Contradiction and Truth

                                         Each moment, as we nearer drew to each,

                                        A stern respect withheld us farther yet,

                                        So that we seemed beyond each other’s reach,

                                        And less acquainted than when we first met.

 

                                        We two were one while we did sympathize,

                                        So could we not the simplest bargain drive;

                                        And what avails it now that we are wise,

                                        If absence doth this doubleness contrive?

 

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

 

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

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

                                                                                              Guernica by Picasso

Ten Bitter Truths

1.    Complete honesty is a complete lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.  Everything gets worse.

 

Scientist leaving the world. Engraving c.1520. 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

                                                                Balance of Energy is a painting by Deidre Harris    

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

“Eternity may not the chance repeat,

But I must tread my single way alone,

In sad remembrance that we once did meet,

And know that bliss irrevocably gone.”

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

 

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

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….

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.

A Teachable Travel Moment

Recently, I have been reviewing the collections of photographs and other memories from my journey of discovery which began more than forty years ago now, and several pieces of the puzzle have started to be filled in with particular memories, which have sparked new levels of awareness about just how important some of the events which occurred along the way were, leading me inexorably to this moment in time. The image above is one of my most important memories from 1975 when I was living in Augsburg, Germany, and first visited the Ancient Roman Museum there as a young soldier. The photograph depicts one of my very first adult encounters with ancient artifacts, and I will be posting an entry in the coming weeks about those heady days in Europe when so much came together for me.

I’ve also been reading posts by my friend Anthony at zenothestoic.com these days, and his recent posting about travels prompted me to dig through the archive to locate this one special travel memory that now looms much larger in the big picture, which I have been constructing all these years. I am grateful to Anthony for a number of teachable moments of late, and recommend his blog to anyone who has an interest in straightforward, no-nonsense stories that often get right to the core of whatever matter he takes on.

His travelogue in the English landscape stirred my memories of travels through the many small villages and remote country towns when I was a young man exploring the outer world in Europe, and just beginning to awaken to my expansive inner world. This recent stirring reminded me of a more modern memory, and I will tell you about that now, and how it all fits in to the larger story about my focus on consciousness.

It was a dream I had one night long ago. I met a woman on the steps of a university somewhere, and upon the very first glance at her face, I immediately felt a connection and a degree of intimacy that could not be explained by the temporal circumstances. I seemed to accept that it was so—that it was completely normal to encounter someone and to have this response.

I remember as the dream progressed, being close—face—to—face. I distinctly remember the look in her eyes as I spoke. Somehow, I knew that whatever I said had better be the truth, because she would know—she would know whether whatever I said was true or not—and I remember hesitating, only briefly, but deliberately pausing, as I was about to say something non-threatening—something neutral, and when I looked at her directly in the face, I was compelled to tell the truth…and the truth was…that I was absolutely, completely crazy about her.

It’s not like there wasn’t any precedence in my life experience with this phenomenon, but I have to say throughout my lifetime of experience, when attempting to interact with another person with whom I sensed an intimate connection, I almost always knew right away, instinctively, yes or no, and when it was yes, I was frequently met with responses like…”how is it even possible to say these words…it’s only been this amount of time;” the connection for me was always immediate and intimate, and once in a while, it would remain strong and involve a depth of caring for some time.

Most often, though, I remember the response being incredulity or astonishment or confusion, but for me, none of those words applied to my response; I was completely accepting of my own response to the individual. For them, it was always some abrupt expression like, “Wow,” or “really?” For me, it was something like, “Of course,” or “yes, really,” or “I know.” I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t so.

Looking back over the years, it happened so many times, and just as often the other person had a very difficult time accepting that I could feel the way I truly did feel. For me, it was impossible to deny what I absolutely felt without a doubt. I kept getting the sense that none of them were prepared to accept the truth that I was able to accept easily. Thankfully, it was just at this time when I started to take a serious interest in photography, bought some quality equipment, and began to record more than just images on film. I was also documenting my life at a critical time, and expanding my range of skills.

For a time, it became an issue when I shared these ideas, prompting blank stares or disbelief. One particular example occurred as a young man in the U.S. military living overseas in Europe. One day after work, I met a beautiful young woman, and at the very moment we met on a street corner, waiting for a bus into town, she turned to look at me in a most peculiar way, and I noticed my heart rate accelerated rapidly, without judgement on my part, but the suddenness of it gave me pause. We struck up a lively conversation about local attractions and initiated a polite exchange of information about our shared military duties, and when she asked me where I was headed in town, I reported that I was going home to my off-base apartment downtown. Her eyes suddenly lit up with surprise, her face immediately softened, and she smiled in a way that grabbed me right in the solar plexus. At that very instant, I felt a surge within me that was unmistakably of the same sort as before, only now it hit me like a cresting ocean wave.

The conversation took on a whole new level of urgency at that point, and by the time the bus arrived, we had made an arrangement to meet the next day to visit with me there. The rest of that evening I was unable to settle down or think clearly at all. I found myself oddly unable to go to sleep that night; so instead, I decided to clean out and rearrange the cabinets. I was an emotional wreck, and exhausted from anticipating her arrival the next day, but when she finally arrived, all the anxiety I felt just melted away.

We chatted briefly about locating the ingredients for a recipe she wanted to try for something called, “Hungarian Chicken.” Without having any idea exactly why I felt so compelled to rearrange the kitchen, it now seemed as though my mind had been operating on some level outside of conscious awareness, because it turned out to be the exact task I should have done, even though I couldn’t figure out what was making me act that way the night before.

We ended up spending a great deal of time together in the days following that first meeting, and all the while, outwardly I behaved with courtesy and as one would when first nurturing a friendship, but on the inside, I was a bubbling cauldron of intimate emotions, swirling like a tornado in my head and heart. I was in love. I immediately wanted to be close to her, but it seemed that it was impossible to express it without endangering the whole enterprise. The challenge for me was to avoid giving any overt indication of the inner turmoil, while still behaving in a rational and explicable manner. We laughed often and she seemed completely open to listening to the stories of my adventures over the years, and all I could do was remain totally open to her bright spirit, encouraging her to share time with me on her terms. I just wanted to be where she was.

One night, after a lovely day spent enjoying a warm spring afternoon walking around together in town, we were sitting on the sofa in the living room and I couldn’t hold back any longer. I had to try to express what was going on inside me before I exploded. The beginning of the conversation went well as I recapped all the wonderful parts of our friendship and the time we spent together, and without getting overly emotional or suggesting what might happen next, I simply allowed my heart to gently speak its truth. Her immediate response was a blank stare for about a minute, followed by an expression of agreement with the clear advantages of our friendship, but also noting her astonishment at how it would even be possible to have such a strong sense of connection, adding “It would take me a year to say those things to someone.” My time in Augsburg held some of the most important events of my young life, and when the time came to leave that city, I climbed to the top of the city hall there to take one last look before moving on to Central Germany and a brand new assignment.

Similar circumstances happened to me all the time, even with important friendships with others of every variety. For me, there was no doubt at all. It became clear eventually, after numerous repetitions of this scenario, where I was absolutely certain of what was happening, that the cause had something to do with ME. It was about ME. I was different, but I couldn’t explain it. This and several other pivotal events during this time brought all of the mystery to the forefront of my experience and pressed me to dig deeper. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to see a connection between these events when they occurred, and while some were more intense than others, certain ones were so profound, so in-depth of a connection that it completely enveloped all of my senses and occasionally saturated my entire experiential awareness.

Hopefully, after all this time, and years of paying attention to the particulars in these situations, writing about my experience in the Roman Museum and reflecting on everything that happened to me during that time will assist me now as a mature person, to not only understand myself better, but to have some improved grasp of the phenomenon of the human spirit, which I still see and experience in the same way sometimes.

My subjective experience of my own self continues to force me to confront these connections, and while I continue to see and feel these sensations at particular times and establish similar connections with certain individuals more intensely than others, I recognize it as the same phenomenon of an ineffable nature no matter how it occurs. Consciousness is much more than a result of brain physiology. That much, for me, is certain.

The Perspective of Time and Love

As many of my regular readers may recall, back in 2012, my family and I suffered the personal loss of our dear brother, Michael, and at that time, our personal experiences surrounding that loss, and having to endure the profound sadness that accompanied those events, presented us with an unprecedented challenge of finding a path forward that did not include his presence among us. It seemed, in many ways, like an impossible task, and although each of us still struggles to some degree with the memories of the last days of his life, in the intervening five years since then, we have continued to support and love one another, and to honor his memory by celebrating as a family whenever possible.

Over the past few days, as the five year mark has approached, I have spent some time considering the broader view of the significance of life, including lessons from the past, as well as those of our own time, and I hope a brief look at the value of this moment from a different perspective, will be of some small comfort and solace to those who may presently be enduring a similar challenge in their own lives.

Beyond the potent personal memory of the loss which occurred on this day in 2012, this commemoration also provides an opportunity to share what are, perhaps, the even more important aspects of our contemplation, which are, to remember our dear brother with love, and to celebrate the abundant love we all still share, as we constantly seek a new beginning; a way to look ahead to the future with hope.

In preparing to write this blog post, I came across a bible passage from Ecclesiastes, which speaks to the heart of the matter. It’s taken from Chapter one, verses four through eleven:

“One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down…All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full…There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them.” Ecclesiastes 1:4-11

The world in which these words were written was a very different world than the one we now know. When it was written, which scholars believe was probably about three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great was moving through Asia and into Europe, and he eventually conquered most of the known world, before succumbing to a fever, at age 32.

By Charles Le Brun – [1], Public Domain, Alexander’s Arrival in Babylon

While we rightly mourned the loss of our beloved brother at the age of 61, who was known primarily to his extended family, friends, and coworkers, I couldn’t help but ponder, in contrast to the effect of our loss, how much impact the loss of Alexander must have had on the world at large, when one of the most famous human conquerors and world leaders of all human history passed away having barely entered his thirties.

.alexander at the end

What is now apparent to our modern sensibilities, with the benefit of an historical perspective, is that the precise world that Alexander knew, the empire he established and which endured over many centuries, has now also passed into history. Generations of human beings have been born, have perished, and have been followed by succeeding generations, and yet, the earth remains.

From age to age, the human race has continued, but each one of us, exists only briefly on this earth, like a shadow, quickly skimming across the surface of the planet, with the changing light of day.

Considering the lives of all the previous generations of our family, the world that WE all know, is a reflection of their tireless efforts to promote and preserve the values that we now possess as the inheritors of that legacy. Our family history is replete with examples of steadfast love and support, across all the generations that preceded ours. It has been an unshakable love, which created a robust tradition of faith and family values, all too often absent in the world these days.

But neither the earth, nor the world in which we exist upon it, remain unchanged. Each new generation builds upon the one before, and although we create our individual worlds as we grow, we introduce changes which are sometimes profound, and perhaps sometimes unnoticed, but undeniably, these differences contribute either to the destruction of what came before, or to the construction of the world that is yet to come.

It should give us pause to consider, especially now, as we contemplate the passing of the most recent previous generation of our family, that we must find a reason to be grateful, and to be encouraged, and perhaps, to be a bit more hopeful regarding the prospects that life holds for us, as we make our way into the future. In Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that humans often don’t remember long the people and the lessons of the past, but no matter how many generations come and go, our legacy of love will endure if we nurture it.

Our science tells us that even the earth will eventually succumb to the death of the sun at the center of our solar system, which nourishes our planet currently, but what it is that has been created here on earth, and indeed, throughout the entire universe itself, is the manifestation of the divine source of all things, and that, like the love we now inherit from previous generations, truly does abide forever.

Forever One – A Reverie

intimacy44

I can feel you. I know you are there. I want you to be there. I think that’s the reason it keeps happening. At some point, we both reflect on those moments, and it brings us somehow together. Your face said everything. Just for a moment, it all came rushing back to you–all those moments–they all passed through your mind’s eye. Your body posture changed immediately. You opened to me. I wanted to run right at you and hold you close, but the moment was gone and you–you were brought back to the temporal–you were brought back to the moment in time and space, but before you turned and remembered where you were temporally, I had you completely–I had you completely–and I wanted you completely. For just a few seconds, everything stopped, and that place that only we inhabit burst open. Your face softened. Your shoulders relaxed. It was relief–you were relieved–just for that moment. I played right along in the temporal. I allowed a suspension of my inclinations and yours. Twice during the conversation in time and space, we leaned into each other. Your face immediately softened. You were close enough to hear my heartbeat.

spirit born

After a few seconds you snapped out of it and returned to the space and time of the temporal world, and once more, I extended my hand. You came immediately in and again your face softened and you smiled. It was like you were looking right through me. It would have been a completely different experience had it been under different circumstances. I imagined how it might have gone, had we been alone. I would have pulled you in, surrounded you with my arms. My heart was flung open only for a few seconds, but if the circumstances were different, I would have opened up all the way.

I wouldn’t let you go. I’m so much taller, I always seem to be looking down at you, but your face, when it looks up to me, makes it feel like we’re the same height. Height becomes irrelevant. I know I would have put my hands on your face, and I believe your face would be grinning broadly. I would hesitate for just a second or two, and I would say, “I love you,” and I would kiss you deeply–passionately. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. It wouldn’t have to be anymore. It would be alright. We’d be fine. I would look deeply in your eyes; I would sigh; I’d probably be giggling–a nervous laughter. I wouldn’t want you to be upset. I would want you to giggle too.

secret bench of knowledge

Even if it never happened again, I would know that moment and I would create a point of worship. I’d worship that moment–cling to it–always. So many times when you have been in my arms, and our faces have been very close, I have wanted to kiss you, but it was almost unnecessary because it seemed that your face registered my desire–you knew that I wanted to kiss you, and you smiled.

There must be a chance, even if its only once, to relive this imagining, to manifest it in the physical world, but even if it never happens it’s really already happened dozens of times, and each time you smiled, knowing. I don’t understand, but I accept–I accept you, just as you are. You see, the person to whom that face belongs–I love that person; the person who inhabits that body–I love that person; the soul that manifests as that person–I am one with that soul. We will never be apart–ever. We are forever one.

A Link With The Infinite

“Never in the world were any two opinions alike, any more than any two hairs or grains of sand. Their most universal quality is diversity.” –Montaigne, Essays, 1580

Sunrise-Meditation

In a letter-writing conversation with a thoughtful friend some years ago, the topic turned to how to engage others more deeply without abandoning our own sense of self or compromising our ability to function as an individual spirit in the world. My friend wrote, “…deep engagement without reluctance, in my opinion does turn the world upside down, and the only way to engage at that deep level, unless you are still in the womb, is to let go of your own consciousness. But there is a conflict because what we seem to hope for is deep engagement not with our primal undifferentiated selves, but with our developed selves; but the developed self by nature is separate, has evolved to live independently of the host, the mother.”

In response, I turned to the writings of C.G.Jung, and his ideas about the process of individuation, which, according to a notation in Wikipedia, “…is the process in which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious – seen as a developmental psychic process during which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature psyche, and the experiences of the person’s life become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole.” Jung believed that “…the essentially ‘internal’ process of individuation does not go on in some inner space cut off from the world. Rather, it can only be realized within the larger context of life as it is lived.” Our developed selves, brought about by individuation are, in my opinion, perhaps more accurately described as being founded upon our primal undifferentiated selves, rather than as something separate from it, but it seems pretty clear that it is our developed selves which inspire conflict when it does occur. Conflict seems to me to be more of a cultural problem than one of the host being separate from the mother.

jung

In a letter he wrote a few months before his death, Jung stated:

“It is quite possible that we look at the world from the wrong side and that we might find the right answer by changing our point of view and looking at it from the other side, that is, not from the outside, but from inside.”

For me, the connections I recognize as those which I strive to engage without reluctance and without turning the world upside down, transcend the developed self. The crucial point of the matter here seems to be our connection to the infinite. In his autobiography, Jung wrote:

“If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change…In our relationships…the crucial question is whether an element of boundlessness is expressed in the relationship…Only consciousness of our narrow confinement in the self forms the link to the limitlessness of the unconscious…In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination—that is, ultimately limited—we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite.”

– excerpt from Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” 1963, New York: Random House.

inner world2
http://likesuccess.com

I have struggled to come to terms with the compelling inner sense of a connection to the infinite that has appeared regularly in my writings these many years. I often struggle also with attempting to articulate this inner urging and to describe it in ways that can be appreciated by my readers here. Of necessity as temporal beings, we often resort to temporal references in order to allude to that which cannot be described in temporal terms. The nature of life, temporal existence, the physical universe, and everything relevant to that existence cannot be described completely in terms belonging only to that physical existence. We have devised ways of referring to these other aspects of life and existence, particularly as they relate to our very human nature, and acknowledge them as existing in a domain far removed from the temporal–as far removed from the temporal plane as we are from the quantum world of the very small, and the farthest reaches of the physical universe. Although we are, in some important ways, defined by these two opposing aspects, the truth seems to reside between them.

Sometimes, we all need to step away from the table, to catch up on our sleep, or to clear our hearts and minds from all the clutter that can accumulate. Wellness requires periods of rest; mental health requires periods of sleep and occasional disconnects. No one goes on vacation all the time, just every once in a while. It is unlikely to find peace in even a deep connection unless we are able to find some peace in ourselves. This is the absolute goal in successful relationships, and I feel strongly that I DO have some peace within me now. I may have some additional work to do through contemplation and ruminating on my path that brought me to my present place in the world, and psychologically we should all be continuously working to engage our hearts and minds in the pursuit of progressing as a person, but the foundation I now possess has been hard-won and warrants consideration when I sometimes still feel that twinge of the memory of the pain that led to the peace of where I am now.

autumn4

Each of us suffers subjectively in ways that cannot meaningfully be compared to the suffering of others. As a person who cannot seem to avoid empathizing with the suffering of others, I have endured my own suffering with a fairly unique perspective as a man. My mother told me that as a young boy, when one of the other children in the neighborhood would fall down or be crying for some reason, I would also cry. As I witnessed the birth of each of my children, I cried buckets of tears, and holding one of my grandchildren now or when I see any newborn child, my heart absolutely melts. Reading about the tragic circumstances that seem to appear regularly in the news these days frequently brings me to tears. I can’t say I know many other men who have this problem. These experiences clearly are of the “very human” variety, and it seems to me that our very human nature is more complex and mysterious than any of the science, psychology, or philosophy of mind currently can illuminate.

Memory is Feeling

memory feels

Memory Is Feeling

Some months ago, I wrote a few brief remarks to share for the memorial service marking one year since my Mom’s passing, and while preparing to deliver the remarks, I recorded myself reciting them in order to review them before the service. The first attempts with just my voice were helpful in the editing process, but it felt like something was lacking in the delivery, so I decided to try adding a musical component to help set the mood. I eventually chose a selection from the movie, “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams called, “Song on the Beach.” It’s a lovely piano solo from the film score composed by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet. I posted a link above to the mp3 version of my reading and posted the text below so you could follow along if you wish.

The memories of our lives have a central role in forming who we eventually become, and even though we all realize that memorable experiences aren’t always going to be happy ones, we still naturally tend to suppress those memories which are unpleasant, in favor of those which remind us of happy times. Unfortunately, at certain times, unpleasant memories of trauma or loss can overwhelm us and prevent us from considering the broad scope of our memories, which generally include a more balanced or nuanced collection. We are only human, and must allow ourselves these episodes of being or feeling overwhelmed, recognizing that these feelings will eventually subside with time, although no specific time frame applies to any one of us. Each of us must find our way back in our own time.

As cognitive creatures, we are able to form memories from our subjective experiences, and to utilize those memories for learning and teaching, for calculation and contemplation, for innovation and intuition, and to improve our abilities and increase our level of awareness. Our memories can enslave us or empower us, depending on our interpersonal skills, the degree of support and caring we experience throughout our lives, and often on how well we are able to develop our abilities throughout our lives. Our emphasis can sap the life out of us, or enable us to grow and live abundantly, although frequently it ends up being somewhere in between.

Now that I have introduced the category of “Life,” the next few posts will introduce the role of “Evolution,” in the theory I presented recently, and I hope my readers will be patient while I struggle to find my way to the writing desk. Memory is not just something only humans possess, and it can present both opportunities and obstacles depending on how it is employed in our daily lives, but it clearly can challenge us with difficulties to endure, just as easily as it enables us to enhance our lives. It’s really up to us.

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Memory is Feeling

When we go out walking in the brisk, autumn air now, inhaling deeply, listening to the rustling of the leaves that are left, taking in the beauty in every color surrounding us, it stirs our memories of autumns from years ago. The sweetness in the air, the crystal clarity between us and the world, all of the experiences of this time of year, have meaning as a consequence of our humanity. It evokes mystery; it evokes contemplation, and in the most ordinary of ways. We can close our eyes, listen to the sounds, feel the warmth of the sun against our skin, the rising and falling of our chests as we breathe, the air flowing in and out of our lungs, the pulse throbbing in our wrists.

Conventional wisdom, first written by Rene Descartes ( in “Principles of Philosophy,”) said “I think, therefore I am,” but for me, it is more correct to say, “I feel, therefore I am,” in spite of having to think about how we feel. For me, feeling has always been the one indisputable proof of my existence. It FEELS like something to be an individual human person. And our miraculous capacity for memory, which we now know is not like a transcript, or a videotape, or a digital rendering of our experiences, but actually, every time we remember, it is a reconstruction—a recreation in our minds of the way it felt to be in those moments. Our experience of those moments feels like life-I feel, therefore I am alive.

We don’t often stop during the day to consider at length what we are feeling. Our busy lives often prevent us from spending too much time in quiet contemplation of such things, but when we allow ourselves to become quiet, when we are able to pause even for a few minutes of silence, that is when our capacity for memory can move us most deeply.

It’s often during the times when we are at our quietest, when we think of those we love who are no longer with us. They are there still, lingering in memory. It is perhaps, as a memory, that the full measure of the delight we knew with them is clearer than when they were among us. We look back on those experiences now, as a lovely memory, to see that they contain particular elements which we want to hold on to and which mean the most to us. The feeling of connection to those we love does not perish with the body. We continue to feel those connections as strongly as ever.

We are gathered today as a family to honor our memories of our mother, whom we adored, and to whom we are still very much connected. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of loss. Even though they are no longer with us physically, the soul continues, and the memory of the feeling will not perish.

—more to come—

From Morning Light To The Next Liquid Night

stars5a

As the morning light bestows its first sweet caress,
It stirs my waking dream to life,
Loosening the reluctant grasp of
Yesterday’s liquid night;
The stillness of the dark water,
In the wee hours before dawn,
Slowly yields to the tides within me.

They ripple gently in steady, rhythmic response,
As my heart reclaims its rightful place,
Among the hidden pillars of my spiritual center;
Tender thoughts of affection newly-born,
Cascade like a waterfall of epic delight,
Propagating along networks of neural pathways,
Bursting now with skittish ions,
Jumping to each new tendril that reaches out,
As they await the sparks
Of their measured and anticipated embrace,
With invisible and mysterious arms
Of infinite possibility.

How delicately we step into the light of each new day;
How faithfully we sow the seeds of our delight;
How often we strive to open our hearts and minds to its potential,
Only to discover the ever-changing distance,
From morning light to the next liquid night.

January 2015

Trial and Suffering

Cypress sky and country2
Recently discovered painting by Van Gogh entitled “Cypress Sky and Country.”

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” — Helen Keller

Reckoning Love’s Labor Lost
by JJHIII24

You never intended to lose the thread
Of the labor of love that you lost.
You couldn’t have known, after so many years,
How the swells of the sea would be tossed.

Your heart and your mind lost their way many times,
But always the tide would return,
How could you have known how the world, on its own,
Would end up at such a wrong turn?

Throughout every life, as the years slowly pass,
We struggle and fight for our reasons,
We search for the answers to all of our questions,
We turn with each change in our seasons.

But the labor of love stands alone in our memory,
The tides of the heart swirl inside us;
We labor at last with the help of true longing,
We lean on the partner beside us.

The labor endures through the struggles and years,
We cling to the love that we’re losing;
The toll that it takes grips our souls in a vise,
We lose sight of the choice we are choosing.

So it’s true that the labor of love can be lost,
Not all of our loss can we reckon.
What is left we must salvage, and forge ever forward,
Til love once again we can beckon.

© October 2014 by JJHIII