Infinitely Precious Things

Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” – Oscar Wilde

You are not defined by what you have (e.g. your possessions, talents, position and appearance), rather, you are what you express day by day, moment by moment. As such, the quality of your expression should always be reflective of the highest and finest expression of which you are presently capable.

In so doing you’ll find that the physics of life begin to work out. Those who are responsive to the best you, the real you, will draw near while those who react to your expression will naturally be driven away. Integrity obviates the need for judgment.

How you handle those who reject or react negatively to your expression is a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, you are wise to scrutinize the criticisms leveled against you for any truth they may contain and make adjustments to your orientation, motivation and course as necessary, but you needn’t dwell on them or feed them through reaction. The greatest friend of truth is time.

Rare but precious are those who rise to this standard. Yet no matter how few they may be in number at any point in time, their expression inches forward the weave of the golden thread of integrity through the loom of time. An ounce of integrity in expression outweighs the sum total of everything less than it in any given moment. Integrity is infinitely precious.

Message of Hope

Message of Hope by Gregg Hake

There I sat in a forest of verdant desolation
Nature yet strong, in stark contrast to
Man waning in waxing arrogance

Entrusted to deliver the message of hope
I walked barefooted o’er soft and fragrant soil
Rejected by others less thankful as barren

Reclined by the quiet rivulet
Watching past, present and future
Unfold before my softened eyes and yielded heart

As water bugs danced upon the surface I heard
The sacred hymn of love set to meter of truth –
Oh glorious music of life!

Humming atoms, flicked into motion by hand unseen
Gyrating, dancing, transmuting through harmony
Forming intricate patterns: invisible made visible

I transcribe this message from my book of life
Word for word from hallowed pages
Written in golden ink upon living paper:

Sit. Be still. Thou are worthy
To incline thine heart to the hymn of love
And pour thy soul into giving it voice.

Dive In!

Why are you here? Have you thought much about it? I have a hard time believing that we are only here to perpetuate the species or to beg, borrow and steal in an effort to die with the most toys. Surely there must be a good reason for your presence on earth?

The way I see it, the whole point of living is to find the ways to let the fullness of the inner invisible, eternal you (aka spirit, being, focus of life or inner soul) that you are find expression through your body, mind and heart, that is, the outer, visible and temporal you. Another way of looking at it is that you must establish the means of connecting the human parts that you “have” with the being part that you “are.”

You are, after all, a human being, aren’t you? These two parts combine to create a whole when everything is working correctly. Many people profess to understand the value of the two functioning seamlessly together, but they regularly revert to the “I’m only human” mentality when the pressure comes on or when they are promoted to the level of their present incompetence.

While we’re in the topic, incompetence is often nothing more than an area in your outer expression where you haven’t yet found the way to let the fullness of the inner you out into the open. Granted there are natural limits for each of us, but generally speaking the limitations people experience are the result of immaturities or “flat spots” in your body, mind and heart and these temporary limitations are not inherent to the inner you and can therefore be overcome.

Of all the things that dislocate or subluxate the two parts of you, none is more seemingly innocuous and more ubiquitous than the mental, physical, or even emotional attitude which is clothed by the phrase “I don’t like.” Virtually every time you make this statement you are laying another brick up on the wall which separates the being that you are from the human capacities of body, mind and heart that you have. So it is that the majority of personal limitations you experience are self-imposed.

If you wish to move at the glass ceiling of your own making, look to dive in where you have previously ducked out. Grab that which you’ve avoided by the horns and give the same attention, care and effort you’ve given to that which you’ve liked to that which you’d prefer not to do. There is no shorter or faster way to personal progress and consequently, to making a difference in the world than to knock down the walls which veil the you who you are from the you who you thought you were.

Moral Energy

“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”- William Butler Yeats

Life, in a nutshell, is the passage from innocence through temptation to either virtue or vice. What will you make of your life today? Will you stand tall, with feet firmly planted on the sacred ground upon which you stand? Or will you slink from shadow to shadow, expecting the worst and fearing the best?

Joy and happiness are not found in submitting to temptation, in fact, they spring from the well of overcoming and the fountainhead of triumph. You cannot overcome if you are busy resisting temptation, or worse, evil.

Letting go to is infinitely more meaningful and important than letting go of. You can never go wrong giving yourself more fully, completely and unequivocally to your present highest vision of the strong and noble focus of life that you are, regardless of the appearance of the outcome.

“Joy is of the will which labours, which overcomes obstacles, which knows triumph.” – William Butler Yeats

Step it up a Notch

Step it up a Notch

I had an interesting conversation with an associate today about the need to inspire others to move out of their comfort zones and into a greater, fuller expression of themselves. As with so many conversations or events that catch my eye or interest, my thoughts on the matter have evolved through the day and it is my delight to share them with you in the hopes that you and those around you might be inspired to step your living up a notch.

Let’s Face It #1

It is so easy to let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security that comes with familiarity, but let’s face it, we live in a dynamic world in which change is constantly afoot. Despite the earnest efforts of many throughout history to defy the laws of living, you cannot really “stay the same” for in so doing you fall behind and eventually apart, for adaptation is critical to survival.

On “Staying the Same”

To be sure, you cannot “stay the same” physically, for your body is constantly exchanging cellular material with your environment and you, biologically speaking, are not the same person as you were yesterday or that you will be by the time you finish reading this post!

Try as you may to “stay the same” mentally by clamping down on ideas and beliefs to which you vow to adhere come hell or high water, your mind is constantly adapting neurologically to the changing stimuli around you.

And your heart, well, don’t even get me started! Your heart, as much as some like to use it as their brain and others like to ignore it all cost, is the most impressionable and thus malleable of the tools you have which give the inner you, your spirit, your being, or whatever you’d prefer to call it sentience, sentiments and mobility – your body, mind and heart!

Let’s Face It #2

Everyone has experienced tragedy, loss or failure of some sort in his life at some point or another. Some are exposed to more devastating and chronic negative influences while others manage to escape relatively unscathed, but we all have mental, emotional and physical scarring to deal with. The more extreme cases may require delicate handling, but everyone has an opportunity to move forward, to grow up and to move more gracefully with the flow of life that will occur with or without the participation of humanity.

What can you do today to step it up a notch? One of the best ways to answer this is to first ask yourself “what limiting assumptions have I held in this area of my living?” An honest answer to this query will invariably get the ball rolling. Maybe you’ve held someone hostage by your prejudiced views or inflexible expectations of them. Or perhaps you’ve not felt yourself up to the task of taking the next step to expand your world. Limiting assumptions always lead to atrophy, which in turn lead to entropy.

I do not possess enough faith to believe that the dizzying complexity of your body’s construction with all of its levels of coordinated organization, the intricate design of your mind and the limitless potential of your heart came together to form the peculiar vehicle that allows for the expression of the unique focus of life that you are just so that you could live a life of mediocrity! You are here to grow and learn, to move from glory unto glory each and every day of your life so that your soul (in the sense of nephesh, that is, the tangible aspects of your life – your body mind and heart) can accommodate the steadily expanding and refining expression of your spirit, the invisible, intangible aspect of you.

This is important for you personally, but the greater blessing is to the world around you. Each time you step it up a notch you prove to those around you that they too can take heart and move forward. Life is too precious to waste by dithering in mediocrity or settling for the sake of comfort.

Rise up and bring it!

Beatific Vision

Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth, for then he can be trusted.” ~ Plato

I’ve frequently argued that man suffers greatly whenever his understanding is distorted by false and limiting assumptions. Fortunately for us, it does not matter how many people believe a falsehood to be true, for no amount of human opinion or belief can make a false thing true or conversely, a true thing false.

I came across Benjamin Jowett’s 1901 translation of Book VII of Plato’s Republic yesterday evening and after having had numerous conversations with friends and associates about the quality of our current political leadership I felt it important to share Plato’s illuminating parable with you:

A Dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon

SOCRATES: And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

GLAUCON: I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

Certainly.

Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

Certainly.

He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.

Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.

Yes, very natural.

And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavouring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?

Anything but surprising, he replied.

Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.

That, he said, is a very just distinction.

But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.

They undoubtedly say this, he replied.

Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.

Very true.

And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking away from the truth?

Yes, he said, such an art may be presumed.

And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise, the virtue of wisdom more than anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue –how eager he is, how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eyesight is forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.

Very true, he said.

But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their souls upon the things that are below –if, I say, they had been released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as they see what their eyes are turned to now.

Very likely.

Yes, I said; and there is another thing which is likely, or rather a necessary inference from what has preceded, that neither the uneducated and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never make an end of their education, will be able ministers of State; not the former, because they have no single aim of duty which is the rule of all their actions, private as well as public; nor the latter, because they will not act at all except upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the islands of the blest.

Very true, he replied.

Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

What do you mean?

I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.

But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.

True, he said, I had forgotten.

Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

Quite true, he replied.

And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of their time with one another in the heavenly light?

Impossible, he answered; for they are just men, and the commands which we impose upon them are just; there can be no doubt that every one of them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of our present rulers of State.

Yes, my friend, I said; and there lies the point. You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after the’ own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.

Most true, he replied.

And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true philosophy. Do you know of any other?

Indeed, I do not, he said. . .

To be free of the chains that limit our vision to shadows of reality we must be willing to “be from the first a partaker in truth.” What that means to you and to me is unique to each one of us, not because there are “many truths” or “your truth” and “my truth,” but because each of us has a distinctive perspective on truth. The truth is never in conflict with itself and wherever thought, word and deed are harmonized with the truth, true agreement is found.

To partake of the truth you must be willing to recognize errors in your perception or beliefs, correct them swiftly and move on, hopefully in the direction of a clearer understanding of the truth. You must also be willing to contemplate the world around you and not just swallow it as it is, hook, line and sinker. You have an inquiring mind; make good use of it! If it is dull, take steps to sharpen it. If it is jaded, forgive and look anew. If it is foggy, eschew with great diligence that which stupefies (judgment above all else).

Everyone deserves time in the island of the blest, but no man can give it to you. The virtue of wisdom is at hand for you, for me, but it comes only to those who can be trusted with its power.

What is education?

The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.” ~ Plato

The transition into the 20th century was a watershed event for both medicine and education. Over the course of a few decades, medical education and the system of primary and secondary education employed in our nation relinquished their classical roots which dated back to the Greek and Roman systems crafted 2,500 years earlier in favor of a new approach to healing and learning.

The Carnegie Institute funded a study led by Mr. Abraham Flexner in an attempt to reform and improve the system of medical education in the early 1900s. You can read more bout his efforts in my post The Flexner Century is Over. At the same time, educational experts sought a new way to prepare children for productive work in a world reshaped by the industrial revolution. The system of classical education developed by the Greeks and refined by the Romans focused on the pursuit of a unifying principle by which and through which life could be understood and lived meaningfully. The new model discarded that approach, favoring a new output, that is, class after class of uniformly prepared students capable of functioning in a more industrialized world.

This new approach caught like wildfire, and educational reform swept through the schools and universities of the era. Initial results appeared favorable, but over time the approach lost its luster and its effectiveness. The humanities suffered. Even though the United States had a higher percentage of educated citizens than most other industrialized nations, the previously refined and penetrating capacity for critical thinking atrophied significantly.

Consider these statistics compiled by former US Secretary of Education William J Bennett:

  • American 12th graders rank 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in mathematic achievement and 16th out of 21 nations in science.Our advanced physics students ranked dead last.
  • Since 1983, over 10 million Americans have reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. Over 20 million have reached their senior year unable to do basic math. Almost 25 million have reached 12th grade not knowing the essentials of U.S. history.
  • According to U.S. manufacturers, 40% of all 17-year-olds do not have the math skills and 60% lack the reading skills to hold down a production job at a manufacturing company.
  • 76% of college professors and 63% of employers believe that “a high school diploma is no guarantee that the typical student has learned the basics.”

What could possibly explain these disastrous results? In a 2009 essay in American Scholar, english professor William Chase explained why his field had been “pushed to the periphery”:

But there are additional reasons for the drop in numbers of students concentrating in English and other subjects in the literary humanities. History, geography, and demography do not explain it all. Other forces, both external and internal, have been at work. The literary humanities and, in particular, English are in trouble for reasons beyond their control and for reasons of their own making. First, an obvious external cause: money. With the cost of a college degree surging upward during the last quarter century—tuition itself increasing far beyond any measure of inflation—and with consequent growth in loan debt after graduation, parents have become anxious about the relative earning power of a humanities degree. Their college-age children doubtless share such anxiety. When college costs were lower, anxiety could be kept at bay. (Berkeley in the early ’60s cost me about $100 a year, about $700 in today’s dollars.) Alexander W. Astin’s research tells us that in the mid-1960s, more than 80 percent of entering college freshmen reported that nothing was more important than “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” Astin, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, reports that “being very well off financially” was only an afterthought, one that fewer than 45 percent of those freshmen thought to be an essential goal. As the years went on, however, and as tuition shot up, the two traded places; by 1977, financial goals had surged past philosophical ones, and by the year 2001 more than 70 percent of undergraduate students had their eyes trained on financial realities, while only 40 percent were still wrestling with meaningful philosophies.

The world has changed but has humanity? In my observation people still grapple with the failure to develop a meaningful philosophy of life, no matter how much information that amass in their minds or in the visible spectrum of the collective subconscious mind we call “the internet.” Information is necessary, but not sufficient to develop the capacity for critical thinking.

American philosopher, psychologist and education reformer John Dewey made a fascinating statement in Education and Experience that has stuck with me through the years. Consider this:

What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information… if in the process an individual loses his own soul: loses his appreciation of things worth while, of the values to which these things are relative; if he loses desire to apply what he has learned and, above all, loses the ability to extract meaning from his future experiences as they occur?

Do we need more education reform or do we need to admit to ourselves that the template that our current system is cut from was inaccurate, despite its initial appeal? I am not a classicist longing for the days of yore, rather, I am a father and a citizen, concerned for the future of his children and his country.

Refining our ability to move in the wrong direction is not the answer. Finding our way back to a program of education that results in intelligent, balanced and wise men and women capable of critical thinking – no matter what the subject at hand may be – is, in my estimation, exactly what we need.