The Benefits of Unexpected Outcomes

In the maelstrom of our daily subjective experience, within the confines of our everyday reality, everything seems so familiar. Unless we are on a vacation or traveling to an anticipated change in location, we awaken each morning and assume that the familiar will resume.  And of course, it generally will.

We usually do not question what is familiar.  During the course of a typical day, we do not challenge our perceptions of our reality…Usually.

But we must. The realm of possibility is infinite.

And how do we know?  Well, we normally infer that what we witness taking place in the temporal world has a degree of predictability, based on our previous experience, but we are also aware that even the tiniest variation of the familiar can, under certain conditions, precipitate a radical departure from what has taken place before that moment. It doesn’t always end up as a radical departure, but it CAN.

Every nuance of experience can have components that are both familiar and unexpected, and oftentimes, what we expect becomes what we experience…until it isn’t.

Variables and potentialities can occasionally confound us and alter our experience.  We cannot know, at any particular point, which variables may affect the outcome, and which will only delay or imperceptibly alter the result.  All we can really say is that our reality is generally composed of variables and potentialities that are sometimes combined with what is familiar, as well as with what is commonly thought to be a matter of chance.

We see it all the time.  Some variables involve practical temporal circumstances.  The car breaks down. Traffic prevents arrival as expected. Power failures happen unexpectedly which prevent actions or reactions to take place. Flights are cancelled.  We are unavoidably detained and miss a window of opportunity.  We are delayed in equal measure with other events, which, in spite of the delay, begin just as we arrive.

We plot and plan with relentless precision and occasionally get it just right, but at other times, in spite of our relentless efforts, something goes WRONG.  Sometimes, despite our efforts to avoid mishaps or diversions, something goes wrong, which unexpectedly ends up precipitating something that goes very RIGHT. What traditionally might constitute a diversion from the path, under normal circumstances, may end up being the very thing that needs to happen in order to achieve our intended goals.

Statistics often paint a picture or tell a story.  Usually, when a sufficient number of the same actions produce similar consequences, predictable results can typically be expected.  However, history is replete with examples of unexpected results from previously predictable outcomes.  The smallest variation of temporal circumstances can either result in no significant change in the ultimate result, or it can end up altering the landscape of life for centuries to come.  There is no way to know for certain.

There are ways, though, to improve the odds in our favor if we employ the “three I’s.”

Imagination

Utilizing our imagination isn’t just for storytelling and creating works of art. It is a vitally important aspect of the learning process and for discernment generally.  What is it like to be another person?  What will happen if we don’t attend to important matters?  How can we overcome enormous obstacles or solve complex problems?  We must imagine that something is possible before it ever will be.

Intuition

Without flexing our intuitive muscles, it becomes much more difficult to manage our confrontations with the unexpected.  There are often subtle signs or vague intimations of the nature of our experiences hidden beneath the surface of our everyday reality.  Our natural inclination to pick up on them can be honed with consistent practice; numerous failures to recognize them can be instructional upon reflection.

Word Cloud by www.epictop10.com

Investigation

No one is born knowing all about the nature of reality or can become an expert in every subject. There simply isn’t time over the course of our lives to understand it all, but we can investigate and take advantage of the experiences of those who came before us, to supplement our individual experiences with knowledge gained by other experts.

For those who are blessed with at least nominally functional sight in both eyes, seeing what transpires in the world, depending on their viewpoint, can be either uplifting or painful. It is generally thought to be an advantage to see well with both eyes, and in most circumstances this seems like a reasonable assertion.

Unfortunately, there are also extreme cases within which one might actually wish to “un-see” a terrible sight, or perhaps regret having to deal with the memory of what was seen. It’s not always the case that “seeing is believing,” either, and we know that the eyes in our heads can be fooled through “slight-of-hand,” or other optical illusions.

We often neglect to associate what we see with our eyeballs with what we see with our “inner eye.” We process our visual experiences inside our brains, and may see things differently utilizing that miraculous instrument, if we give it our full attention, and combine our experience with the intellectual and cognitive capacities of our “inner eye.”

In spite of life’s numerous challenges, with careful planning and consistent effort, we can feel relatively optimistic about the outcome of our experiences.  These actions can provide a degree of confidence in our own expectations, and in the expectations of others, that our efforts will eventually yield predictable results.

Work hard; save your money; and eventually you can afford to make financial choices that advance your goals.  Faithfully attend classes; study hard; avoid skipping important tasks related to your course of study; and eventually you will obtain a diploma or achieve other advanced educational goals. 

Relentlessly pursue the attainment of a greater understanding of what perplexes you; confer with experts; research relevant subject areas of a quandary, and, at some point, you will at least begin to understand it better.

There is an argument to be made for both dedicated effort to achieve a particular goal, and implementing a degree of spontaneity in our actions along the way, in order to reap the benefits of unexpected outcomes, made possible by engaging the realm of possibility, which exists at all times, within the parameters of our daily subjective experience.

Our three eyes—the two in our heads, and the one inner eye, combined with the other three “I’s”—Imagination, Intuition, and Investigation—can ultimately improve our experience and enhance our understanding.

Searching For An Opening to the Spirit

I know it’s pushing the limits a bit psychologically and cognitively to grasp explanations about the nature of circumstances, which you may not have personally experienced, and you may not know exactly where to begin, but with patience and applying our talents for thinking and reasoning, I believe it is possible to gain some greater understanding of “genuine experiences,” as described by those of us who have some familiarity with them.

The general nature of life itself should, by now, be broadly understood to consist of a variety of levels of experience and being, and to include more than what can be easily detected or ascertained by our five senses. It should also be obvious that life is comprised of characteristics of much greater complexity than what can be satisfactorily described or demonstrated scientifically, but in order for you to open yourself to the transcendent, it is still necessary to comprehend, at least in some general way, the nature of physical existence.

In my case, the awakening to the spiritual path happened a bit in reverse, and I recall having a number of extraordinary experiences as a very young child that seemed to me, even then, to be from a source outside of my own physical existence.  Naturally, I could not comprehend fully the implications of those experiences at that time, but neither did I question their validity or their importance.

To me, they seemed quite normal as experiences went, since I had no basis for judging them beyond the subjective experience of their occurrence, and assumed quite understandably that everyone else was having them also.  It wasn’t until I began school and my indoctrination into Catholic orthodoxy at around age six that it suddenly became unacceptable to acknowledge any extraordinary experience as anything other than “God’s mystery.”

I’ve written a couple of times about the way my thoughts and early childhood notions were suppressed by a fairly strict religious upbringing, and how I was often told not to concern myself with such “imaginings.”  All those years of suppressing my own thoughts eventually contributed to the “explosion” of unconscious contents that Jung described as often occurring “abruptly,” when we finally reach some sort of boundary condition psychologically.  In spite of this intensely restrictive environment, I still continued to experience a number of moments when I felt overwhelmed by a sense of “otherness” toward my inner world, even some occasionally striking events of precognition; the sense of the presence of invisible energies or individuals, or an extraordinary feeling of deep connection to other individuals in my limited temporal circle.

There were also several “out of the body” experiences during moments of extreme danger or tension, including one that occurred during a fall from a thirty-foot scaffolding platform in high school, where I remember floating above my body listening to the teachers telling others that I was dying. Once I even heard an inner voice of a girl, of whom I was not physically aware, as she was approaching me from behind saying to herself, “I hope you still want to be with me.” Imagine my surprise when I turned to see her standing there, and when I answered, “Yes, I do still want to be with you.” I thought she had said it out loud—until she asked me “How did you know I was going to ask you that?”

The events in Massachusetts in 1973 are a great deal more complicated in their explanation and description, and it has taken me decades of research and exploration to even be able to say that I am beginning to appreciate just how complex the explanation of the nature of our subjective experience of human consciousness must ultimately be. 

To say that my experience in the autumn of 1973 suggested the influence of a transcendent source is quite an understatement.  Jonas Rice was, in so many ways, a kindred spirit; a brother from another mother; another soul with whom I shared a great deal more than a fleeting sense of connection or an out-of-the-body experience.  It always seemed to me that during those episodes, we occupied the same physical space in some way, and there were moments when it felt as though I was seeing through his eyes, and at other times, that it was simply a presence which seemed to be guiding me or steering my attention.  Whether any of that actually explains my experiences is far from definitive for me, even today, and although they seemed objectively real to me at the time, as a rational person, I must acknowledge that the true nature of that connection is still really, to some degree, “unexplained.”

The explosion of our unconscious contents, when it occurs in the way Jung described it, can be inexplicable in any sort of satisfying temporal terms, precisely because our unconscious mind is, itself, quite mysterious and usually inaccessible subjectively. In my case, the eruption was so violent and it affected me so intensely physically, that nailing down the full explanation naturally resists logic and normal reasoning. If you’ve read that portion of the story well, you may recall that a fair amount of what I wrote was not legible at all, and my attempts to transcribe what was legible, were hampered by the feeling of complete and utter confusion that I felt afterwards.

The name Jonas Rice was a guess on my part about those two words as they appeared on the page, but when I stood at the tombstone in the center of Worcester, the paralysis in my body was real and my rapid heartbeat and inability to catch my breath were frightening.  I was having a panic attack and it shook me to the core.  I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

 If you look back thoughtfully through the events of your own life, you also may actually be able to discover that you may have had some version of experiences in this regard, which, though not as severe, still point to a non-physical aspect to our nature as cognitive sentient beings in a physical universe. Perhaps you suddenly got a hunch about where you might find a missing item which was in your possession days before, or experienced a pleasing sense of delight at a particular moment for no apparent reason.  You may even have felt particularly bad or good about the circumstances of someone you knew or someone you love, even though you had no real sense of what was causing it, or why it was particularly good or bad to them. 

Our personal sense of intuition is commonly influenced by our own experiences of such events, but applying the memory of our experiences is not always sufficient to explain an intense feeling or a particularly keen sense of the suffering of another.  You may not have ever associated your heightened awareness of these types of things with any sort of transcendent source, but if you dig a little deeper when you experience such feelings, it often becomes more apparent that the circumstances alone really don’t completely explain why you feel the way you do.

Opening yourself to the possibility of transcendence—placing yourself deliberately on the path of greater understanding—is the first step toward recognizing why you once found yourself engaged in a conversation with your friend on the question of whether or not God is real, or how it is that you recall an extraordinary experience years or days ago, when you sensed the urgency to initiate some unexpected response to an event, leading you to take a different path on a particular day, which resulted in that unusual experience.

Should you decide to investigate these possibilities as they relate to your own life, don’t worry about having “meaningful questions,” or “coming up blank,” when you consider the relevance of particular experiences right away. This is new territory for anyone who hasn’t previously contemplated the nature of subjective experience. You will be expanding your realm of experience simply by looking into the subjects you are encountering.  When a question arises in your mind, you will know that it is time to ask it, and to explore the subject further. Until then, you should keep searching and reading and thinking.

I am very glad to be sharing my experiences with the visitors and readers here and recommend that you take the time to explore these ideas on your own and investigate the subjects surrounding them; you will eventually come up with ideas of your own that you will want to explore.

To anyone who asks me, what I recommend as a means to increase their understanding is to begin writing in a journal, recording whatever random thoughts or feelings or ideas come to mind. Even if, in the beginning, nothing particularly interesting or helpful comes up, eventually the practice itself will yield new thoughts and may, upon reflection, stir those questions, and you may even find new avenues to explore.

The Spiritual Journey Continues

The story of my life is now about to expand into a whole new direction and the events that brought me to this place and time, for some mysterious reason, have resulted in a whole new path, which became evident after receiving a request for me to perform a wedding ceremony for a beloved family friend.

“Me?”  “You want ME to marry you?”

During a virtual facetime meeting, due to Covid restrictions, the happy couple explained that they considered me to be the most spiritual person they knew, and that I was also the only person they knew who already did what they were about to do, which is to bring together two families, and start one of their own—together.

Combined with the long term relationships between many of the participants in this ceremony, it was clear that they looked at me as someone with a degree of wisdom that I could share, and get them off to a good start.

Not everyone thought it was a good idea, but most of the people I consulted thought it was fine. I embraced the opportunity whole-heartedly. I did my research, followed the instructions and spent time training in the areas of interest, applied for the certification and received it several weeks later.

I am officially an “Ordained Minister,” registered and supported by the Universal Life Church, located in Seattle, WA.  I am legally entitled to marry people and to perform spiritual services as requested or which may be needed in any given circumstance.

It’s a non-denominational organization which is promoting the spread of spiritual awareness, revival, and promotion, without imposing or exclaiming any specific dogma.  Each of us, if we decide to explore such an idea, must discover that place where we can see ourselves as spiritual beings, and while there are many different paths one might pursue in the interest of their own spiritual well-being, each of us must ultimately seek out our own resource for spiritual guidance as well, and continue to search until we locate one which either resonates with us personally or which might be recommended by others we respect. 

When the importance of this opportunity finally began to sink in to my incredulous psyche, I started to dig down a little, down through the deeper levels of consciousness, and when I came up for air, I had to confess to myself that the choices I made, and the life I have led, didn’t exactly fit the common description of what a minister’s life usually looks like.  I felt as though I was both on the edge of a cresting wave, and suddenly realizing that I don’t know how to surf very well.

I didn’t think I was worthy of the honor, not because of any deficit in the requirements, but because I didn’t see myself as someone who earned the privilege—at least—not at first.

As time progressed, I began to see a vague sense of coherence in the way my life was unfolding, and accepted that these developments might actually be necessary, in order to step off into the next phase of my evolving life!

So be it.

I decided to embrace this moment now—this one—the one I am constantly experiencing inside my head.  When events like this occur in our lives, we have to recognize why it’s not a good idea to dwell on the past, but also not to forget the important lessons our experiences provided.  It’s also becomes important not to look ahead to the future with anxiety or well-defined expectations—but also to realize that sometimes we still need to plan and prepare.  We need to adapt and overcome, when necessary, but still hold close to our values as people.

One day, all of this will likely be understood in a way that could not possibly be understood at this moment. The perspective of time is necessary, since what occurs may not be clear at the time when it happens, and it may require additional distance in time and circumstance to become clear.  In retrospect, some of what we conclude initially will make sense and some of it may not, but the lines which summon us to the task of greater understanding, all originate within us. 

In order to gain in perspective and illuminate the components of a broader understanding, it is important to be able to quiet the mind and, to some degree initially, to let go temporarily of our attachment to the temporal.  This is not an abandonment of reality, nor is it in any way a compromise of our most essential self.  It should be thought of as simply setting aside our attachment to surface matters, just long enough to allow ourselves to approach more closely our innermost being.  Each aspect of our humanity is equally important to honor and to attend to as a part of the fullness of our lives.

Our current 21st century way of life tends to emphasize the immediate temporal circumstance and, in doing so, can subsequently lead to a tendency to gravitate away from our deeper selves—to embrace a state where we avoid apprehending any sort of deeper meaning in favor of a less satisfying surface existence.  We sometimes fail to appreciate just how much we can gain from exploring and expanding our point-of-view to include a fuller range of human experience.

The world is rapidly changing now and trying to keep up with the latest trends and the explosion of information technology can obscure the path toward our inner life, by becoming so pervasive in our daily lives that there simply isn’t time to absorb it all.  The pathway becomes so clogged up with surface matters and distractions of every sort that it eventually prevents any substantial progress from being made.  Less concern for achieving any sort of deeply personal, spiritual, or philosophical appreciation for our inner lives can result in spending much less of our available energy and time on anything that might otherwise lead us toward a greater understanding.

An essential effort in the service of achieving a degree of balance in our lives includes giving deliberate attention to both the wider range of our very human nature, of which we are all a part, as well as attending to our inner world—the world which is not technically inside of our bodies—but rather, outside of our temporal experience of the world itself. 

It is truly challenging to contemplate such an essential aspect of our humanity, which is also beyond the temporal boundaries of our bodies. We spend so much time in the early part of our lives becoming familiar with our subjective experience of being alive as a human person, that we tend to associate the physicality of our bodies and the relentless stream of thoughts which occupy our minds with our essential “self,” and only after many years of life experience does it become possible to begin to understand that life is much more expansive and complex than our own individual experience indicates.

Unfortunately for many of us, early childhood often consists of indoctrination into some form of religious doctrine and practice, which is often well-intentioned and earnest on the part of our caretakers, but which can sometimes cloud our thoughts, rather than lead us to any degree of enlightenment. This certainly was true in my case, and although I was very fortunate to encounter many deeply spiritual experiences along with the religious regimen, I often found myself at odds with those same doctrines and practices.  It seemed there were always many more questions than answers available to me along the way.  It wasn’t until I was an independent young man that I finally found myself free of those restrictive beliefs, and able to pursue my own inclinations spiritually.

I struggled greatly with my relationship with my parents as a result of my independent explorations and pursuits, but the struggles were necessary and ultimately led me to a much greater appreciation of my own deeply spiritual nature. 

I am now about to embark on a totally new spiritual journey as a mature man and as someone who will be considered in a whole new light from anything I have ever done before. 

After A Tree Falls…Nature Responds

Just after the tree company demolished the front yard tree, I somberly examined the remaining stump and photographed it for posterity, sadly contemplating the loss as a necessary but unfortunate development.

I even stood upon the stump in a defiant expression of frustration at the total destruction of a long term relationship with a lovely arboreal companion.

The link above tells a little more about what followed this summer, and my astonishment about the power of nature to renew itself, but this next series of photos really adds a fitting follow-up to the disappointment I felt last September when the tree was cut down.

This is the same stump this morning as I took a walk around to the front yard. It is hard to believe that it has simply refused to be extinguished!

This growth is now fuller and amazingly taller than me! It’s getting to the point where I may end up having to trim it down again. It is oddly reassuring to me that the tree seems not to want to “give up the ghost,” and has somehow defiantly asserted itself so that I can’t now stand again on the stump, unless I figure out some way to make my way through the foliage that has erupted all around it.

In an interesting side note, I recently attended the wedding ceremony of a family friend and was pleasantly surprised that the location for the reception included a large meadow out in back of the venue, and when I stepped out into it during a break in the action, I discovered this wonderfully robustly healthy tree cousin of substantial proportions.

In a very comforting way, standing next to this behemoth of the same variety as the one removed from my front yard gave me a sense of calm and admiration for what is possible in Nature when given sufficient opportunity to grow.

I’m actually hoping to see some sort of autumnal transition to occur in the regenerated tree stump out front, and will post something either way when enough time has passed.

Life Revealing Itself

There is a movement taking place within me and around me as the year progresses toward the autumn and winter seasons.  It’s creating a degree of both anticipation and trepidation, which I find a bit unsettling.  Even when we are anticipating the arrival of something wonderful, it alters our outlook if we are paying attention well enough, just as naturally as when we look ahead with some anxiety toward uncertainty or disruption in our immediate circumstance.

It has always been like this for me. Even as a young man I recall both the excitement of the arrival of new experience, especially when it is expected to be of a positive nature, as well as the fear brought about by not knowing what will happen, or how I might endure adverse circumstances.  In my early youth, I was always reacting to whatever circumstances prevailed at the time, and rarely had any time to prepare myself or any idea of how to deal with those circumstances, beyond what I could conjure on the fly.  

I was notoriously impulsive and spontaneous in most every circumstance, and often acted without thinking things through, no matter what the outcome might potentially be. This approach to living my life occasionally served me well when the outcome was advantageous in some way, but more often than not, my lack of sophistication and inability to mitigate my impulsive nature caused either me or someone else a degree of difficulty that was daunting in one way or another, and it took me many years to begin to understand why I always seemed to find out the hard way that my choices needed to be less impulsive. 

Joining the military at age 20 was a turning point like no other before it, and although it forced me to implement a greater degree of self-discipline, once I became more confident and successful in that environment, I still wasn’t completely able to let go of my spontaneous nature altogether.  I had finally stepped back away from the precipice of chaos, at least enough to be more measured in my actions, and the overall percentage of advantageous outcomes increased dramatically.

As a mature person in my thirties, it became a necessity to become more consistently reliable since I had become a parent to small children, and while I was able to provide for them sufficiently in the main, I constantly struggled with my own well-being in the process.  Throughout my working life, even when I had achieved a reasonably stable and prosperous level of income, I constantly had to submerge my personal interests so as not to endanger the well-being of those in my care.

This constant back-and-forth condition was both frustrating when it held me back, and equally compelling when it led to a burst of progress toward my personal goals.  The contrast between the two conditions was maddening at times, and there were moments which tested my resolve in both directions. It took me until well into my fifties to settle down enough to manage my general outlook in a way that didn’t undermine either my daily obligations or my personal well-being.

I know now, after many years of study and contemplation of the subjective experience of human consciousness, that in order to understand it and to move toward it, we need to realize that whatever the source of consciousness may be, it goes much deeper, and is more meaningful and profound than we currently suppose.  This search I have been on all these years has clearly been aided by my willingness to be open to the experiences of my personal journey, even with all of its starts and stops—even with each step forward and back. 

Just as it seems now, in consideration of our current understanding of the laws of physics and quantum theory, that the physical universe which we observe and study is reliant upon unobservable phenomena and additional dimensions outside of our direct perception—in part—a manifestation of non-material aspects—so too now, does consciousness appear to be, at its source, non-material.  The difficulty then becomes, trying to discern how the non-material aspects of the universe and of consciousness affect the physical world and interact with our daily waking awareness of our existence.

Many philosophers and neuroscientists wish to express the phenomenon of consciousness as an emergent property of our brain physiology, and in doing so, eliminate any other possible avenue of exploration and explanation.  We can certainly sympathize with this inclination in view of the enormous progress of the physical sciences generally, and of neuroscience specifically, that has been made without invoking any additional layers of existence or positing immaterial forces or energies that may contribute to the full understanding of both cosmology and consciousness.

Over the decades of my existence, what has consistently led me to be convinced to the contrary has been my own profound inner sense of something taking place within me, which informs me about my existence, in addition to my own personal physical experience of the world.  To the extent that I have studied the physical sciences and the laws of physics, and read and listened to a host of great thinkers of human history, nothing I have encountered along the way has been sufficient to dissuade me from concluding that my own personal awareness—my own subjective experience of existence—my own consciousness—is perhaps the greatest source for acknowledgment and discernment about my existence that I could possibly hope to possess.  There could be no more reliable source of inspiration or self-awareness for any of us than our own subjective experience, and while none of us is infallible or omnipotent, no other aspect of our awareness is more certain than our own experience of existence.

Anyone with generally good health and a reasonably stable physiology experiences their physical existence through the five senses, and processes the signals sent to their brains from the central nervous system as their waking consciousness, and so long as these physical systems remain nominally functional, our experiences of the world can be stored in memory, we can learn new skills, and generally remember most of the important knowledge we gain through experience.  The mechanisms of brain physiology are indeed wondrous and fascinating to study, and without these important functions operating correctly, our ability to be aware and to be able to experience our existence can be compromised. One need only look to the pathologies present in the human population from disease, genetic defects, and serious injuries to the brain, in order to appreciate the importance of these systems in providing us with access to a functional and productive subjective experience.

What may not be quite so clear is the full understanding of how it is exactly that these functions are accompanied by our extraordinary subjective awareness.  My whole life has contained an array of experiences and a keen sense of awareness of a level of existence that cannot be described in temporal terms, and several key experiences have provided me with an affirmation of my general notion that I have carried with me throughout, that everything we see, everything we do, every act, every nuance of experience, is made possible by a source which cannot be defined in material terms alone. 

Especially during times of profound sadness and exquisite joy, during any of the many extreme circumstances that occur in our lives, we are more readily able to sense our closeness to this source if we are open to doing so. 

Even on a much smaller scale, when we encounter other individual human spirits, with whom we immediately feel a sense of connection, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, we may become aware of our connection to THEM, in a way that is so clear and so deep, that we are able to sense something existent within them that connects us with no ambiguity at all. 

The feeling of being connected to other like spirits, even when it is immediate and without precedent in our experience, can overwhelm us at times, making it terribly difficult to ignore, or to dismiss it as some sort of response to a biological process or instinctive reaction within us.  In my experience, reviewing these episodes of connection that have occurred so often in my travels, gives me good cause to suppose, that what we generally attribute to basic instincts or biological imperatives, or even to our physiological responses to stimuli, all of it may well be a manifestation of an ineffable source which subsequently allows us to “instinctively” lean toward the awareness of non-material aspects of life in the physical universe.  When we fall in love or when we feel enormously compelled to seek out certain situations or individuals or when we follow a hunch or are obsessed by certain ideas, all of these are indications of a connection to something larger than ourselves. Since we only have a limited range of responses that we CAN give, we tend to associate the brain’s activity as being the source of those responses, rather than recognizing the possibility that the source might be something else entirely.

When The Path of Destiny Calls

We do not always choose to arrive on the path of destiny. We may avoid it at times it if we are determined to do so, but at some point, no matter how desperate we become or how clever we are, one way or another, the path will find us.

Occasionally, if we are truly on the path, the universe will rise up to meet us, and join us on the path. It may walk awhile with us, or it may visit unexpectedly for a short time and then go away.  It may linger without saying a word, but when we walk our true path, the universe walks with us, even though it is a manifestation of something much greater and grander still.

Some may wish to suggest that the universe is already pretty darn grand just as it is—just as we see it. When we look up at night through our telescopes in the backyard or through a powerful earth-bound telescope or even while reviewing the feed from the Hubble Space Telescope, we will see a universe that is beyond grand—beyond a comprehensive description—defying all of our attempts to describe it. Because it is so vast, it contains vast quantities of the mysterious, and the wondrous, and the beautiful.

What we sometimes refer to as “the soul,” or “the spirit within us,” may actually be a reflection of the mysterious and profound transcendent aspect of the universe.  We are a part of the universe, and the universe is a manifestation of something truly bigger than the grandest view through any telescope.

Along with everything we recognize and understand in that view, considering the universe even as a temporal physical structure, fully understanding the way it works seems, at least currently, to be beyond our grasp.  Of course, even our vague understanding of what we can actually observe, even considering the parameters of our current cosmological knowledge; we do understand that what we DO know is only a fraction of what there IS to know.

A materialist view takes the position that what cannot be demonstrated to exist physically, or as the result of a physical process, is either irrelevant or based on speculation or supposition, and while we must acknowledge the limited ability of the scientific method to confirm the existence of phenomena or principles that are immaterial, this inability is not, in and of itself, a definitive indication that such aspects do not exist.

BECAUSE such aspects are not demonstrable empirically, in my view, increases the likelihood that they DO exist. Let me explain.

Let’s suppose for the moment that immaterial and ineffable aspects of reality are ESSENTIAL to our physical existence, and although they cannot be unambiguously demonstrated to be a part of our substantial physical reality, over the centuries, it became widely accepted that they do actually exist.

Our subjective experience of consciousness would be far less mysterious, and it would be taken for granted that these immaterial concepts and components are simply part of the foundation for the broad spectrum of human experience which includes them. 

Under these conditions, the whole history of human experience, the enormous volume of literature, philosophy, religious ideas and inspirational scientific discoveries, all of it, would be considered a part of the unfolding of our experience of the world, and justify all of our efforts to enhance our survival, in order to gain a greater understanding of our place in the universe.

Now suppose that none of these ineffable elements and ideas have ever existed; since the dawn of modern humans, no other explanations were ever entertained for any reason.  Only physical laws and demonstrable scientific ideas would be considered as being possible to explain the world and the universe.

Suddenly, our actual human history would no longer make any sense at all.  Tens of thousands of years of that history would not contain an overwhelming volume of expressions of those aspects that have been recorded in every epoch, every culture, and every geographic region of the Earth since the dawn of modern humans.  Reports and descriptions of such ideas would never have been made, and through the millennia, there would be only life and death and taxes. No reason to dream or hope for anything other than survival while we live, and no cause to ponder or wonder about anything until we die.

In such a world, our actual human history would be completely incomprehensible.

Unless we humans eventually discover some future method of explaining through the scientific method what is now considered “ineffable,” it only makes sense to approach these ideas with an open mind, and consider what might actually be possible. The main obstacle, as I see it, is the reluctance of many individuals to even entertain the concept of any sort of immaterial principle existing in the first place.

I get it.

Anyone with no experiential encounters with something bigger than themselves, with no sense of an existence beyond the temporal world of the palpable and the graspable could be blamed for being reluctant to embrace such ideas.  Many materialists will cite “Occam’s Razor,” as the most reasonable approach to the most vexing issues in philosophy and science, which posits that the simplest and most basic approach to explain any phenomenon is usually the right one. While it is reasonable for those with no commensurate experience or encounter with anything beyond the five senses, to be skeptical of an existence or a feature of reality that is not accessible to science, simply because there may not be an empirical solution for the mysterious is, in my view, insufficient as a rationale to disregard other possible explanations out of hand.

Every experience and part of the path of my life up to now has been a preparation for and a prelude to what will now follow.  Had my life taken a totally different path; had there been no spiritual awakening or serious temporal disruption to my otherwise ordinary life; had any of the pivotal events in my life turned out differently or had the resulting chaos resolved itself in some other more agreeable fashion, it is likely that none of the words I’ve written over the decades would have been recorded in any of the thousands of pages, represented by the numerous journals and digital files that I currently possess.

My life contains a piece of the answer.  The events of my life have been part of a constant struggle to pursue the answers.  The arrival of the Jonas materials back in the mid-seventies was pivotal to bringing me to a place where the answers would eventually begin to be revealed.  All of the years since then have contained elements and components and pieces of the understanding that I continue to seek to this day.

The path of destiny is something I have eagerly sought to follow, and in equal measure, feared to tread upon.  There have been times, when the path led to events and moments, that were as brilliant as they were desired by me, and at other times, which brought me to my knees in despair at my inability to follow in a way that it seemed I needed to go.  The conflict within me would often swing wildly in opposite directions, and just as some degree of progress was being made, I would find myself paralyzed with either fear or uncertainty as to my course.

I struggled greatly with the pull of opposites. Going in the direction it seemed I needed to go, often presented such a challenge to my temporal life, that I was unable to commit to a particular course of action, and events in my temporal life often led me to pursue actions, which inevitably brought me to an awareness of essential elements, and precipitated startling revelations that were impossible to ignore.

The story of Jonas, as it has been revealed to me through the years, is an attempt to express not only the extraordinary nature of my connection to the ineffable and to the spirit of life, but as a metaphor for the struggle that we all face when the path of destiny calls.  None of us can simply ignore the urgencies of temporal life, even when the draw toward our destiny is as compelling as mine was in the early days of my awareness.

As often as I pressed myself to surge forward into the abyss; as difficult as my temporal life became at times; in spite of the profound and formidable compulsion that descended upon me during those times—I was often thwarted in my attempts to override my personal interests sufficiently to abandon my responsibilities.

Within my own personal subjective experience of my own consciousness, it was often crystal clear to me what it was that I needed to do in order to satisfy the demands of my destiny, and it was rare that my own personal inclinations were at odds with the path as it was revealed to me.  Had I been unrestrained by the circumstances of my personal responsibilities, many times the choices I would have made, would have been of a wholly different character. 

Countless eons passed without awareness being possessed sufficiently in our species in order to develop an adequate mechanism for expressing that awareness. Even when the early hominids had acquired sufficiently complex brain architectures to support awareness, there was no established process for expressing it.  It took many thousands of years of development to acquire that capacity, and tens of thousands more to devise methods of coherently expressing what was taking place within us, utilizing the acquisition of our newfound self-awareness, supported by the evolutionary architecture inside the brains of our fellow human ancestors.

After A Tree Falls

Back in September of last year, I posted an account of the removal of the tree out in front of my home, whose presence we had enjoyed for the previous thirty years of residence in our neighborhood, and I shared a video of me reciting the poem I wrote in response to the event itself, but also to the significance of the event for me personally, as the caretaker of that magnificent natural structure.

Since posting that account, I have observed the natural progress of the living entities which surround our modest home, and have marveled at the tenacity and the almost human determination exhibited by the plants and trees to not only survive, but also to thrive, in spite of the determined efforts on my part to remove and diminish their presence at my location.

While I have not really wanted to conduct the necessary trimming and pruning and removal of the natural plants and trees in the yard, intellectually I understood the need for doing so, and deliberately approached the tasks with respect and affection, even as I had to acknowledge that my efforts were, in some ways, detrimental to the natural life all around me.

Back in December of 2018, I posted images of the results of my pruning and removal efforts out in my front yard, where a sapling descended from the original tree out front had grown so tall and so formidably so close to the house that I had to remove it.  After I chopped the fledgling tree down to less than a foot from the ground, I followed up with an image of the bush that sprang up from the stump I left in the ground.

In an image I shared that was taken in the following autumn of 2019, you could see that the “bush” had not turned to the colorful results I had hoped would occur, and I supposed at that time that there wouldn’t be such a development.

In the spring of 2020, I forcibly removed all of the ivy crawling up the front of the house, and cut the stump completely down to the ground level once again. 

Imagine my astonishment when I began to attend to the summer outdoor chores this year of cutting the grass and straightening up the yard, and observed the incredibly dynamic return of almost every living thing out in front of the house.  The ivy had not only returned, but appeared to be twice as thick and dense as it was when I had removed it.

Fast forward to June of 2021, and against every expectation, not only had the “bush” from the sapling returned with a vengeance, but the stump of the original tree out front had sprouted new life in an amazing display of determination in resisting the efforts to be removed completely.

Clearly, I had taken no pleasure whatsoever in the removal of the tree out front, even though it was done with respect and due consideration of what was necessary and prudent, given the circumstances.  My admiration for the power of nature to restore itself had already been well established, and my awareness of the sometimes astonishing abilities of the natural world to replenish itself in the face of detrimental conditions and adverse circumstances had been admired by me, well before any of these events.   

While consideration and reflection by me on all of these ideas had taken place over the course of many years of participation in activities in the remote forests and mountains of the northeast corridor of the USA, and elsewhere, it occurred to me that knowledge of these principles could just as easily have happened, right in my own yard.

It seems likely that it will be necessary, as time progresses, to attend to these matters with some degree of regularity, if I am to maintain a handle on the chaos and dynamics playing out in my local plot of land, but even as I plan for the steps to take to keep nature at bay here, I realize that the natural world cannot be tamed completely, no matter where you travel in the world. 

What You Hold In Thought

“The evolution of life in the double direction of individuality and association has nothing accidental about it: it is due to the very nature of life.”

“Essential also is the progress to reflection. If our analysis is correct, it is consciousness, or rather supra-consciousness, that is at the origin of life. Consciousness, or supra-consciousness, is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which subsists of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them up into organisms.”

“The effort we make to transcend pure understanding introduces us into that more vast something out of which our understanding is cut, and from which it has detached itself. And, as matter is determined by intelligence, as there is between them an evident agreement, we cannot make the genesis of the one without making the genesis of the other. An identical process must have cut out matter and the intellect, at the same time, from a stuff that contained both. Into this reality we shall get back more and more completely, in proportion as we compel ourselves to transcend pure intelligence.”

“On this new ground philosophy ought then to follow science, in order to superpose on scientific truth knowledge of another kind, which may be called metaphysical. Thus combined, all our knowledge, both scientific and metaphysical, is heightened. In the absolute we live and move and have our being. The knowledge we possess of it is incomplete, no doubt, but not external or relative. It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and of philosophy.”

—excerpts from “Creative Evolution,” by Henri Bergson, 1907

The world is neither simply what we perceive it to be, nor is it strictly a metaphysical mystery beyond our understanding.  These two apparently opposing approaches to our understanding are, it seems to me, more correctly to be two components of the same conundrum.  We tend these days to gravitate toward specialization in almost every arena of endeavor, and in doing so, we seem often to be missing the larger picture of what might be most helpful in increasing our understanding generally.

Mr. Bergson, who wrote extensively about the nature of matter and intelligence more than 100 years ago, even without the accelerated advances in knowledge we enjoy currently, correctly framed the question of how we might advance our understanding.  We cannot simply focus on a narrow selection of material, intellectual, or spiritual criteria and cannot reasonably consider only one approach as sufficient to give us the broadest understanding.  Mr. Bergson just wasn’t equipped enough by the technology of his day to take it further.

Today, we know more and understand better about the world in which we live, but we are still struggling to catch up on the broadest inclusion of ideas possible, and we must allow the full investigation to proceed in each of the three realms of material, intellectual, and the spiritual.  It’s not possible to eliminate any reasonable approach just yet, but these three each have important components to contribute.  It’s a generalization in terms of describing the issue, but we definitely need to expand our realm of possibilities to include a variety of approaches which just may support the others in some useful way.

Lots of new material is in progress here at John’s Consciousness, and I hope my visitors and readers will be patient with me as I navigate the path forward.  I have been immersed in some of the most important and profound life works of my nearly 70 years of living this past year or so, and, like most of us, I feel like I just want to break out of isolation into something that truly matters.  I’ve been developing a new approach to sharing my writing here, and when I am ready, I will begin to engage more fully with the content of my writings, and to share more fully the ideas which occupy my heart, mind, and soul. 

Stay tuned.

A Capacity for Intelligence

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, intelligence is defined as:

noun
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: “He writes with intelligence and wit.”

In a recent study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, researchers acknowledged the limitations of current scientific research, but offered a basis for suggesting factors to consider. They “looked into the brain areas that are activated by tasks that are typically used to test for intelligence,” and reported their results–

“…based on the set of brain areas that might contribute to those tasks. However don’t get too excited, the methods used have severe limitations and we are still only at the hypothesis level. We do not know how these areas contribute to performance in intelligence tests and we do not know why they are activated and how they interact together to create the behavior.”

http://blog.brainfacts.org/

According to a recently published neuroscientific paper, “a broader definition was agreed to by 52 prominent researchers on intelligence:”

“Intelligence is a very general capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test‑taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well.”

Reviewing the many related brain structures involved in cognitive functioning, researchers concluded that:

“…variations in these structures and functions may be “endophenotypes” for intelligence — that is, they might be intermediate physiological markers that contribute directly to intelligence. Therefore, genes involved in intelligence might be more closely linked to these variations in brain structure and function than to intelligence itself. In fact, in all studies to date, the genetic influences on these structures and functions were highly correlated with those on general intelligence.”

–excerpts from “The Neuroscience of Human Intelligence Differences,” by Ian J.Deary, Lars Penke and Wendy Johnson

There are a number of individuals today who are beginning to make associations between the technological advances of modern science and some of the ancient esoteric traditions like yoga, in an attempt to explain our subjective experience of consciousness:

“If hypothetical machinery inside neurons fails to explain qualia, (the ‘what-it’s-like’ quality of experience) must we then consider the molecules that make up the neuronal machinery, or the atoms inside the molecules, or the subatomic particles inside the atoms? Where is the difference that causes the qualia of subjective experience? A less problematic explanation is possible. German scientist, Gottfried Leibniz, postulated irreducible quanta of consciousness he termed ‘monads.’ Matter does not create consciousness. Instead, matter is animated by monads. It seems hardly a coincidence that Leibniz’ monads would perfectly fit between the moments of time that lead to Kaivalya, (Yoga term for enlightenment or nirvana.)

Ultimately, Kaivalya is an ineffable experience. But the claim of yoga is that it provides means to experience what is outside of the individualized mind. The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us.

In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion…that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us. We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously…the outstanding reality of our experience…is the amazing fact that nothing is outside us.”

–excerpts from article by DONALD J. DEGRACIA, Associate Professor of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, in EDGESCIENCE MAGAZINE #16 • NOVEMBER 2013

artificial-intelligence-8-638

Recent research in artificial intelligence has begun to approach what might be described as a kind of tipping point, where the lines will likely begin to blur between what is clearly a type of machine intelligence, like the current offerings in robotics and self-driving cars, to something more akin to the kind of intelligence that talks back to you or responds in a more conversational manner like Apple’s “Siri,” and the Windows 10 offering of a personal assistant application called “Cortana.” Many of these innovations are built upon interest in the idea of eventually being able to develop the technologies surrounding A.I. to the point where they will function so much like the human brain, that communicating with them will be virtually indistinguishable from doing so with another live human person.

While this is an enormously appealing concept to our modern sensibilities, and currently fueling a huge amount of research in the industry, even supposing that it might be possible to produce a device or platform commensurate with the trillions of connections between neurons in the human brain, characterizing any resulting machine as either “intelligent” or “conscious,” requires us to re-examine what it means to be intelligent and conscious. Our current understanding of these terms, even as they apply to humans, is still not especially comprehensive or complete, and looking at the development of “human” or “biological” intelligence through the millennia, demonstrates a key component of the challenge in creating an artificial version that might qualify as equivalent.

artificial Human-Evolution1

Early humans and their fellow primates and mammals, along with all the various species endowed with sufficiently complex neural structures and central nervous systems, at some point, eventually possessed a brain or other neural configuration of adequate strength, size, and architecture, which allowed for the retention of memories, and for processing the sensory data gleaned through the available senses. These structures, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, at some point provided the necessary support for adaptive learning or for acquiring a sufficient degree of species-specific abilities, in order for the organism to make efficient use of that information, and to produce a range of results, commensurate with their species-specific capacities and habitation, which enhanced their survival in their respective environments.

Once our ancient ancestors reached a certain level of development, through the integration of incremental evolutionary changes, they achieved a nominal degree of enhanced cognitive talents, attaining a sufficient capacity for what we describe as “human intelligence,” which eventually led to the ability to reason and plan well enough to override emotional distractions, needs and desires, and to awaken to a penetrating level of subjective self-awareness. As any parent of a healthy child can tell you, intelligence does not appear immediately even in modern human children. In spite of advantageous circumstances and environments in which these amazing cognitive human creatures develop, it still requires a minimal degree of relevant experience in the world to accumulate a useful and functional knowledge base, to hone learning skills, and to be able to draw on a collection of memories, which enhance whatever cognitive, genetic, and other physiological resources they might bring to the process.

As a consequence of the random combinations of chromosomes in the human reproductive process, there is a sufficient degree of diversity in the general distribution of combinations available to the human genome, so that each human child has a relatively unique set of circumstances genetically. This diversity is necessary for the health of our species, and as a result, we observe a full range of endowment, which can result in bestowing our descendents with a general baseline capacity for the development of cognitive efficiency, or at the other end of the spectrum, a potential for an enhanced intellectual development, right from the start. A vast array of cultural and environmental variables can either promote or inhibit whatever potential is present, and throughout human history, we have observed how a viable or disadvantageous environment, as well as individual initiative or apathy, can alter the equation in either direction.

It seems likely, in view of these mitigating factors, that it is through a combination of innate cognitive talent, genetic endowment, and environmental conditions that we see contributions to the general flow of intelligence either making a significant appearance, or faltering and struggling to gain ground, in much the same way as it has been since the earliest neural structures appeared in whatever creatures are still existent today. In every case, whatever degree of potential existed within a particular species, it was either successfully developed and exploited for survival, or ended up being thwarted by circumstances from developing successfully enough to sustain a niche for a particular species, resulting in their extinction.

artificial33

Our challenge in the 21st century is finding a way to determine which contributing factors for increasing intelligence can be safely selected by humans for the most productive incorporation into what we are currently describing as “artificial intelligence,” or “machine intelligence.” Unfortunately, no matter what we are ultimately able to do, in my view, we won’t be able to incorporate our humanity fully into machines, nor will we be able to artificially endow them with the experience of “being human.” In order for us to be aware of our experience of existing as a human being, while clearly requiring a variety of nominally functional, finely-tuned, and integrated biological systems, each of which are essential currently, because there is so much more to being a subjectively aware human person, there must be something that it is like to be human, which cannot be precisely replicated by any technological advancement or created through sheer engineering genius. The subjective experience of human consciousness utilizes our very human capacity for intelligence, as well as our access to a penetrating awareness provided by an astonishing array of electrochemical processes in our miraculous brains, but what we are accessing is not PRODUCED by the brain, but rather it is PERCEIVED by it.

It’s interesting to me how some scientists and thinkers in all the various fields of investigation into artificial intelligence believe that it is simply a matter of achieving a sufficient degree of complexity in the structures we devise for the processing of the voluminous data necessary to be equivalent to the human brain, constructing a sufficiently pliable, flexible, and interactive software, driven by the necessary algorithms, and we will eventually produce a sentient, intelligent, and conscious machine.

In his fascinating and expansive book entitled, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” Stephen Hawking posits that if “very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent,” it should follow that “equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way.” He goes on to say that electronic circuits have the same problem as our chemical processes in the brain, which is to process data at a useful speed. He also rightly points out that computers currently have less computational power than “a humble earthworm,” and while they “have the advantage of speed…they show no sign of intelligence.” He also reminds us that even with our capacity for what we call intelligence, that “the human race does not have a very good record of intelligent behavior.”

2 brains

The possession of a capacity for intelligence of any sort, artificial or otherwise, is clearly not a “stand-alone” feature that is sufficient to sustain any species in and of itself. As we have observed throughout the evolutionary history of the natural world, constructing and sustaining a successful organism requires the development of a range of compensatory and complimentary abilities and potentials, commensurate with the designs and functions of a particular species, in order to achieve a requisite degree of balance.

In the case of Homo sapiens, our particular brand of human intelligence, as we currently understand it, appears to be primarily the result of human evolution and progress throughout our history as upright, bipedal, and increasingly cognitive beings. As a result, our species is apparently uniquely well-suited for our evolutionary niche, and dominates currently among the other living organisms, mostly for this very reason. While we share much in common with our primate and mammalian family of creatures, and bearing in mind that we are equally indebted to all living things and to the Earth itself for our continued ability to sustain ourselves, intelligence appears to exist in remarkably adaptive and unique ways in each of the various evolutionary paths for each family of species that coexist with us today.

It would be arrogant to suggest that our variety of intelligence is in any way superior to that enjoyed by other organisms on our planet, except in the context of its usefulness to our specific nature as humans. Our own highly-adaptive nature is fairly well-suited generally to the requirements of our species, and while one might reasonably argue that our inclinations and intelligence are lacking in one way or another, for the most part, even considering our limitations, foibles, and perceived deficits, human intelligence has managed to keep pace with the unfolding of our continued evolution thus far, and providing that we persist in developing and adapting to our ever-changing circumstances, there is cause for optimism in my view.

What we tend to miss in most of our estimations of what sort of artificial intelligence might emerge from our efforts to produce it, is that no matter what results are forthcoming, it will very likely be profoundly different than our own ultimately, in spite of how specifically we aim to recreate the mental processes and physiological structures of our own exquisitely adaptive brains.

The Light We Leave Behind

“Were a star quenched on high,

For ages would its light,

Still travelling downward from the sky,

Shine on our mortal sight.

So when a great man dies,

For years beyond our ken,

The light he leaves behind him lies

Upon the paths of men.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from his poem,

“Ode to Charles Sumner”

While recently reviewing an speech written by the famous orator, Daniel Webster, entitled, “The Seventh of March Speech—The Constitution and the Union,” delivered to the Senate of the United States on March 7, 1850, I was completely surprised by the power and the tone of the speech, which should clearly be recited once again in the United States Senate.

Daniel Webster was the Senator from Massachusetts at the time, and he was making a case against the institution of slavery.  Tensions were high in the United States at that time, and the competing views of what to do about the future of our country were front and center.  What he said in that speech could easily be a description of our current circumstances:

“It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and government. The imprisoned winds are let loose.”

Recognizing the parallels to our modern day circumstances, which seem no less worrisome to the American people now, I thought to write about those parallels for this post, and decided to search for an image of Daniel Webster to include with my commentary. Upon conducting that search, I came across a website with an image of a more recent individual named Daniel Webster that struck me as being even more relevant to my efforts here, and felt compelled to share it with my readers.

One of the most startling aspects of the website posting was the image of the man himself.  He appeared in every way to be a kindred spirit.  His face radiated what must have been a joyful, living soul, and as I began to read further, it quickly became apparent that the parallels between my own life and his were just too strong to be simply a coincidence.

It was unfortunately an obituary of a man who lost his life one year ago today, after a long battle with cancer. The loss of any life for any reason is cause for us to pause and reflect, but in this case, the description of his life, combined with the image, really struck a chord within me.

He was “…An accomplished guitarist, pianist, singer and songwriter, in the mid-1970s he performed at clubs in the Boulder area, once opening for Tom Waits. Later performing and recording several albums under the stage name Dan Oakenhead, he continued to write, perform, and record his music until the last months of his life… His love of travel frequently found him and (his wife) Margaret in mountains and canyons around the world… Dan’s other great passion was his lifelong study of philosophy, Yogic teachings and Tibetan Buddhism. For many years he was an active member of the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram, where he was known as Tukaram.”

His devotion to the spiritual aspects of his existence were central to his life endeavors, and combined with the particulars of his life, his devotion to his family, and to the creative arts, just seemed too much of a coincidence to skip over.

He was described also as “…a wonderful and caring husband and father, sharing his love of music and nature, and his curiosity.”

The fact that he passed away at the age of 68, the age at which I will also arrive this summer, also rendered the encounter with a kind of purposeful meaning that felt important to consider.  While my own accomplishments were clearly of a different sort and which, by comparison, resulted in far less notoriety, I couldn’t help but notice how closely our lives could be measured in a number of strikingly similar ways.  The important differences really didn’t seem all that different, and the similarities seemed significantly important as I read about his life.

In many ways, his life seemed enviable and wonderful, and his efforts to make a life for himself that had meaning and purpose were not all that different from my own efforts in the same way.  I do not suppose that either one of us would necessarily want a different life than the one we experienced up to this point.  No one wants to have cancer or to depart from this life prematurely, but our lives are what they are and we must live them as best we can, while striving for whatever goals seem right for us as individuals and as members of a family and as a larger community of people.

The poem by Longfellow expressed the sentiments I was feeling as I contemplated the parallels and the differences in our two lives, and the thoughts expressed by the original Daniel Webster, himself a notable figure in the history of our country, all show unequivocally the importance of every life, regardless of the status achieved or the accomplishments accumulated.

In his conclusion to the speech on March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster wrote:

“Let us make our generation one of the strongest and brightest links in that golden chain, which is destined, I fondly believe, to grapple the people of all the states to this Constitution for ages to come.”

Both of the men named Daniel Webster lived important lives that “left a light behind them, which lies upon the paths of men.”

I can only hope that my own life will have some portion of light that will be left in a similar manner.