Where’s the Nuance?

I’ve been reading about the most incredible difficulties those individuals of unorthodox thinking had around the turn of the 19th century (that is 1890’s to 1910’s or so). Public awareness of ideas questioning religious dogmas, racial inequities, subjugation of women and the like, often resulted in ostracization for any mindful individual who voiced such thoughts. Condemnation by a powerful fundamentalist clergy and demonizing by the mainstream press were powerful disincentives to speak out and those courageous enough to do so were often censored or ignored.

It must have been really hard to have a creative mind back then. New ideas were often seen as blasphemous or heretical by the majority; absolute truth ruled the day and made it easier, I suppose, for those who didn’t want to think too hard about the big questions.

These days it seems the majorities, consuming as they do their preferred sound bites, butt heads pretty much on a daily basis. Knowing their own truth leaves small room for considering the complexities, gray areas or subtleties of today’s issues, leaving free thinkers without much of a voice.

Some things never change, I guess, but resistance to free thought can be pretty disturbing sometimes.

What Hell is Like

I’ve been thinking lately about the implications spelled out in Dante’s Inferno and the pre-occupation of the middle-agers in one’s ultimate demise and the potential horrors of Hell.

In the book, Dante tells about being guided by the poet Virgil into the underworld, which is this huge pit containing the souls of all the people who have died and been found guilty of evil doings without having done anything, penitence-wise, that would have maybe gotten them to a more favorable eternal location. The first level of the underworld is for people who haven’t been baptized and, basically, all they have to do is wait around forever, but as Dante and Virgil go down deeper and deeper they discover each successive level holds souls who have been more evil than the last and are made to suffer worse conditions.

On level five heretics are encased in fiery graves and watched over by the Furies and Medusa. On level seven violent souls are submerged in a river of boiling blood and watched over by the Minotaur who, when they come up for air, shoves them back down.  When the poets get to the very bottom they find Satan encased in ice and unable to move, so they climb up his huge body and escape from Hell.

It’s pretty clear Dante must have thought about Hell a lot.  The amount of detail he goes in to is amazing. I wonder if he felt guilty about something or if he was just trying to warn people to walk the straight and narrow.

Anyway, I think people today think differently about what Hell will be like than they did in Dante’s day. It probably will have more to do with the loss of mobile communication devices and reality TV.

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A Deeper Intuition

I’ve been reading that, in centuries past, some very bright and talented men held that within human nature an ‘inborn knowledge’ existed. But, what exactly this inner faculty was, wasn’t so easy to explain or necessarily easy for folks to recognize being housed as it was (and still is, I guess) within the subconscious. This innate psychic potential could, it was believed, foretell future events to those awakened to the ability, and numerous examples of just such occurrences were collected by the true believers, among whom was Johannes Kepler (the renowned 16th century mathematician) who also believed, along with numerous others, that each of us is under the influence of astrological movements that form our characters and behaviors and feed our psychic awareness.

So, before science gained the firm grasp on our sense of reality that it has today, explanations of why we feel, behave and act the way we do had firm bases in the occult. And, lest we dismiss these ideas too quickly we must admit that we do have déjà vu moments now and again and there are times when I’m hard pressed to explain the nature of my sudden psychic discomforts.

I have this nagging feeling I’ve traveled these same roads somehow, somewhere before.

In Search of Truth

I’ve been reading this very credible account of how the historical, earthly, human Jesus of Nazareth became, over time, other-worldly and part of the Godhead; in essence, something entirely other.  Whereas the historical Jesus was a compassionate advocate for the down-trodden masses, he was nevertheless put to death for what was seen as political ambitions. There were those not content to let the man they perceived as messiah, savior of the world to pass into oblivion before his promised kingdom of God on earth was established. A pretty good number of his most ardent followers swore on their very lives that the body in the tomb was re-animated, became once again a flesh and blood individual. The historical Jesus was thus re conceived as God Incarnate and the remarkable, admirable man, a role-model for all, was lost for all time.

The logical thinkers of the time found all of this pretty hard to believe; they were thinking, I guess, some sort of mass hypnosis or hysteria must have brought about the idea of a resurrected person who was, in addition, imagined to have been virgin born.  But, logical progression isn’t necessarily the final determinant of what may or may not actually be the case; an open-mind must allow for the inconceivable, that unexplainable things occur all the time. (Just consider political occurrences these days).

Anyway, it appears that, when it comes down to deriving an honest perspective of the existence and workings of the universe the Christian believer will rely on his truth of God’s hand in it all, while the curious unbeliever will look toward continued scientific research to find explanations of why things are as they are while acknowledging the many mysteries of existence.

Seems pretty irreconcilable; truth eludes us; we all must just keep thinking, I guess.

Divergent Narratives

My companion and I have recently completed a three week trip through southern Europe. One might call what we did a vacation, I suppose, but traveling the way we do it involves coordinating train schedules, locating pre-arranged housing, meeting voucher deadlines, acquiring foodstuffs that are compatible with cooking facilities, all requiring miles traveled on foot, all of which is hard work resulting in thorough and complete exhaustion at the end of most days. The rewards, though, are rich in personal encounters and experiences, and, in our opinion, well worth the effort.

Upon completion of such an adventure we are ultimately required by friends, relatives and acquaintances to offer a narrative. The shared experiences, however, don’t translate to a common story, which, I suppose, one could attribute to differing focuses of attention and/or memory lapse, but, it seems to me, the remembered experiences are so varied that one can only assume the unique worlds in which we each exist defy a common reality. We must, I guess, all get along day to day unaware, most of the time that the person next to us is a truly alien presence.

Zen and Japanese Tourists

I’ve been working hard lately to subdue my natural inclination to make blanket judgments, but intersecting ,regularly, heavily touristed areas has brought me into contact with, among others, large contingents of camera and selfie-stick wielding Japanese who seem much more interested in capturing their likeness in front of the canons of western art than in viewing and contemplating said art. In addition they’re loud and seemingly oblivious to those around them. I find them quite annoying. To be honest it all just reinforces my cynical nature of mankind in general.

Deep breaths; deep breaths; let it pass; focus on Here and Now.

I’m wondering what they’re thinking, you know, the Japanese. Are they recording their travels in order to bore they’re friends, relatives and neighbors once they arrive home: ‘Here we are in front of a painting by Monet, what a wonderful time we had.’

Let it go; let it pass; I see blossoming trees; beautiful in the sunlight; breeze lightly moving; petals raining; sweet delicate aroma; deep breaths.

I hate those annoying Japanese tourists.

I really need to work on my meditative practices.

 

Maybe Sometimes a Good Scare isn’t such a Bad Thing

I have this friend who, fairly out of the blue, received a shocking medical diagnosis that put to question the likelihood he would be unable to carry on his chosen life-style not to mention the possibility of an all-too-sudden permanent demise. Well, upon re-evaluation the dire prognosis was over-turned and things suddenly reverted to how things had been, you know, business as usual, except, the scare of imminent demise led my friend to a re-evaluation of priorities, what, essentially does matter after all and a sudden acute awareness of Here and Now.

I guess what the shock of a good scare can do is bring Here and Now into sharper focus. And, of course, Here and Now is where we live and should be where we always want to be but often aren’t, completely, distracted as we tend to be by thoughts of what occurred last week or what will happen after dinner tonight, perceived occupational successes and failures, personal relationships, the rising cost of satisfying our material desires, our minds constantly flitting from one thing to another. We live so much of the time, it seems, in a fog through which Here and Now is only occasionally glimpsed.

The whole episode has me thinking I need to spend more time focusing on Here and Now.

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 stated that, when we become anxious, we are overtaken with fear and trembling, as if we were on the edge of a precipice and afraid of falling. Then he said 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 body 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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And they all lived happily ever-after

I’ve been thinking, lately, about what it might mean to realize an extended period of calm, peacefulness and tranquility; halcyon days of pleasant meanderings through a benevolent natural world and happy encounters with grounded, enlightened people. It seems a bit of a fantasy requiring, in this day and age of political unrest and perpetual world-wide tragedy, a sort of head-in-the-sand dismissal of reality.

Maybe I’m just allowing myself to be distracted, not seeing the whole forest, lost among the trees. I suppose I could strive to remain awake in the moment, not get overly obsessed with situations beyond my control, you know, realize the world around us is ever-changing. I, perhaps, need to reacquaint myself with a Nature in constant flux and modify my sense of propriety so as not to assume it should be for everyone, everywhere.

Can right mind, I wonder, see a reality in which all live happily ever after; if not, how about a centered life free of the sufferings of expectation?

The Impossibility of Becoming Self-less

The thinking seems to be these days among neuro-scientists and phenomenologists that the concept of Self is an artificial construct evolution has foisted upon us in the interest of fending off extinction. By providing a focus upon which to differentiate options for action, evolution has provided, over considerable time, the means to improve our potential for personal survival. I’m guessing things like:” is that Sabretooth Tiger looking at me thinking about a meal in which case “‘I’better think about reacting” and so forth, has developed and perpetuated the myth of the Self.

So, I guess there really is no ‘Self’ other than a concept our consciousness has found useful to limit possible choices in order to provide some bit of stability within our limited sensible abilities; which also means the ‘World’ our artificial ‘Self’ recognizes is but a tiny fraction of what is actual out there existing around us.

But our sense of Self, researchers assure us, is pretty much impossible to eradicate as enlightening as it might be to do so. We can, though, I suppose, think seriously about growing our world awareness through meditation which is, after all, a ‘Self’ subordinating enterprise.