Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Pursuit of Meaning in Our Daily Experiences

Among the most frequently asked existential questions is that which seeks to explore ‘the meaning of life’. Acolytes delve into this inquiry with the energy usually reserved for the exploration of deep mysteries. Reflecting on the pursuit of “deep wisdom” implicit in the question brought to my mind the Zen proverb - “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” - It also reminded me of a story told by a friend and college-mate of mine some years ago. 

Here goes…

A rather portly parish priest who was well ‘educated’, was out on one of his pastoral trips in his assigned parish when the area was drenched by heavy rains. In a matter of a few hours flood waters destroyed the only bridge that connected the rural part of his parish from the more urban area where he lived. After being stranded for two days, a local fisherman who was one of his parishioners finally completed repairs on a boat that he had been working on for some time.

Desperate to get back to the comforts of his home, the priest pressed the man to provide him transportation down and across the river back to his side of the town. After some consideration the fisherman warned the priest that he had some doubt about making the journey in what was an untested vessel. The priest insisted, assuring the man that “the Lord will take care” of them. The fisherman finally gave in to his pleadings, but not before reiterating the concerns he had about the age and sturdiness of the vessel. Anxious to get home, the priest brushed aside the fisherman’s trepidations. They set about the trip later that day, even though the waters were still rough. 

As the fisherman rowed, the priest sat back at the other end of the boat with his arms folded across his rather massive stomach as the vessel rocked from side to side in the rough waters. At times he appeared uncomfortable in the presence of his seemingly unrefined pilot. Not being accustomed to holding informal conversations with the common folk, but wanting to demonstrate the “depth” of his wisdom and learning, the priest thought he would ask the hard rowing man a few questions.

So, my friend ” he began, “how much do you know about philosophy?”.

Puzzled by the awkward irrelevance of the question, the fisherman replied… “Philosophy sir... I can't say I know much about that."

Having failed at that initial engagement the holy father pressed on. “Well I suppose that means you wouldn't have any ideas about eschatology then, huh?"

And what would that be?”, the fisherman asked disinterestedly?”.

Well, my good sir, that would be the doctrine of the last things... You know, what will happen at the end of time”.

No sir”, the bewildered parishioner responded.

It would suit you to spend some time learning about such things my good man”, the priest said. Bursting with pomposity, he continued... “You know, this flood we just experienced reminds me of the great flood in the days of Noah. The Bible teaches that next time there is going to be fire that will destroy the Earth

The fisherman interjected… “And I guess that would be an example of...” 

Before he could finish the sentence the priest burst out:

Yes! Eschatology dear sir”.

I see”, retorted his underwhelmed student.

You know man...”, the portly passenger continued,  “...without the knowledge of these things one cannot really live life as fully as the Creator intended. It's almost as if half your life is missing”.

Really?”, the fisherman said.  

Sensing the lack of interest in his attempts at what he must have thought was meaningful conversation, the priest looked out at the waters ahead of them in anticipation of the conclusion of this tedious journey. Realizing that the fisherman’s interests were not exactly the same as his, he lamented:

 “I suppose it's no use trying to talk to you about psychology then...". 

The fisherman did not respond; he just kept up the pace of his efforts to rid himself and his boat of his annoying cargo. They were silent for a while as the boat continued through the deepest part of the river. Suddenly something scraped violently against the bottom of the newly repaired vessel. Less than a minute later water started to seep through the flooring. Looking up quizzically at his captain, the priest became pale with fear. They were a good little distance from shore, and with no life vests. 

With what seemed a mischievous smirk on his face, the fisherman turned and asked the priest in an unambiguously mocking tone: 

My dear sir, do you know anything about swimology?"

What!?” asked his now disoriented passenger... “This is no time for jokes man; I cannot swim, and we are still a ways out..."

Well sir,” said the fisherman sarcastically, “...without the knowledge of swimology it is impossible to survive a situation like this. In fact you can't live fully, or maybe even at all without this knowledge”.

And with that the fisherman relieved himself of the oars and jumped overboard, leaving the sweating fear-filled priest to fend for himself.

( Meaningful pause… )

Usually the folk indulging in inquiries about “the deeper meaning of life” are those most detached from issues of survival in their own lives. They are also marked by a tendency to be generally unconcerned about matters that are the most consequential to the lives of those around them. 

The answers to most of the questions with which we occupy ourselves are usually right there in front of us; that is if we learn to look and listen with the empathy that comes from a real engagement with making the world a better… more meaningful place…  for all. Those answers are informed by the quality of our relationships, and by the extent of our engagement with chopping wood, and carrying water for our own sustainability- and for the sustenance of those around us.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Navigating The Space Between

There is a form and an expression of our lives that transcends the obvious… . Who we are, and what we think and believe often goes beyond the conveniently knowable. Those who are patient enough and who spend any amount of effort trying to understand us and life in all it’s variances know this… intuitively. We know that we know more than we express. We know that we express more than we know. We think… We believe… And we at times come to doubt the many conclusions that many find sacred and have settled into. 

For as long as we can, we may maintain the cadences that serve our stability in the environments we operate in. We travel the roads of life with due consideration of what we need to survive the expected and unexpected circumstances that we may need to find our way through or around. Along our way we seek, and sometimes we find the kinds of relationships that help us come to terms with the many unexpressed waverings of our hearts and minds. We search for, and if we are fortunate enough, we find the company of kindred souls that afford us needed transient comfort. 

Notwithstanding all the help we may get, and despite the comfort and encouragement of others; we will come to that place where we must admit that the journey to meaning is arduous… is complicated… is inconsistent… is inconclusive … . As much as we may enjoy the respite of being with kindred souls, we eventually must embrace the essential loneliness of our journey through this realm... this life. We are often reminded that we come into this existence alone, and we will leave it alone. We may enjoy, or come to depend on some of the interactions we have in the time and space between the two known points of our being… birth and death. We may not enjoy or depend on some others. The flux between exploration and discovery is a rodeo we all come to know. Between bumps and bruises; somewhere between ups and downs; beyond our conquests and the pain of defeat - we learn to admit our shortcomings and go on to the next day in our experience. 

At a certain point we come to realize that it is not important to act or sound certain about our positions. It is not essential that others understand or agree with us. Indeed it is not even essential that we agree with ourselves! A timely realization of the efficacy of this remedial position sets us free from those stuck in the mud places that hinder our progress. In the quest for greater wisdom it is important that we acknowledge that mostly… we do not know. The longing to arrive at that place where we have durable answers to our many questions is real. But that longing will remain just that… a longing. The questions, we come to acknowledge, are more important than the answers. The journey is more important than a particular destination. Traveling with patience and a durable honesty is more important than arriving… . 

And so it is… . Our journey is by definition an odyssey - a pilgrimage of sorts. There is no end, just new beginnings.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

LOVE… The Only Cure!


                                           Norman Rockwell Mosaic “Golden Rule”

The ultimate expression of our wholeness as individuals and as communal entities is seen and heard and experienced in acts of loving

I am not just speaking about the romantic notions of being together with which we are all familiar. Romance has most certainly earned its place in any discussion of “love”. It is in fact the seasoning without which the experience of companionship becomes bland - as in dull and unremarkable. Romance is the sugar and the salt and the pepper necessary to “ spice things up” in our intimate relationships. As such it is the engine at work in the joyousness that enhances our procreative efforts. It informs and generates the potency necessary for the execution of the desires of our hearts. 

All detractors aside - romance is nice, but it is just one of the agencies through which we express our need to be connected to one another. Let us therefore not limit our understanding of Love to the efforts we engage in the achievement of our most intimate desires. Unfortunately what many deduce when the words “I love you” proceed from the mouth of many, is the desire to selfishly exploit the human need for intimacy. Love is, and must be more than just that. 

In its most radical form, Love is an unconditional commitment to what is just. Just… as in even-handed, fair, equitable, morally right, and decent. We will not always like each other. We may not always tickle each other’s fancy. Sometimes we will get on the wrong side of those with whom we share some identifiably common ground. But even then the radical propensity of Love compels us to conduct ourselves in our relationship with one another as we would expect to be treated. 

This altruistic nature of Love is summarized in 1Corinthians 13 verses 4-7:

 “Love is patient and kind; does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

In a poem titled “Clear Now” I found myself ruminating on the above notions. Allow me, if you will, to quote myself:

“We feel so much

That we cannot touch…

We say so little

With so many words…

And then it happens…

And then it is clear…

Sensations cease…superfluous

Words too…

All inadequate in expressing

That one thing we try to do

With words and bumbling acts…

And we discover

That to love

Is to allow Love

To have its way with us…

Not us to have our way

With each other…”

Yes, to love… and to be in Love, is to give ourselves and our most basic instincts over to a Higher Principle - some say God. I agree with the writer of 1 John. “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his/her Love is brought to full expression in us”. - (1 John 4 vs 12). This Love is meaningfully expressed as Humility, Patience, Kindness, Forgiveness, Faithfulness, Benevolence… . These qualities become the agencies that facilitate the meaningful operation of this dynamic among us. The absence of these qualities renders impotent all the Love-related rituals and utterances that effectively replace real service to one another with lip-service.

Our lives take on a whole new dimension, and we come into the experience of a whole new range of possibilities for living when we spend time and effort cultivating these qualities. Our hearts and our minds will expand in ways we never thought possible, and we will become the beneficiaries of a more wholesome world when we begin to live in Love. 

This expansion happens when we set out each day to do no harm… When compassion becomes the hallmark of our existence… When doing the work of justice and loving mercy becomes the reason we breathe… When faithfulness facilitates the forgiveness we all need, and that we need to extend to one another… When humility replaces that crass self-aggrandizement that fosters corruption… When we practice a benevolence that neutralizes our self-serving approach to charity…

When we can live like that… When we can love like that… When we can be like thatThen we will realize… then we will bring into being the season of existential wholeness our world so desperately longs for. Then, and only then will we discover that place in our experience where our humanity and our divinity intersect.

Love working its will in us and through us, has the power to heal us. It fills the empty spaces in us that are created by the many hurts and disappointments that will inevitably be a part of our life-journey. It chips away at the ragged edges that result from the many assaults on our fragile egos, and that cause unnecessary friction in the course of our interactions with one another. It replaces the poison we build up from fear-induced fatigue, and it replenishes our being with a novel vitality. 

Love has the power to make us better persons. It is the antidote we need so we may address the existential malaise that results from the sting of hatred to which we are constantly subjected in a conflict oriented culture. Many are the prescriptions that are presented as ready fixes to the problems confronting us in our world; but Love remains yet the only viable cure for the brokenness that haunts us, and which sabotages all our efforts to establish truly peaceful and prosperous lives. 

If you are exhausted from your search for a more balanced and truly meaningful life, this may be the season to …let Love have its way with you.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Clear Now

We feel so much

That we cannot touch…

We say so little

With so many words…

And then it happens…

And then it is clear…

Sensations cease…superfluous

Words too…

All inadequate in expressing

That one thing we try to do

With words and bumbling acts…

And we discover

That to love

Is to allow love

To have its way with us…

Not us to have our way

With each other…

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Blessings and Curses... Venerable Notions for Our Modern Times



We give to the world around us everything that we are and everything that we become. We touch each other’s lives in ways that we are, for the most part, not conscious of. Intentionally or not, we have an impact on the ocean of human experience that surrounds us not unlike that of the pebble dropped into the liquidity of the many moments that become our lifetime. We touch, and are touched in return by the presence and dynamism of all those, and all things with whom and with which we occupy time and space.

The awareness of this reality should cause us to be more conscientious about how we live our lives. Not that we should force upon ourselves the innumerable variations of the human experience in ways that would negatively constrain us. No… We can acknowledge the variety of our experiences as a fact of life, and at the same time allow ourselves the liberating joyousness of lives well lived. The ability to do so is encapsulated in a notably timeless formula. That formula finds expression in the wisdom that implores us to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”.

Those who refuse to be guided by this timeless piece of wisdom become the creatures and servants of the dysfunction which causes malice among us, and consequently chaos. The resulting inhumanity that we display toward others, and our disregard for the creative/generative capacities of the world we inhabit, renders impossible the very possibility of a durable community. It invalidates our justification for being, and renders unviable all our attempts at creating the kind of domestic tranquility that we seek to establish as an ongoing fact of our lives. 

Blessings and Curses are not outdated notions that we can now ignore. They are constructs of the perspectives that we operationalize as a result of the quality of our engagement with each other and with our environment. They are as real as our experience of joy and sorrow… of pleasure and pain.

Curses, we may say, are the flaming arrows of an unforgiving bow. They can strike and keep us down. They can hurt and eventually destroy us via the wrath of their ragged edges. Curses force their way into the vulnerable souls of those who become their victims, and they disable the vital systems that make us viable human beings. 

Out of an assumption that we can manufacture our own best interests through the misery we cause in the lives of others, we create illusions that invariably come back to haunt us. The seeds of distress that we sow produce a harvest of sorrows. We get back that which we seek to give… in double measures. The curses we intend for others boomerang, that is their nature, and we reap in their wake a harvest of hurt. Do not wish upon others that which you would not want for yourself. The delusion that we can escape the harvest of our own dysfunction is just that… an ill-informed myth that the true story of our shared humanity has debunked in its entirety.

Blessings on the other hand, are like beautiful melodies. They join forces with the Wind to give our spirits needed wings. Blessings lift us up like Love expressed… and they inspire us to rise to our fullest potential. Blessings generate the joy expressed in an open smile. They build up in us healing resources that we can benefit from, and then share with those around who are in need of restoration.

We can choose to live our lives in a way that validates the claim of others to all the benefits of our shared humanity.  There is no greater Blessing than that which comes with this kind of Livity. What is “Livity” you ask? Livity is a spiritual concept espoused by those who seek an alternative to a worn-out religiosity and its culturally hollow formulations.

“Livity is the Rastafarian concept of righteous, everliving living. Its essence is the realization that an energy or life-force, conferred by Almighty Jah (God), exists within, and flows through, all people and all living things. This energy is the presence of Jah living within us, and is often expressed in Rastafarian vocabulary as "I and I", where the first "I" refers to the Almighty, the second "I" for oneself. A primary goal in Rastafarian meditation is maintaining awareness of I and I.” - Wikipedia —*{Now you know… Add this concept to your existential vocabulary.}*

In its anthropological application the appeal of “I and Isupersedes its context as a basis for talking about our relationship to or with any god. In the post-colonial world that gave birth to the necessity to re-examine our theology, it was a rebuke to what the philosopher Martin Buber describes as the I /it conundrum of an oppressive society. You see, I and I challenged the social structure of oppression by destroying the very foundation of all “Supremacy”. No one was superior to another person… not by virtue of race, or gender, or nationality, or possessions. “I and I was not just about one’s relationship to a god, it was now a declaration for equality and justice in the relationship between You and I! Thus was articulated the end of cultural imperialism and all forms of oppression. 

Rasta Livity for iver!! (forever that is) - - - Remember the feeling you got from helping an elder across a busy intersection… Remember the joy of a gift needed, and given, and well received… Remember the upliftment of a heartfelt “Thank you!”… Remember the satisfaction you experience every time you are able to complete a day of worthwhile work. Remember the empowerment that becomes your birthright when you embrace a commitment to preserve the sacredness of this shared space in the universe that we call home...Earth... by being just in all that you do. Let us live our lives in a way that blesses others, and the world. In so doing we shield ourselves from the raging arrows of a cursed existence. Now hear this...

The Pursuit of Meaning in Our Daily Experiences

Among the most frequently asked existential questions is that which seeks to explore ‘the meaning of life’. Acolytes delve into this inquir...