The Seeker and the Sought

THE QUEST by James H. Cousins

They said: ‘She dwelleth in some place apart,
Immortal Truth, within whose eyes
Who looks may find the secret of the skies
And healing for life’s smart!’ 

I sought Her in loud caverns underground,–
On heights where lightnings flashed and fell;
I scaled high Heaven; I stormed the gates of Hell,
But Her I never found 

Till thro’ the tumults of my Quest I caught
A whisper: ‘Here, within thy heart,
I dwell; for I am thou: behold, thou art
The Seeker–and the Sought.’

Our species is unique in the animal kingdom for our ability in and insistence upon substituting fleeting opinion for the Immortal Truth in virtually every area of function. If we are in fact the highest form of life on earth, it makes sense, then, that the body of humanity could potentially provide a connecting link between that which is above and that which is below.

Exactly what is above us is the subject of much interest and inquiry. It is clear that we as a species are the top of the earthly food chain and that we yield considerable influence over the rest of earthly creation, but the claim that there are none higher in all of the universe is myopic and at risk of being disproved in much the same way as the proponents of geocentrism were not long ago.

Most of the arguably simplistic notions about who (singular or plural) sits above us germinate in the minds of the religiously inclined. A God or gods exert their influence and communicate His, Her or their will from an invisible, yet ubiquitous realm through a mysterious intervening medium. Different elements of this matrix are highlighted whether you live in the East or the West, for example, and the differing perspectives clash whenever the differences are weighted more heavily than the underlying commonalities. Unfortunately, the opinion-laden structural beams of the world’s great religions prevent them from bearing the weight of truth in all its aspects.

I am reminded this morning of a powerful phrase I learned years ago: “That which divides also connects.” If man sits between his Creator and the rest of earthly creation, then he both divides one from the other and has the potential ability to connect them, as a go-between. He is, in this sense, either a link or a missing link.

If there is to be integrity of the whole, the thread of truth must weave its way from the top of the pattern to the outermost edges. Whenever the thread of truth is broken by false beliefs, rigidly held opinions or prejudices of any type, a hole develops in the fabric. As with any article of clothing, the holes grow larger over time. The holes initially mar the aesthetic appeal and eventually diminish the utility of the garment. So it is with the fabric of truth that divides and connects all things.

I do not possess sufficient faith to believe those who say that the truth is a human construct. The truth is, regardless of what we think of it for the moment or what we collectively deem it to be. Its essence is the subject of both religious and scientific inquiry, and it is increasingly obvious to me that knowledge of the truth comes more through revealing it from within outward  than it does by collecting, classifying and preserving samples of it in the form of scientific knowledge or religious beliefs.

Occasionally someone comes along who darns the holes in the fabric and restores the integrity of the fabric to its original pattern. Such individuals polarize those whose compass is declined by falsehoods to the magnetic north of human deviation and reenergize those who genuinely seek the truth. They tend to be put on pedestals, pedestals which transform into chopping blocks when the truth that is brought rubs those who have exploited the holes the wrong way.

Each and every person on earth has the responsibility and the privilege of coming to know the truth for him or herself. The truth is one and as such, there is no “your truth” or “my truth.” The truth, as I’ve said, is.

The two most important questions facing anyone who sojourns on this earth for any amount of time are these:

1. Are you willing to quest for the truth, above all things?

2. Once you’ve found it, are you sufficiently courageous to admit that you have?

Dust of Snow

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

It has been an interesting weekend, starting with an all-nighter caring for a sick child on Friday and ending in the first of two company parties yesterday evening. What was sandwiched in between was, in a word, rueful: a dead HVAC unit, a minor flood in the office, my recuperating hawk perching on my shoulder and then head and finally a close friend’s new puppy diagnosed with parvovirus. Oh, that I had happened upon a crow and a hemlock tree!

On the bright side, Northeast Georgia (Dahlonega in particular) is experiencing unseasonably low temperatures and drumroll, please…snow! Having spent most of my childhood in colder climes, the freezing temps aren’t that big of a deal, though past injuries do seem to creak a little more than in summer and than in my youth.

Frost’s poem is delightful to me as I’ve often considered how a change in heart leads immediately to a change in mood. I was speaking with a yoga instructor friend of mine at dinner last night and she made an interesting statement. She said that most people take up yoga with a desire to gain physical flexibility but if they stick with it long enough they become more mentally end emotionally supple.

Mental and emotional resiliency come from the inside out. If you base your mood on what is going on outside of you, you will live life on a roller coaster. Your good moods will come when things are going well and your bad moods will rear their ugly head, well, the rest of the time. It doesn’t need to be that way.

You can use your heart radiantly as well as reactively. Most people emphasize the latter capacity, but those with true grit regularly exercise the former. The expression of radiance does not require more exertion, in fact, it comes as a result of greater relaxation.

Unrelieved tension is the nemesis of radiance. You cannot try to be radiant. You either are or you aren’t. Engaging in regular changes of pace, such as yoga or massage, when you lead an otherwise busy, go-getter life, generates valuable space in heart and mind that lead, in turn, to a greater expression of radiance.

Wise, stable and sane is the person who cultivates this balance, a balance achieved, incidentally, through oscillation between rest and exertion or put differently, between “being” and “achieving.” Foolish, unstable and nuts is the person who relies solely on cues from the environment to determine the state of his heart and subsequently his mood.

Radiance comes from an inexhaustible source deep within. When you truly understand this you won’t rue another day. Some days will provide more openings than others and if you’re lucky and you’ve forgotten that every day is an opportunity for radiance, you might just be lucky enough to be sprinkled by the dust of snow from a hemlock tree as a gentle reminder!

The Spirit of the Age

“The spirit of the age is filled with the disdain for thinking.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Learning to think is one of the most underrated and overlooked of the steps that lead to living a purposeful, meaningful and fulfilling life. Far more than developing the ability to ingest, digest and retain information, learning to think involves developing that uncommon sense called wisdom.

I once heard wisdom described as the “sense of the fitness of things” and I have yet to discover a better definition for this rare commodity. Wisdom comes only from those who are truly at rest in themselves and it only emerges through a heart and mind free of tension, fear or greed. Wisdom, in a way, is the natural expression of one who stands assuredly yet humbly in this place that is uniquely his or hers to occupy.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca once wrote that “No man was ever wise by chance.” Wisdom is not cleverness, neither is it the ability to manipulate knowledge. Wisdom, instead, is received as you learn to think in the sense that I believe Dr. Schweitzer was describing.

Every flash of inspiration or stroke of genius was nothing more than the evidence of an individual who was, at least for the moment, open to the ever-flowing fountain of wisdom. Thinking is much more than mental machination. Thinking involves both heart and mind, and both must be at peace for the windmills of your mind to work properly.

Have you ever focused intensely on resolving a problem and then walked away from it for a moment, forgetting about it in the process and then somehow had the solution magically and suddenly “come” to you? Well, duh, you came to rest for a moment and voila, the wheel could turn and wisdom flowed freely.

Your level of education is no more a measure of your ability to be wise than your shoe size is a measure of your ability to run quickly. Neither is your relative accumulation of “street smarts.” Wisdom comes only to those who are captains of their soul, those who have come to the point where they are not defined by the outer things – clothing, looks, social position, wealth, wit and so on – but instead those who are at rest in themselves.

You can and should be an aperture for the expression of wisdom into the world you center. Don’t be afraid of thinking, truly thinking. There is an old saying: “Teach a man to think he thinks and he will love you. Teach a man to think and he will hate you.” Well, I for one stand ready to be hated if those are indeed the terms.

Thinking in the sense being described here is a tremendous privilege. It is the means by which purposeful, meaningful contributions are made. Without thinking you may live a life that feels comfortable at first, but in the long run you will miss out on the fulfillment of your life’s true purpose.

Reverence for Life

Albert Schweizer, Image by Wikipedia

The holidays are fast upon us and I had the good pleasure of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my sons after dinner last evening. At one point in the show, Linus mentioned that Albert Schweitzer’s dislike of Christmas stemmed from the fact that he did not take kindly to writing thank you notes. I hadn’t heard that name in a while, so I did a little digging…

As you may know, Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence of Life,” which is translated from the original German phrase “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben.” The compelling ethical philosophy was best summarized by Schweitzer himself in his book Civilization and Ethics: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”

The idea came to him after a period of deep thought in Gabon in 1915 as he was developing the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. Again, Schweitzer tells it best:

But what is civilization?

The essential element in civilization is the ethical perfecting of the individual as well as society. At the same time, every spiritual and every material step forward has significance for civilization. The will to civilization is, then, the universal will to progress that is conscious of the ethical as the highest value. In spite of the great importance we attach to the achievements of science and human prowess, it is obvious that only a humanity that is striving for ethical ends can benefit in full measure from material progress and can overcome the dangers that accompany it…” “The only possible way out of chaos is for us to adopt a concept of the world based on the ideal of true civilization.” “For months on end I lived in a continual state of mental agitation. Without the least success I concentrated – even during my daily work at the hospital, – on the real nature of the affirmation of life and of ethics and on the question of what they have in common. I was wandering about in a thicket where no path was to be found. I was pushing against an iron door that would not yield.

In that mental state I had to take a long journey up the river…Lost in thought I sat on deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal concept of the ethical that I had not discovered in any philosophy. I covered sheet after sheet with disconnected sentences merely to concentrate on the problem. Two days passed. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase : “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben” (reverence for life”). The iron door had yielded. The path in the thicket had become visible.

You would think that breakthrough moments like that are unforgettable, but I have known many people who have “seen the light” or put in different terms, recognized their life’s purpose and then for one reason or another have turned their backs on it. Fortunately we have the example of Dr. Schweitzer (among many other great leaders), who never gave up on his passionate quest to discover a universal ethical philosophy.

A passionate, thoughtful, purposeful life is a life worth living. Anything less is a compromise, a deliberate refusal to let the vibrancy of life course through your heart and mind and out into the world through your expression.

The will to live is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Life has a magical way of finding expression through even the most limited and barren places. If given the chance, a literal or figurative womb, life will spring forth abundantly.

Take time this holiday season to renew your reverence for life. Magnify its blessings by extending blessing to the world around you. Remember this always: your fulfillment is directly proportional to your reverence for life.

Der Friede sei mit dir. Peace be unto you.

The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring so greatly that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

If ever there was a recipe for a creative life, it is this: to engage unabashedly with whatever comes your way. The world is full of talkers, naysayers, spectators, critics, crybabies and cynics and relatively short on motivators, those who can galvanize and doers. The difference between the two is found in the level of engagement with your field of responsibility.

Your world, that is, your sphere of influence, should rightly grow as you age. Some people never grow up. They remain as children, lacking sufficient maturity and sensitivity to radiate the unmistakeable quality of character that says “the buck stops here.” The quality of character of which I speak is granted only to those who consistently assume full responsibility for the little things in life, such as tidiness, timeliness, follow-through and creative problem-solving, again, in the little things in preparation for the large.

Take care that you do not go through life cutting corners, inattentive to the small things that matter in your world and sitting on the sidelines wishing you had a different set of circumstances. Instead, embrace it with passion, enthusiasm, devotion, determination and good cheer. Yes, I said it, good cheer.

Have a great day!

Be Ye Therefore Perfect. Seriously? Seriously.

My youngest son (4 years old) passed the weight test to climb the 24 foot rock wall at the Atlanta Zoo (40 lb. minimum) the day before yesterday and he made a bee line for the top, rang the bell and belayed down. He never hesitated, he remained focused on the goal and he never relinquished control of his body, mind or heart. I can say without qualification that he was perfect, absolutely perfect in that moment!

Speaking of the “p” word, I find it curious that the mere idea of perfection tends to freak most people out. Those who see perfection as tenable are branded as snobs, idealists or arrogant, while those who are convinced of its impossibility possess the perfect excuse for explaining away every failure under the sun.

The idea that human nature is flawed and that human beings are imperfect is one that proponents of science and religion are drawn to like moths to a flame. In religious circles, there is general agreement that we were once “good” but due to an unfortunate and willful bad decision we became sinners in need of salvation. In scientific circles, the notion that perfection is our birthright is blasphemy because we are evolving from our humble beginnings as self-reproducing RNA toward an ever better, more complex future, albeit one that is likely riddled with chaos and imperfection.

It’s hard to mention perfection without also thinking of a remarkable man who walked the earth some 2,000 years ago, a man who has been in many people’s thoughts ever since. He, more than just about anyone else in the centuries that followed, taught that perfection was possible and available to all who sought it. While his teachings were organized and at times rather tragically twisted into religions and codes of behavior by those who were inspired by his wisdom, I do suggest that anyone who longs to live a creative life spend a little time reviewing the observations on life attributed to him.

At a certain point in his life he was purported to make the injunction: “Be ye therefore perfect…”, an electrifying and polarizing commandment that proved an unpopular thing to say to those living on earth at the time. The shock wave produced by that notion has haunted the consciousness of man for nearly two thousand years, leaving a freshly pressed impression on the minds of men that begs the question from generation to generation: “Is perfection possible?”

I believe that it is. Allow me to explain. For starters, perfection is not what most people think it is. It is not static, fixed, unchanging; neither is it passionless, sterile or detached from the quotidian affairs of men. Instead, it is dynamic, fluid, malleable, commodious, energetic and peaceful. Perfection is a floating band of possibilities, not a linear path of all-or-nothing choices. No matter what you believe or don’t believe in, the stand you take on perfection determines the impact you will have on the world through your living.

Why would one of the most remarkable human beings to grace this planet issue such a command if perfection were not possible? To mock us? To give us something to aim for to keep us off the streets? No! He believed and revealed – from what I can see through the lens of history – that perfection is available to each one.

It can be challenging to see through the matrix of concepts, opinions and beliefs that shroud the perfection revealed at that time and non-religious people often mistakenly throw the baby out with the bath water by saying that religion is bunk and therefore what he offered is not worthy of consideration. But if you take a close look, it’s hard not to leave room for the possibility that just about everyone in the world today has it wrong. How specifically? Well, the widely accepted and chanted mantra: “nobody’s perfect” couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Such mistakes have happened before, haven’t they? Just because the majority believes it to be a certain way, doesn’t mean it is so. No amount of human opinion can overturn the reality of the situation, for logic that proceeds from a faulty premise is flawed, no matter how elegant the structure formed thereby.

Well then, what are the options? As I understand it at this point in my life, the options are as follows:

  1. Refuse to believe that perfection is possible. Claim that “nobody’s perfect” – not you, not me, not anybody – and declare the case dismissed. The options with this choice are: (a) pick apart anyone who comes close. Destroy them if necessary or (b) strive for progress but never perfection.
  2. Believe that perfection is possible but only for a God or gods in human flesh. “They can do it but I cannot really be expected to.” The options at that point are: (a) don’t even bother trying, (b) make a half-hearted attempt, for it is better to die a failure than to never have tried or (c) accept the idea that you can get a free pass somehow without doing the work yourself.
  3. Believe that perfection is possible for anyone and everyone given the proper education. Learn the keys to wisdom – that uncommon sensitivity to the right choice in any situation – and unlock the door to perfection in the circumstances that come your way.

The refusal to accept the possibility of perfection – here and now – is the perfect way to guarantee mediocrity. If perfection is not possible, then so too is:

  1. Being in the right place at the right time
  2. Doing the right thing at the right time
  3. Saying the right thing at the right time (le mot juste)

Why not take a stand on this issue? Why not rise to the call that has echoed through the ages and accept the responsibility for the expression of perfection? You needn’t adhere to one religion or another to be open to the possibility of perfection and the fact that you deny its possibility doesn’t make you scientific.

I have a hunch that we’ve made it much harder for ourselves that we need to, much as an “experienced” adult would let his fears, doubts and convictions stand in the way of climbing a rock wall without hesitation, in the pure and unencumbered fashion of a 4 year old. “Well,” you say “life’s just not that simple.”

Well, maybe you’re right. If you are convinced that perfection is not possible, it is unlikely that you’ll do what is required to reveal it consistently. Conversely, admitting that it is possible is the first and most important step in the process that leads to its consistent revelation in and through you.

Secret O’Life

While driving to vote this morning I heard a James Taylor song that I have only heard once before. Entitled “Secret O’Life”, Taylor suggests that the secret of life is “enjoying the passage of time.” A simple idea, to be sure, but one that eludes many people in their frenetic quest for happiness and satisfaction.

Most people, whether they admit to it or not, think a great deal about life. In our modern era (and perhaps in earlier times) one strategy for dealing with life is to fill one’s days to overflowing with stimulating experiences. Others take the approach of amassing material possessions in an effort to generate a lasting sense of happiness. Both approaches operate on the same fundamental assumption: that happiness can be extracted from an external experience.

I am of the opinion that life is meant to be enjoyed, not just by a select few, but by all. A common myth in the current American psyche is that if you do what you love, then you will be happy; the implication being that you won’t be happy if your aren’t doing what you love. I’d like to turn that notion around a bit.

Rather than searching for what you love to do, learn to love to handle what is under your nose right now! The day before yesterday we considered the matter of judgment and if there is any area of human function that is in need of liberation from the confines of judgment it is this. People, generally speaking, are in the habit of judging and pre-judging what they like and don’t like to do to that point that very little room is left to savor the uniqueness of the present moment.

Every circumstance you face in life, every job you hold, every relationship you form has within it the seeds of hope, joy and growth, yet proper nourishment is required for those seeds to germinate. If you are convinced that doing the dishes or balancing your checkbook, for instance, will be a horrible experience, it will be every time. If you say to yourself, “I’ve seen the factors lining up like this before. It’s going to be awful,” then it probably will be.

Not only do people see what they look for, they contribute their life force to that which they expect to happen. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that intention will always produce a desired outcome, but I am convinced that overlaying a future experience with negative bias will tend to emphasize those seeds, rather than encouraging a more desirable harvest.

Allow yourself to love what you do, no matter what you are doing. Even if the only thing you can love about a situation is the fact that you are on hand to provide an uplifting outlook where no others can, you can still channel your love through that narrow aperture. Don’t resort to judgment, for judgment taints the soil you plant in at that moment and puts the quality of some future harvest at risk.

James Taylor was on to something, as musicians so often are, in his refrain “The secret o’life is enjoying the passage of time.” Now that the cat is out of the bag, the question you must answer is whether or not you’re willing to let go of judgment and let go to an uncommon experience of life?