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, I can’t help 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.