An October Sunday Reflection

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The striving to inject beauty, truth and peace into the world is the noblest of ambitions, and deserving of our appreciation even of those who despite their best efforts in this regard fail miserably to achieve their lofty aims.

On the other hand, success in the ambition of gaining money wealth is no more worthy of admiration and praise than is the abject failure to do so worthy of condemnation. In general, you can make more money in screwing people over than in helping them. This does not speak well for the economics of our society, nor its politics, which both come out of our collective moral character.

We cheat ourselves of experiencing the the fullness of life if during the brief spans allotted to each of us we make an idol of material advantages, and our fear of being inadequate for lack of them, and call it God.

Success at being a life is an internal experience unseeable by the external world and thus despite the judgments it paints on you, and despite the disregard it dismisses you with. Thinking this way is how I see continuing with confidence and without apprehension about understanding some ultimate purpose. It is also a sense of solidarity with billions of anonymous souls, here and gone. For me, that is the actual experience of eternal life, and I would wish it for everyone.

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For A Better World

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For A Better World

Utopia is an illusion that can be experienced dynamically, not statically; locally, not universally. You can maintain it for yourself for a while by a continuous effort, in the same way that a juggler maintains the ephemeral sequential image of three, four or five balls suspended as a constellation in midair. Your utopia is like that flickering image of uplift defying the gravity of oblivion because it is entirely an expression of your unrelenting artful input of purposeful energy: it is you. The constellations you juggle into flickering existence have as elements the people you relate to and trade influences with. When your juggling and theirs have resonances, your utopias become shared and sympathetic. If such sympathetic resonances have sufficient scope their utopian dynamic may last beyond a human lifetime, being passed on to subsequent generations. But, how large a scope and long a duration can we reasonably expect such personal utopias to have? Probably that of a family’s experience for a generation or less.

So, the challenge for the person who wishes to live in a world of compassion, of enlightenment and of justice, is to make and continue the effort to juggle a bubble of utopia into existence, despite the evident lack of compassion, enlightenment and justice throughout human history, and throughout so much of the world of the present day: to be ethical, generous, moral and tolerant in a world that seems forever dominated by venality, greed, lack of principles, and brutal intolerance. The challenge is to remain a steadfast and good-humored agent of good while being carried away by a torrent of corruption cascading to perdition: it is to be quixotic without shame. How is one to maintain such a purpose and find fulfillment in such a thankless role? Oblivion’s gravity is endlessly capable of sapping your energies to exhaustion, and oblivion’s glitter is endlessly capable of shattering your ambitions by ridicule and by trapping you into temporal failure: a lone monkey shunned by the collaborationist troop.

Why would anyone persist as such a challenger then? It seems clear that such perseverance emanates out of a sense of self-respect and self-worth: the maintenance of personal character measured against an absolute scale of moral conduct, without reliance on social bonds for the support of morale. This is pure defiance and pure celebration, the ultimate in self expression and self abnegation. It is the brave social insanity of a fully aware and fully sane person immersed in the insanity of a cowardly and tribal world, and resisting it. The radiation of such personal power, by lived example, is what can influence and resonate with others and possibly coalesce into the psychological and physical forces that levitate what few utopias exist at any given moment.

“Character is fate,” and utopia is personal character maintained in defiance of the overwhelming forces of assimilation, decay and inertia. To fret about “the end of the world,” which is always increasingly likely to occur as our history advances, is to pin our hopes on the illusory externality of a general coming together of human vision onto a consensus for moral action for the common good. The self-realized quixotic challengers for utopia know this is impossible, and that the continuation of whatever decency of existential experience they have managed to juggle into being are only propelled by self-generated and self-directed efforts independent of societal externalities. For them the end of the world is the collapse of decency consequent to the collapse of self, and the collapse of personal integrity, regardless of the collective course of fractious society. Objectively, our physical and social world could easily end, and soon, catastrophically and painfully. But, subjectively, no one of us is compelled to implode their intellectual and moral selves in collaborationist surrender to the many forces of decay leading to that extinction. We always have the power to seek sharing a nobility of lived experience regardless of what external reality confronts us with. Survival is a matter of chance, nobility is a matter of choice. Be well in that realization.

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Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

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Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

Is Malachi your first child? I’ve known a few men, including myself, whose “eyes were opened” to the total interconnectedness of the world both in its physical dimensions as well as in the psychological and ‘metaphysical’ ones (depending on how you define the intuitive and non-material dimensions one can experience but not put into words), by their awakening to first fatherhood.

It is because of my concerns for the wellbeing of my children, now all adults, that I made my efforts to do more than just “make money” or “do my job” or “be successful” or just “have a good time.” I’ve seen some profound transformations of character for the better in men who fell in love with their first fatherhood and who saw the actual wonder of the little beings that had been entrusted to their care. I find such examples very heartwarming.

As infants we start out shamelessly and blamelessly grasping for all our needs, wants and desires; and as we grow older we slowly expand our horizon of concern to others — that is most of us with any decency. For some men, as I’ve noted, that expansion can be sudden and profound with their becoming fathers. Such an awareness and care for an other can then expand into a concern — the Buddhists would call it compassion — for the rest of humanity, especially the young, the helpless, the struggling, the unlucky and disadvantaged, the poor. And for those of us with such an enlarged feeling of compassion — some call it socialism — and who have a reasonable degree of personal security in this life, we can express that feeling as political attitudes and activism: from ‘do-gooder-ism’ to manning the barricades of “revolution.”

Sometimes our acting on the impetus of our extended compassion can help bring about real practical improvements to the lives of others beyond our own family members. But certainly not always, and for many of us not often at all. But such efforts are worthy even when impractical and failures because at least they elevate our own personal moral character, improve our own personal behavior, and such improvement even when “inconsequential” and “invisible” to society beyond our own families, or even beyond our own minds, is nevertheless a contribution of goodness to the civilized world because it at least represents an absence of negativity that we could otherwise have manufactured and emitted into the wider world. To put this mathematically, contributing zero — neutrality — is always better than contributing negativity: harm, degradation, parasitism.

But, it is always more than zero because: it feels so rewarding to extend good to others; it is so satisfying to extend love to those we care for. The emotional “reward” is intrinsic in the act of giving love, not in “getting” something: attention, praise, “gratitude,” or ego-gratification. The radiance of love is all in its giving. And the giver gains by the improvement of his character, which is the afterglow of that gifting of love.

And that experience is what can sustain you during the inevitable hardships life will toss at you. Individually, our lives may turn out to be “failures,” even luckless tragedies, but in those moments when our minds are not overwhelmed with racing thoughts while dealing with some crisis, we can reflect on the instances when we reached the peaks of cosmic consciousness — unseen by anyone else — while caring for our children, especially in their youngest years, and we can recall those instances of profound satisfaction that we gained by enacting our compassion and love — what the Buddhists might call “merit” — and feel justified in this existence however indifferent or even cruel it might be for us at the moment.

So, while I would certainly be thrilled to have been able to “change the world,” or even know that one action of mine made some small yet definite contribution to a significant societal advance and improvement, I can’t let the fact of this being quite unlikely to cast me into total despondency. As fathers we each know at least a few people whom we can help make life better for, and that is all the difference between despairing about human life, and celebrating our conscious experience of it.

In the Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling, the various animals and the wolf-boy Mowgli who would acknowledge each other’s existence with respect and in some cases affection would say: “We be of one blood, ye and I.” And that is the essential and primordial reality of Life On Earth: the Buddhist “interconnectedness of all things,” the Gaia of the ancient Greeks and now of the Western New-Age Romantics, even the biodiversity of the deep environmentalists. This realization is as old as our species, our modern homo sapiens ancestors during the Ice Ages painted it on cave walls in France and Spain, and without doubt our remotest primate ancestors knew this even before they mastered the use of fire. Alan Watts said: “Man is something Nature is doing.” Awakened fathers see in the wonder of their children a reflection of themselves as expressions of that totality.

So, yes, we can all easily grow weary — “old” it’s called — contending against the selfishness and stupidities of people, the inhuman tyrannies of enslaving economics, and ultimately our flames will go out for lives are finite. But we each can experience some of what is authentically eternal, the totality of being, just by being good fathers and caring people. And that is all the difference between “saving your soul” and having a satisfying life, or of having a thoughtless, soulless existence lost to money, things, ego and materialism, and of dying without ever having experienced really being alive and profoundly aware of it.

I know Malachi will enjoy his day at the beach with his father.

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