If life is a mystery, uncertain and full of risk, then you are living it well
Pope Benedict is retiring. Nelson is national news for its dog-ban bylaw. Tornadoes and blizzards have hit eastern regions of the continent. A fired L. A. cop commits suicide after a murder spree. BC’s Legislature is back in session. The Grammies have been awarded. The Canucks had a streak of wins but just lost it.
This, if you let our news media define it for you, is your world. These are the things people need to know and want to talk about. This is the socially-constructed reality we have apparently agreed to endorse.
I would rather we had a different reality generated in our minds and manifesting into the world. It would begin with questions: What is the meaning of human life? Is there purpose to life that is not chosen by oneself?
When in doubt, quote oneself. Here are my words from last column.
“… humans and their physical brains have come into being for a purpose, to give consciousness a physical, material organ in which to reside. In the words of Mark Booth, each human mind is an intrusion into materiality from the Cosmic Mind. Materiality anesthetizes the mind/soul, so the challenge of the human condition is to live in balance between physical and spiritual. That is so much harder in 2013.”
I have read a great deal of history; I have contemplated what I have learned there, and tried to connect history to personal, lived experience, and to the experiences of those whom I know well as friends or relations. I am not an historian first because I am passionate to know the past, but because I love to observe this present time, and I am driven to discover origins of what is, in what was.
This present time is my focus. I am a pessimist and maybe a misanthrope. I agree with the following statement: “Humans are to be treasured. Material is to be used. Our present crises are caused by treating material as precious and humans as useful.” This present is doomed. Change must come, and fast.
Author and philosopher Charles Eisenstein is trying to help us invent the “new narrative” for a world yet to be born. In the meantime, he says we’re between now – morbid global capitalism, dying natural ecologies, changing climates and failing economies — and the future when those have collapsed and something takes their place. We are “between stories.” It is uncomfortable, to be sure. I think each of us can help each other in this anxious, uncertain time and in this perilous, threshold place.
Observations of my friends, and of humanity’s circumstances.
It is, I can appreciate, possible to live with goals one chooses and sets, and to believe that the purpose of life is to reach each of those goals. It is possible to say one’s life “has meaning” because one has will and intention. “My life is successful” is a strange statement in my ears. “I can make a good life for myself” is another eccentric thought for my consciousness, and yet I observe this is a very common belief.
It is most truthful to say, “This is a belief I choose. I cannot assert that my belief is ultimately ‘true.’”
I have chosen my truth to live by: it is simply that life must be mysterious and uncertain and that is a good thing. It is not the teaching of modern capitalist, individualist mind. That mind says humanity is in control.
Human consciousness is profound enough to perceive that the concept of truth is relative. Still we are never lacking in people who will tell us there is a guaranteed method–and no other–to know truth. Science has taken on that role for many. Physics is working on a “unified theory of everything.” Religion has its basic reason for existence in its claim to tell humans ultimate truths; Philosophy offers ways to live without, and to be happy without, knowledge of life’s meaning.
We do not stop hope having dreams of a life that is better. That is the human spirit in the Light. What if the teaching of religious and esoteric traditions has laid hold of a very basic truth? What if indeed we are spiritual/physical mergers? What if the material of the body and the spirit of mind must share life?
Human consciousness does not do well when it lives without meaning or purpose. One has to get up from bed each day for something other than the body. One maintains the body in life when it is quite possible to terminate the body’s life. We do this not just from fear of death – admittedly, a big reason to live – but also from hope of life.It is quite a powerful drive in humans not to give up hoping that life has something good in store, or so our history would suggest to me.
The human condition is ultimately tragic, not comic. By that I mean life has sudden changes of fortune, bad happens to good people, and the only certainty is death at the end. Our rich-culture’s consciousness says, “Strive for control.” Wisdom traditions say, “accept you cannot have it”. Can we find compromise?
How hard should you strive for control? How hard should you try for wealth? A secure future? For perfect health and long life? For fascinating experiences? For wonderful sex? For a storehouse of knowledge? Best, I think, to admit we’re not in control. Eisenstein is eloquent on the subject of our control obsession.
“When I win the lottery…” begins many people’s dreams. Money changes everything, right?
I heard a check-out clerk at the Real Canadian Superstore in Nelson joke with a woman at the till. “How are you?” — “I’m livin’ the Dream, just like all of us, I guess.” Standing at the cash register, passing bar codes under a laser, taking money one customer at a time, in a cavernous building, on a grey day, and not well paid for this mind-numbing repetitious labour, this thirty-something woman can still joke. That is wonderful. This is the meaning of making the most of one’s circumstance, not railing against it.
I know more people who have tried to secure the future with good planning, intentions of affluent retirement, owning their home, travelling, than people who live as if that dream is too improbable to aim for. I am one of the latter.
Although I see some retired folk livin’ that dream (my parents pretty much managed to do it) I wonder how it will be for them when all around they witness fewer and fewer people at their level of material affluence. Will they find a way to be secure from the poor hordes outside the charmed circle of affluence? Are they able to “live simply so that others can simply live,” as it were? Will their conscience move them to cease living in affluence and settle for mere comfort and ascetic simplicity? Will they even notice the poor?
The friends and relations of whom I am thinking when I ask these questions, will know who they are.
In all future columns, I will assume a consensus of readers that we surrender the illusion of control over nature and the future. We accept that human spiritual ingredients are of equal truth with material ones. To balance them is an act of making ego subject to compassion. We commit to an inward task of self-knowledge, and of labour to raise our consciousness. And we do not give in to despair, with regard to what we can do outwardly to make the material world less painful for others.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of Arc of the Cognizant can be found here.