Daniel Christopher June to the Students of Life:
Greetings! It's been since last December I've written an allay, and only this week has one erupted from my care. I've mused lately of the various rhythms of life, the tones, moods, and tides of activity in our work, relationships, and private thoughts, and discovered a sensitivity to the noise and confusion of life allows us to make subtle adjustments, to tune the din and conduct our life as a symphony rather than a cacophany. This essay interrogates exactly that sentiment.
Take care, Caretakers!
"Simple minds delight in the extraordinary; superior minds in the ordinary." Children hope for Santa Clause, their parents for a family reunion. Whether a believer talks of pearly gates and every tongue confessing, or a philosopher of the superiority of a virtue, the same realities are groped. When we cease being children we cease to celebrate victory in war or triumph in baseball. We no longer marvel over stories of fantastic creatures and impossible conflicts. We get the same adventure, the same sense of importance, vibrancy, and interest, from our immediate daily life. Whoever is bored in marriage simply isn't looking. Ditto life itself: "Is not life a thousand times too short for us to be bored?" wondered Nietzsche. We cease to be bored when we learn to put questions. We cease to be frustrated when we learn to answer them.
As we learn, we see that everything resolves into the one. If we take any instance of the universe, any given object or process, and set it as the centerpiece, the meaning, we expose universal unity. Thales said the world was water, Heraclitus, fire. Plato said ultimate reality was ideas, and Christianity claimed that God was love. So many words, so many styles, and all a matter of taste. What matters the name I give God if she answers? Let us hold to one truth – let us go so far to say, let us hold on to one assumption, even an error, a lie, and see this through to the end, hold fast despite doubts or demoralizing confrontations, through ruin, misery, and humiliation. Persistence is success; what we took for trash proved treasure, what we took for nothing became everything, our original insight, which we mocked, and shared with our family and neighbors, and which they in good humor also mocked, reveals itself the utterance of the absolute. When you suspect your private truth holds weight, nobody in the world will congratulate or encourage you. They cannot. They talk you down with established fact, the latest science, the austerity of tradition, the sublimity of religion, the impermeability of common sense, and you will be compromised, you will lose.
So lose and be defeated, but hold fast to your own.
What is this deep idea at the center of your being? What is any idea? Let us take the world as a flux of energies. Our desires, feelings, actions, all express and transfer energies. We live in moods, they make our world. Yet we become divorced from our own experience. We take the world's judgments for the threat they are; we rightly take them as our own, a necessary stage. Judgments freeze experience – they trap energy in form. The world condemns us with a "not so." A not is a binding knot. Interpretation becomes fixed and rigid, play balks.
Yet we live through the systems of life. Every system is a dynamic of meanings. Information lacks meaning, is form; an interpretation must use that form to create meanings. DNA would be meaningless lacking an interpretive apparatus to read and use it. Ideas are pure forms, holes giving shape to emotion, to the substance of experience. The world's insistent expressions do violence – hollow out a womb where ideas grow. Ideas are insinuated into us; every man and woman and child in every religion finds within his soul exactly what he was told to find.
Words express meanings, and meanings create ideas. Those ideas shape our instincts, our desires and experiences, and from them structure habits of feeling, thinking, talking, and behaving. Our experiences are useless until they become assumptions, ideas. Those ideas are tentative, neither true nor false, in and of themselves, but functional or dysfunctional.
And so as we grow we cast spells over ourselves and others. Our words hide our meanings, protect ideas. Our controlling ideas are vulnerable to evaluation. Our guiding ideas if exposed could jeopardize our desire. Children are told not to reveal their birthday wish lest it not come true. Much of our desire is similar: if transparent, it would be vulnerable to exploitation or refusal. And so we cast spells over ourselves through a series of negations. We are always self-blinded and knotted in nots which guide us by our ignorance. We cast spells over ourselves and surround ourselves with those whom we can likewise bewitch.
We become possessed by ideas, even our own ideas, and they animate us. The one who can name and dismantle those ideas masters us. What he asks, explicitly or secretly, exposes our ideas. We shy from the eyes that see.
The substance of the universe is rhythm, the flowing of energy. Ideas give tone and texture to energy, stabilize it, make it meaningful. A meaning is an implied action. We feel the pressure of various meanings, and use interpretive ideas to fold them in the same direction. Whence this energy?
The center of our self is a sun, a producer of pure unique energy. We experience our own energy only once it has passed through our personal experiences and the assumptions we've made: all our desires come through a union between original energy and world energy. The soul is a conversation between self and world.
A system is a dynamic of meanings. The biographer discovers his subject is a walking contradiction. So do we all seem when reduced to a table of values. Values are ideas that teach us the habits of judgment. Ideas are either learned or invented, and those deepest produce contradictory meanings inspiring conflicting behaviors. These tensions in the system, conflicts in the soul, either frustrate the flow of energy, or make it intricate, nuanced, and subtle.
When we choose forms, a career, a spouse, a set of virtues and vices, a set of hobbies, a few heroes, they resonate and create an overall shape and style. The values may conflict, but this is seen only in unusual situations. A frustration is a conflict of values.
Frustration is habit frozen. We may judge habits good or bad, and this binds them. We damn them or exalt them, and that is good for a time. Nevertheless, as all life is by nature healthy and growing, we soon sense the dead weight of inflexibility, ideas we never suspected, and we disown them. Disillusionment makes way for better illusions. Illusions simplify reality so we can play the game of life; preferring reality over illusion is another illusion, another simplification. Illusions are real, they can benefit or hurt. Ultimately, they interface a set of deep resonating ideas. As our deepest self is no idea but a fount of energy, all ideas must mature to allow that flow. Ideas are a flux, and though we seek for health we also seek for growth, which is also an illness and misery.
A miserable friend asks for advice. You see his faults and how he should change. You know nothing. The necessity of those habits, their relationship to his system, you know nothing of. He humbly attempts your advice, but fails. He faults himself, not the advice, and you agree. You, after all, have experience, which is self-evident.
Try mirroring instead. No man really seeks for advice: he seeks for confirmation. There are many ways to mirror another. Mirroring is engagement. We can duplicate another, intensify, invert, oppose, parody, displace, rearrange him. If you can mirror a man at the level his conscious self-image, you win his trust.
Were you to mirror his inner meanings, his inner ideas, he might be disgusted, confused, or surprised. He is faced with the alien, something not his own. Nevertheless, if he holds those ideas deep in his soul, and if you do as well, you will be mutually drawn by hidden resonance, felt and known through posture, gesture, style, language, cadence of speech, choice of topics, every manner of style will bond you, will make you fall in love. We come always to our own.
Yet though we are a system of rhythms, though ideas resonate, there is yet the eternal unknown at the center of our being, the Name that cannot be named –an Absolute unknown and untouchable by man or God. This is utterly our own, casting energy into all we feel, think, say and do. When we fall in love it is this hidden music we fall in love with, though we praise superficial features.
How then to live our lives? We could hold to some principles, some values, and the virtues that best achieve them: applying them uniformly in all we do. Such a slim list of values of resonators will make us austere and strong, as it was said, "Freedom is slavery to a small set of laws." Yet we find that life is nuanced, and though we praise simple virtues – courage, compassion, honesty, industry—the actual living of life involves a complicated and unspeakable mixture of values and virtues, and also disvalues and vices, the entire set of intricately threaded ideas knit together and cannot be formulated, divined, nor searched out, but simply lived. We speak of virtue and vice because the words are easy. We look for extraordinary courage, for heroes and villains who exaggerate these ideas and make them finally visible to our childlike eye. Ordinary life rarely exposes itself in such stark terms. Nevertheless, a subtle understanding sees the stark truths in small talk, daily gestures, in every movement and glance.
We all get this sense. We see but cannot say. Though blind to most, we yet sense resonance. For the man of the open heart, all his world glows, and we bask in his presence.
The cadences in our job, the tones of our boss, the rhythms of his speech; the speed of production; the ebb and flow of traffic, the rise and fall of our ideas throughout the day, our moods and emotions and their dance; the interplay of the music we hear, the arguments or agreements between friends and family, are so many compensations, distributions of energy, a balancing of this for that. We build habits as resonators, to produce predictable conduits of energy. We do not always see that our choice of habits, good and bad, balance each other and necessitate each other, that we choose this friend to balance the other, that we read this book to answer that experience, that we enjoy this food to feed that self image.
As the universe is eternal and infinite, so is each part of it, including ourselves. At our centermost, we add to the universe, and at the immediate level, we mix and mingle and converse with her.
How then shall we grow? Take yourself as perfect. Everything you ever could be, the highest ideal possible, could only grow from what you already are. And as the tree is the acorn, so our highest realization exists entirely in what we are today. Even our self-criticisms must be accepted as necessary, as lawful, as growing by compensation and integration of ideas, circumstance, and situation. As we come to accept it all and realize its inevitability, we loosen habit and open possibility. Mind is nothingness and nothingness is freedom. By loosening the mind, by unknotting its ideas, systems, habits, and energies, we do not absolve ourselves from our good and bad habits, but we help them do what they want to do: grow, expand, and find a new balance and homeostasis.
Mend, then break
Heal a foe before you kill
Work your best before you quit
Bless a friend before goodbye
Clean your skin before you cut
Mend her heart before you leave.
Let us leave life with blessings and the kiss of acceptance. Life leads to life. The meaning of experience is in itself and the further experiences it opens. Meaning is motivation, meaning is motive, and interpretation adapts a meaning to our situation. When we can loosen the knot on what was so necessarily knotted before, and give the idea space, it grows and breathes.
Our greatest virtues never resolved to familiar terms. They express personal responses to unique situations, and those who admire and love us lack the language to explain why, though they make clumsy attempts. We know we are rightly loved though nobody can adequately express why.
Buddhism epitomized virtue with the symbol of letting go, made it all about that. The praise of mindful meditation becomes exaggerated; whoever becomes possessed of an idea praises it beyond measure. He harps on mindfulness and bundles it with other virtues, with peace, compassion, patience, atoning them through rhetoric when philosophically there need be no connection. Christianity's central virtue of forgiveness also managed to wrap up all the virtues into one. A metaphysical narrative was given to the universe: we all are essentially in need of forgiveness, and God's central role in history is to forgive us. Our most sublime actions are acts of forgiveness. The heaven and hell scenario is a sort of poetry to impress exactly that.
We find as good believers or good disbelievers that none of these formulas quite work, no divine name quite inspires, but we have to generate some supplement from within to uphold the pretense of devotion and piety. That supplement, that little cheating, that is the original idea, despised as shameful and hidden from the world. "The most courageous moments in our life come when we baptize our evil as what is best within us." Our original idea means more to us because it exactly fits who we are.
The gods play the world like a chessboard, moving ideas like game tokens through the minds of men. We too become godlike when we command ideas, when we learn how to assume an idea, how to remove it, how to put ideas into the heads of others. There is the greater than God, however, the Absolute Self, which generates the energy which fills all ideas. The void of freedom that is the mind creates the shape of ideas, but necessity fills them. The interaction between self and mind, between necessity and freedom, shows the whole person. Once we come to know what we are personally capable of, a lesson we will continually learn afresh forever more, then we smile and cheer. Heroes and saints dramatize the possible of man, and we praise them and adore them believing that we should be the same, though knowing deep down we never could be. Indeed we could not. The miracle for us is that unprecedented something only we can do. Discipleship is worthy if it ends in Judas; discipline is worthy if it ends in rebellion. We must attempt the outer forms and stretch and grow through that. We must build frustration, a potent energy which thickens the soul and prepares for the birth of a new idea. The Buddha gained enlightenment only through years of frustration and failure. The pricks of guilt and daily frustration, the sense that we are not doing enough, that we could be more, do more, or, alternatively, that we could be happy if we only accepted ourselves, could be happy if we simply had gratitude for life and loved our neighbor, are necessary illusions for building a well of frustration. This well may remain unknown and unguessed. We gladly deny it. Yet it grows and mounts and prepares the idea we must face and assume. It would seem an external tragedy chanced upon us to test our faith and force a radical change: the finale of seem. The actuality is the emergence of an idea from our innermost, a new shape for consciousness, a new set of resonances for daily focus.
Our willing, planning, and making of goals feeds into this, but there is more to it. Freedom plays its part, but not every part. Choice, will, discipline, surrender, obedience, defiance all play their part, create the stores of energy. They are not all. When the soul blooms, we may still use the kindergarten language of Virtue, Love, God, and such. Those ideas are easy to say. The meaning and the lived experience will not be those, and there will be no words for them.
Our needs express themselves through deep channels of instinct. Those instincts are educated into the shape of the deep ideas of our time. The world current of ideas fall into our instincts by deep attraction. We take a stance on the contemporary issues and attend them as if they were the most important thing in the world. The world itself is layers of embodied ideas. Our relationships are ideas, our systems ideas. Ideas are in the air. Ideas have a surface and layers of depth. They orient us. The most important ideas in our contemporary world don't yet have names. The future will finally be able to name and discover them, but they act now, they create now. Shallow ideas are known first. Deep ideas are inferred though triangulation. Only those who have broken the spell of their times, who feel out of joint, out of sorts, who feel not at home in the world, are able to see it with fresh and sensitive eyes. We see systems as systems, we see them rather than through them.
Every system defines itself by nots. A not is an inflexibility covering a vulnerability. We attend to problems, and rest in pleasure or misery only to charge us to handle those problems. The mind is a problem-solving agency, enjoying life through earned fulfillment. The problems that occupied us just as often distracted us while deeper moves were made. We dance our destiny in ignorance and evoke final fates without knowing.
Looking closely at what happened requires looking past the obvious to the subtle. We express powerful non-negotiable emotions, but those ultimately spring from the subtle vulnerable emotions we hide. Their energy is a hidden electricity galvanizing the whole.
Know when to impose, when to use violence. Know also when to look for natural processes, when to withhold an agenda or structure, to seek the centers of movement already extant, to note growth and self-support. A tender touch upon yourself and others demonstrates mastery, but much violence is necessary to achieve that mastery. It is easy to imitate exaggeration. Mastery is in the subtle touch. The power of a well-placed touch does more damage and more good than any rage. Days and years attempting the same alone opens mastery and ascendance.
Ideas are in things. An idea is a thinkable form. All things have forms, some visible, some invisible, and once they become thinkable, they can be named, searched for, modified, willed. We can at any moment do something profoundly different to change the parameters of our world. Only we don't quite realize that. Best to plant the seeds and then step back, do you work and then let it do itself. Never meddle. A few small moves, a few soft touches, and all is done. We think our grand gestures and memorable episodes define our lives. More goes into defining life. The vital ideas are embedded in situations or embodied in people. We make assumptions from experience, and know the assumptions from known experience. There is much we do not know of ourselves and some we can never know, but must rest that we are perfect and grow through all.
We come to master the game of life, we come to be masters, by trying and by not trying. Our necessity acts behind our will and ego, with them and against them, through them and apart. Whether we strive or rest, both feed our ideas and gaunt the shape of ideas to come. Does it matter what we do? When we attempt our best, and accept ourselves as perfect, we set two fertilizing ideas throughout the soil of experience. What does it mean, "Perfection is easy"? What does it mean to pour our full heart into what we are doing, to focus our whole mind, will, and capacity to the task at hand? When we discover the meanings of these riddles, when we know absolutely that we have done the best we could, when we know, without doubt, that we are perfect, we have moved small things deep down. The changes are profound, their reverberations universal. What am I to myself? The center. What are you to yourself? The center. When we experience ourselves as centered, when we open up our center, then we need no longer doubt or believe, have faith or not: those external habits become indifferent. We simply are what we always were, what we always will be: the center of being.
So let us hold a shape until energy fills it. Once the energy fills a ring, the shape supports itself. Simply hold to what you love, never minding if you doubt or believe. Holding is enough.
Most live their ideas and never think them. Will is violence, it imposes a form. By holding that anxious form till it softens, the well fills with water, the river overflows, new courses are made, the system expands and finds new resonance. Let us learn to listen.
There is a music to life, and what we have of wit and will, indirection and direction, cunning and courage, to push with the swing, to stand in the center and conduct life. What is an orchestral conductor but the dancer of the symphony? When we learn how to command ourselves, the world, and ourselves through the world, we gain the placing of gestures to set energy flowing. Part of it is in the cunning to map our field, part of it is the courage to defy comfort and don the pall of overwhelming anxiety. Through these we atone our own to itself in the world. God smiles her respect and men bask in our glow. Experience has use – the dive into hell gives us deep wisdom, the flight into heaven gives us vision, and all experience opens the chambers of intuition, letting us express our inner and love the world.
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