An Extraordinary Life

“See, hear, learn, and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after.” –Ernest Hemingway

It’s good advice to use your experience of life, to take in what you perceive in the interest of a better understanding of life, and then to write when you feel a degree of confidence in what you think you know.  There still may be a bit more to add based on what you think you know, but it’s probably a good idea to limit your conclusions afterwards.  Don’t take too much for granted.

I have a vivid memory of typing on my father’s manual typewriter as a very young person.  I do not remember being very serious about it, nor having any concept of what I might put on the paper of any significance. The keys required a fair amount of pressure to make their marks, and the ribbons were always so overused and threadbare by the time I would be able to have my turn at it that there wasn’t much point in being serious in the first place. Seeing the close-ups of those keys in the PBS series, “Hemingway,” brought the memory of that childhood experience vividly back to life as I watched.

Seeing Ernest as a young boy with his mother made my own image at the same age seem ordinary by comparison.  We all start out in life in whatever circumstance we are born into without any say in the matter, and those circumstances can be formative in one way or another, but can also be compensated for in a number of ways later on if we have the right approach and enough encouragement from those around us.  

I was not especially serious as a student in my early education, and didn’t respond especially well to the environment in which I found myself, but I did love books and reading when the choice of subject was my own. I remember resisting the choices that were forced upon me in this regard all throughout my formal education, and was also very interested in writing by the time I arrived in high school.  Courses in English grammar and spelling were my favorites, and the requirements of courses in reading comprehension only worked well for me when the selections were appealing to me in some way.  I contributed to the school papers and was the editor of our literary magazine, but I enjoyed much more creating and organizing my own writing projects along the way.

I was an enthusiastic student at Temple University in Philadelphia, and accepted an invitation to participate in an honors seminar program at the ripe old age of eighteen. I also very much enjoyed all of the resources made available to me as a student in that program, but it seems I was ill-prepared for the wide range of opportunities which existed outside of the classroom. After two years of mixed results both inside and outside of the course work, I left the university to enlist in the military. There can be little doubt that the adventures which followed were well beyond anything I would have likely encountered otherwise, and while there wasn’t any way I could have known that at the time, it felt completely right to make that choice, even though I knew virtually nothing about the world when I made it.

 

As a young boy, Hemingway’s room was on the third floor of the family home, the same as it was for me in our family home, and I remember retreating there often when I felt troubled or lonely or ill. You never pay very close attention to those things when you are a young person, but reflecting on those days now I can get a very clear sense of what it felt like to be in that room and some of my memories of being there are so vivid, that the mention of it in the series stood out to me.

At one point in the program, upon receiving a letter informing Ernest of the decision to marry another man by a woman he had very much wanted to marry, I was struck by the coincidence of having experienced the same dilemma as a young soldier, and it struck such a familiar chord within me at that point in the film that I felt the sting of the words from the letter I received all over again.  The letter from his mother telling him to move on and make something of himself also had a ring of familiarity to it, enhanced by the date at the top of the page, July 24th, 1920, thirty-three years to the day before I would make my first appearance in the world.

The image of Hemingway as young man at the beginning of his life as a writer is startling and evocative of an intensity that I recall having myself as a young man; only I wasn’t courageous enough to make the same kind of choices that he made along the way. For some, the pursuit of fame and fortune holds a particular appeal that I never really understood completely. Our modern society seems to promote it at nearly every turn, in spite of the many lessons of human history, which have often demonstrated just how fleeting and unpredictable it usually is or can be.

It seems I was destined to suffer a degree of obscurity that he would not have been able to tolerate.  At the same time, his struggles and tragic events far exceeded any that I encountered, and while my life could not compare in any number of ways, it also held much less tragedy and destructive power. What made Hemingway’s writing so compelling had less to do with his personal strengths and failings and had much more to do with his creative talent, unique style, prolific output, and dogged determination to produce reliable results as a writer.

While his fame was reaching its zenith, his personal life was slowly unraveling and devolving into a destructive pattern that eventually led to his decision to end his life by his own hand.  The trail of disappointment and disrupted and diminished lives he left behind does little to recommend such a life as the one Hemingway lived, but it clearly provided a great deal of resource material for him to incorporate into his stories and novels. 

While I would not generally wish to describe my own life as being “ordinary,” at least not in retrospect, especially considering the extraordinary nature of some parts of my life’s experiences, viewing the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick gives one pause to consider the price of fame, and I highly recommend the program for anyone interested in a better understanding of a writer’s life, and of how fortunes can change, even for those lives which seem privileged and enviable.

The True Spiritual Path

I am continually searching for my own personal and spiritual place; for a return to the path of the spirit.  I feel strongly that all of my efforts generally find me heading in that direction, but I can’t honestly say I know for certain, at least not at all times, just which direction I should take.  While I am on the path, I get glimpses of a possible future; I get glimpses of what truly matters. They are images conjured by my mindful attention to what may be possible; a future that I might envision for myself.

I deliberately remain open to connecting with others, especially those who, for a number of reasons, I believe may hold a piece of the puzzle, and I try to engage them in a way that will reveal this puzzle piece, without intruding, and allow these others to decide whether or not to share if they are so inclined.  I know that by my embrace of this approach, extending myself, my spirit, to others—in doing that—I often come across these pieces and they help me to find my way.  I don’t know yet, in a comprehensive way, what that way is precisely, but I do know that the way of the spirit is my way—the way I must go. 

As it is described in the Terrence Malick film, “The Tree of Life,” my way is the way of grace.  I want nothing for myself, I only wish for grace to carry me forward—to open me.  I am not of this world completely.  I am in this world, but I am not of this world only.  I arrived on this planet over six decades ago, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching and struggling, trying to understand.  I have written so many words along the way, and in recent years, I have tried to faithfully articulate the experiences I have encountered on my journey.  I have done all that I can to build a foundation of the spirit in my life.

I have had some marvelous periods of construction, as well as periods of seemingly long gaps in my understanding.  Yet, I continue. I push forward. I strive continually, not only to reach the spirit, but also to embrace the spirit within me—to identify completely with my human spirit, my soul. 

Nearly every adventure I’ve had and each deliberate choice I’ve made on this journey has been in the service of my search. Not everything has been viewed by others I’ve encountered in the temporal world as being particularly useful.  At times, they have questioned my judgement.  I cannot claim that I have made the right choice at every moment.  Some of my choices have been destructive and not constructive. When I have been all the way down, scraping the bottom, I’ve often had to fight my way back, claw my way back; stretch and reach; paddle furiously in the waters of uncertainty and mystery.

At the end of it all, I frequently seemed to understand better; to have a small incremental moment of progress, and it has helped me to continue.  I did not always suppose during those times that I would have the courage to make the choices I have made, and even now, I hesitate to move past some of those experiences, but I must move forward—and so I have.

When I withdraw within, I can sometimes feel the changes that are coming. I sense them. When I am alone and communing with myself, my spirit, my inner world—when I go there—there is the bright light of the spirit.  I quickly realize when I look into the eyes of one who is, in some way, one with me, that I am seeing myself mirrored in that spirit, because when it comes right down to it, we are all one with the spirit, and so long as there is an opening given, I know that I am on some part of the spiritual path.

The path is me.  I always thought I was seeking the path, to find it, to exist within it.  In all my searching, I never truly realized that the searching itself was the path.  Now, as I approach the “autumn of my years,” I sense not just the beauty, the vibrant colors, the release from the steam and heat of the summer, which my life has been for some time, but I also now sense the gradual conversion from the greenness of the summer of my life, to those brilliant, colorful, extraordinary, and spiritual times that await.  It is my hope that the transition within me endures a great deal longer than what the autumn appears to endure here in the temporal plane.  I don’t wish for a brief autumn, or a late autumn, or even an extended autumn.  I want a nice, slow, gradual embrace; a relief from the stifling temperatures of the past; an education in life that comes with the transition between seasons; the uplifting of my spirit that I experience every year as this season approaches in the temporal plane. The only way to make full use of it is to dive headlong into it.  As glorious and beautiful and colorful and sensual and extraordinary as I know this autumn within will be, there still remains some lingering anxiety that I feel as I think about what is to come, and how all the signs portend the arrival of winter, when all things begin to recycle.

On the true spiritual path, one may find oneself, in some form or another, floating, descending, flying, returning, and becoming.  All of these things are contained in and manifested within this very moment.  I have spoken often of my experiences in the past, about being in some field somewhere, perhaps long distant in time in the past or in a world that is yet to come, and about finding myself in a clearing.  I see it.  I step out into it.  The sun is shining.  It’s mild, but warm. There is a gentle breeze. I look out across the clearing, and I see only the world.  As I slowly advance into the clearing, my hands touch the tips of the tall grass. I feel a sense of pleasure—a sense of contentment.  I know that all is well without knowing exactly how I know, but I believe it.  My steps become deliberate.  I look down; I look up. I see a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds flitting by.  The clearing is quite grand.  At the edge of the forest, the mountains rise in the distance.

Suddenly, the sun goes behind the clouds briefly.  I look at the edge of the forest in the distance.  There is some sort of disturbance along that edge, but I can’t quite make it out from this distance, so I start to walk towards it, and very quickly my heart starts to race a bit.  I’m not sure if it’s anxiety or anticipation. My steps quicken. It starts to become clearer what is in front of me.  The sun peeks out again from behind the clouds.  My pace slows.  In the distance, it can be nothing else.  It’s not a hallucination, it’s not a wish.  It is a moment of recognition of something already known. As the world becomes clearer, my heart rises, my spirit rises, and my body becomes alive.  As I approach, and am close enough to see, I feel my spirit rise even higher. A bright light at the center of the disturbance feels like the presence of another spirit. It feels like a conglomeration of possibilities.  Had I not already made the decision to accept the risk of pursuing those potentials before I arrived, the anxiety I experienced would not have been so strongly felt.

Without the courage to pursue it, I would be lost. I find myself to be curiously hopeful that acceptance of the path will lead to opportunity—a prelude to some good end.  

A Writer’s Dilemma

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

 

Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

 

So bitter is it, death is little more;

But of the good to treat, which there I found,

Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

 

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.

 

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,

At that point where the valley terminated,

Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

 

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders

Vested already with (the sun’s) rays

Which leadeth others right by every road.

 

Then was the fear a little quieted

That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout

The night, which I had passed so piteously.

 

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,

Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,

Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

 

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,

Turn itself back to re-behold the pass

Which never yet a living person left.

 

Dante Alighieri – excerpt from Canto I – Inferno

Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré

 

 

It is often true for me, and I suppose for most other writers as well, that it is sometimes difficult to settle down enough at my writing desk or at the keyboard to give sufficient consideration to my thoughts, and so several years ago, I began to record myself dictating them into an audio device, which produced results in a way that writing with a pen or typing on the keyboard had been occasionally less effective at capturing.  The problem soon became that I had recorded so many episodes and created so many sound recordings, without taking into consideration that I would eventually want to sort them according to the subject.  Certain ones were used quickly for one reason or another and that works out when it happens, but now there are so many, I felt the need to begin to review them and figure out a way to categorize them.

 

Some of them are just rambling thoughts, some are about subjects that are not precisely within the framework of my current writing and are less useful in that way, but every once in a while something appears that astonishes me, or by some coincidence, fits perfectly within that framework and in that sense alone it has made it worthwhile to use this method.  I think it’s interesting that many of the recordings are personal and are either reminiscing or pondering “what-ifs,” or just ideas for what might become content that I could use for some future fiction project. 

 

 

I’ve written chapters with my voice that are completely a fabrication of my wandering mind or maybe a reflection on an actual memory in the bare essence of the experience, which I then embellish or expand upon, sometimes as a means of indulging my creative urgings, sometimes as a way of expressing what MIGHT have happened had I gone down a different path.  Once the juices start flowing, it’s hard to turn them off. I have a fairly active imagination and I have plenty of vivid memories of past events; I can remember the way it felt to be in those moments very well and sometimes I am surprised when I read what I wrote later.  The level of detail is occasionally stunning to me.

 

In the process of a recent review effort, I came across a particularly surprising account, recorded while I was engaged in a long distance conversation which included the opening lines to Dante’s poem, “Inferno.” The poem itself is a huge endeavor that encompasses a wide range of ideas, and which offers the reader the opportunity to explore many different aspects of the human condition, but for me, the opening was a suggestion of how purposeful reflection can illuminate potential solutions for even the most daunting of challenges.

 

 

Over the years I have accumulated a number of extraordinary experiences which took place within remote areas of forests, while exploring pathways across mountains, and in various nature preserves, many of which became openings to the ineffable world within. Dante’s references to the “forest dark,” the “things I saw there,” the “mountains foot,” and the “heart’s lake,” all leading up to “my soul, that still was fleeing onward,” resulted in the following record of reverie, recorded one night by the fire, while inhabiting the “forest, savage, rough, and stern.”

 

 

“I completely opened myself and listened. I could feel the very essence of your emotion. There wasn’t much time left to linger, and I wanted to embrace you—to reassure you.  It seemed you had sensed this and stepped toward me deliberately.  Without saying a word, I gestured with my arms my openness to such a suggestion, which you accepted without hesitation. 

 

As I held you close, I whispered words of comfort and had already determined that the embrace would continue for as long as you wanted.  Without warning, a sense of astonishment overtook me as your inner world collided with mine.  I unambiguously sensed the presence of your spirit clearly as mine opened immediately to welcome you there. It almost felt like a blending of the two—our souls were touching.  For those few brief moments, I experienced what I could only describe as the feeling of bliss.  Our embrace was warm and firm—offered and accepted equally without condition. 

 

 

After what felt like a sufficient duration to impart a sense of comfort, we both loosened our grasp just enough to pull slightly away. I still had my arms around your waist and your hands were resting gently on my arms, as our eyes met.  I felt a truly visceral connection between us.  Our faces were briefly only inches apart. I stared directly at you for maybe thirty seconds and I did not want to turn away.  Even though words probably weren’t necessary, I still somehow felt the urge to express a willingness to be available whenever the need might arise for such an exchange in the future.  You grinned widely in gratitude, and I sensed a lessening of the sadness which brought us into that moment in time.  

 

I could barely bring myself to leave you.  I stood nearby for several minutes, almost unable to move. I had trouble focusing.  At the last possible minute, as I pushed open the door and waved, I hoped that you could feel intuitively what was in my heart at that moment—I don’t want to go!  We only came together briefly in each other’s arms. The moment was fleeting, to be sure, but all the more precious because of that. 

 

 

There is more between us than what meets the eye. We have both traveled through the ages—through the eons of time—in order to meet here in this time.  We agreed before we abandoned our previous lives that we would be together in this life.  The connection is undeniable.  The years it has taken to come to fruition, the profound sense of connection which occurred immediately upon our appearance, and the subsequent recognition of love as a grace or gift, are impossible to deny.  When my heart rises, I know that it is you.  I gaze intently into your eyes. The mere sight of you raises me up and I find myself once again.

 

You used to sing to me.  You knew I would recognize that voice when I heard it.  That would be the sign that you were here.  I never could have known how challenging the future would be, nor how complicated my temporal life would be.  Somehow you knew that I would find a way to you, no matter how long it took—no matter what sacrifice was required.”

 

 

These words strike at the very heart of the river of consciousness, and it is almost painful to acknowledge the power of these sentiments as I recorded them, but they ring so true that I cannot help but do so.

 

Recognizing that love is a “grace or gift,” and not a natural entitlement of our humanity is urgently needed in our modern society. Understanding that we must somehow find a way to yield to our most urgent longings, even recognizing that they may be neither ultimately fruitful nor fully possessed, is a truth rarely emphasized in the general population these days. We routinely see individuals desperately trying to possess them, and refusing to submit to them, often with tragic results. We are flawed beings, we humans, and often refuse to acknowledge what is patently obvious, but this brief expression of longing forced me to confront this truth.

 

 

While the sense world alerts us to the visceral embodiment of love through our intense desires, the sense world only points to something far grander and more vital in our experience of life. Even just the emotional power of the grace which inhabits these experiences, points to the spirit which is foundational to that grace, and the ebb and flow of life and love, is fundamentally a result of the same rhythms which point to the foundations of formulating the meaning and purpose they serve.

 

We must have some reinforcement or confirmation in our lives in order to appreciate that even the deficits and struggles of life must be included in order to arrive at the affirmation that it is “an incomprehensible gift just to be alive.” Such a conclusion may be much more challenging to someone deprived of basic needs or afflicted by some of life’s more daunting challenges, but it is the same struggle we all have based on the myriad possibilities for each life.

Ten Years of Blogging

 

The New Year has unfolded in an especially tumultuous way so far, and the tides of wellness and illness in our country seem to be fluctuating wildly as the pandemic rages and the new American presidency gets underway, but underneath it all, in several important ways, there is a continuity of sorts that we can tap into if we simply take a few deep breaths and step back away from the extremes that have characterized the past few months.

 

 

No one could have known what would occur when the unwitting travelers carrying the deadly virus eventually started arriving in America and infecting others to such a widespread degree, spreading out eventually across the world.  We can analyze the various responses to the virus in retrospect now, but ultimately, we have to deal with the circumstances as they exist presently.  It seems, at least for now, that we know what we must do, and concrete steps to combat the virus are being taken.

 

 

The circumstances leading up to the violence in our nation’s capitol in early January are being thoroughly examined and analyzed, and although the reckoning with tracking down those responsible is underway, the indications are, from our national response to it all, that it will need to be addressed in a number of different ways, not just by seeking justice against those who carried out the violence. 

 

Underneath it all are urgent matters which must also be addressed, not the least of which is the relentless barrage of misinformation that stoked the flames of outrage, as well as the extremists at the heart of the attack, who up until recently had been mostly an underground fringe element.  However one wishes to parse the conversation surrounding who is to blame, it will be even more urgent to expose the root causes and take steps to reverse whatever maladaptation resulted when these components exploded into violence.

 

Regardless of whatever your political inclinations might be, and no matter what we determine in the process of investigating and responding to these urgent matters, we must resolve to make whatever course corrections are necessary and possible.

 

In my previous posting, I was trying to come to terms with the “daunting difficulties” and “serial struggles,” represented by the awful events of last year, before I knew about the uprising in January. The bitterness and division of the last months of last year, spilled over into the beginning of this year, but this past week, we began to see a whole new direction for new possibilities being shown by our new American administration.  While we know that the climb back to a condition of constructive progress will be steep at first, in the long run, we have cause for optimism, and we can remain hopeful if we are determined to bring about a hopeful resolution. 

 

 

Now more than ever, it also feels very important for me to continue my own efforts here in exploring and expanding our understanding of our true nature, as well as encouraging everyone who visits here to reconsider any limiting or narrow view of what may be possible in our efforts to enrich that understanding.

 

We can only make constructive progress in our society by being more inclusive with regard to our approach to differing viewpoints, and we can only expand our understanding of our true nature by deepening our awareness of what lies within us, and to explore our “inner evolution,” as I have described it, with an open heart and mind. It’s clear that our societal challenges have become of more immediate concern to us all, and must be dealt with urgently now, but it is equally important to attend to our inner life, and to connect to the core of our individual and collective being.

 

 

Within the context of world events, which includes the recent chaos and division within our own country and elsewhere, we are reminded how the full scope of those events can affect us, even if we don’t participate in them directly.  This effect can also be felt when we seriously consider the events and discoveries throughout human history.

 

With the Ship of the Imagination hovering close by, host Neil deGrasse Tyson walks along the beach – a landscape which will one day surrender to the churning cycles of birth, destruction, and rebirth mandated by the laws of nature. COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS on National Geographic. (Cosmos Studios)

 

I recently began reviewing the National Geographic series, “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” the second edition of the original series, hosted once again by Neil deGrasse Tyson, telling the stories surrounding our current scientific worldview.  I’ve taken great interest in the subject matter, which is often reflective of the vitally important events of history, and how they shaped our current level of understanding of the sciences. Much of what has occurred in the past has a direct bearing on our world today, and it is clear that without the efforts of those who came before us, our world might be dramatically different, and far less advanced in the degree of knowledge and wisdom available at the touch of a button, or the swipe of a screen.  

 

In a review of the series by Steve Greene on Indiewire.com, he makes a keen observation about the importance of the contributions by our predecessors:

“Many of the individuals and groups that challenged and then shaped our perception of nature were rebels in their day, fighting against a majority that either distrusted them or were threatened by the lessons they sought to spread. “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” doesn’t pursue explicit parallels within our modern relationship to scientific ideas, but it nevertheless warns of the perils of both gradual and concentrated attacks on those who’ve dedicated their life to understanding the workings of the natural world.”

 

 

Here at John’s Consciousness, I sometimes feel as though I am also “fighting against a majority,” when it comes to the ideas I’ve expressed and the stories that I tell as I explore my own “inner evolution.” Over the last ten years, beginning in earnest in January 2011, I have documented the results of both my personal experiences and dedicated research related to those experiences and I have endeavored to formulate a coherent narrative that illustrates the combined efforts of more than thirty years of writing on the subjective experience of human consciousness.

 

After decades of research, study, and contemplation and having expended an enormous amount of effort and energy in the process of discerning what might possibly be behind our extraordinary human subjective awareness of existing as a physical entity in the physical universe, for me personally, as well as for many prominent thinkers throughout human history, the reality is that while our subjective experience of being alive requires the cooperation and integration of physical systems in order for our temporal existence to register with sentient creatures such as ourselves, it is NOT…and I repeat…NOT in any way certain, by any criteria or judgmental standard, that those physical systems are the absolute SOURCE and PRIMAL DRIVING FORCE responsible for that experience in the first place.

 

It is much more likely, in my view, that our physical existence is founded upon and derives its significance from a source as yet to be established with certainty, which may very likely require an extraordinary stretching of our intellectual and psychological capacities for establishing even the beginnings of a rational or empirical proof. Our current inability to demonstrate or define categorically the source of all Life and Consciousness does nothing to negate the possibility, whatever it is that defines it or explains it, that there may still be an ineffable and non-material source that produced all that we perceive with our senses, and all that we observe in the vast universe beyond the Earth.

 

 

In order to begin to understand how our subjective experience of being alive is even possible in the first place, we clearly do need to consider the gradual development of the complex macro-structure of the brain by examining the various stages of mammalian, primate, and hominid evolution, each of which contributed essential individual brain components, and how that development over millions of years facilitated the gradual sophistication of cognition and higher order thinking.

 

However, once these complex structures and extraordinary cognitive talents were sufficiently developed, it might also be possible to accept intuitively, that it then became possible to utilize them in accessing a much broader intellectual and psychological plateau, and to establish a connection to what we describe as human consciousness or “the subjective experiential awareness of being alive.”

 

This then allows us to hypothesize about the important contributions of specific emergent properties which are a consequence of the evolution and structural hierarchy of the network of various brain regions, while still allowing for the interaction with what C.G. Jung described as “the transcendent function,” or “non-physical substrates,” rather than characterizing the results as simply the “emergence of life and mind from matter.”

 

 

Beyond the decade of attending to these important areas of study and contemplation, I have also been fortunate to participate in a richly rewarding and mutually beneficial role as a grandfather to eight wonderful grandchildren, whose ages range from twenty years to two years along.  In each of their lives, I have been present from their first few days of life, and in some cases, in the very first hours of their existence.  A few of them spent their early years in our home, as their parents worked to establish their own homes.  

 

 

Family life within the confines of my own dwelling are more or less routine and predictable, and the aspects which I find most often helpful usually occur in solitude, when I am purposefully choosing the activities for the day.  Most recently though, I have enjoyed even more the privilege of being an occasional caretaker for the youngest of them all, a lovely young lady named Juliette.  Given the circumstances in the world presently it seems impossible to feel anything but gratitude for the opportunity to do so.  There is a kind of wisdom built into the human life cycle that brings grandparents together with their grandchildren, as they will inevitably become instructive to each other, in ways that might never be anticipated.

 

In spite of the fact that I am a little more than thirty times further along in age than her, it is clear that she has much to teach me. While I have already received much instruction from raising six children to adulthood myself, the dynamics of “grand” parenting are quite different generally, but I have been humbled by the astonishing and effortless power she has to inspire and delight. 

 

My subjective experience while in her presence is so clearly demonstrative of the existence of Jung’s “transcendent function,” as well as the invisible bonds that support all life on this planet, and it gives me great encouragement to suppose that I am on the right path with my writing work.

 

 

In the months to come, I hope to expand on the ideas and previous efforts here in a way that will contribute in a positive way to my own understanding, and I invite my readers and subscribers to follow along as I navigate forward.

Finding Our Way Forward

                                                         

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Hope Springs Eternal

 

 

 

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

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

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


                                                                       Emily Dickinson – 1861

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Our Spiritual Path

 

                                                                           

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

A Teacher’s Dream

 

A Teacher’s Dream On the Nature of Time

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Some Afterthoughts Upon Reflection

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

 

 

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

 

Physical Reality

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Experience and Existence

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

 

             Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

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

 

The Nature of Light

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

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

 

Subjective Awareness

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

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

 

              Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – Exhibit from “Your Brain”

What’s Next?

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

Hello October!

 

                                             When we finally arrive in October,

                                             Our feelings are usually mixed;

                                             We love all your glorious colors;

                                             Our eyes, on your leaves, are transfixed.

 

 

                                              We know that in spite of such splendor,

                                              The winter will soon come again;

                                              It creeps up and sneaks up upon us,

                                              We can’t know with certainty when.

 

 

                                              But nothing is taken for granted,

                                               We cherish the October skies;

                                               We enjoy the true bounty of autumn,

                                               We hope, with the years, to grow wise.

 

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

 

                                                 For love doesn’t fade through the seasons,

                                                 And joy we can find all year long;

                                                 Our children continue to need us;

                                                 Our friendships throughout can stay strong.

 

 

                                                  We greet you with joy unencumbered,,

                                                  It’s truly the way we should live;

                                                  We brace for the scenes of bare branches,

                                                  And treasure each blessing you give.

 

 

                                                  November will shortly be knocking,

                                                  We’ll soon have to open that door;

                                                  But for now we rejoice in our fortune;

                                                  We welcome the chance to do more.

 

 

                                                Be still now and hear your own heart beat,

                                                Don’t fret over leaves that must fall;

                                                October can bolster contentment;

                                                Embrace it right now with your all.

 

 

 

 

Contradiction and Truth

                                         Each moment, as we nearer drew to each,

                                        A stern respect withheld us farther yet,

                                        So that we seemed beyond each other’s reach,

                                        And less acquainted than when we first met.

 

                                        We two were one while we did sympathize,

                                        So could we not the simplest bargain drive;

                                        And what avails it now that we are wise,

                                        If absence doth this doubleness contrive?

 

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

 

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

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

                                                                                              Guernica by Picasso

Ten Bitter Truths

1.    Complete honesty is a complete lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.  Everything gets worse.

 

Scientist leaving the world. Engraving c.1520. 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

                                                                Balance of Energy is a painting by Deidre Harris    

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

“Eternity may not the chance repeat,

But I must tread my single way alone,

In sad remembrance that we once did meet,

And know that bliss irrevocably gone.”

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

 

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