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…

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.

johnvick22a

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.

door33

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.

windows33

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.

jhnvky65a

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….

The Silence In My Room

 

The silence in my room hangs over me
Like a wet towel draped across my legs.
It feels heavier than it should since
The song about you that used to play
Repeatedly in my head finally stopped.

 

I don’t remember exactly when it stopped.
Distracted so long by chaos and confusion,
I had to pretend not to notice
When my heart would prod me to remember
What it felt like to clasp your hand in mine.

 

So many years have passed now that even
My brain seems not to mind anymore.
Nothing feels the same even when
I glance backwards over my shoulder,
Still somehow looking for you.

 

Forced by circumstance to abandon the dream,
Or at least to let go of its rounded edges,
It still persisted to float in front of me
When the house was quiet enough
To listen to the thumping in my chest.

 

Even now, I sometimes attempt to conjure once again,
That moment of superbly fashioned bliss,
When my heart would fill effortlessly at
The mere sight of your face as you approached
With that silly sensual grin beaming toward me.

 

The dream hasn’t ended completely just yet,
But the song seems to have fallen away;
I can’t seem to overcome its reluctance
Or to prod it to resume the dreamy tune
That once serenely filled the silence in my room.

 

© April 2020 by JJHIII24

Our Inner Evolution is Essential

“My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that had no beginning and no end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt from which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. My life seemed to have been snipped out of a long chain of events, and many questions had remained unanswered.”

“Man cannot compare himself with any other creature; he is not a monkey, not a cow, not a tree…Like every other being, I am a splinter of the infinite deity…The life of a man is dubious experiment…Individually, it is so fleeting, so insufficient, that it is literally a miracle that anything can exist and develop at all.”

“Recollection of the outward events of my life has largely faded or disappeared. But my encounters with the ‘other’ reality, my bouts with the unconscious, are indelibly engraved upon my memory. In that realm there has always been wealth in abundance and everything else has lost importance by comparison…Outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience.”

–Carl Gustav Jung, from his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections.”

Had these quotations not been excerpted from Jung’s autobiography, they might easily have been included in my own accounting of my life. If you are unfamiliar with the many fascinating and illuminating writings of the famous Swiss psychiatrist, I highly recommend that you review them as well as the many scholarly analyses of his work. There are many volumes of his writings and they are often scientifically intense and technical generally, but I have found much within them that helps to clarify the importance of examining and exploring our inner life.

Jung’s emphasis on his own inner experience in his autobiography was unsurprising to me once I began to absorb the context in which he described his outer experiences. Reading back in his collected works after I finished “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” I found a passage about “the eruption of unconscious content,” that struck a familiar chord with me:

“Way back in 1973, as a young man embarking on the journey of a lifetime, I experienced what Carl Jung described as ‘the eruption of unconscious content,’ which compelled me to seek the path I continue to pursue to this day.”

It also “…led to the creation of a document entitled, ‘The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.’ Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I gradually came to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher its message…I recognized at this point that all I had endured, suffered, and learned prior to that day, had created the foundation for all that was to come.”

We are experiencing a particularly stressful time now across the globe, and many of us are starting to question the circumstances of our lives and to re-evaluate our emphasis on what is truly important. It’s unfortunate that we are experiencing such a serious situation right now, and the losses that families and individuals are enduring as a result are tragically taking a toll on our well-being everywhere you look. There are also stories of recovery and of the heroic efforts of many individuals and groups to help others during this time, and unless you place your focus on the broad range of events taking place around the world, you might suppose that there is little cause for much optimism going forward. It’s important to seek balance in our view of all this and to take whatever steps are possible to mitigate the harm, and to promote the safety and well-being of our fellow travelers whenever possible.

Reflecting as I often do on the responses I receive from those who visit and read here, it seems that, in some small way at least, the sharing of ideas and the expression of both the tangible events of my outer life and the movement of the spirit within me, can encourage others to be introspective as well, and in that sense, the entire path of my own recognition of an “inner evolution,” which began so long ago, has led to this moment in time, and to much of what has been posted here on John’s Consciousness. Especially during this time, I would encourage everyone to use the time in distancing from each other physically and maintaining vigilance in isolation when that occurs, to give serious consideration to giving additional attention to contemplation and what we used to call “soul searching.”

“Without the darkness of the storm, the sun can call nothing to life…Since day and night contain the seeds of one another, there is no darkness unrelieved by the coming dawn, and no stark, sun-ridden day without her stash of mystery.” –M. Holden

Jung quite often addressed the contrasts of light and darkness in his writings, and as M. Holden pointed out, he agreed that “…we subdue the chaotic, uncontrollable elements of the natural world at the price of its fertility, just as we cast out the darkness in ourselves at the price of our own wholeness.” Jung found his interests in psychiatry and noted in his autobiography that among his friends, he encountered only resistance to the subject–a curious, hard resistance that amazed him, and wrote, “I had the feeling that I had pushed to the brink of the world; what was of burning interest to me was null and void for others, and even a cause of dread.” My own inclinations align more closely with philosophy, while being passionately interested in the cognitive science of consciousness. At the heart of the challenges in bringing these ideas together, is not so much the resistance that Jung spoke of, as it is the element of uncertainty, which is only truly possible to dispel and experience subjectively. There are certain aspects of human consciousness that can only be verified “experientially,” but not tested “empirically,” and there are also empirical studies being undertaken which can cast “light” on the subject of consciousness, that are not experienced directly. It is my belief, that when combined, these sometimes disparate elements could very well produce a more encompassing view.

The Flames of Life

As I write, there is a single candle burning in front of me, its flame dancing in the corner; the light bouncing off the wall behind it and beside it sends tumultuous shadows dancing across the wall. A selection of beautiful music accompanies the swirling shadows. At the heart of the candle, at the very center of the flame, where it appears to be white hot, I consider how my life is like the wick, slowly being consumed by the flame. A common candle burning in the darkness clearly has the advantage of being so small and yet still representative of fire in all its manifestations. Like so many similar phenomena in the world, in the extreme, not all flames are as comforting or as benign.

The wild fires burning in California and Australia are the opposite in every way. The consequences of such extremes are not at all like the flames on a birthday cake; the sight of such dangerous extremes do not make us feel the same way a collection of candles can as they cast a beautiful, shadowy panorama around a room. Even a campfire or a carefully controlled bonfire wouldn’t qualify as anything more than a benign pleasure deliberately chosen.

Fires can be destructive and lethal. They can be the result of negligence or deliberate malice. They can be initiated by lightning in remote areas where they clear away the dead trees and undergrowth, thus making possible the renewal of a natural balance in a natural setting. There is a clear connection between our intentions in igniting a flame under certain conditions, and the havoc which results when control is lost or momentum is gained in other conditions. The full range of possible scenarios can alter in significant ways, the future consequences of whatever choices are made and whatever results occur.

In the same way, our lives consist of both deliberate choices and happenstances from the realm of what is possible. They also can be altered significantly by how we envision our futures, and on what aspirations and opportunities are either present or absent.

Visions and imaginings are potentials—possibilities not certainties, but when I arrive at that place where these potentials exist within me, I cannot easily tear myself away. I linger there, not wanting to relinquish the potent inner affinity for the ideas embodied in that state of mind. So often, I struggle to sustain the momentum gathered during these episodes, to relish the sensations they produce, to savor the moments of bliss which sometimes occur, and to cherish the memories they can sometimes create. We live out our lives as they unfold, having made a whole host of choices along the way, which did not include a broad range of other choices, which could have altered our trajectory through the life we did choose.

What we seldom consider is how even the smallest changes to the course of our lives can potentially represent enormous consequences to the path which results. What if the world had gone in a different direction or what if my life had been even slightly altered in a way that did not include certain subsequent events? It seems likely that moving forward at that point would have a totally different direction and a host of other subsequent events. The visions and imaginings in my mind’s eye—my vision of the future—both remarkable and beautiful, and not without pain and suffering—those tend to come along no matter what choices we make—but I believe that no matter how we envision our future lives, if we carry that vision with us; hold onto it and follow it through whatever pain and suffering we encounter, embrace the moments of joy while we continue to persist in the face of adversity, we may then be able to look back and recognize a degree of fulfillment of that vision.

Part of my vision of the future is to help to inspire the upcoming generations, to look more deeply at life, to try harder to make the life they envision to be realized, to expand, and to blossom. In order to do this, one must fall in love with life, and embrace what is possible; the realm of possibility is wide. It contains all possible outcomes—all that is possible—and I want to dive head-first into that realm, to explore, to discover, and bring to the world, that which I uncover.

And so I am grateful to be in the presence of this little flame in the corner this day. I am the beneficiary of the light, the dance, and the white hot center, which is the center of me; we are consumed by life, gradually if we are lucky, and for a time, our light burns brightly, especially in our youth. If we are fortunate to arrive in the later stages of life, we can look back on numbers of days, hours, minutes, and seconds, where a flame illuminates everything.

Celebrating Life and Love

By coincidence, all day today, I was working at my part-time job, which places me in a position of interacting with a large number of random people, and as I am naturally inclined to be social, as the opportunity presents itself, I try to engage each one in a brief conversation, mostly as a polite way to greet them and maybe get a smile out of them. Apparently, marking this particular day as one in which we celebrate love in all its many forms; love clearly was on the mind of just about everyone. Most often, the exchange would be brief, and took the form of well-wishing and polite banter, but several of the exchanges, while also positive in nature, revealed a different layer of attention to the subject of love, including a few which required diplomacy on my part to acknowledge the gestures, without slighting the intention of the well-wishing, but also maintaining the appropriate demeanor. As I contemplated my responses in the brief minute or so in which they were required, it occurred to me that the subject was fairly challenging to address under these circumstances, and upon completing my shift, I began to consider the subject at length.

There’s almost no telling how love will unfold in our personal lives or as we move through the world-at-large. As we progress through our lives, we all seem to arrive at our own understanding of what it means to love someone. We learn first about love from our parents or primary caretakers whoever they end up being, and often it’s amazing to us as adults what sticks with us through all the changes and stages of growth we go through. In some circumstances, where our lives are most often in balance as we grow, we learn to appreciate the love we are given, and have a fair idea of how to demonstrate our love based on these experiences. For most of us, though, the balance is often tipped in one direction or the other, and it can take a long time to appreciate how other people might differ in their understanding of what it means to love another person.

It seems to me that, as a rule, we are far too rigid in our views of what reasonably might constitute a loving relationship between parents and children, amongst siblings, between extended family groups, and between the many different levels of friendship that we encounter as we age. Our best friend in grammar school can still be our best friend in our adult life, or they can vanish from our lives for any number of reasons, and every variety of circumstance can either contribute to the longevity of friendship or make it impossible to continue, just as every other sort of relationship can experience long periods of enriching and enduring affection, or be lost or mitigated by extenuating circumstances.

I have often encountered circumstances in my life, where people have inspired me to feel a loving connection in one way or another, but who have a difficult time understanding how it could be that such a connection is even possible. I have often thought that there should be some guidance in our educational system, particularly when children are approaching adolescence, to begin to appreciate the many different varieties of emotional connection that people feel, and to broaden the definitions of love across the whole spectrum of human interactions.

history of the world

The amount of time in which a life takes place, which includes everything from a few moments to, at times, nearly a century of life, is one of the least important measures of a life. Each of us is given a certain amount of time to live our lives, and none of us knows in advance how long it will be before we must relinquish our lives. This is the very nature of life–uncertainty. In some ways, uncertainty DEFINES life. If we knew about everything that would happen in our lives in advance, and the exact moment when life would end, there would be no mystery, no wonder, no sense of anticipation, no expectation, no reason to try anything. Because life is unpredictable, it is worth getting up in the morning to see what will happen! Life is about potentiality. When we DON’T know what will happen, or how long we will have to do anything, it’s up to us to discover how our lives will unfold. It is always sad, as an observer of life, when we see a life that is, from our perspective, cut short, before it has had sufficient time to unfold in the normal way. But really, each life, no matter how long it is, is precious, and worth every effort to live each moment fully, for however long we have to live it.

I do not claim to be an expert. I am not a scholar, or a magician, or a superstar quarterback. Even though I attended two universities for more than four years, I haven’t turned my education into a platform for expertise or exploited those opportunities into a particularly abundant life. What I can say about my life, given the measures we normally apply to accomplishments in education, in my case at least, the results were not especially impressive, but my life EXPERIENCES have been extraordinary.

Every memory I have is precious to me. I have been the father to six amazing children. I have served my country in the military, traveled to Europe for two years, and met many extraordinary people. I have experienced great joy, as well as terrible sadness. I have experienced hunger, deprivation, loneliness, bitterness, rejection, loss, and just about every sort of unhappiness imaginable, but I have also been a witness to and a participant in spectacular experiences of loving; I have attended feasts, and eaten at fine restaurants; I have vacationed in beautiful natural settings; I have attended family reunions with some of the most fabulous people on the planet; I have been satisfied in many different ways, and cried tears of joy as I held precious newborn children in my arms.

I could go on, but you can see from just these few examples that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, when it comes right down to it, what we EXPERIENCE is what means the most to us; it’s what hurts us the most; it’s what drives us and what slays us; what we experience is more important than what we accomplish almost always, and all the skills and knowledge we acquire, as vital as these aspects are in helping us to function in and to understand our world, we must BE IN the world and experiencing our lives in order to make any good use of any of it.

The dynamics of each unique personal relationship has always been a subject of interest for me, especially since I began to explore the nature of human interactions as they relate to our very human spirit. As we make our way through our lives, we probably encounter hundreds of other individuals through our educational and social circles, but normally only a very select few become particularly significant to us in one way or another. We generally become aware of these connections when proximity permits sufficient opportunity to do so, but proximity alone cannot account for the development of close, personal (and dare I say…spiritual) connections, particularly those which endure across great distance and long years. While there are many different foundations for our unique relationships, and much that is not necessarily self-evident regarding the psychology which supports them, the existence of a powerful personal and emotional affinity for another clearly infers a greater degree of connection not explicable by simple biology, psychology, chemistry or mere chance.

As is the case with the many forms and degrees of love which we celebrate today, there are also other more subtle and more mysterious forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are part of the life of the human spirit within us. The power to alter our lives at any time is within our grasp. We have the means to evaluate and discern which choice is best for us. We can choose to act in our own self-interest, or in consideration of what is in the best interests of others. Depending on our choices, a whole variety of alternate realities are possible.

If our minds are simply and only the result of neuronal functioning and the basic electro-chemical balance in our brains, then none of us can be held truly accountable for our actions, since we are at the mercy of brain chemistry and the endowment of adequate neuronal functioning. My contention is that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures.

Our current social structure in the Western World has evolved significantly in the last hundred years or so, and we are beginning to understand and appreciate the value of our unique personal relationships as part of a broader and completely natural social adaptation, which has been part and parcel of our continued evolution as a species since upright humans first walked the earth.

What I have Come To Understand

“When someone enters your life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you. I have sent you nothing but angels. Others see their possibility in the reality of you.”

–Neale Donald Walsch from his book series, “Conversations With God.”

Have you ever been momentarily captured by the strains of a melody in a song or musical piece that you were hearing for the first time?

 

Have you ever stumbled upon a broad vista or panoramic view while hiking and been momentarily overwhelmed by how beautiful it was?

 

Have you ever held a newborn child in your arms and marveled at the miracle of a new life?

 

There are many examples of extraordinary events that can occur in our lives, which are unexpected or have unexpected effects when we are made aware of them, and it suggests some sort of connection that exists between people and places, and the realization of a degree of resonance that can exist even without prior knowledge of or exposure to specific stimuli.

Over the course of my nearly seven decades of life, and considering the number of extraordinary events that have punctuated those years along the way, you might think I would have become a bit more adept at deciphering them when they occur these days, but life always has opportunities for learning and expanding our understanding and awareness, and right alongside of the challenges and struggles we often face each day, if we are fortunate, we also encounter moments that lift us up and result in degrees of enrichment we never expected.

 

Reviewing the positive and negative events in the world at any given time, it can seem that one or the other may be dominating, but as I consider what has been most often the case for me personally, on balance, I would say that trying to understand the character of each has been one of the main reasons I have been driven to investigate our very human nature, by both researching the many aspects of subjective experience and consciousness, and comparing them with my own experiential reality to raise my awareness of the extraordinary aspects of being a living, breathing, human being.

It also has occurred to me that I may be so thoroughly out of sync with the times—an outlier in the modern world—that any hope of progress toward my goal of raising the awareness of what I have come to understand about the world-at-large may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of my responses to individuals who, for one reason or another, impress me as being extraordinary or potent in some way, seem often to be inexplicable in temporal terms, and attempting to express the importance of these interactions sometimes creates a degree of confusion or uncertainty as a result. I have long since passed that point in my life where refraining from expressing my honest responses to others in this situation feels like the correct thing to do.

 

Since crossing over the mid-sixties in age, I am painfully aware that I can no longer suppose that there might be plenty of time left to engage in genuine expression of my feelings. Naturally, most of us have no idea how long our lives will be no matter what age we have attained, but it becomes more apparent in the upper ranges of human aging that, even barring unforeseen circumstances, we still realize more readily how precious life has become, especially in view of the smaller portion of life one might have to experience and to share our insights.

The events of my life have been particularly instructive in this regard, since I often refrained from freely expressing my genuine responses to individuals in the past, and I realize more clearly now, that tomorrow is not a guaranteed gift for any of us. If there is a feeling we wish to express, or an experience we hope to share, it becomes a matter of greater urgency, since there are fewer tomorrows within which to do so.

I understand that others, especially those who are not as familiar with these ideas and who are not approaching the age of seventy, as I am, may not fully appreciate this urgency in the same way that I do, but I cannot change the arrangement of the circumstances which exist currently, and must act upon the urgencies which present themselves to me in a way that is responsive to my own character and disposition. There is now little time to waste in hedging or delaying expression.

 

 

While I acknowledge that others also have their own circumstances to consider, as a general principle, I tend to defer to the inclinations of those with whom I interact. Conversely, I also no longer feel as though my own inclinations aren’t worthy of attention either. I express whatever it is that I feel in as measured and considerate a manner as I can, and if the response is positive, I allow the interaction to unfold as it will, and if not, I am fond of saying, “I am easily discouraged.”

I normally rely on mutual agreement to determine whatever degree of sharing might take place, and would not ever seek to impose my own inclinations on anyone. Many times, the initial circumstances which ensue upon meeting an individual who captures my attention in a big way, far from being automatically engaged, are now much more likely to prompt caution at first, at least until some reciprocal response is detected.

Once it becomes clear that there is sufficient encouragement to continue, I usually will, and if it becomes clear that continuing would impose some difficulty, I tend to step back or away from further interactions, recognizing that anything other than a positive response must be acknowledged as well. The real challenge comes when the individual is uncertain or vague in their response, and doesn’t give a clear indication of a negative or positive response. In cases like these, I tend to err on the side of caution, or, at the very least, refrain from any overt response, until such time as a more definitive indication is forthcoming.

Over the years, I have become a better observer of body language, facial expressions, and other circumstantial indicators, and have learned to better trust my own instincts. Self-doubt is still a factor in some cases, particularly when the interactions are intense or disproportional to reasonable expectations, but having suffered through a number of emotionally agonizing consequences from miscues or misunderstandings, I am far less inclined to go where angels fear to tread.

All of these machinations and interpretations of previous encounters still haven’t prevented me from suffering to some degree when an extraordinary individual arrives and presses me to respond in a more immediate way. The recent encounter with a “kindred soul,” which prompted the creation of the previous poem, was similar in character to some others, but, as the poem indicated, it was surprising in its complexity, and stunning in the degree of delight it produced with no apparent outward cause.

These are the truly mysterious kinds of unexpected encounters that occur so infrequently, and strike with such suddenness and intensity that I am typically thrown back on my heels, holding my breath, and uncertain as to how it was even possible.

In this case, I was fortunate to have time in between encounters to consider what my response might be, but even these advantages seem to have failed to prevent me from feeling completely confident in determining just what my response should be. Clearly, the initial response warranted an additional opening to the interaction which occurred several days later, but I am now beginning to wonder if I have tested the patience of an angel.

Underneath all of our temporal inclinations, beyond the considerations of brain physiology and neuroscience, and in spite of uncertainty surrounding the basic understanding of our subjective experience, the human spirit remains for me the “élan vital,” at the heart of all contemplation of human nature, and I savor the delight of interacting with every positive moment, and strive at all times to learn from the others, and to grow and share what I have come to understand.

 

Your Web of Joy

     
The moment our eyes aligned
I instinctively held my breath;
Ordinary time collapsed and condensed
While I read your face.
Our smiles blossomed simultaneously
Like silly twins looking in a funhouse mirror;
The sweetness of your spontaneous response was met
With an avalanche of reciprocal harmony.

 


Days passed with no encounter;
Hours dragged and pulled as usual.
Wistful recollection had begun to fade
When you suddenly reappeared;
Like an earthbound angel with hidden wings,
You were unable to prevent the natural beauty
Of your robust lifeforce from pouring out,
Filling the crucible of my heart and soul.

 

Portrait of a Woman by Abbey Altson


Effortlessly, with the radiant, glowing gift of your glance,
You disabled all resistance, lifting my spirit
Beyond my own tentative grasp;
Momentarily undone, I fumble with my words–
Stunned at the recognition of a kindred soul.
Calm descends swiftly on the realization,
That I have somehow been captured completely,
Blissfully, in your web of joy.

 

© January 2020 by JJHIII24