternoon.  One day, on some bitter cold winter morning, as I prepare my coffee in the kitchen, I will bring up this entry on my laptop, and relish the memory of every delightful second, inhaling the fresh air, the sensation of warmth from the sun on my skin, and the periodic moments of silence that inhabit my world as I contemplate the exquisite pleasure I once enjoyed on one fall afternoon, not so long ago.

Epilog:

This morning before I posted this entry, I walked out into the brilliant sunlight out in the backyard; I was astonished to see that overnight nearly every leaf left on the trees just yesterday appeared now to be on the ground.  The trees out back are now almost completely leafless, with a few stragglers still clinging to the nearly bare branches. 

It began to sink in that winter is well on its way now, with cooler temperatures and shorter days, and reluctantly grabbed the rake out of the shed to clear the avalanche of leaves off the deck.  As I began to work, I enjoyed a brief moment of Zen, looking down at the various and multi-colored remnants of the season now ending, embracing with gratitude, the memory of the numerous pleasures experienced during the autumn this year, while still hoping for a gentle or less harsh winter season to come.

 

Appreciating the Change of Season

 

                                                   Though the great song return no more

                                                   There’s keen delight in what we have;

                                                   The rattle of pebbles on the shore

                                                   Under the receding wave.

 

                                –W.B. Yeats “The Nineteenth Century and After,” 1933

 

The early morning chill has given way to a milder early afternoon warming that I am able to endure easily with a dark grey sweater recently retrieved from the closet since being returned there last spring.  The autumn weather has been relatively kind this year so far, and the forecast for the upcoming week promises even milder temperatures by week’s end.  With luck, I will be able to take advantage of the opportunity to reap the benefits of a little more fair weather before the winter arrives.

 

 

As I type these words, the world-at-large continues to operate as usual around me, with a number of discernible and identifiable sounds reverberating in the near-background of the moment.  I have been able to pick out the roar of passing car engines, the barely audible words of a conversation a short distance away, an even more distant squawk of an emergency vehicle siren, all while contemplating the thoughts which brought me to sit out in the yard in the first place. 

 

 

I close my eyes momentarily when the silence begins to creep back and the traffic subsides, and the siren ceases.  I am soothed by the barely noticeable rustling of the leaves in the gentle wind.  I am reminded of the presence of our two outdoor cats by their usual brief chirping to alert me to their wish for attention.  With a sudden surge of the autumn wind, fallen leaves begin to scratch their way across the pavement, with the wind itself stirring and flowing around the buildings, a number of leaves begin to fall around me and land on my keyboard.

 

 

Sipping on my third cup of coffee for the day out in the backyard, there is a distinct feel to both the soothing nature of a gentle autumn wind, and the play of sunlight and shadows, as the limbs of the tree above me bob and weave with the wind.  The engine of a passing airplane groans along its path across the sky momentarily distracting me from my attention to the words flowing from within.

Again, the creeping silence returns, and I close my eyes again for a moment to absorb the sounds in the stillness.  Early afternoon in our suburban neighborhood generally doesn’t produce such moments very often, and I am both delighted and emboldened by the coincidence.  My heart still aches a bit from the awareness of the impending loss of the pleasing warmth such an afternoon can provide, knowing full-well that there will be a few others before they are gone completely.  If not for the abundance of greenery still available to me in the yard, it would likely feel less comforting to sit and look around between sentences.

 

 

There are a few tell-tale signs of the approaching changes in the colors of the season, but for now, they are limited to the tips of the trees and a few isolated patches of color in a few places.  It won’t be long before the ground is completely obscured by the falling leaves from a half-dozen trees that surround me, but for now, I can revel in the same feel-good sensations of lush green leaves that are soon to resume their trek toward winter.

Reading an article yesterday in the paper about the giant sequoia trees gave me an excuse to contemplate and ruminate on the recent events which included both the demise of one tree and the enhanced appreciation of those which remain.

 

 

The life of a tree on my modest property in a suburban neighborhood may not seem especially notable by comparison to the behemoths in the forests of northern California, but I was absolutely struck by the notion of how similar they actually are by their very nature, differing only in their unique species and in their epic proportions mostly.  The sequoias are like skyscrapers in the woods, hundreds of years old and formidable by every metric one might apply to arboreal beings. The decades-old sugar maples in the yard are by comparison much less formidable, but as entities in the grand scheme of local species, quite impressive none-the-less.

 

 

As I prepare to relinquish the pleasures of a mild autumn afternoon, I take a brief pause to absorb the heat of the sunlight on my face, inhale deeply the fresh air, and allow the gentle wind to caress my face before I step back inside and set out on the day’s adventures.

A Teacher’s Dream

 

A Teacher’s Dream On the Nature of Time

 

After enduring an intense and startling dream about a difficult personal experience,  upon rising it was apparent to me that during the dream, I had acknowledged an important aspect of my own way of being, which has occasionally created challenges for others, due to my inclination toward emotional involvement, when interacting with them. While still in the dream, I seemed to understand and appreciate the predicament my emotional intensity could sometimes create, depending on the circumstances, even though I was still unable to avoid expressing it in real terms as I understood it.

In this instance, I had been engaged in an emotional conversation with a friend, and while it wasn’t a particularly unpleasant interaction, I left the room abruptly and proceeded down a hallway to a short set of stairs, where I promptly sat down in the stairway and began to weep for a moment or two.

 

 

The very next moment, I found myself walking outside in a large park of some kind, and pulled open a large green metal gate, just enough to allow myself to squeeze by and descend a long walkway leading to an open area, where a family activity was underway, and as I engaged the members of the family in the middle of this scene, I somehow found myself having to explain my reason for being there.

I shortly left that area and walked up to an adjacent building, and entered a hallway leading up to a large room with a group of young students, waiting to have a class.  The subject of the class was to be the nature of time, and it became apparent after a few moments that I was about to assume the role of teacher in that room.  As the classroom settled down, I started to speak.

 

 

 What follows is a surprisingly lengthy accounting of the ideas I expressed in that setting:

 

“The nature of time is not like a river,” I began, “as most people think of it.  It is more like a continuum.”

 

“The concept of time itself is still somewhat mysterious, especially when you consider that the current wisdom on the subject suggests it is not a linear phenomenon moving inexorably from the past to the future, creating a relentless flow of events taking place, but rather as a streaming sequence of moments that follow each other at all times. It appears now that we may be the ones traveling through time, which exists as a constant, and within which we always participate in our own way.”

 

 

“When we speak of ‘where we are’ at any given moment, it may be more correct to speak of ‘when we are,’ when that moment takes place.  The moment in which any event takes place has always been there before we ‘arrived,’ and remains there long after we have ‘departed’; it is we who are ‘traveling’ through the time continuum, experiencing each moment as we ‘arrive’ in it, and remembering each moment after we move on to the next.  Time doesn’t flow; moments in time remain where they have always been since time began, and where they will remain for whatever amount of time our universe continues to exist.”

 

 

“The beginning of the existence of space occurred at the ‘Big Bang,’ and with it, the existence of time as we experience it also began.  As we now know, for example, the light ‘arriving’ on Earth from space of distant stars, depending on how many ‘light years’ distant they are from us, is doing so long after that light actually left the location of those stars, and so the light from a star that is 100 thousand light years away, is only now arriving when we look up at the area of the sky where it can be seen, but what we see is light that left that location 100 thousand years ago.”

 

 

“The idea that time flows is based on the assumptions we make as physical creatures, who exist on a planet which rotates predictably about every 24 hours in its orbit around the sun, part of the time facing the sun, and part of the time facing away from the sun, which is also tilted part of the time more toward the sun in one hemisphere, which then eventually ‘wobbles’ back the other way, so that the opposite hemisphere then is tilted more toward the sun.  The entire planet travels in an orbit around the sun, predictably about every 365 days, and presents us with the experience of the ‘passage of time,’ with seasonal changes taking place as a result of the tilting of the angle of the Earth toward the sun, and the apparent ‘rising’ and ‘setting’ of the sun as we spin on an axis.”

 

 

“Time itself is unchanging, unmoving, existing at all moments as we experience them, and those ‘moments’ that seem to unfold as we ‘arrive,’ have been there waiting for us all along, and the moments which we describe as being in the ‘past,’ are still there, as we remember them, but to which we cannot physically return, since we are the ones ‘traveling,’ through the continuum of time.”

 

“It’s not obvious from our experience of the time continuum that this is the case, and as physical creatures, our perceptions of time and space and of the sequential events that we experience as our daily existence, rely on our sensory systems of sight and sound, scent and taste, and the all-important sense of touch, to determine what is happening in each moment.  Since we are limited in each of these areas regarding the range of what we can experience, as sophisticated and complex as the process of sensory experience truly can be for each of us, our perceptions of our experience can only provide us with a partial picture at best.”

 

 

Some Afterthoughts Upon Reflection

When I awoke from the dream, I immediately got up and wrote down everything I could remember.  I was astonished to see how much I was able to recall of what transpired in the dream.  It was an extraordinary dream sequence that I actually found somewhat disturbing, at least in the sense that I seemed to be quite familiar with the environment and the individuals within it, but have never actually experienced any such circumstance in my waking state.  I don’t have a clear sense of how I could have arrived at an explanation of the nature of time in this dream, even though it seemed to make sense to me while in the dream state.

 

 

Through the development of our advanced technologies, we have been able to extend our knowledge about the nature of our physical existence, and expand our understanding beyond the speculations and superstitions of the past. Even with every advancement made over the tens of thousands of years in which humans have been capable of deliberate investigation and subsequent discovery, there still remains much that we have yet to fully understand, and mysteries abound throughout the Universe, some of which we are likely not yet aware.  Exploration continues at an amazing pace in many areas of science and technology, but our understanding and appreciation of the fullness of our experience of life seems often not to be keeping pace.

 

Physical Reality

Physical reality, within which our moment-to-moment experience of life as a human being takes place, has revealed many fascinating and terrible aspects of existing in a physical universe, and we know for certain now, that there are a number of layers to our experience of space and time, which clearly do exist, but which we cannot affirm or prove using any traditional scientific methodology.

 

 

 

No one has ever actually seen an electron, traveled at the speed of light, or penetrated the farthest reaches of space, but their existence is not in question.  Other dimensions outside of the three we experience physically and the one dimension of time as we know it must exist, in order for the ones we experience to be explained.  Since they are somehow beyond the capabilities of our science to detect or demonstrate currently, we must “infer” their existence, based on what we do know.

The entire universe, in which all of everything takes place, appears to be made up mostly of undetectable “dark matter,” and is being influenced by some kind of undetectable force we call “dark energy,” which is responsible for the expansion of the universe currently. 

There are even limits to our knowledge regarding the well-understood force of gravity, which show up when we encounter what we call “black holes,” like the one at the center of our own galaxy.  No one really knows the full extent to which such extreme gravitational forces might affect our physical reality, but we do know that we don’t want to get too close to a black hole.

 

 

All of these ideas and explorations show us an undisputed aspect of our existence—there are a great many parts of our experience as a human being which are clearly understood and known, and still others which are beyond our understanding and which remain, as yet, unknown.  There are many aspects of our existence which we can demonstrate and explain through science, and others which may never yield to any scientific investigation we might devise. Even so, the existence of such aspects can be “inferred,” as a consequence of what we know to be true subjectively, and which point toward a level of experience that exists outside of our temporal existence. 

 

Experience and Existence

The words “experience” and “existence” are themselves an approximation based on our limited physical capacities for perception and observation of physical phenomena.  Any person with a nominally functional sensory apparatus, and central nervous system attached to a functional human brain, who has accumulated a sufficient amount of knowledge of the world, can determine that they exist physically and appreciate the range of experience possible through the use of those assets.

 

             Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

Every “experience” in the temporal world is made known to us and is understood through our perceptual and cognitive talents as humans, but our objective knowledge and appreciation of what takes place temporally is only part of the story.  Our objective physical “existence” is perceived and processed by our physical systems, but our moment-to-moment “experience” is profoundly and wholly subjective in nature, in spite of being reliant on our brains and senses to sustain our access to our subjective awareness. 

 

The Nature of Light

Light photons enter our eyes and strike the retina, which is connected to our visual cortex in the brain, which processes the electrical signals it receives in various other regions, which then “inform” us as to what it is we are seeing.  Our memories of having seen similar objects is retained in the neural networks, which have been established from previous encounters, and strengthened by repetition and sustained learning.

The eye is the portal through which light is perceived, but our subjective awareness of what we are seeing does not take place in the eye.  Our cognitive functioning allows us to process all the signals coming in through our sensory apparatus, to remember what we’ve learned, and to respond according to our respective talents. 

 

Subjective Awareness

Our inner subjective awareness of our temporal experience informs us about the nature of our existence, and although it relies on objective physical systems for perception and data processing, the awareness itself is subjective, and it has no physical existence in the same sense as objects do.  Thoughts are not experienced in the same way as objects, even though they are facilitated through similar objective processes. 

We can dissect a brain, determine its physical attributes, and map out the neural pathways through which the electrical signals travel, but we cannot dissect our thoughts with a scalpel, or surgically extract our awareness.  We can injure our brains and surgically remove parts of it to impair or disable our access to awareness, but the awareness itself has no objective substance.

 

              Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

What’s Next?

In the weeks to come, I will be re-examining some of my previous work on the nature of subjective experience, in light of more recent investigations and progress in the related fields of thought surrounding the nature of our existence, and hopefully shed some additional light on the continuing struggle to determine how it is that we experience our lives in the way that we do.

Hello October!

 

                                             When we finally arrive in October,

                                             Our feelings are usually mixed;

                                             We love all your glorious colors;

                                             Our eyes, on your leaves, are transfixed.

 

 

                                              We know that in spite of such splendor,

                                              The winter will soon come again;

                                              It creeps up and sneaks up upon us,

                                              We can’t know with certainty when.

 

 

                                              But nothing is taken for granted,

                                               We cherish the October skies;

                                               We enjoy the true bounty of autumn,

                                               We hope, with the years, to grow wise.

 

(c) Southampton City Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

                                                 For love doesn’t fade through the seasons,

                                                 And joy we can find all year long;

                                                 Our children continue to need us;

                                                 Our friendships throughout can stay strong.

 

 

                                                  We greet you with joy unencumbered,,

                                                  It’s truly the way we should live;

                                                  We brace for the scenes of bare branches,

                                                  And treasure each blessing you give.

 

 

                                                  November will shortly be knocking,

                                                  We’ll soon have to open that door;

                                                  But for now we rejoice in our fortune;

                                                  We welcome the chance to do more.

 

 

                                                Be still now and hear your own heart beat,

                                                Don’t fret over leaves that must fall;

                                                October can bolster contentment;

                                                Embrace it right now with your all.

 

 

 

 

When A Tree Falls

 

To hear me recite the poem click on the video link below:

 

When A Tree Falls Video

 

When A Tree Falls—An Unexpected Reprieve

 

https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=DE7BF189930200B0&id=DE7BF189930200B0%214659&parId=DE7BF189930200B0%21206&o=OneUp

 

 

Already a bit on edge anticipating the arrival of the tree removal people, I decided to sit outside after a quick breakfast and drink my coffee on the deck out back. I normally find it soothing in the summer to look out at the natural greenery which surrounds the yard, while I sip my morning cup of java, listen to the birdsongs, and watch the squirrels hunting for something to eat.

 

 

This particular morning, the usual calming effect I’ve typically enjoyed wasn’t working its normal magic.  Even though the coffee was a little stronger than I customarily make it, it almost seemed like the morning tradition was having the opposite effect today. Visually, everything looked the same.  The sun was finding its usual paths between the branches to make a patchwork of light and shadow on the ground beneath the trees.  I observed the mostly blue sky dotted with the occasional puffy white cloud. The cats milled about oblivious to everything except for the need to pursue their periodic cleaning routines.  And yet, nothing seemed to be quite as expected.

 

 

Midmorning temperatures were already in the upper 80 degrees F. In the shade, the air temperature was only marginally cooler than in the direct sunlight. I couldn’t help but suppose that my perceptions were being colored by my anxiety and uncertainty about the impending tree removal.  

The usual hustle and bustle of the neighborhood was minimal as I sat contemplating the events of the day, but after an hour or so as the noon hour approached, I suddenly became aware of a variety of sounds that I hadn’t noticed before.  The traffic on the street seemed unusually busy and there were a number of buzzing sounds from people cutting their grass along the street. A variety of dogs were barking in the distance, almost as though they were having a long distance conversation with each other. The birdsongs seemed to have stopped altogether, and even the cats decided the best strategy at this point was to simply lie down and take a nap.

When I was informed that the tree company had to cancel for the day, it almost felt like a reprieve.  Perhaps, the universe wasn’t quite ready for the tree to come down.  I know I wasn’t really ready, but I was aware that it was going to come down one way or another, and perhaps the universe realized that I was the one who needed some more time to prepare myself.

Whatever the reason, I was relieved, if only temporarily.

The Day Unravels

The actual morning of the removal, a little over a month later, temperatures had slowly begun their descent into the upper 70’s F during the day, but were decidedly cooler in the morning. When I opened the door to go out and pick up the newspaper, I was wearing a sweater for the first time since the spring.  I stared momentarily out the window through the storm door at the tree, but in a way that I never imagined I would do.  I took a few more photos, even though I had taken more on the morning of the reprieve, and several in between that day and this morning. This morning, everything felt different.

I shuffled out to the kitchen and got the coffee started as usual, but there was a palpable sense of an impending alteration of my reality.  I spent a few minutes outside just walking around the house, almost expecting to see some gaping hole in the ground with a glowing meteorite still smoking at the bottom of the crater.

This morning, it was a fairly cool—64 degrees F, and as I waited for the coffee to get done, I sat on the patio out back, looking briefly at the headlines in the paper, gathering my thoughts, and steeling myself for what was to come. I nervously typed out a few sentences on my laptop, hoping that I might somehow find the right words to calm myself.

After a few minutes, the coffee was ready, and as I poured the first cup of the day, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. My normal routine became a more nuanced ritual than usual.  Everything felt different.  While I was stirring the cream into the cup, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should go out front and sit with my silent friend. She’s comforted me plenty of times over the years; perhaps she would be glad to have some company on her final morning as a tree.

 

I moved the chair and side table out to the front yard, and resumed typing out my thoughts a few feet away from the grand lady.  The sun was just peeking up over the roof of the house across the street, and I stopped for a moment to take it all in, and snapped a few quick photos.  I honestly can’t say what I thought I would capture in that scene that I hadn’t already preserved in the dozens of others images I made before this morning, but it definitely felt like it was important to record the final moments before demolition.

 

 

The street was quiet for the most part.  I don’t recall ever actually sitting out in front of the house in the morning like this, although I often walked around the yard for one reason or another.  Sometimes, when the kids were small we would have some event to deal with and there would be some sort of activity out in the front of the house, and most mornings in recent years, I usually walk out to pick up the newspaper at least.  Several of the neighbors were stirring and setting out on their way to work or whatever else they had planned for the day. 

 

There were a few young folks walking to the local middle and high schools which are right down the street from us. A couple of school buses drove by, but other than that, it was fairly calm.  I started to silently consider what was about to happen, and sat staring at the tree for a solid minute or two.  The idea that it wouldn’t be there by the end of the day didn’t seem real at all, and it occurred to me that knowing what was about to happen was almost like contemplating my own eventual demise—something that I never could quite imagine or ever wanted to consider. 

 

A Long History of Being

We have so little genuine knowledge about what a tree might be feeling or perceiving or be aware of in some way, and this particular silent friend only has a few years on me age-wise.  My parents were still dating when they planted the tree in 1947 when the house was built, and I didn’t come along for another six years.  Even though I am a bit younger than the tree, there is a real connection that has developed over the last thirty years that makes it feel like we are very much equal in age, although aging for a tree is likely a much different proposition than it is for humans.

I supposed I would have an opportunity to see the rings on the stump of the tree at some point and hoped to be able to determine the precise age in some way.  My interest in every aspect of the process and being able to participate in it and witness it every step of the way had already been keen, and it felt like the right thing to do in view of our long association. 

 

A September Mourning

Once the tree company crew arrived, I immediately felt a strange sort of calm overtake me.  I greeted the foreman and asked about the process they would use to remove the tree. I had expected them to bring one of those “bucket trucks,” to cut the uppermost branches without endangering the electrical wires or any of the surrounding obstacles.  He reassured me that they would simply climb up the tree with their safety equipment and conduct the “surgery” without a problem. 

I moved my patio chair a safe distance away, and watched the expert crew leader climb high up into the branches, tie off his safety harness to one of the larger limbs and begin to work.  I had already decided to record the process with my phone camera, but found myself often simply observing and carefully moving my vantage point to get the best angle of view.  It was mesmerizing to watch in a very odd way, mixing in all my emotions and anxieties, while still finding the experience strangely compelling to witness.

As the work progressed, there were several moments when large sections of the tree’s limbs would come crashing to the ground with a loud “thud,” sometimes landing on the street, sometimes landing in the yard. There were several opportunities in between the precision strokes of carnage to view the inner surfaces of the tree’s appendages, which revealed an astonishing array of colors and conditions.

One of the larger side limbs had been under assault by a colony of black ants, which had hollowed out the central core of a small section of it, apparently begun only a short time ago judging by the minimal progress made. Several of the larger sections of the trunk were cut out in pieces and provided an astonishing view of the layers of growth, with a variety of different colors and widths.

 

As the work was nearing completion, the inevitable sensation of melancholy began to slowly creep in to my mindset, and although I was resigned to the outcome all along, watching as they shredded the final sections of the main trunk, now lying on the sidewalk like slices of cake on a platter, the full impact of the loss was becoming apparent. I felt a bit deflated as the crew began to clean up the area, and walked up to the remaining layer of the stump, feeling empty as the air that now filled the space where the tree stood.

I thanked the crew for doing such an expert job without creating any safety concerns, and complimented the crew leader for his obvious skill in navigating through the tangle of limbs and branches to execute his task. The professionalism and quality of their work on this assignment, although it was an unhappy one from my point of view, was admirable and very impressive nonetheless.

 

When A Tree Falls

 

I sat for some time afterwards, just staring at the gaping hole in the once familiar landscape out in front of the home I have lived in for thirty years, and in spite of my resignation regarding the removal, I couldn’t help but feel that what was now missing from the scene was simply a tangible structure of nature’s handiwork.

 

 

What once had been contained within a physical structure, had now been transformed into a memory, and even though the actual wood that composed that structure was mostly sawdust and shredded bits of a once grand living tree, what was most compelling and satisfying about my relationship with it was not lost at all. I carried every bit of my attachment and affection for my silent friend with me as I headed back to the house, and will keep it with me always.

 

 

As I requested, the crew leader made sure that I had a collection of logs from some of the smaller branches to stack out in the backyard to dry out and age a bit, so that I can eventually honor the memory of our connection by burning the logs in the woodstove, to warm the house in the bitter cold days of winter, or to illuminate the evening sky on some future evening on the patio.

 

When a tree falls, nature compensates in a number of ways by providing shelter for the tiny creatures of the forest floor, or eventually enriching the soil when it breaks down over many years, back into the land from which it came. My hope is that the enrichment I have received, by sharing our connection over the years of life for the tree, will continue to inform my own life, and endure in the years to come.

Contradiction and Truth

                                         Each moment, as we nearer drew to each,

                                        A stern respect withheld us farther yet,

                                        So that we seemed beyond each other’s reach,

                                        And less acquainted than when we first met.

 

                                        We two were one while we did sympathize,

                                        So could we not the simplest bargain drive;

                                        And what avails it now that we are wise,

                                        If absence doth this doubleness contrive?

 

                                       –excerpt from the poem, “Sympathy,” by Henry Thoreau, 1840

 

Having recently reviewed the 2014 film, “Ask Me Anything,” written and directed by Allison Burnett, which is based on his novel, “Undiscovered Gyrl,” I was struck by a scene in the film where the female lead in the film is presented with a list of “Ten Bitter Truths,” supposedly in response to her request for “lessons about adulthood.”

What struck me most was how cynically slanted the list was and, as a result, I felt compelled to respond with my own less cynical commentary.  The list appears below and the numbering of my comments mirror the numbers in the list.

                                                                                              Guernica by Picasso

Ten Bitter Truths

1.    Complete honesty is a complete lie.

2.    Marriage is sacred only to those who have never been married.

3.    Money is more integral to happiness than romantic love.

4.    Every human being is a contradiction; some hide it better than others.

5.    Never underestimate the tendency of human beings to act contrary to their own best interests.

6.    Were it not for the fear of being caught, most of us would behave like savages.

7.    All sex has consequences, most of them dire.

8.    The older you get the faster time flies until months pass like days.

9.    There’s no such thing as living happily ever after.

10.  Everything gets worse.

 

Scientist leaving the world. Engraving c.1520. 

1.    It isn’t so much that complete honesty is unachievable or that we are somehow incapable of it, but rather that complete honesty isn’t always the most advantageous approach to every situation. There’s no reliably clear advantage to being brutally honest at all times, and even when we might be uncertain, to varying degrees, about what the complete truth of a certain circumstance might be, expressing that uncertainty under some conditions may work against us. The framing of our responses, in a way that mitigates the consequences of those circumstances, it could be argued, can ultimately produce a more desirable outcome, depending on the particulars.  Humans are adaptable by nature, and if we can enhance our ability to adapt, and also improve our ability to survive and thrive simultaneously through sharing a proportionate degree of honesty, in specific instances, the benefits of doing so can outweigh the rigid structural framework of what might be described as “complete honesty.” This is not to suggest that such mitigation is appropriate in EVERY circumstance, but rather, that mindless conformity to any absolute principle of unmitigated honesty or to its opposite, at all times, could sabotage our human abilities for adaptation and mitigation, which might be essential to our long term survivability.      

 

2.    The nature of human interactions with regard to the sacred or the divine aspects of our humanity are not dependent upon any specific institution, and what we describe as “sacred,” refers to elements that have no universal criteria to define them or by which we could, in every case, fairly judge them to be so described. Even in a common social relationship or in a specific religious context, the “sacred” can exist within it, regardless of the milieu in which it occurs. Marriage can either be sacred or not, and relationships which exist outside of institutional marriage can embody the “sacred,” just as reliably as those within it. The idea that only people who are not married think of marriage as sacred underestimates everyone.        

3.    Determining what constitutes happiness is a completely subjective judgment, and while financial stability can be an important component of our well-being generally, to say that it is more integral to happiness than romantic love is to denigrate the value of both money and romantic love.  “What does it profit a man to gain the entire world, if he suffers the loss of his soul?”  How could any amount of money compensate for a bitter loneliness or an absence of any meaningful interaction with our fellow humans? How often have we heard about couples who have very little in the material sense who are otherwise living happy and balanced lives? Romance is not a cure-all certainly, and it ebbs and flows in every loving relationship, but suggesting that money is MORE integral than romantic love to happiness is just plain wrong.           

4.    Contradiction in a person or in an argument implies some sort of logical incongruity or denial of what otherwise represents an expectation or understanding of a person’s character or the premise of an argument. The entire universe is a conglomeration of opposites—hot and cold; north and south; east and west; male and female; fast and slow; young and old. To suppose that we might be able to escape our contradictions in the way we feel, the way we think, and in many of the ways we live our lives, would be to deny our very nature as a part of the entire universe. Each of us must decide which of the tendencies toward the opposites we will assume as we navigate through our lives, and rarely does anyone follow a single inclination in any of the innumerable ways in which we might engage life through the years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are a contradiction at all times and that some people are just good at hiding it.  To be human is to change, and to adapt, and to innovate, and to grow, and to learn. Some of us accomplish these tasks with greater ease and ability than others, but changing is less a contradiction than it is a part of our nature to adapt and grow—to progress.           

5.    This is just a variation of the contradiction argument. What may appear to others as an action that is against our own best interest might actually serve us better in the long term. We are constantly changing and adapting and learning from our mistakes, and as we navigate through the trials and tribulations we encounter, we sometimes fail to choose our actions as wisely as we could. Deciding which actions are in our own best interest and which are not requires a learning curve usually, but to assume that we should expect it as a matter of course ignores the obvious benefits of failure which can serve as a guidepost to making better decisions in the future.       

6.    This item is one of the most cynical of all these ideas.  Anyone with even a minimal amount of life experience can recognize the value of civilized behavior, and if we are minimally observant—just reasonably astute—we can figure out that acting like a savage is a zero-sum game. In the earliest history of humankind, life was indeed savage, brutal, and short. Tribal warfare was common and weaker groups were routinely conquered by the stronger ones. Civilization took a really long time to get past the most savage stage of our development through the centuries.  Suggesting that we are now still all just savages beneath the surface, and only restrained by the consequences of savagery is to ignore the historical record of humanity’s progress into the modern world.  Of course, there are individuals and groups that can act in ways that are reminiscent of our savage roots, and we haven’t completely conquered our instinctive drives in every corner of the world, but empathy and altruistic instincts also are strong within us now, having evolved beyond the early history of our species, and rational, intelligent, and generous humans exist on a much greater scale now than ever before in our history, and to suggest otherwise is cynical in the extreme.     

 

                                                                Balance of Energy is a painting by Deidre Harris    

 

7.    The consequences of engaging in sexual activities can fall within a whole spectrum of results, depending on the individuals and circumstances in which they take place. Most of them are not dire, thankfully, but engaging in them recklessly or irresponsibly can have serious consequences, and if we simply use reasonable caution these days to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, the consequences can be far less dire than suggested by this idea. Most of the dire circumstances that result these days aren’t because of simply engaging in sexual activity, but by doing so without regard for routine precautions, or when inappropriate or unwelcomed by the other person.  To say that most consequences are dire is simply not true.  

 

 

8.    While the years definitely seem to pass more rapidly as we age, even as we approach the later years of our lives, it takes exactly the same amount of time for a year, a month, and a day to pass. When we are five years old, one year represents a fifth of our lives.  When we are 70, a year is 1/70th of our lives. The perspective of years is an obvious factor in how we view time, but even as an older person, months don’t seem like days and the exaggeration isn’t really helpful.  Each and every day is an opportunity to engage with life and to experience a limitless variety of possibilities to fill up the days, weeks, months, and years. If we proceed mindlessly through the hours and days of our lives without a deliberate choice of some sort or without some degree of urgency regarding a purposeful action to serve those choices, time will catch up with us eventually.  Learning is a life-long activity and whatever our circumstances, with personal effort, and maybe some help from our fellow travelers, we can find a way to make use of our time that can slow things down a bit.      

 

 

9.    While the concept of living “happily ever after” is usually introduced at a very early age in children’s stories and fairy tales, it isn’t meant to suggest that living “happily” means without any challenges or difficulties for the rest of our lives. We can live a life that we can consider “happy” generally, even though it may contain “bumps in the road.” Children need time to accumulate life experience in order to grasp the broader implications of how one might be able to live as life progresses, but they will usually bounce back in spite of encountering innumerable challenges at a young age. Even in the face of some personal tragedy which might occur, they often demonstrate a resilience that can surprise most adults. A happy life isn’t one free of difficulty.  Inevitably, it is one that has some capacity for overcoming adversity when it occurs; one that appreciates the joys when they arrive; and one that strives to make something worthwhile out of the time they are given.   

 

10.  This one is the most cynical of all.  Lots of things can get worse given the right conditions, but there are plenty of things that can get better given the same chance.  We can either actively contribute to our own betterment or allow our actions or inaction to result in our own detriment at any given time.  Of course, there are times when detrimental events occur that are beyond our control, and we don’t always have the luxury of choosing the results when life occasionally “happens,” but we usually have a choice as to how we respond to what happens, or at least how we think about what happens.  Not everything gets worse.   

 

“Eternity may not the chance repeat,

But I must tread my single way alone,

In sad remembrance that we once did meet,

And know that bliss irrevocably gone.”

–excerpt from poem, “Sympathy,” by Henry Thoreau

 

Adulthood does have its challenges, and our lives and ways of being are not without a degree of contradiction, trials, and imbalance, but even as we reflect on any “sad remembrance,” each of us must recognize that for every “bliss irrevocably gone,” there is inevitably a subsequent opportunity for new experience—another opportunity to say, “We two were one while we did sympathize.”