Thursday, December 23, 2021

Reflections on the Eve of Christmas Eve, 2021


They constantly try to escape

From the darkness outside and within

By dreaming of systems so perfect

That no one will need to be good.

But the man that is will shadow

The man that pretends to be.    (T.S. Eliot, The Rock)


Being and pretending oscillate like an perpetual pendulum inside the soul of each of us, as well as in the external universe. And the lens that perceives this oscillation is also an oscillation between the intrinsic and extrinsic lens of our paradoxical existence as both subject and object. Our “what” and our “who” and our “where” and our “when” are both dispassionately parsed and also glued in a gestalt of both reality and dream. Not incidentally, our “why” is also “siamesed” into that gestalt.

And therein lies both our tragedy and our hope, also intimately enmeshed in ways that millions of lives have terminated on the determination to disentangle that knot.

Heroes, both quixotic and authentic, fling themselves on the ‘brink’ to save the world. Men especially have been doing that for millennia. Women, too, in different ways, have ignited fires of promise and hope, rescue and life-saving danger, believing in any collage of deities, ethical codes, visionary utopias, and ‘pre-ordained destinies’ that drove them into the fray.

Saving the world, that apocalyptic vision of personal and global salvation, has hung like a cumulus cloud over history forever. It inspires many, and destroys many. Our individual orientation to the apocalypse, among other features of metahistory, is part of our individual and our collective psychic, spiritual, intellectual and imaginative DNA. It is not only a conviction in something called a rapture that signifies our shared utopian destiny; we have each been impregnated with a psychic and a spiritual and a biological and an imaginative ‘gene’ that, whether empirically proven by science or not, shines like a ‘north star’ in the galaxy potentially of both our consciousness and our unconscious. Is the source of that ‘gene’ (obviously a metaphor) some deity, nature itself, our wildest and highest imagination, our ancestors, the drawings on cave a pyramid walls, the most intimate relationship to all living things, plants, animals, water, air that all seem to have both purpose and meaning….who is willing to say?

We all seek and desire, to varying degrees, a healthy existence including some realization of an essential meaning and purpose, juxtaposed with a profound consciousness that the world is uninhabitable. We live poised, too often like an ant eterized for anatomical discovery, between our highest and most loving dreams and visions and our deepest and most heinous fears. Historic references to heaven and hell attempt to capture that polarity.

Whether either or both exist, depending on the meaning and application of how existence is determined, seems mute, given that they are each deeply embedded in the mind, heart, spirit, body and culture of humanity. And if heaven and hell can be metaphors, then it follows that each of us can also be metaphors…at least from some 50,000-foot eye-in-the-sky.

And if we are metaphors having and still seeking our identities, including our purposes, our choices, our relationships, our courses of study, our careers, and our choices of breakfast cereal, and all others too embody a metaphor, then how we perceive and respond to our identity in relation to those others who, themselves, are engaged in precisely the same process of discovery of self, others and the world, including that “cloud” of the apocalyptic “end goal” of the universe.

The synapses that flow between the DNA molecule above and the apocalyptic cloud, whether instrumentally perceived, measured and documented or not, exemplify the vibrations in the multiple tensions in which we each live, in our personal lives and in our shared collective lives. And those synapses, too, like the tides, rise and fall, flow in and out both of our consciousness and our imagination, including our art and our dreams. Whether we call that energy, in the synapses, the energy of the universe, the energy of atoms colliding with each other, the will of individuals and/or the will and love of God, it seems to have the capacity to continue to reverberate, with or without our conscious or unconscious leveraging it.

Using the human anatomy as a metaphor for our place in the universe, anthropomorphizing the universe, just as we have for centuries anthropomorphized God, risks relegation to intellectual purgatory by those who prefer a different objective correlative. The pattern seems, at least on the surface, inescapable, given our human fixation on our own existence and identity. There is a poetic/metaphysical aspect to the metaphor, too, however, given that synapses themselves, as well as colliding atoms, are discoveries of the neuroscience and physics respectively. It is very difficult either to ignore or to resist deployment of such metaphors in the first quarter of the twenty first century. We are swimming in a large pool of scientific method and discovery.

The religious, spiritual and theological vocabulary, attitudes, processes, methods and ethos have largely been shoved aside by the tidal wave of empiricism, extrinsic analysis, and objective relegation of the subjective and the universal to a second tier of both awareness and knowledge, as well as perception and attitude. Transactional pursuits of individual ambitions, demonstrating success, whether through highly ethical and moral means, or through less honourable means, does tend to reduce our relationship to the eternal, and infinite, the imaginative, the archetypal, the poetic and the divine to a quite genuflection, by an athlete prior to a game, or after a score, to a cliché expression of ‘thoughts and prayers’ for those in mourning, to the ritualistic attendance on Christmas Eve Mass/Eucharist, weddings, baptisms, bar and bat-mitzvahs and to the occasional act of generosity  and kindness to a neighbour, especially in crisis.

In reality, while there is no real or even ultimately imagined separation between our daily acts from our deepest religious and spiritual convictions and aspirations, we do tend to create mental, emotional and especially cultural “files” to separate them. We even write and then enforce laws that declare a deliberate separation between church and state, as our way of preventing the state from intervening in our spiritual/religious lives. The precariousness of such laws, however, on the ground, ‘where the rubber meets the road,’ is clear to all who see it.

Indeed, it is our deep and apparently firmly grounded proclivity to separate, divide, parse, analyse and dissect everything, and then to compare everything, including our unique and individual value as human beings, that is perhaps one of the more tenuous straws to which we cling, that, finally and hopefully, is, like the plastic single-use straw, going the way of the dodo bird.

Can we let go of that plastic, man-made, device that has served a purpose, in bringing us a little closer to a deeper consciousness of the veins of a leaf or a butterfly’s wings, and to the genetic composition of various cancer tumors, and revert to a more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and more honest ‘straw’ not only for our soft drinks but also for our cultural, religious, political, and spiritual not merely survival but conceivable and credible co-existence, in a spirit of collaboration and collegiality.

“Pie-in-the-sky” you are saying to anyone listening! Another quixotic dreamer spouting fantasies of utopia.

Not so fast, please!

No one will posit that collectively, as well as individually, humans face some seemingly intractable and potentially existentially threatening forces….a pandemic, a global climate change, a prognosis of further pillage of the planets resources, a widening gulf between have’s and have-not’s, a deepening divide between opportunities and aspirations open to men as opposed to women, a festering tribal terrorist attitude inside and outside most nations’ borders, a nuclear arsenal and the aspiration to deploy it from some, a white-water river of terror and lies including character assassinations on social media as well as too many tabloid models….etc. …etc….

And while these forces are enmeshed, to the point of exacerbating each other without equal and opposite forces to opposed any one of them, we continue headlong down our ‘historic’ and cultural and intellectual and objective and divisive models and approaches and processes as if we were engaged in a compulsive ‘reverse look’ down the telescope/periscope….having eliminated the benefits of their expansive, extensive, and projective vision either to the outer ocean or the sea below by our compulsive fixation with the microscope. Of course, that is a reductionistic analysis of what we are doing. Yet there is some kernel of truth within it.

We have devolved both through multiple successes, as well as a degree of complicity in celebrating those successes, enhanced by a capitalistic and individualistic ethic that celebrates individual achievement and success, into a western culture that sees only about one foot in front of our noses. We are shocked by our encounter with COVID-19, when we have publicly disclosed evidence of its ultimate and inevitable descent upon the planet. And we also had mountains of evidence that we ourselves, (human beings, corporations, governments, and nations) were either silently or overtly or both, conspiring to rape forests, dump sewers and tailings into rivers, streams and oceans, ecologically and willfully destroying millions of species of both plant and animal life, and playing a desperate, and again heroic, game of catch-up, both in preventive activities and policies, and more importantly in a tectonic attitude and belief shift that, without its replacing our current models of “fighting the last war” and “deploying the last reconnaissance devices” and analysing the latest laboratory findings as our preferred path to a most inconvenient truth, and not only a single truth, but a r collection of similar truths…

That we prefer doing things the old and established way

That we “know” more about the past than we do about the future, therefore it is more ‘substantial’ and credible and trustworthy than the future

That our survival and success thus far has relied upon a competitive and nationalistic and religiously independent model of existence that valued “our” reality above the realities of all others, especially of different races, religions, cultures and histories.

That a developed world has the ‘right’ to dictate the terms of our shared future together, while the undeveloped world has to be satisfied with the crumbs of our patronizing beneficence.

That our selfish disregard of those whose lives have been deprived of a full education, and a full access to quality health care, and an extensive and intensive exposure to a specific religious dogma and praxis renders them in need of our mode of rescue and salvation…in order to permit them entry into “our” civilization

That our exclusive and idolatrous concept of wealth and power, no matter the specific symbol, is a license for our own demise and potentially the demise of the planet.

That our “scientific, objective, empirical and transactional’ equations, while useful, are not a substitute for our more complex and honourable and even unique subjectivity/wholeness/and imperfection….that is exposed and deeply experienced in our most dark nights.

Our hope these days, in the longer term, is that these days of darkness, reflection, and urgent crisis and pain can and will offer an opportunity, not only during this holy season, but for the longer tern (perhaps another century or two at least) that brings a degree of welcome and receptivity to what we all know is the profound limits of our understanding of ourselves, of our universe, and most importantly of our potential.

We are not limited by our capacity to acquire things, gifts, presents, and the gold frankinsense and myrrh or Bethlehem…nor by our capacity to offer them even to our chosen deity. We are much more than ‘givers or takers’…than ‘winners or losers’…than powerful and impoverished…than rich or poor….than white or black…than male or female…then failures or successes….than western or eastern,…than Asian or European…

It is not only the United States of America that warrants our celebration!

It is the unity and the hope and the promise and the collective and individual aspirations of the highest dreams of our imaginations and our shared hearts to which we aspire….just as those who have gone before us have done….

And the blinders that befuddled them which we may have tried to remove, continue to haunt us in this holy season of 2021…fear, hubris, tribalism and a perception of our own profound and tragic scarcity…when we live in the most educated, the most spiritual, the most empathic and the most optimistic of historic times……

Can we really connect to that higher shared and loving (in the most profound ways) reality?

Pretending who we are will never outpace being who we are….

Eliot’s insight echoes in each Christmas hymn! Can we hear it in our gut?


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