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.
As abrasive, ugly and, I guess, pretty comical public debate has become these days maybe it’s time to extol the virtues of the high energy levels our contentious philosophical exchanges generate. However distasteful, things are certainly better than the political structures in other parts of the world that are inclined to censor oppositional views of any sort (that couldn’t happen here, could it?).
Still, I have to question motivations sometimes. I’m afraid rather than championing fairness and what’s best for all, it appears, often, folks’ primary concerns center on me and mine, my own situation and how it measures up to what I see around me; seems like arrested development sometimes; a perpetual adolescence.
The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill reminds us that in any debate, both positions will contain a certain degree of truth; issues are never simply black and white. So, it’s up to us all, I guess, to try to make reasonable sense of the oppositional view rather than mindlessly rely on logical fallacies, strawman simplifications and ad hominem put-downs to bind us with our allies and reinforce what we wish to be the right and only view.
As I contemplate these ideas I’m fully aware of my own complicity, my own inclination to jump on my preferred band wagon, you know, thumb my nose at the opposition. But, at least it gets my blood pumping, raises the old energy level; better than wasting away in lethargy ville I suppose.
I was reading, recently, that science, in the broadest sense is simply the systematic knowledge obtained through observation and experimentation, which means, I guess, that our earliest ancestors were practicing science as they observed and learned the habits of their prey and the locales where edible vegetation could be found. And then, later, our forebears developed a pretty sophisticated understanding of stellar and planetary movements affecting seasonal change and growing seasons: science without question.
There have been, of course, a few observational glitches along the developmental path. Grasping and accepting heliocentricity involved overcoming considerable cognitive dissonance (which might be attributed, to a considerable extent, to the Catholic Church). And, I guess, religion has thrown a monkey wrench into the workings of scientific progress on a somewhat regular basis through the ages. There are still quite a number of folks out there suspicious of ‘science’ when it questions long held beliefs or offers inconvenient truths.
But, it’s hard to argue that our very existence today isn’t due to a significant extent to our embrace of science. And, as we understand more and more about the workings of the natural world and even more questions arise we will trust science to address the questions with the knowledge that a definitive explanation of how it all works will probably never be seen. Progress will continue, nevertheless, new ideas will be presented and peer reviewed until established facts present themselves.
I can only hope education will prevail. Science, after all, is without ulterior motive; the betterment of humankind is its only goal.
I’ve recently become aware of the significance these days of the idea that one’s gender may not be written in stone, exactly. A considerable percentage of millennials, for instance, view gender in terms of a spectrum: that is the male/female composition of most all individuals is probably less than 100% either way; which should, I guess, open the door to an enlightened perspective of gender issues that have been thought about, if at all, in pretty simplistic terms for a very long time.
Unfortunately, deep within the darker reaches of our cultural milieu there exists a mindset unwilling or unable to accept the beauty of free gender expression. Maybe antiquated religious notions or, perhaps, personal confusion over where exactly they, themselves, fall within the gender spectrum has these tortured souls in vehement opposition to any sort of non-traditional gender identity.
All we can do, I suppose, is hope for an awakening. In the mean time we really do need to champion diversity. What could be better, after all, than a population that is able to sustain pride in who they are.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when the powers that be exercised what we all thought to be altruistic tendencies in the selection and dissemination of public information. We folks got to hear and read what was thought to be most important to make us informed and responsible citizens. And, while censorial editing isn’t exactly consistent with first amendment freedoms, most allowed that the narrative presented was basically accurate and, at any rate, in the public’s best interests.
And then but so things began to change: market share became an issue, advertising dollars; profit motive began to compete with program content. Sophisticated analysis of the target consumer determined a bit more ‘colorful’ (as in lurid and debased) programming was needed to draw and keep more viewer/readers. In addition, it was learned that stories eliciting anger and outrage tended to be a lot more compelling than ‘feel-good’ sorts of things; conspiracy theories were also found to be useful in maintaining viewer loyalty.
Well, the next thing you know, we have competing narratives out there designed to appeal to particular constituencies, reinforced daily, convincing folks of the truth of their chosen perspective and the blatant inaccuracy of any other.
As philosophically divided as we are, I guess it would be in everyone’s interests to look inward to our common humanity and seek out, once in a while, the values we share.
I’ve been reading that despite the nature vs. nurture debate it’s likely that a moral sense is innate in us all, the result of evolutionary selection dictating an inherent need we share to bond with our fellows. According to the late James Q. Wilson, even the most hardened, egregious individual has a modicum of moral sensitivity. Granted, there are other factors affecting a person’s behavior, self-interest leading to greed among them, but in the deepest recesses of our psyches we need positive human relationships; we are social animals and this fact leads us to desire to do right by others.
I know, as we look at those around us and perceive what appears to be a generally accepted moral relativity, an innate moral sense seems somewhat counter-intuitive. But, even tiny infants exhibit sympathy and practice fairness through sharing. Given the divisive nature of the world we live in perhaps we all need to become a little more child-like; offer a friendly smile and pat on the head, maybe even a hug to the next person we meet. What’s the worst that could happen; other than legal action?
The political climate these days has got me reading about the 16th century Italian Nicolo Machiavelli. Living, as he did, in tumultuous times and never ending political intrigues which saw him rise to prominence and then fall out of favor with the ruling elites and, being the libertine he was, it’s pretty clear why he maintained a pessimistic assessment of his fellow men.
Machiavelli has earned his reputation as the paradigm of hard-fisted (under-handed?) political maneuvering due, to a great extent, to his book The Prince. In the book Nicolo determines that the Prince, whether secular or religious must learn to do evil and develop the art of deceit. Testosteronal virtu, necessary to tame O Fortuna is an absolute must for anyone wishing to sustain power, he writes. A Prince must exhibit cruelty, kill a few of his people, maybe, in order to instill fear among the populace.
Interestingly, around the same time the Prince was written, Martin Luther, in a pretty disagreeable frame of mind due to hemorrhoidal issues, brought about the beginnings of centuries of religious conflict, breaking as he did from the Catholic Church (not that that body was in anyway an innocent victim). So, it seems to me, 16th Century Italian power struggles resulting in a blatant disregard for the well-being of the people, although perhaps being a bit more violent than today, still seems pretty familiar.
I suppose an evolving humanity plodding along by fits and starts into the future is about all we can really expect. Still, hope is in my nature; I always look forward to tomorrow.