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Archive for February 14th, 2010

We have all heard the phrase, ” a thirst for knowledge,” and many people are motivated by a need to discover, understand and reveal the essence of experience and phenomena. These are the people who take seriously the Socratic admonition to  “know thyself,” and embody the idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The times in which we live are times of great contrast. The United States electorate is acutely divided, and we see, once again, the perennial visage of culture, race and class warfare in the exchange of emotional and unthinking rhetoric.

What I see is a rising thirst for ignorance. Orthodoxies appear on the rise, and liberal philosophies in all arenas are ridiculed and demonized. When the appetite for “heresy” declines, one should be watchful for the erosion of liberty, critical thinking, and genuine insight into issues. At a recent dinner, I was part of a cordial conversation among friends and associates about this political moment in America. At one point, I was labeled by a colleague, only half in jest, as a liberal elitist. Why? The label was meant to sweep into a neat category my love of scholarship, incisive dialogue, taking nothing at face value, and seeing all orthodoxy as worthy of inspection. Ok, then, no problem. I am a card-carrying liberal elitist and proud of it. Dismiss me if you please.

In our current times, it is both easier and increasingly well-regarded to cling to the formulae fed to us by those who affix dismissive labels as their way of coping with what they fail to understand and have little energy to genuinely explore. It is easier to buy into a platform of ideological character. It gives one a sense of solidity when so much that swirls around us is uncertain and complex.

I, for one, love uncertainty. Doubt and the challenge of all assumptions is “philosophy,” the love of wisdom. I am absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain! I know that what I know is fact until new evidence reveals that it isn’t. Ideology is “window dressing” and icing for the mind. It entices. It draws you inside to look things over and encourages you to buy or partake. However, as so many things that are adorned with icing, the repast is likely one of many empty calories!

  • A few snowstorms where they aren’t typical and where the snowfall breaks records after many years, and many, including ostensibly intelligent legislators, are declaring the folly of “global warming.”
  • After decades of strong evidence of the veracity of Darwinian evolution and evolutionary developmental biological science, a good number have chosen to reject it for a more fundamentalist theology, and insist that this alternative be taught along with the science.
  • The facts around the necessity for government stimulus and spending in these recessionary times is denigrated as an example of out of control tax and spend big government.

Heretics and individualists are no fun. Their incessant challenge gives one a headache. They seem like they are not team players. They “move to the beat of a different drummer.” They are “not like the rest of us.” The Matrix movies were a testament to the will of many to stay deluded and comforted by machine generated, or, by analogy, party-generated or state-generated fantasy.

The price of the pursuit of knowledge is to place oneself in harm’s way. The deaths of Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat and Jesus of Nazareth represent a dynamic that is as real and potent today as it has ever been. Salman Rushdie was under the threat of a Fatwah for his novel. Cartoonists have been threatened for offending orthodox beliefs. A demonizing and fear-mongering minority is actually succeeding in flipping the balance of power in the United States just over a year after the election of a President with a decade’s worth of serious challenges to address and a recalcitrant opposition hell-bent on denying him any meaningful legislation.

The appetite for ignorance always seems to overwhelm the true thirst for knowledge. Higher education in the U.S. often needs to be camouflaged lest one be labeled and set aside as an “elitist” or “academic”. Just look at out national values by comparing the very small percentage of the Federal budget set aside for education compared to what is allocated for defense and the story is told.

We do well to step back and reflect on our estate. How much have we bought into a ready-made set of comfortable mythologies and how alive do we want to be? Is freedom a value or a catch phrase that is nullified by a deeper need to be told what to believe, how to live, what to wear, how to talk, and what it means to be succesful?

It is our’s to choose:  Ignorance or knowledge. This is not only an imperative of citizenship and mind, but is a critical aspect of the depth and breadth of our spirituality. One cannot separate these from one another. They are inter-dependent parts of one true Self.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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According to Plato, “all is remembrance.” But, there is so much that I’ve forgotten.

With each passing year, I lose more of what I once knew. As I catalogue the range of topics into which my lost memories fall, they include:

  • song titles and artists,
  • names of theorists,
  • book titles and authors,
  • names of key attractions in some cities around the world,
  • where I left my car keys, pens, collar stays, cuff links and belt,
  • how to drive to certain regional destinations I’ve visited in the past without benefit of a GPS device,
  • names of computer files, documents and passwords, and,
  • lists of things I need from the supermarket.

Hmm. Now that I look at the list, most of the items on it ( except for my car keys and maybe my belt), are trivial, unimportant clutter. In reality, it’s not that the brain is “winding down” with age. It’s just cleaning house. With each year, in fact, I am remembering things that I experienced years ago and doing so with added meaning. The time machine of mind replays the past so that more recent experiences can look at them with new perspective and through new lenses.

Memories are reintegrating, clustering, and interconnecting in novel ways. In our Western societies, aging is too often interpreted as degradation, an unwinding, a devolutionary experience, and deterioration.The social programming is strong and after the age of 50, one hears people talking about themselves as anachronistic. Every ache and every pain is enlarged as further proof that best days are no longer ahead. This is altogether a brainwashing; a set of expectations baked into the culture and its worship of youth. We can learn much by looking to the Far East.

In fact, the so-called “senior moment” certainly need not be a cause for embarrassment, apology, nor a fretting over the march of time. On the contrary, with the exception of diagnosed neurological disease, it is merely a sign of learning taken to the next level. Bits and bytes are rewoven into whole cloth, and the narrative storyline of a life emerges.

I raise a toast to the senior moments in celebrating their function as a cleanser for the soul. To forget some things is to make room for new ones. All learning requires forgetting.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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This has been a difficult Winter for many parts of the Nation and Europe. London and many German cities have seen snow that they haven’t experienced in over a decade. The Southeast has experienced unusually cold temperatures and one after another serious storm.

As soon as the news media get the word, all attention turns to tracking the storm. Language becomes quickly melodramatic and even small things get big coverage. People are deployed to capture footage of the storm, and we watch. The next predictable behavior is a somewhat frantic run on bread and milk at the supermarkets ( though I prefer fruit, sparkling water, and cheese). In all the hustling and talking about the “approaching storm,” one detects a certain palpable undercurrent of real excitement.

Like so many others, if I am at home, I sit mesmerized by the reporting. It’s exciting. In our lives of otherwise predictable tomorrow’s and the round of boring tasks, a storm brings with it clear uncertainty and unquestioned authority. It isn’t relative or nuanced. It just is what it is. We can’t control the weather. We have no idea how big and bad it will really be until it hits and passes. We stand in awe of nature’s power and it speaks to us in primeval ways. It speaks a language of creation and the forces that violently gave birth to our world.

The tempest is the face of mystery. It is the one manifestation of the unknown and of the danger of living that brings us to attention. We are alert in a storm. Our senses are on high gain. We are attuned to all around us. We are full of expectation and watching. How delicious is the waiting and the wondering and the force of it when it strikes. Secretly, we hope its big enough to be really challenging but not so big as to put us in serious jeopardy.

G-d resides inside the storm. We feel a Presence, a defining power, and an immediacy. It is no wonder that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit philosopher, theologian, archaeologist and Priest, wrote of a conversion experience in the face of an approaching storm.

The sky was “green” with electrical activity and he watched as a front moved swiftly toward his place in an open field. Rather than run for cover, he stood tall and threw all caution, quite literally, to the wind. Lightning strikes were many around him, trees were split by them, and yet he remained standing as the coming fierce rain and wind came down upon him with a seeming vengeance. When it passed, he was transformed, more fully alert and alive than ever before. He sensed the Presence of the Sacred and was briefly united with it.

I recall, as many readily can, the storms that were moments of encounter with the great mystery. As a young man, this happened, while unadvisedly traveling in a Boston whaler, out by about a mile off shore into the open ocean. A storm suddenly came up and the waves grew swiftly very large. With waves lifting the propeller out of the water with each crest,  I turned and headed back toward shore in both abject terror and exhilaration. The sky was “angry” and the rain fell hard and literally hurt as it fell on my face, hands, and head.

I was, like Teilhard, more truly alive, if terrified, than ever before. Life brings these peak moments to us infrequently, but they are memorable when they do arrive. The weather is a vehicle for intimacy with the Sacred. Our instinctive attraction to them is testament to our kinship with the raw forces in them that are part of our collective unconscious.

It’s the storm that cries out for us to really awaken to the creative act and moment. All creation is a destruction. After the storm, the sky is clear and the air is clean, and the world feels as if reborn.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Ah, the pressure of owning things. I work to stay non-attached but the seductions are great. We grow fond of the appliances, paraphernalia, clothing and accessories that form a self-concept package. We can pretend that we are not attached to such things and know the importance of doing so intellectually but that holding back from lustful living is often itself a clever camouflage for its opposite – unbridled identification with our invented identity and its symbols. The true test is how we respond in the face of the loss or theft of something upon which we have come to rely.

This past December, I was given the gift of anew iPhone. Many of my business colleagues had made the shift and I confess being quite pleased in receiving it. The functionality of it has proven quite impressive. Ease of typing, surprisingly, was better than I expected. The touch screen feature is very efficient, the capacity to combine Ipod and phone, GPS navigation, internet access, document reading and editing, Skype calling abroad, and a seemingly endless supply of useful, if not simply entertaining, applications are striking features. Suffice it to say that, in just two months, I’ve become a true fan.

Last week, while traveling on business, I lost the phone. I simply cannot reconstruct, as so often happens, the steps I took, and how I came to get separated from it, but it is gone. Was it stolen when I was inattentive (perhaps when I stopped to check in with a car rental office and left it in the car on the seat), or did I unwittingly drop it in the snow? Whatever happened to it, the device that I had come to rely on was surely missing.

What was interesting was the way I felt. I was angry and I felt, if it was stolen, somewhat violated. In any event, I found myself very down, self-critical         (deservedly), and acted as if I had lost an old friend. After all, it is just a device, an expensive one, but a device nonetheless. This prompted a series of meditations on the meaning of lost articles to the psyche. Our sphere of personal space expands to include the devices and possessions with which we either adorn ourselves or our environments. We breath meaning and personal value into that which we draw close, whether machine or not. We cultivate strong bonds of dependence to what we label as ours.

While I am certainly disappointed in losing the phone, I am also amused at the two days spent continuing the search and, most especially, the dark feelings that the loss engendered in me. Though the lesson is an expensive one, it is still a lesson. We are creatures who naturally become attached. We cling.

We are reassured by what we come to own. It extends our reach into the world. There is unquestionably narcissism in it for we see our reflection in these things. After all, we populate these devices with favorite applications. We name the device. We give it character through selected wallpaper and personal screen savers. We imbue it with reflections of our values and our interests.

Losses like these are reminders and they are corrective. This is not to say that we should never own such things and make good use of them and enjoy them. It simply makes compelling the speed with which we move our sense of meaning into them. It is right and good to stand naked regularly and look at ourselves, at who and what we really are.

It is good to remember that the unadorned, or beginner’s mind, is the true and primordial state, and the only place in which truth resides. All the rest is fantasy and represents a form of from low to high states of play.

Let us celebrate our inventiveness, our cleverness, our technological marvels, and our sciences. Let us thoroughly enjoy the things that give us pleasure, while always remembering, returning to this central truth each day, that it is all an invitation to a higher play: an infinite play of being the vessels through which divinity flows.

Standing alone with nothing at all, we are still the perpetual focus of the Beloved who forever and unconditionally sees our naked grandeur.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The steel behemoth lurches, pulling fast-away just after my arriving;

Not a moment to lose as I begin the clear afternoon crossing.

A gently undulating sea receives my haste and purpose with cool indifference;

Only the evanescent foam at the stern in the wake of my transit takes any notice.

So goes the journey of souls ferried here and there in dissolving moments;

Consumed by flights of well-meaning, scheduled intending.

As native gulls soar and search, and the diesel-beast heaves forward;

Under smooth and comforting skies,  a fresh-clean and azure-blue.

No white scars of cloud or flight of any man-made thing;

And my eyes go out to where sky and water meet, and I hear my heart beating.

No goals no roles no missions to delude me;

I am the lighted sea, and the winter sky.

I am the boiling foamy-turbulence in the Archimedean trail;

The hungry gull, the bustling crewman,

and the poet watcher,

a curious looking-man,

gazing down upon the crossing.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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