I’m being led to understand, these days, that there are certain innate values within the human genome that when melded with cultural norms pretty much define irrevocably who we are (not discounting the onward march of evolutionary change).
Tendencies toward care for others, loyalty to our own, recognition of higher authority and above all the deep-seeded need to seek out and find sanctity are so deeply innate that reasoned explanation, reliance on an exclusive rationality as ultimate explanation for how and what things are can be embraced only by those who fight off what we innately feel to be true. And, further, such vehement denial of one’s true self isolates from the sort of social cohesion necessary for anyone to reach beyond ego and be truly open and happy.
Being a fairly private individual myself and always having been kind of averse to group bonding of any sort I found these ideas required a bit of thought. Initially the saccharine notion of sitting around a campfire singing Kum ba yah came to mind. But then I realized there were groups of more or less like-minds that I more or less fit into. And that I found the interactions (usually sports related) with these groups rewarding and important parts of my life, really, which makes me think the conception of some sort of innate need for social bonding is probably accurate. I still wince at the thought of singing Kum ba yah though.
I’ve been reading, lately, a treatise by a moral psychologist who claims pretty much everyone lies, cheats and steals. Apparently most all of us have such a deeply-held, innate self-interest that, given the opportunity, dishonesty is inevitable.
Excuses made to avoid an unwanted invitation are likely to be lies. We do this, I guess, because we all want to be well-thought of and it’s pretty clear unremitting truth will make anyone pretty unpopular. And when it comes to cheating, laws are set up such that everyone who drives a car will inevitably cheat in some way, at least in terms of speed limits. As far as theft goes, ‘borrowing’ items from one’s workplace, even if justified as improving one’s work efficiency is never the less stealing.
So, as I think about it I guess I have to admit I fit the profile. I can claim, I suppose, I do no grievous harm to any individual. I do have to admit, though, I’m a liar, cheat and thief. The worst of it is I still think I’m a pretty good person.
Another thing I miss while alone in the wilderness is distraction. Other than the occasional animal rustling or bird song there are no distractions here. I can’t even get a cell phone signal.
The awareness of not being distracted makes me think I must be distracted a lot usually. I wonder how much of my life I spend distracted.
Which is one reason I didn’t mind falling in the water while trying to get into my canoe so much. It temporarily distracted me. Wilderness is so in your face, so absolute, such stark reality.
So, to deal with stark reality I brought along some distractions in the form of reading material and, obviously, writing pad.
One of the books is Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. The person telling the story in this book reminds me somewhat of myself. She goes on and on about whatever comes into her head. She tells in the book about having once been mad. I don’t think she ever fully recovered by the end of the book. I don’t know what that says about me.
I’ve been alone in the wilderness now for more than twenty-four hours. Other than the occasional canoe passing by I’ve seen or talked with no one.
Nothing particularly unusual has happened here other than last evening I fell in the lake trying to get into my canoe. I spent considerable time after that rigging up lines to dry things out which they pretty well were by morning.
So, I was thinking about what I miss being in the wilderness and one of the first things that came to mind is music which when I’m not in the wilderness I am usually listening to or is at least playing in the background.
I find it interesting how some musicians’ names seem to fit their profession so well. Take Esa-Pekka Salonen or Luigi Boccherini or Antonine Dvorak. When I say these names out loud I just want to repeat them over and over because they’re so rhythmic sounding (well, maybe not Antonine Dvorak so much).
The composer I’m thinking of now is Aaron Copeland who I guess doesn’t have a particularly rhythmic sounding name but his music seems to suit the wilderness. It seems to me Appalachian Spring would be really good background music for where I presently am. I’m not in Appalachia and it’s not spring but never the less.
I do know the title of that work really doesn’t refer to the season but rather a water source. I found this out only recently. Even so I still am inclined to think of the season when I hear the piece. Also I think of Jody Foster who sang Simple Gifts in an episode of Kung Fu for David Carradine who played Kwai Chang Caine even though he’s Caucasian.
The movie that I think of when I think of Jody Foster is Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro. In it she plays an adolescent prostitute.
I’m all alone in the wilderness. At least it’s someplace I would call wilderness. I know for a fact no one lives within miles of here and there aren’t any roads within miles of here either.
That’s not to say there aren’t people around. I saw four people just minutes ago but they aren’t within sight now. For all intents and purposes I’m all alone. At least I have been for the last three hours and seventeen minutes which is how long ago I entered the wilderness.
Right now I’m looking out across a lake.
Although it’s been a couple of minutes since I wrote that last sentence I’m still looking across the same lake in so far as I haven’t moved from the spot I was at when I wrote the last sentence. It’s a beautiful scene; the sun sparkling off of the water, the variety of greens in the trees on the far bank, the multi-colored rock outcroppings reaching down into the dark water. It could be a painting.
Of course I know it couldn’t really be a painting because then what I’d be looking at would be some sort of pigment spread on canvas or paper or something rather than the real water and rocks and trees I’m seeing.
That’s not to say if what I was looking at was a painting that the painting wouldn’t be real. It is real in my imagination in so far as I can imagine this scene as a painting.
So I guess there’s no reason to think that the painting I’m imagining of the scene that I’m looking at is any less real than the water, trees and rocks.
I’ve been engaged for the last eight minutes or so maintaining awareness of the reality before me; not focusing on anything in particular, just contemplating the here and now. Thoughts occasionally enter, generally from the left, and pretty much pass right through and out to the right. Sometimes a thought gets stuck on its passage through so I have to give it a nudge so as to bring myself back to the here and now.
Traveling, as I am, down the road right now, the here and now is changing by the second; probably not an ideal situation for meditation; kind of distracting, really. And, having traveled this road numerous times before familiar objects come suddenly into view that bring thoughts to mine; thoughts that need to be ushered out stage right, lest I be drawn into thoughts of past circumstances and lose the here and now. Even as I concentrate on the here and now ‘veneers’ of association supervene adding layers of meaning that I gently, lightly erase without disturbing the here and now.
I’m up to about ten minutes now and my concentration is kind of fading in and out. With effort I know I can bring it back, aware, as I am, of the enormous benefits of mindfulness.
My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.
In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.
The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.
Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the lawn needs mowing and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.
Springtime in the northern climes is characterized to a great extent by the ephemeral. Early flowers bloom and die within days, the yellow-greens of trees and grasslands transform into verdant grays by mid-summer. Bird song signal mating ritual and very shortly the woods are quiet. And but the ephemeral is not just a spring phenomenon: the vitality of youth degrades into the ennui of middle age and as a rule pretty much everyone and thing is simply waiting for their/its ultimate demise.
What really brings this home to me personally is the realization of my very own physical and mental decline. Despite my best efforts to counteract the aging process through exercise, healthy eating and right thinking, the ephemerality of existence hovers over me like a large foot over a small insect.
I know there’s nothing unique about this realization: most everyone experiences the negative results of aging, which, it seems to me, accounts for the tenacity of religion, able to sustain its hold on so many despite the delusional nature of the enterprise. But then so perhaps there’s something to seeking a ground of Being. It may be the only defiance of the ephemeral.
I read the other day that someone claims to have discovered a new shade of blue. I guess that may sound fairly reasonable in some ways but when one realizes that, when white light is separated through a prism the spectrum that results will contain all possible blues; there really can’t be a ‘new’ blue can there?
As I cogitate on this conundrum it has occurred to me that there probably are all sorts of discrepancies with regard to what ‘is’ and what is thought to be. Even if we set aside the obtuse political rhetoric we are fairly constantly bombarded by and contextualize the organization of ‘facts’ with which those in the sales professions wish to convince us……..and even if we eliminate those presentations that precede obvious ulterior motive there are still concepts and perceptions that fall through the cracks in otherwise impermeable rock-hard inescapable truth.
Which, I guess, makes me think that maybe sometimes I need to lighten up a little, maybe not try so hard to clasp onto the definitive answer. The world before my senses, delusional as it may be, is never-the-less pretty satisfying.
I’ve been thinking about the rejuvenating powers of spring; not exactly a profound realization, I know, but still. In addition to the obvious rebirth of the natural world, plant life rebounding, animals extra motivated to procreate, the psychological effects on humankind are undeniable. The energy of youth is renewed (well, remembered, anyway), people are out and about doing yard work planting gardens running 5 milers, setting off on long hikes, harboring romantic inclinations and optimism abounds.
Historically, vernal renewal has seen humankind shake off the imprisoning shackles of political tyranny: think Cinco de Mayo, Syttende Mai, Canada Day (probably not a lot of testosteronal energy needed here), the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, the Arab spring, the list goes on and on. So, it seems to me, something clearly does happen to the human psyche somewhere around mid-April into early June (after which time we can expect ennui to set in in preparation for the doldrums of fall and the small death of winter).
One would think the realization of our innate ties to the rhythms of nature should be sufficient motivation to maintain the health of the natural world. There are daily indications this may not be the case.