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 we 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.”

Our True Nature

 

“The Buddha taught that our true nature is emptiness- a lack of a permanent Self- and when this true nature is realized, the divine states of the Brahma-viharas – loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity- emerge.”

“In the teachings of the great yoga masters, our true nature is Brahman, the universal soul, of which the individual soul is simply a part. When this is realized there is ‘satchidananda,’ the awareness of bliss, from the knowing that pure awareness is our ultimate nature.”

“There are moments small and large when we are filled with the transcendent, as though we have been lifted out of our bodies or the Divine has entered us as grace.”

“Both the path of transcendence and the path of immanence are beautiful, whole, and worthy. It is your heart that must find its true path.”

–excerpts from “Realizing Your True Nature,” by Phillip Moffitt

 

 

Inspired this week by a personal challenge to the true nature of our world and our humanity, it occurred to me that any unnecessarily extreme version of a worldview, whether it is based on science or religion or philosophy, can mitigate our ability to navigate  in the world of our everyday living, and if we could only see that much of the discord in the world could be lessened significantly by striving for a balanced approach to addressing any of the most vexing questions we are engaged in answering, we might find that greater progress is possible.

No matter how much effort we pour into finding an explanation of how everything works in the physical universe, and no matter how much progress we achieve in all of the related sciences surrounding our subjective experience of human consciousness, any effort to compose a comprehensive accounting for every aspect of our existence, if it does not include the contributions made possible through transcendence and immanence, will likely fall short of an actual understanding of our true nature.

One need not be an advocate of Buddhism in order to arrive at a better understanding of our true nature as living beings, and although ideas like the ones expressed by Phillip Moffitt provide an excellent starting place for approaching the subject in conversation and study, even those with no inclination generally to support specific religious viewpoints can join the conversation by examining the basic principles they address.  Whether or not we embrace such ideas as a matter of course or bring other opposing views to such interactions,  giving consideration to the full realm of possibility, at least as a starting point to explore the ideas presented in the quotes above, is a helpful tool in our progressive discernment process.

 

 

We are beginning to see a few hopeful signs in the willingness of scientists, philosophers, and poets, to at least listen to a greater range of ideas from their unique viewpoints, which include sincere scientific approaches, as well as genuine philosophical and spiritual inclinations found often in music, art, and poetry.  Just because some ideas come from a creative approach to human expression, they shouldn’t be automatically dismissed as “wishful thinking,” and well-reasoned, thoroughly-researched, and innovative scientific ideas should be given commensurate consideration when they are presented in the interest of moving our understanding forward.

In asking ourselves questions such as, “What could account for our intuitive sense of the unity of all life, when such clear divisions exist between species and among all levels within major branches of the tree of life?,” or “Why does anyone suppose because we are not able currently to fully account for experiences of transcendence and immanence as measurable phenomena, that giving consideration to the potential existence of such an idea isn’t worthwhile?,” we begin a dialog that can lead to an expansion of the realm of what’s possible.

 

 

I was recently able to review a National Geographic documentary, distributed by PBS, and appearing on Disney Plus streaming service, called, “The Greeks,” and prior to the Greek Civilization, much of what occurred in the world was cloaked in superstition and thought to be the result of the influence of benign Gods and malicious demons, but according to this presentation, that all changed once the Greeks set out to understand the world through reasoning and focused attention on philosophical thinking.  The mini-series is informative and interesting with a number of modern-day thinkers contributing to an overall view of how the Greeks contributed to important changes in the course of human history.

Did our inclination to abandon the notion of Gods and Demons influencing and directing the fate of humanity in the world originate in Ancient Greece?  According to historian, J.M. Roberts, who wrote a volume of “Ancient History,” published by Duncan Baird Publishing, 2004:

 

 

“The Greek challenge to the weight of irrationality in social and intellectual activity tempered its force as it had never been tempered before…They invented the philosophical question as part and parcel of one of the greatest intuitions of all time, which was that a coherent and logical explanation of things could be found…the liberating effect of this emphasis was felt again and again for thousands of years…It was the greatest single Greek achievement.”

Whether or not a “coherent and logical” accounting of consciousness might eventually include aspects of transcendence and immanence as essential components is still an open question, but a comprehensive account of the true nature of things begs the question, and requires a serious look at the kind of philosophical thinking inspired by the Greeks!

A Tree of Life Story

“Trees are poems that the Earth writes upon the sky.”

–Kahlil Gibran

“The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the Earth.”

–Frank Lloyd Wright

 

                                         
                                                                           Winter time shows the structure of the tree.

I recently wrote a blog post about the trees in the yard where I have lived for the past thirty years, and shared another about the installation of solar panels on the roof of that same house:

 

Tree History

 

Solar Story

 

A few days ago, I received the news that the professional tree removal team would be arriving on Monday to take the tree down. Up to this point, even though the tree had been problematical for others, and in spite of the fact that it blocked the sun’s rays from the front portion of the roof, I wrestled with the idea of having to remove it, all the while almost hoping that it wouldn’t happen. When the message arrived with an actual removal date, my heart sank a little, despite knowing about the inevitable approach of this event for some time now.

 

                      
                                                                                   “Upon whose bosom snow has lain:”

I’ve spent the past few days mentally and psychologically preparing myself for the removal of this “silent friend,” by looking through years of photos and memories to see just how many I could locate, and was pleased to find a fair number of both. It has been reasonably cathartic to review these images and to appreciate how it has actually been necessary and beneficial in the main to trim the trees and remove dead branches ever since I first arrived at this location.

 

                                                    
                               “A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray.”

As the day wore on, I was becoming clear that the impending destruction was such a significant change, and so important to my well-being, that a brief ceremony and the need to make another video were essential.

 

                                                  
    “A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair.”                  Photo by Graham Sorenson

If you would like to see the video and hear me recite the poem, “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer, click on the link below:

 

Tree Video

 

Later this week, after I have some time to recover and consider more at length the consequences of this development, I will attempt to reconcile my feelings and speak fondly of my “silent friend,” in the next post–

                                                                       When A Tree Falls…

Poetry and the World Within

 

“The language and topics of the art of poetry are ultimately decisions of the poet himself. William Wordsworth believes the poet is someone who has the ability to be affected by absence. He is “a man pleased with his own passions… [and] rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life” (1502) and uses his imagination to create a presence which others cannot conceive.”

“This view is intensely optimistic and shows the power of the mind in the world Wordsworth is subject to. He believes that poets have a greater ability to comprehend nature and they are ‘nothing different in kind from other men, only in degree.” (1505).

“The ordinary man, Wordsworth believes, is closer to nature; and therefore closer to human-nature. Wordsworth’s faith in the ability of poetry to express the mind leads to an ultimate truth that is deeper than that which is tangible.”

–excerpt from Stephen Greenblatt, “The Norton Anthology of English Literature,” 8th ed. Vol 2. (pgs. 1498-1505).

 

Have you ever been transported to another time as you became lost in a powerfully written book, or suddenly relocated to another environment by imagining yourself there? Have you ever found yourself totally immersed in a world created by an especially captivating motion picture? Our mental projection into those thoughts and feelings during those experiences often make it seem as though we are actually “experiencing” those imaginings, although they actually have only a virtual existence and not a physical one.

Indeed, what transpires in our minds during experiential awareness of our journey can occasionally seem less real than our imagined journey, lacking some degree of fulfillment of our expectations.  Wordsworth straddled these two worlds often and well, including this gem from “Lyrical Ballads:”

Artists and poets can sometimes evoke an experience of a moment in another world by presenting us with the most essential markers of an experience, which we then use to “fill in the rest.” Andrew Wyeth was particularly talented in this way.  Many of his works transport us into a particular moment in time, where what is most essential to the experience of that moment come vividly alive. 

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth — American painter, 1948 The Museum of Modern Art, New York Tempera

 

Ever since the invention of languages and the realization of a deeper meaning to our existence, human beings have felt the need to express what they find within. Our inner worlds, far richer and profoundly more expansive than the world without, permit the creative expression of that world, but in terms that must attempt to communicate its ineffable nature.

A well-executed and pleasing piece of poetry invites us to appreciate the many assets we all might find within ourselves if we would only look. I find much encouragement in gentle words and heart-felt lines, rich in the poetic. For me, poetry has always been a release or a letting go or a spilling out. Many times, I am surprised by what arrives on the page when I set the poetry wheels in motion.

When poetry erupts and breaks the smooth surface of conscious awareness, it can feel like an intrusion, even though it is a welcomed one. The ripples are often felt long after the words arrive, and I feel compelled to return to the poem for another look.

I have had the urge to write down my thoughts as poems ever since being introduced to poetry as a schoolboy. I recall vividly the experience of my mother reading poetry to us from a volume of children’s rhymes, and the first time that poetry was introduced in the classroom.

In the spirit of Wordsworth’s poem, I offer one of my own original works from years ago, which reaches for this ideal of assets we all might find within ourselves, if we would only look:”

 

 

 

 

A Moment of Repose

 

After months of hibernating, like many of us, when the travel restrictions were eased, I took the opportunity to visit a nearby East Coast location called Moore’s Beach, which is a landmark on the Delaware Bay, currently being restored after enduring damage from Hurricane Sandy. It also happens to be a protected area since it plays host to a number of migratory birds. Since it was during the time frame when the birds were present, we weren’t able to walk as far as we normally do, but it still provided a satisfying walk in the spring air, and an opportunity to capture some images of the natural beauty available along the coastline.

 

 

According to the official website, Moore’s Beach has an important role in supporting a variety of bird species during their annual migration:

“A migratory stopover for arctic nesting shorebirds must provide each bird the energy necessary to get to the next stopover or to the ultimate destination, the wintering or breeding area. Delaware Bay stands out among these shorebird refueling stops because it delivers fuel in the form of horseshoe crab eggs giving birds options. Our telemetry has shown that Red knots, the species we best understand, may leave Delaware Bay and go directly to their Arctic breeding areas or stopover on Hudson Bay.’

http://www.restorenjbayshore.org/moores-beach.html

 

 

Walking along the weathered roadway leading up to the beach was a welcome change from our typical hike through our limited range of neighborhood streets, and when we arrived at the shoreline, we were met by several signs explaining the reason for the limited access. This image captured hundreds of small birds and several other varieties flying by in formation—a formidable sight!

 

 

Standing on the edge of the beach, inhaling the cool spring air and enjoying the benefits of a gentle offshore breeze, I closed my eyes and focused momentarily on my breath, feeling like an essential part of the landscape, and allowing the moment to refresh my spirit, grateful to have even a few moments of communing with nature.

 

 

With hope in our hearts, and with gratitude for the opportunity to experience our natural world, we can glean a degree of optimism as we move forward toward the future.

 

100,000 Page Views – An Appreciation

Appreciation Video

Click the link above to view my appreciation video!

 

 

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge a new milestone achieved here at John’s Consciousness.com – the accumulation of 100,000 page views by more than 50,000 unique visitors. It has taken me almost ten years to get here, and while I understand that it is still a modest achievement in view of how long I’ve been writing, and in consideration of having reached this level as a result of the many efforts of both individual visitors and an equally modest loyal fan base, even just enduring these many years in order to accomplish the task feels like a reasonably sufficient reason to express my gratitude and acknowledge the important contributions of my readers over that time.

 

 

On the way to achieving this milestone there have been many wonderful people who have stopped by here at johns-consciousness.com, and hundreds of thoughtful and interesting comments posted over the years, from people all over the world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of the most popular posts from nearly a decade of effort in this regard, and sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stories about how they came about and, in some cases, provide some follow-up to the stories I’ve shared from years past.

 

 

I encourage my readers and visitors to share their favorites if they are so inclined, and would be glad to respond to any genuine query about any of the subjects I’ve written about along the way.

Thank you all so much for your support, and I look forward to sharing more as we move forward!

With kind regards…John H.

The Blossoming of Consciousness

Contemplating recent comments about what it means to be a conscious human, I began to consider what really distinguishes us from all the other inhabitants of our planet. There are some distinctively human traits to be sure, but it seems more like a combination of several important capacities and foundational characteristics that sets us apart.

Most living creatures with an adequately developed brain and functional central nervous system, given sufficient stimulation in the appropriate circumstance, will generally demonstrate a fairly predictable response in their behavior, including, many times, human beings. The familiar “fight-or-flight” response when in close proximity to a dangerous carnivore would be a good example. Under most circumstances, depending on the degree of danger and the creature’s inherited abilities and previous conditioning with regard to facing such danger, if adequate motivation was present for either running away or standing up to the danger, most organisms would instinctively tend to select the behavior which provided the best option for survival. While this behavior could still ultimately result in the demise of the organism, in spite of whatever resources may be available to them, when the behavior is instinctively chosen, no judgment or further implication can be inferred.

Conversely, as cognitive creatures, with both instinctual and volitional capacities, humans can not only deliberately override instinctive tendencies, but can also consciously review the available behavioral selections, calculate the likelihood of success of any choice, contemplate previously untried alternatives, innovate extemporaneously with available resources, and even in the face of very low probabilities of success, choose behaviors which instinct alone would generally not permit. In the human brain, with all of its genetically inherited and deeply-rooted predispositions, as well as a variety of involuntary and unconscious functions, we observe mitigation of this sort by virtue of the capacities provided by our distinctly human version of the cerebral cortex, particularly from activity within the frontal lobe. The capacity to deliberately alter or mitigate our instinctive responses, and purposefully alter our environment and behaviors is a characteristic of our species, and one of the distinguishing hallmarks that separates humans from all other living creatures.

One might wish to argue that humans respond instinctively all the time, or that we tend to confer deliberate choice to our actions far more often than is actually the case, but we cannot easily disregard millions of years of evolution simply because we now have a sufficiently sophisticated cognitive capacity. We are, by most cosmic standards, a fledgling species, whose progress from being primarily impulsive creatures with a survival instinct to the more modern self-aware variety has spanned less than a hundred thousand years. Whatever degree of cognitive skill might have been adequate to qualify the earliest version of modern humans as “conscious” or “significantly self-aware,” the earliest evidence of such characteristics being demonstrated seems to fall during the Upper Paleolithic period, which saw the coexistence of the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon.

In the waning years of survival for the Neanderthals, some evidence of expanding skills with tools has been found, and examinations of Neanderthal fossils show that the skull architecture would have supported the ability to produce language if they were able, but the available fossil evidence is not adequate to support a definitive conclusion in this regard, and there is a fair amount of speculation and disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a fully developed and meaningful vocal communication. However, the capacity and ability with language is another one of the predominant characteristics of modern Homo sapiens, and represents a significant evolutionary survival advantage.

Along with the ability to communicate through language, modern humans were finally able to associate temporal objects with symbolic representations of those objects, as evidenced in the ancient cave paintings in Ardeche, France in the Caves of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, now believed to have been placed there some 34,000 years ago by the Aurignacian culture. However the actual progressive skills of Homo sapiens unfolded, it is clear that when it finally became possible for our ancient ancestors to make significant and meaningful use of their cognitive skills, human beings were profoundly altered, and were no longer simply another primate species struggling for survival in the ancient world.

If we begin with the idea that truly modern humans had finally achieved a significant degree of useful and discernable “consciousness” around this time, it would take another 30,000 years for the first appearance of “writing” to occur, when the Sumerians created their “cuneiform” writing system, and by definition, the beginning of “recorded history.” Everything that happened in between these two landmark developments represents a period of “blossoming” of our human consciousness, within which both language and culture flourished and expanded into what would become a global phenomenon.

Methods for communication have also been documented among other species on our planet, and we have observed a whole range of behaviors which could be described as an indication of various degrees of “consciousness,” in those life forms, including astonishing achievements in the construction of habitats, particularly tenacious species surviving unimaginable adversity, and mind-boggling evolutionary adaptations within species, over the millions of years of evolution. As amazing as they are, these accomplishments pale in comparison to what one lonely branch of primates has managed in the last 50,000 years.


Overcoming instinctive behaviors, deliberately and “consciously” choosing our path through the millennia, as disastrous as some of those choices have been and continue to be, distinguishes humans from every other known species. Whether we are able to survive and thrive in the future, could very well depend not just on our progress toward understanding human consciousness, but also on our willingness to transcend both our history and our narrow view of what might possibly explain “consciousness.”

Inner Experience

inner experience

“Artwork by Daniel B. Holeman ” http://www.AwakenVisions.com

“The inner self is not part of our being, like a motor in a car. It is our entire substantial reality itself, on its highest and most personal and most existential level. It is like life, and it is life: it is our spiritual life when it is most alive. It is the life by which everything else in us lives and moves. It is in and through and beyond everything that we are.” –Thomas Merton from his book, “The Inner Experience.”

merton

“We are not capable of union with one another on the deepest level until the inner self in each one of us is sufficiently awakened to confront the inmost spirit of the other.” — Thomas Merton from his book, “The Inner Experience.”

Confronting the inmost spirit of another requires a very particular set of circumstances. According to Merton, unless we are reasonably awakened to our own inner self, we cannot hope to unite with that same inner self in others, at least in any sort of deeply meaningful way. He also suggests that our inner self is not just one part of our being, but rather “our entire substantial reality,” while still existing “beyond everything that we are,” as temporal human beings. What an intriguing thought it is to suppose that our entire substantial reality might transcend all that we are as human beings.

The idea of our inner life being the source of “the life by which everything else in us lives and moves,” seems to suggest the existence of a clear connection between our inner spiritual lives and our temporal lives. If we consider this to be valid as a way of accurately describing the phenomenon within us, then surely the connections we feel to others, whose inmost spirits are equally transcendent of our human nature, must also represent a connection to that same nature.

second gitl song2

http://absolutefractals.com/?page_id=709

Connecting to our own inner life, awakening to the inmost spirit within us, is not a simple matter for many of us. Life in our century has accelerated in so many ways, and the demands of daily life, combined with the deluge of stimuli from every form of media and communication in our day, leaves precious little time for contemplation and the work of awakening to what is both essential and insubstantial within us. As anyone who has been reading along here can see, my own process of awakening has been tumultuous and burdensome, many times requiring what felt like Herculean efforts to sustain my momentum, and there have been many periods when I was desperate to climb up and out of a feeling of despair which nearly drained me of any hope for success and forward movement.

Equally evident, though, appearing often at precisely the moment when I needed it most, throughout many of the years in which this struggle took place, was the almost miraculous presence of other vital spirits. The more I searched and struggled to awaken to my entire substantial reality, the more profoundly the arrival of such spirits seem to affect me, often becoming a lifeline or a saving grace that helped me to hold on, to push forward, or to reclaim lost hope.

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Upon my return to Massachusetts in the spring of 1975, shortly after my experience in the forest, (Deep Forest Vision, 4-11-2014), I encountered another vital spirit, whose arrival in this period of my life sparked the beginning of a flame of awakening, propelling me forward toward an awareness that I still carry within me as I write. As can be true with many such encounters in our lives, I didn’t fully grasp the significance of the connection right away, nor did I have any sense of how it might impact my process of awakening at first. It was clear, though, that this was a compelling spirit, and I became swiftly entangled in a web of emotion and desire that was impossible to ignore. We spent much of the early time together in long, penetrating conversations, exploring the worlds within us, imagining the possible futures that might lay ahead, and, as time progressed, in close personal proximity which became increasingly difficult to conclude when the time came to part.

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The intensity of the training assignment at the military base made for a formidable obstacle to distractions outside of the school. Engaged in the principles of cryptography and decipherment of encoded transmissions, the daily grind of regimented and focused learning took all of my energies to maintain and absorb. The numerous technical details and methodologies employed in this training were designed specifically to engage the students as analysts of complex information, and there were no computers or digital devices to assist us. The tools of the training were pencil and paper, statistical analysis, and hard-won experience from years of development and intense efforts of operators in the field before us. The image above is the door to the high security areas, that I stood in front of every morning before entering the hallways to the secret classrooms. It was a sight I would never be able to forget.

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Each morning, we would pass through the security checkpoints, being smartly reminded by the officer in charge to keep our viewpoint looking forward and not to stray from the designated path to our classroom. This was not open for discussion. “Eyes front and keep moving,” was the standing order. The covers on the windows have long since been removed in this image, but the memory of standing at my station at attention until directed to “take seats,” in the cramped and musty rooms of the training areas is still vivid in my memory. This was serious business and you had better keep your focus on the task ahead.

When the class was dismissed at the end of the week, so long as you weren’t required to report for other duties, the local area had many points of interest and options for a young soldier to explore, but for me, the first order of business was to fly to nearby Clinton, Massachusetts to visit the vital spirit who lived there. These encounters seem to break through every barrier placed in the way, and even though they sometimes ran in opposition to virtually every practical and temporal circumstance outside of that “oasis in the forest,” they frequently contained some of the most powerful intuitive experiences of my life up to that point. I was occasionally overwhelmed by their intensity, and very quickly identified and was drawn toward this kindred spirit. There was almost a hypnotic effect to being in her presence. It felt as if I was only truly alive in her presence, and in some sort of suspended animation in between visits.

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One afternoon driving back from a week of especially intense training, I was overcome by a keen sense of her presence spiritually. It seemed so unlikely to my rational mind that there could have been such a connection between us, and I supposed my reluctance to accept that it was even possible was part of my unconscious doubts, but there I was nearly gasping with a sense that she was in some sort of distress. I had always been fiercely empathetic and sensitive to distress in others, but generally those experiences took place in their presence. This was something altogether different. The pain in my heart on this night was unlike any other I had known. Intellectually I had to acknowledge that I was experiencing it, and emotionally it felt as though there might be some purpose to it, but spiritually where the effect was most severe, I was totally without even a shred of a hint as to how to proceed.

I attempted to call the house, but there was no answer. We had arranged to meet the following day, and I hadn’t expected her to be home that night, but didn’t know what else to do. By this time, I had begun to record my thoughts and feelings in a notebook when compelled by circumstances to do so, and on this night, I wrote the following:

“How shall I begin to describe such immense feelings as those which fill my soul this evening. How indeed, can one put into words, the images and sensations which flow across the chasm of thoughts and emotions? Truly, how could my words do anything but fall short of precise expression? So many times I have struggled to free myself from the grasp of this journey. How many hours have I passed between knowledge and ignorance, retention and loss, comprehension and failing to understand? My heart swirls in a sea of indecision. My heart seems to beg for fulfillment and yet my consciousness warns with each step forward. Never before have I felt such complete hesitance to make a move. The path that beckons is my very life force, yearning to rise and follow.”

That evening, as I reluctantly closed my eyes to sleep, I felt a lessening of this sensation, but awoke during the night from a powerful and disturbing dream. Exhausted and worried, I drifted between wakefulness and sleep for the remaining hours until dawn.

….next time….the dream and the movement forward….

Preparing for the Unknown

In a recent review of my writings from my time in Europe as a young soldier, I was prompted to reflect upon how the events prior to my departure from America set the stage for my experiences in that time frame, which sparked additional reflection on what has been a lifelong concern–taking the initial steps on a journey toward the unknown.

 

 

As a young boy, without fully understanding the cause or having any clear explanation for certain personal experiences, or being able to associate those events with any sort of sophisticated theory or philosophy, I still somehow seemed to know that what I had experienced at certain times contained elements or aspects outside of normal temporal boundaries. I could not yet describe them as such when they occurred, and was profoundly naïve about the world in a number of ways, but I accepted that the nature of these happenings were true and real, even though they did not fit well into the narratives I was being taught during a strict religious upbringing.

I can vividly recall moments in my youth when I felt, what seemed to me at the time to be, the presence of another life-force or energy that was somehow influencing my responses to the unexplained events, and thought of them as either some kind of guidance or warning. As a five year old child, coming home from school, I once narrowly missed being struck by a car as I was about to run out from between two other cars. For some reason, I suddenly stopped myself and hesitated just long enough to witness the fenders and side panels of a passing car go whooshing by me. There were other moments too, just as vivid in their own way, when I recall expecting to see particular individuals who suddenly appeared, and when anticipated events inexplicably unfolded right in front of me.

 

 

In several other especially troubling moments, I felt as though I was outside of myself, witnessing events from a short distance away from my body, alternately experiencing moments of dread, as well as moments of incredible lightness of being or delight, for no apparent reason. Even though I did not yet have the vocabulary to express these events in those terms, in retrospect, I now understand that many of them were simply moments of synchronicity with the environment I occupied at that time, without truly understanding how it was possible.

All of these indications slowly began to make more sense as I struggled to come to terms with my experiences during my military training in Massachusetts. Whatever the explanation actually might have been, it was clear that I needed to attend to exploring these matters with some urgency, since they seemed to be accelerating in frequency, and increasing in intensity.

 

 

For a time, they would occur almost daily, and it took me by surprise on a number of occasions to find myself “zoning out,” during Morse code training, typing the dots and dashes on a manual typewriter, when I noticed that the coded groups of random characters suddenly dropped off the page to become words and sentences. Had I not been most often in voluntary sessions of practice, it might have become more noticeable to my instructors. There were times when I had to take off my headset and walk away briefly in order to clear my mind so that I could return to copying the required code.

Sadly, I was not always able to retrieve these sheets in a timely manner, and was only occasionally able to hide them in my pocket and take them with me. Classroom protocol prohibited such actions, and papers from practice sessions were routinely burned afterwards. Often I would simply have to memorize as much as I could of key phrases or of particular passages in order to write them down afterwards.

 

 

Once I had completed that phase of my training, I knew that I was on a path leading me somewhere important to my well-being, and I discovered that once I began to be more accepting of these “eruptions,” I seemed to have more control over them. Resisting them had only led to an increased difficulty in managing them, so I decided instead to embrace the process and not to resist the flow of this energy through me. That decision, in turn, facilitated a more balanced response when I encountered these events and increased my ability to retain the spirit of those episodes until a more advantageous opportunity came to record them.

By the time I had completed my training in Massachusetts, I was in the running to graduate at the top of my class. There was an intense competition for that top slot and on the day of the final exam, I was in a head-to-head battle with my associate, Marilyn, who had matched me grade-for-grade through most of the course. As the test progressed, the senior instructors were all standing around our positions at the mock equipment stations, meticulously recording our every response to the preplanned scenarios that had been fed into the machines, mimicking a live mission in the field. Others who had already been disqualified eventually joined in the intense monitoring of the two remaining operators—myself and Marilyn.

 

 

When the exercise was completed, we had both obtained the correct result, and the report which printed out matched the requirements precisely. The instructors began conferring like referees trying to decide on a controversial call on a close play. Much to my dismay, one of the instructors had noticed that I had not set one of the standard controls for ensuring a clear signal, which required the operator to set a knob on the control panel to boost the RF gain to maximum. In this case, that boost wasn’t necessary to get the correct result, but it was the only difference between the two competitors, and since it was a standard part of the procedure, the win went to Marilyn.

I protested briefly that the goal of the test exercise was to capture the signal precisely, which I had accomplished, but the senior instructor insisted that under different conditions it might not have been sufficient, and that the standard was set for that reason. Our fellow students applauded as I shook Marilyn’s hand and congratulated her on her victory. She smiled widely at me and thanked me for being so gracious in defeat.

 

 

It was an exceptional moment at the apex of my military training in Massachusetts, and even as I watched her receive her reward, a promotion and a bonus weekend of leave added to her record, circumstances were already swirling around a sudden change in the trajectory of my journey, which would have a profound effect beyond anything I could have anticipated.

Reading in a Quiet House

 

The simple pleasures are often the ones that fall to the side when life gets complicated or hectic in its pace and most often, out of necessity, we are compelled to engage in the more immediate tasks and responsibilities that such circumstances require of us.  When we all recently had to confront the consequences of a global pandemic, again out of necessity, those of us in “non-essential” roles and occupations found ourselves isolated from most of our normal daily routines and social associations. The resulting conditions suddenly presented us with a much greater amount of time alone or at least with very few options with regard to activities and opportunities beyond the boundaries of our immediate locations at home.

 

 

Depending on the personal resources each of us can bring to bear on such circumstances, and the degree of wellness we experience during this time, the “social distancing” mandated by “an invisible enemy” created an environment where the constant stimulation of our modern existence dropped off precipitously, leaving many of us to our own devices as far as how to fill the time normally consumed by the routines of work and social interactions of every sort. Those who depended heavily on such interactions and work obligations for deciding which activity would take priority, suddenly find themselves in a kind of middle ground between the two worlds of routine activity and the strangeness of unexpected isolation.

 

We can certainly appreciate the challenges for parents with small and school-age children at home, as well as caretakers of those who require daily assistance under these conditions, and must acknowledge the difficulty for those whose dependents may be geographically distant. My own familial circumstances, as the parent of six grown children widely dispersed across the Northeast corridor and several southern states, at least has a familiar amount of social distancing experience taking place as a matter of course, but the social limitations and travel restrictions imposed by the current crisis affects even these routines, as visitations which were planned and might have taken place must now be postponed in the interest of reducing the spread of a highly contagious virus wreaking havoc now throughout all fifty states.

 

 

No one would wish to characterize these circumstances as advantageous in any broad sense of the word, and the toll it is taking is nothing short of tragic for thousands of families across the globe.  The pain of loss and the terrible suffering of tens of thousands of individuals across our world now could only be described as completely awful by any measure we might apply to such circumstances. Our own hearts must surely empathize with those inflicted during this time, and the stories of loved ones lost or suffering inflict us all with their potent emotional and psychological effects. We must continue to take every precaution to avoid exposure and maintain vigilance until the threat subsides sufficiently to allow a gradual return to resuming any semblance of our previous daily lives.

 

In the meantime, assuming that our mandatory isolation is taking place in a safe and illness-free environment with our immediate family or normally present occupants, or perhaps even with only ourselves, the task then becomes how to occupy our time and to maintain some degree of equanimity while we endure the crisis.

 

Even a brief review of the online offerings, which show a variety of choices for dealing with the challenge of isolation, and the innovative methods people are employing to encourage and inspire others, have demonstrated a preponderance of creativity and an unexpected level of empathy for our fellow humans that only this kind of seriously difficult circumstance might bring about. We have to decide how we are going to deal with the challenge, and looking for any positive choice possible regarding how to fill this time seems to me to be the only sensible approach, since the alternative would only make our situation worse.

 

 

Whatever method we decide to use, and whatever avenue each of us is inclined to pursue, isolation is now providing us with an opportunity to consider what matters to us personally, and giving serious attention to pursuits that may have been put on hold, as well as returning to simple pleasures that may have fallen to the wayside previously, now assume even greater urgency, given that we are compelled to occupy ourselves in ways that may not have been available before this.

 

For me, this represents a more robust return to quiet contemplation, to long and productive hours of writing, and to actually holding a physical book in my hands, turning pages, and mulling over the worlds represented in those pages, as well as having to step up my game a bit more in order to cover a greater variety of selections.  One such selection came as a suggestion from a fellow writer to review a poem by Wallace Stevens.