Friday, December 20, 2013

Journal of a Soul 39

The Human Condition

Autumn scene, Fairview Park
This title covers a multitude.  It is a phrase I have heard bandied about since I was in my mid-teens.  When I was young I was very certain of what things I really believed in; I trusted instinctively what society in its wisdom through the education system and the broadcast and print media wanted us to accept almost unquestioned; I welcomed almost wholly the accepted truths promulgated by either Church or State.  However, as soon as I got to college I was encouraged to question accepted opinions and beliefs on a cerebral level. However, it was when things began to crumble on a personal level much later in life that I really began to question the old certainties.  Questioning old certainties has always been part of the life of the thinking person.

Daily Reality

As a firm believer in the positive outcomes of such practices as those of various Meditation techniques, Yoga, Zen, TM, Tai Chi, Falun Gong, Focusing (Eugene Gendlin) and so on, and even ordinary everyday physical exercise, I have instinctively in the last twenty or so years almost always listened to the wisdom of my body.  The body, when listened to in any attentive fashion, is a great yardstick of and guide to what is truly real.  Our bodies in a physical way (through pain and the development of the various psychosomatic diseases) "know" much more about us -  stuff we either refuse to accept about ourselves or the world - or are simply unconscious of in the first place.  That's why another name for Meditation is Awareness (Anthony de Mello has written a wonderful book with this very title which is really worth reading) and Mindfulness, still another more modern synonym.  Such practices train us in precisely becoming more aware firstly of our own bodies through concentrating on or being aware of something so essentially and simply human as our very breathing, and then becoming aware of our "real" or "essential" self, or simply by learning to delight in simply being.  Doing versus Being is an interesting polarity, or contrast, or healthy tension, or dichotomy - call it what you will. They are really the two polar opposites of the see-saw of existence as it were.  I will refer to them more fully below.

What is Your Daily Reality?

My daily reality is that of a 55 year-old Special Education Teacher in a Boys' Secondary School where I teach in the Asperger's Unit as well as doing learning support for pupils who have problems in Mathematics.  In between the teaching, or perhaps more correctly, during that teaching I listen to the vicissitudes of the lives of my charges.  One boy who comes in tells me about his suicide attempts and about his friends who have cut themselves.  Young people (that is, teenagers) today have many concerns, not all as grave or as serious as the one I have briefly described in the foregoing sentence.  Others have addiction problems or are perhaps the sons of absent fathers, or of former or current drug addicts, or of abusive parents and so on and on and on. Others are just going through the usual hard and difficult identity crisis associated with their adolescent years.  However, the nub of the problem, that is of the human condition, is very simple really - all they want is a compassionate and non-judgmental adult ear.   In a sense my workaday world is never dull or dry or sterile. It is always gripping and mostly rewarding if at times somewhat tiring. All you have to do, dear reader, is to ponder what your daily reality is.  Perhaps it would be better for you to write it down for yourself, or if you are artistic you might sketch or paint it, or if musical sing it or play it. 

Lessons to Learn
Autumn Scene, Fairview Park, late November, 2011

There are many lessons we can learn from tuning in to life, from becoming aware or mindful, and I shall attempt to list some of them here.  Pardon me if you have read some of them here before because it is really very hard for me to be fresh and insightful a lot of the time.  When I write here, I often feel like I am repeating myself ad nauseam. However, I take much solace from the answer T.S. Eliot gave to an interviewer who commented that the famous and erudite poet had repeated himself much in his poems and writings that while he may have done so he certainly never said anything ever again in precisely the same way. Anyway, here are some short lessons I have learned from life:

(i) We don't get out of life alive.  This world is not a "dress rehearsal."  We only get one shot at living and we had best make the most of it.  In other words, here we have the context for Horace's famous injunction to us "to seize the day" and forget totally about tomorrow and what it may have in store for us.  Those of you who laboured in the vineyards of the Latin language will recall the actual words of Quintus Horatius Flaccus: "carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero."

(ii) Are we happy in our own skin?  Are we really happy with what we do in life, with our job, in our friends, in our partner and family? 

(iii) Have we really got time for others?  Do we really listen to them?  Or even more importantly do we really have time for ourselves? Do we really listen to our inner "self"?

(iv) Think about, or rather meditate upon that wonderful dichotomy between Being and Doing.  In reality one is not more important than the other.  It is rather the harmonious balance of both that is of utmost importance.  Doing must be challenged by Being, and Being can be  supported and enhanced and  by Doing. There is a further polarity worth mentioning here, too, that of Being and Having.  This existential dichotomy was emphasized and explicated by the psychoanalyst, psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm.  While the Western capitalist system feeds the greed for Having, the Eastern religions emphasize the overriding importance of Being.  While we need to have the basics to survive, and some social economists and psychologists suggest that after an annual income of some 44,000 $ the happiness index goes no higher.   

(v) Carl Jung, following his great friend, mentor and collaborator but later opponent, critic and rival Sigmund Freud, held that “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  This task takes many long years of work to accomplish.

(vi) Can we live with ourselves, or accept ourselves precisely as we are?  When we make decisions can we sleep easily knowing that we have done our best and have acted from authentic motives?  If we can we are approaching what it means to be true to our core self.

To be continued

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