Freedom and Universal Truth

I was speaking with ZahZah K. the other day about her contention that the only solution to the impending end to civilization as we know it (you know, as brought on by our degrading environment, sectarian violence, etc.) is the establishment of a new social paradigm, a transformation of the fundamental structure of society, the establishment of a world-wide collectivity.

What we need to realize, she said, are those universal truths that we as sentient beings all share, that define the bases of our existence; those truths which precede the value distortions precipitated by associations of race, sect, religion or economic philosophy.  And, once we all grasp these truths true freedom will be realized.

It all sounded pretty good to me at first but then I got to thinking that if this universal revelation were to happen we all would be, in effect, marching to the same drummer.  And, it sure seems to me there would be little room for individual idiosyncrasies-flights of fancy, imaginings of alternative worlds and ideologies-solutions that, perhaps, we might realize as we continue to evolve.

I guess it’s just another example of pragmatist versus dreamer and, although I understand the importance of interrupting or at least slowing our slide into environmental disaster, I told ZahZah that I, personally, am unwilling to relinquish my freedom to dream.

She told me that was unacceptable; that if I wasn’t part of the solution I was part of the problem even though I assured her I always buy organic.

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Is there truth in beauty?

I remember, earlier this past summer, admiring the flower garden outside my window.  It was early morning; the sun low in the sky created sparks of light as it reflected off of the drops of dew.  The birds were active, singing brightly as they are wont to do as the weather warms.

I called my friend to the window so she might enjoy the scene as much as I.  Look, I said, isn’t nature beautiful?  My friend took in the scene for some time, then remarked that nearly everything she saw she found unpleasant: pollen made her sneeze, the wetness of the dew was cold, the birds squawking was abrasive and the brightness hurt her eyes.

Well, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing; natural beauty seems so universally true; so many images by so many people verify it.  It’s hard for me to believe that the truth of beauty isn’t absolute.  Woody Allen famously said: ‘I love nature I just don’t want to get any of it on me.’  Maybe that’s where my friend is at; unable to separate natural beauty from nature’s physical presence.  Perhaps I could get her started watching the Nature Channel, then dinner on the patio, a walk in the park, eventually a climb up Half Dome.  I think she might come around in the end.  with Pearl3

Accomplishment

I spent a couple of hours cleaning my Notre Dame playhouse the other day.  It was quite a mess; hadn’t been organized for some time.  I straightened the pews, relighted the votive candles, moved the priest from the sacristy to the confessional, replenished the Holy Water and separated the Brothers and Sisters (for some reason they always seem to end up together).  I did all the things necessary to put a cathedral in good order.

When I finished I considered what I’d done and thought it was quite an accomplishment-maybe not on the scale of actually building Notre Dame-but still it was something.

Wasn’t it?

Okay, so what does it mean to accomplish something?  Does accomplishment occur if no one knows about it?  And, as soon as someone finds out does judgment occur?  And, then, if the accomplishment is deemed worthy do accolades follow?  I doubt the Buddha meant, when he said to his disciples: ‘accomplishment is transient; strive unremittingly’, that they should pursue an ego boost.

The Stoics were pretty sure finding yourself in favor (which is certainly what would happen if people thought you did something good) wasn’t a good thing; once favored the only direction to go is down.

Well no one will probably know about my cathedral dollhouse cleaning anyway; it’s stuck back in a corner of the den.  People rarely come by now that little Bobby entered the seminary.

So I guess I needn’t fear recognition for my accomplishment.  But, I suppose I could take a few photos just to remember how nice it looks once it gets messy again.  But, then, someone might see the photos and nominate me for the Good Playhouse Keeping Award.  Then I’d be expected to keep it clean all the time and if I didn’t people would think I was a messy doll.

Boy, those old guys sure knew what they were talking about.

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What I know about Soren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s dilemma was that despite his love for Regine he believed himself to be incapable of becoming a good husband, so to spare her he breaks off the engagement, telling her he was never truly serious about their relationship in the first place.

He wrote a lot about anxiety.  He says when we become anxious we are overtaken with fear and trembling as if we were on the edge of a precipice and were afraid of falling.  Then he says we should jump; take the leap into faith, embrace God for whom all things are possible.

He also tells us that either we shelter ourselves in the illusory belief that the individuals, doctrines and institutions we rely on for self-fulfillment are sufficient (bad) or we dismiss our worldly distractions, realize our declining physical bodies and face the existential horrors of life (good).

Whew!

I think he thought about things too much.  He should have just gone out and had a good time once in a while.

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Religion as Art

I was reading a while ago about the Ban-Yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage which is performed in the Braj region of northern India.  Unlike many pilgrimages the ban-Yatra isn’t focused on reaching a sacred locale or the place of Holy Relics but rather is about uncovering the sacred in the profane as the pilgrimage progresses.

Braj is believed to be the birthplace and playground of Krishna.  Many of the stories of Hindu literature mention places and land forms here as sites where Krishna performed his miracles, cavorted with his cowherd friends and engaged in love-play with the Gopi’s and his beloved Radha. The pilgrimage involves circumambulating Braj, visiting shrines and temples and partaking in various rituals.

Unlike some eastern religious philosophies the worship of Krishna isn’t about renunciation of this world-denial of desire, but quite the opposite: realizing desire in the beauty of nature and celebrating the love of Krishna as being non-different from it. In order to do this the pilgrim cultivates bhava, an emotional and imaginative energy that allows him or her to see beyond the mere commonplace and experience the presence of Krishna in the natural surroundings.

One scholar suggests that in achieving bhava the pilgrim becomes like a poet creating meaning in the landscape as he or she passes through it.

Wow!  What a great observation. The artist certainly creates alternative worlds through imaginative emotive means; a significant parallel to the creative religious practice of the Ban-Yatra pilgrim. Maybe the difference between the two lies in just how literally one believes in the existence of this other world and its inhabitants. The artist, I suspect, is less likely than the pilgrim to embrace his/her imaginings as factually existent.

It seems to me religious practice in general could profit from a bit more creative play and a bit less dogmatic belief.

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Psychoanalyzing Sigmund

Dr. Freud determined the libido controls man’s nature.  He thought the male child was engaged in a constant struggle to overcome his father in order to claim his mother and demonstrate his power in the world.  He said he figured this out because of his own attraction to his mother and jealousy of his father and if it was the case for him it must be the case for everybody.

The female child, meanwhile, was in envy of male potency as symbolized by the male genitalia. I guess he was saying we are all controlled by our physical bodies and our minds simply respond to our animal natures.

Dr. Freud must have thought about sex quite a bit; he ended up having six children.

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A Life of Contemplation

Lately, I’ve been thinking what it’d be like to go off someplace where I could live more simply; someplace away from the distractions of the ever-depressing news of the day and the energy sapping ego conflicts of the workplace.

I could spend my days contemplating the inherent nature of existence; I could immerse myself in the eternal flow of life.  I would find my center and be at one with all things.  You know, like St. Anthony (the ascetic) did.

For nearly forty years Anthony lived a hermetic existence in the desert existing on the rare crust of bread offered him by passing pilgrims.  He rid himself of all desires of the flesh in the belief that through asceticism ultimate truth would be revealed to him.

There was one night, though, when hedonistic desires descended upon him like a torrential downpour.  He wanted, wanted, wanted: good food, good drink and women of any sort.  All night he suffered.  He fought back with every ounce of his energy.  When morning finally came Anthony was spent from the night’s exertions but was also strengthened in the knowledge he could overcome temptation.  His resignation was renewed, but with it, the fear of even greater tests to come.

I’m really not too worried about this happening to me.  Food and drink aren’t important to a doll and I’m really not that into primal urges.The Temptation of St. Anthony 3

Born Again

For me, I don’t think there’s anything as energizing as the onset of spring.  As the temperature becomes mild, the birds began to sing and the crocuses began to appear I feel my spirits lift.  There’s a sense of rebirth in the air; life reappears after months of dormancy.  In some ways it’s like a religious experience.

My friend Pearl said this idea reminded her of an experience she had while attending a revival meeting a while ago.  She said the evangelist told the congregation that life was suffering because of the guilt of their sins and the only way to overcome the depths of despair, the fear and trembling of existence was to leap into faith and be born again.

Pearl thought about this awhile but being a bit of a skeptic and seeing rebirth wasn’t in her plans for the evening, she decided to pass on the leap and just deal with the despair and absurdity of human existence the best she could.

Well, all I can say is if our existence is essentially despairing and absurd then why do I have spring fever?

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Playing the Game

Imac girl was visiting the other day.  She’s quite attractive; you’d never know she was a computer if it wasn’t for the USB port below her left ear.  We were having a game of Chess; when she plugs in a flash drive she is a very good player.  I guess what makes her so good is her ability to consider all possible moves.  I still don’t understand how she can know which move is best but it must have to do with strategic positioning; she’ll always move in a way to maximize the preferred end result, which is capturing the King.

It’s sort of like the way determinists think about human actions: everyone is conditioned to act in such a way as to maximize survival in the world.

But, what if the ultimate goal was different? In fact, what if there was no ultimate goal?  What if, instead of survival instinct or desire to capture the King, the focus was on the process: of performing aesthetically; of achieving an ongoing beauty in action.  That would mean imac girl and I would have free will to act in ways we would consider of greatest worth in our relation to each other and our worlds.

Boy, that would really change the game.

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Return of the Goddess

While at the library the other day I happened on a book about the origins of religion. In it I read that many early gods were not gods at all but rather goddesses.  There were pictures of numerous pre-historic goddess figures, an image of the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor and many more from various cultures around the world.

The text went on to say that these early nature oriented peoples recognized the relationship between a woman’s reproductive cycle and the phases of the moon upon which they determined their agricultural activities: planting, harvesting and such and from this associated a certain super-natural aspect with womankind.

I guess overtime woman has lost some of her magical association.  But, when I think about it there are still women out there who continue to radiate goddess-like qualities.  Lady Gaga, Madonna and Sinead  O’Connor all seem to think quite a lot about religion.

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