Where is the wisdom we have lost?

T.S.Eliot had a way with words, a way of saying what is just beyond what can actually be said with words. Thus it is in the following, which says so much…

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

T.S.Eliot, Choruses from The Rock, 1934

Quoted in Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive.

Ecoliteracy

Marine biologist Bill Graham writes some excellent blog posts (latest example) on the subject of what might broadly be called ecoliteracy or systems thinking, concepts developed many years ago now by Fritjof Capra and others. I think that one of the problems we have is that neither of these terms has immediate impact on more than the minds of those interested in these things. That be as it may, this is important work.

Bill has the admirable aim of encouraging educators to bring about a generation of children that really understand the interconnectedness of ourselves with all of nature, and ‘think sustainability’.

Here are just a few ideas quoted from this post.

“…much of humanity does recognize our dependency on Nature. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature. “

“An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.
The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might  suffer climate change.”

“Is there any hope of building an ecoliterate worldview of systems thinking within humans? I think so!! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and interdependence. By being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth.”

Bill Graham, blog

The hope for the future sustainability of human society needs people like Bill Graham. Try reading his post, and you might want to follow him.

Bill ends with a series of quotes from a recent article by Fritjof Capra in The Ecologist magazine, including the following:

Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

“The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, designed in such a manner that their ways of life — businesses, economies, physical structures, and technologies — do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”

Fritjof Capra, The Ecologist, April 2018

Postscript: See also Bill’s excellent essay Are Environmental Conservation Strategies Misguided?

Featured image shows a kingfisher flying through Cano Negro national park in Costa Rica, where there is great biodiversity and lots of kingfishers. Hastily shot with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. What chance of getting a shot like this in the UK? Very small, and you’d be very lucky or extremely persistent.

Winning

It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.

So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.

In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.

But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.

Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.

Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons

Gratitude

Daughter often sends interesting web links. The latest was this one How to Avoid Raising a Materialistic Child. Apparently, research shows that practising gratitude makes children’s attitudes less materialistic. Well of course it does.

Psychology Today defines gratitude: “Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for instance, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants or thinks they need.” So it is also an antidote to consumerism.

Those messages to children to ‘say thank you’ are very important and need reinforcement by adults in their words and their behaviour. I know I used to think this was just a socialised habit that was meaningless; I now know it’s just so important. Gratitude is one of the main ways we connect with others, and with the natural world.

While researching this, I came across this excellent TEDxSF talk by Louis Schwarzberg – well worth the ten minutes run time, with some superb time lapse photography and inspirational messages – gratitude is the secret! The beauty of the natural world inspires gratitude for existence, gives meaning to life.

Pan-what’s-it-ism

Because of the sort of books I read, I keep coming across these words and have never really understood the difference (or it doesn’t stick): panpsychism, pantheism and panentheism. Fortuitously, Christian de Quincey explains in his book Blind Spots. I’ve added links to Wikipedia, which has good definitions and background.

Pan is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘whole’ or ‘all of’.

Panpsychism is a philosophical belief about mind, meaning that all of nature possesses mind. Consciousness is in every thing.

Pantheism is a theological belief about the nature of God or gods. It argues that God and nature are essentially the same. God is immanent in nature.

Panentheism takes pantheism a step further – God is in all of nature, but also beyond nature. God is both transcendent and imminent in nature.

Panpsychism is consistent with pantheism, but less so with panentheism because that transcendent God lies beyond its concept.

As de Quincey points out, the important thing to take away is that God/nature is an ongoing, evolving, neverending creative process, and we are each a co-creative part thereof. Materialism is a dead duck, and atheism seems somehow irrelevant.

Never despair

World affairs can sometimes lead us into a trough of despair. Gandhi must have felt this sometimes in his battles for truth and justice. I just came across this quote which gives hope in difficult times:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Mahatma Gandhi

It also reminds me of EF Schumacher’s words at the end of A Guide for the Perplexed (pub 1977):

“Can we rely on it that a ‘turning around’ will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but whatever answer is given to it will mislead. The answer ‘Yes’ would lead to complacency; the answer ‘No’ to despair. It is desirable to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work.”
EF Schumacher

Of course, hope is the antidote to fear, and one of the great messengers of hope in the world has been Barak Obama. For example:

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
Barak Obama

Mind and Matter

According to Christian de Quincey (in his books Blind Spots) there are four basic philosophical/ontological ways of looking at the mind-matter conundrum. For simplicity I equate mind with consciousness and matter with energy (as per Einstein).

  1. Materialism. Everything is matter; mind is an emergent phenomenon.
  2. Idealism. Everything is ultimately mind. Matter emanates from mind or is an illusion (maya).
  3. Dualism. Everything is ultimately separable mind and matter. They represent separate domains.
  4. Panpsychism. Everything is ultimately inseparable. Mind and matter together constitute sentient energy, the inner and outer of the one reality. Mind pervades everything, even the smallest atoms.

So, which is the most likely? This is my take:

  1. Materialism really is a crazy hypothesis the more you think about it. How can consciousness ’emerge’ from matter? Which is the more real to you? Although currently in wide vogue, this is in my view the worst theory, and can cause immense damage to nature which is regarded as ‘inert’. This damage is what we see today.
  2. Idealism is sort of the opposite. It has a certain plausibility. How could we know if it were not true?
  3. Dualism seems inherently implausible. How could the two domains interact? This seems to require a third concept.
  4. Panpsychism seems entirely plausible, coming closest to ‘explaining’ the basics of the universe we see. In such a universe we are clearly both objectively and subjectively a part of the One.

You could regard this as a rather obscure philosophical debate. Should we be ‘mindful’ of it, and does it really ‘matter’? The damage being caused by materialism suggest it might actually be rather important to understand.

What do you think?

Consciousness

Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.

Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.

Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.

Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.

Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.

To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.

Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?

Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.

Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons

Instinct and Intuition

Neither instinct nor intuition involve thought. Both involve responding directly to a situation. So what is the difference?

Instinct is an innate faculty we share with other living beings. We respond automatically to situations, eg catch a ball that is about to hit us, avoid contact with an unfriendly being. It typically involves a fixed pattern of behaviour, “reacting”. Instinct came along first and maybe represents the sum of experience of earlier generations, plus learned responses.

Intuition is direct knowledge of a situation. We just know what is right, what is true, what is about to happen, etc. Something is “seen” or “understood” beyond what is presented. Spiritual writings suggest that this involves a link to our ‘higher self’. Others suggest it’s something to do with pattern recognition. Intuition develops over the individual’s experience during a lifetime.

A quick web search showed me a huge variety of definitions of instinct and intuition. The most inspirational I found was that by Christen Rodgers:

True intuition arises from within the depths of your soul. It speaks in the language of the spirit – the language of love, flow, hope, and forward movement. Instinct, on the other hand, isn’t a spiritual sense but a physiological one. It comes from and serves the flesh and speaks the language of survival – fight or flight, judgement, avoidance, aggression, and fear.

This key difference is how you can tell them apart. Whereas instinct speaks in terms of resistance, intuition speaks in terms of flow. Intuition will urge you to go this way, do this thing, or approach that person. If something isn’t right for you, intuition won’t push against it. Instead, it will simply redirect you towards something else. Instinct, on the other hand, pushes back. It resists, fears, or judges what you perceive as wrong rather than beckoning you towards what’s right.

For Christen, the difference is between a response coming from a place of love, and one coming from a place of fear. I think this is going too far – animals clearly have both fearing and loving instincts. So maybe she’s right in terms of how we should assess our automatic responses, but not in strict definitional terms.

Other insights will be welcome as comments. (‘Insight’ – there’s another similar word that some writers take as a step beyond intuition.)

To Live is to Choose

I love the title of the penultimate chapter of Paul Tournier’s book The Meaning of Persons. That must mean I have lessons to learn here!

“…it is precisely the free and responsible commitment of the self which creates the person.”

Procrastination and putting off decisions/choices is not good for the person. As is hanging on to old, outdated habits and situations.

“As soon as a man obeys his inner call, he upsets the game, bringing to light around him the persons buried underneath the personages.”

Yes it is time for change, and ever will be!

Person

We use the word ‘person’ to signify a particular human being. But it was not always so.

The word person comes from the Latin word persona, maybe from the earlier Etruscan persu, a sort of mask through which actors spoke (per-sonare). Just one or two centuries ago person was still used to signify the exterior appearance of the individual, not the whole being including the human interior.

The word person has subsequently expanded to connote the whole human being, precisely at a time when materialism has been in the ascendant, psychology reduced to an objective science, and inner spiritual/soul experience increasingly denied.

“Once we were human beings, now we are persons.”

Anders Lidén

Thus language reflects changes in consciousness. Being aware of this helps us to understand how we got where we are, and maybe what has been lost in the process.

This fascinating thread of argument is presented in Anders Lidén’s article ‘Rimbaud and the Breaking Down of the Mask’ in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of The Beacon magazine.

Lying to Save Others

There is much profound wisdom in the posts of Aperture of Brahma. I am reblogging this post, which asks whether lying to save the feelings of others is ever justified. It suggests that the ‘skill of gentleness’ can avoid the hurt caused by truth, and that it is our own approval seeking that avoids telling truth. There is much food for thought here; but this ‘skill of gentleness’ is not easily developed, and what if we judge that the truth is not beneficial to those concerned?

Aperture Of Brahma

What is the lie to save others?

Have you ever received a phone call and just let it ring and sometime later said “Sorry I missed your call,” and perhaps even offered, “My ringer was turned off,” or “I was in a meeting?”

What is a lie but the opposite of honesty? What are half truths but lies?

Justifying a lie due to our assumption that we are saving another from suffering does not disqualify an untruth. The opportunity to tell the truth in every situation is an opportunity to develop the skill of gentleness. The truth does not have to hurt. It is pride that makes it seem so.

Words are triggers that activate unresolved emotions. When we lie, our repressed emotions become associated with assumptions. They swim together, like schools of fish. The more these repressed emotions (complexes) are pushed deeper into the personal unconscious, the greater…

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Faith

As a teenager, I read William James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experience, and was quite enthralled, coming as I did from a strong scientific education with a lukewarm smattering of Methodism. So I was delighted to read the following James quote from Alister McGrath in his book Enriching our Vision of Reality. It is the best definition I’ve seen of that elusive word ‘faith’.

“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible… Faith is synonymous with working hypothesis.”

This is not faith as dogma, which is a common association used to denigrate. It is faith ‘sensitive to reason, experimental in nature, and therefore susceptible to revision.’

McGrath’ s context is in the bringing together of science and Christian theology, but we could apply his reasoning to any religion, different sciences, and other ways of looking at the world, such as astrology.

His point is that both science and religion are ways in which we strive to understand the mystery of life. Both develop hypotheses to live by, but are subject to change where they do not correspond with lived reality. Both use story/metaphor/analogy to point the way; science adds the use of mathematical models, where it can. Perhaps it is this wonderful use of mathematics that encourages the common misperception that everything can be rationally described, but this is clearly not the case – as was concluded by, among others, Einstein, Newton and Darwin. There is always the mystery beyond…

In particular, materialists can lay no claim to a privileged context. Their faith in materialism and objective knowledge is as much a working hypothesis as is the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The so-called New Atheists are simply asserting their particular faith.

Metanoia

When reading an interesting text and coming across a word you are not familiar with, there is a terrible temptation to march on and hope that the meaning becomes clear from the context. For me, such a word was metanoia. Recently reading Alister McGrath’s book Enriching our Vision of Reality, I was brought to a better understanding by the author’s clear definition, related to ways of seeing reality.

Wikipedia throws further light, giving two meanings – one spiritually oriented and the other psychologically oriented. Metanoia is about a fundamental change in the way we see and act in the world, maybe a bit more fundamental than the similar concept of paradigm shift. Such was perhaps what happened in Europe as a whole around the time of the enlightenment, when a religious and naturalistic perspective on the world was gradually supplanted by a scientific and materialistic perspective.

The world we see today reflects both the benefits and the fundamental problems that have emerged as a result of this perspective, which has ignored the natural ecosystem as the essential support for human existence (giving global warming, pollution, species extinction etc etc.) and has lost touch at a political level with the morality and values necessary to give a good and equitable life to all humans (leading to incredible inequalities and a clear lack of moral leadership from the titular heads of countries and other supposed leaders).

There is now little doubt that metanoia is what is needed at a global level to avoid a nightmarish future for humanity. Of course, I have in this blog frequently referred to the concept of a New Renaissance, which is another way of putting it. Personal psychological and spiritual transformation is a big part of the answer, and everyone needs it.

In particular, there are enormous egos in politics and in business, to whom circumstances happen to have given great wealth and power. Their, and our, need is that they transcend those egos and work for the common good.

Note that one dimension of this is by paying good wages and paying due taxes, which is a way of sharing out that good fortune to all. Opting instead for the apparent current fashion of an ego-expanding philanthropy that remains within the ego’s control is a diversion, possibly beneficial to the general good, but certainly not a metanoia.

Competition and Co-operation

Having watched Rich Hall’s recent excellent BBC4 programme, ‘Working for the American Dream’ on the development of the USA, and coming across the United Nations focus on sustainable development, led me to this reflection.

The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.

Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.

Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.

Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.

The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.

Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

 

Cistercian Simplicity

I’ve long found inspiration and sustenance from the beauty and simplicity of the Cistercian abbeys, still found in various states of repair across Europe. For me their simplicity of form is unfailingly beautiful.

In this context I’ve also been aware of the towering spiritual figure of St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the main instigators of the Cistercian movement, and wondered what sort of person he might have been.

spirit of simplicitySo I couldn’t resist the book ‘The Spirit of Simplicity’, being translations of classical French texts by that modern spiritual seeker Thomas Merton. The book is in two parts. The first part is a text with the book’s title, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Chautard in the mid 1920s. The second part contains selected texts by St Bernard himself on Inner Simplicity. Could this explain what lay behind the beauty of those old Abbeys?

The original Cistercian movement was one of renewal, aiming to return to the Rule of the monastic life originally established by St Benedict (c. 480-550 AD). Inner simplicity was a founding principle, and from this flowed the external simplicity of the forms created. The fathers of the first Abbey at Citeaux in the early 1100s were dedicated to this.

Chautard suggests that there was a golden age of 150 years for the Cistercian movement, when this simplicity was effectively maintained. This was followed by a silver age of another 100 years when it was not so effectively maintained and embellishments crept in. After the middle of the 14th century decline set in – with several causes: the Black Death, religious wars, and then the Reformation. (Paradoxically, Protestantism saw a return to simplicity in the form of religious buildings. Many of the older decorated Gothic buildings now show an almost Cistercian simplicity.) Another renewal movement at the end of the 19th century ensured that there are still some Cistercian Abbeys operating today.

St Bernard himself is regarded as the finest exemplar of the movement. The second part of the book contains his reflections on that simplicity, the need for humility, and obedience in the context of the monk’s life, the importance of the monk knowing himself – so actually quite modern psychologically – the overcoming of pride and dedication to the love of God.

I was quite struck by one particular quote:

And what greater pride is there than that one man should try to impose his own opinion upon the whole community, as if he alone had the spirit of God?

Modern dictators and populists please note. Pride always comes before a fall.

So the outer simplicity of the Cistercian abbey is a reflection of the inner simplicity of the monks. The evident beauty is a reflection of the inner beauty of their souls.

I would not suggest that the life of a monk is right for everyone, but it is clear that this dedication to inner simplicity produces this wonderful contribution to the beauty in the world. Go see some of these superb buildings for yourself – Fountains Abbey in UK, Fontenay, Senanques, Silvacane, Fontfroide, Pontigny and many others in France, Orval in Belgium. There are far too many to list them all. Here are just a few random selected photos.

For most, you must travel to less frequented parts of the country. The communities were built to be self sufficient, away from centres of population. These journeys provide a scenic mini pilgrimage in themselves. Even the less well preserved abbeys, such as Abbeycwmhir in an isolated valley in mid-Wales, once one of the largest abbeys in the UK, have a special atmosphere about them.

abbeycwmhir
Abbeycwmhir

And the book is certainly very readable if it aligns with your interest. Merton knew his stuff.

 

Truth

Ideas from a talk given by Patrice Brasseur at 2017 World Goodwill seminar, summarised in World Goodwill Newsletter. The quotes are from Patrice’s talk.

Truth is only a symbol or representation of reality, which is always something more.

“The quest for truth is a mental process of discerning, of understanding the fundamental laws of the Real; and this Real is always beyond the truth we are to approach.”

Until we become genuinely intuitive, we will struggle with the many different symbols of truth in the mind. All truths are partial and need to be grounded in personal experience to work out.

For example, if we hear that “Everything is one”, can we integrate this understanding into daily life? If we do so, we may find that our attitudes to others change, with increasing interest in cooperation and a broader expression of brotherhood. It is by applying truths in this way that we can convince ourselves of their validity “we must become scientists of the inner life.” In so doing we learn that every truth forms a part of a wider truth, and our understanding can continue to widen:

“At whatever level we may be, the truth is always the next step.”

So we may say that we do not go from error to truth, but that we progress from smaller partial truths to larger ones. In that sense the truth is everywhere, no matter where we stand on the path of the evolution of consciousness.

“Truth is the certainty to which everyone has access according to his or her level of consciousness, the certainty that serves as a basis for his or her evolution, up to the next step.”

This helps us to understand that every teaching is true, as all are useful at specific points on the evolutionary journey; and once a teaching has been integrated, one can move on to wider truths, but those teachings still remain useful to those who have not yet encountered them. This underlines the need for continuing education.

All truths are not equal – the more global in application a truth is, the more important it is. But we should not neglect smaller local truths because of this. The main question we should ask ourselves regularly is “What useful truth am I willing to implement?”

The global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations are not the final truths for the planet, but are a very useful stepping stone that everyone can grasp.

Polarity

Polarities obey polar logic, which is not the same as having logical opposites. Polar opposites exist by virtue of each other – they need each other. Eg day/night, inner/outer, understanding/imagination, left/right brain, material/spiritual, masculine/feminine, magnetic poles, yin/yang.

Shifts in the relationship between the poles give rise to imbalances that inevitably need to be rebalanced. This is not a logical process but requires imagination and creativity.

If the imbalance is not corrected, stasis occurs, the polarity loses its active, creative, character – the polar system is not working. Eg if we focus entirely on the outer at the expense of the inner, life becomes shallow and without meaning, meaning coming from inner experience. One might imagine a materialist world devoid of inner/spiritual experience to be meaningless (cf Beckett, Sartre) or a surface life of triviality and entertainment (cf today’s popular culture).

Look at politics for another example. There is a clear polarity between the capitalist entrepreneur and the needs of labour – if you like, capitalism vs socialism. Since the 1970s the balance has been shifting away from socialism, a process driven by people who believe that one ‘side’ can win. They are deluded. Inequality gets ever greater. In a dysfunctional system, no one wins.

Or consider integration of UK with EU (remainers) vs UK being totally independent (brexiteers). Full independence is an illusion, just as full integration is probably not desirable. We need the benefits of both. Theresa May seems to be trying to tread that necessary balancing line between the two, as is, probably, Jeremy Corbyn. Good luck to them. A sudden ‘hard brexit’ would simply mean years of hardship, until a new balance of the inevitable relationship is achieved.

The Chinese yin/yang picture perfectly encapsulates the nature of these polarities.

Inspired by Gary Lachman’s book ‘Lost Knowledge of the Imagination’, p122. 

Empathy

Following is another great poem by Steve Taylor in his latest newsletter. It expresses in poetic form an important truth behind much of what is ‘wrong’ with the world today. The polarity and separation evident in much of today’s politics suggests that we have a long way to go.

Empathy

If you have no empathy, you see enemies everywhere –
when others come close, you sense danger;
so you strengthen your defences and protect your resources
afraid they might steal what’s rightfully yours.

But if you have empathy, you see brothers and sisters;
when others come close, you sense kinship;
so you welcome them, embrace them, open your life up to them,
knowing they’re entitled to share what’s yours.

If you have no empathy, you feel incomplete
and the goal of your life is to accumulate –
to build an empire of achievements and possessions
to try to make yourself whole.

But if you have empathy, you don’t feel a sense of lack
and the goal of your life is to contribute –
to alleviate suffering, to help heal the world
and so strengthen your connection to the whole.

If you have no empathy, you see a world full of boundaries
and the closer you look, the more distinctions you see
and the more autonomous the different parts become
until, right at the bottom, there’s nothing but tiny, solid particles.

But if you have empathy, you know that boundaries are illusory
and the closer you look, the more absurd distinctions seem
until they dissolve away, and at the deepest point,
there’s a vast space of formless oneness.

If you have no empathy, other human beings are objects –
machines with no inner life, who only have value
if they can help you satisfy your desires
and who can be discarded once they have no more use.

But if you have empathy, every person is a universe –
a precious manifestation of spirit,
full of infinite space, deep with unknown forces,
rich with the radiance of being.

If you have no empathy, your soul is hard and constricted
and you see the world as if through the window of a cell
and your isolation fills you with a frustration
that makes you rage with hatred at the world.

But if you have empathy, your soul is soft and fluid
and you’re part of the world, as the world is part of you;
and through your openness, like a river through a channel.

But if you have empathy, your soul is soft and fluid
and you’re part of the world, as the world is part of you;
and through your openness, like a river through a channel.
there’s an endless flow of love.

Metta

Some years ago I participated in an interfaith course studying the different major religions. Two features of Buddhism particularly stick in the memory. One was of course mindfulness, the other was the practice of Metta, the subject of this post.

As well as being a subject for meditation, the practice of Metta essentially involves projecting ‘loving kindness’ or ‘universal love’ or ‘benevolence’ out to others. In its ultimate essence Metta is beyond ego and concerns of the individual self; its concern is the wellbeing of all, of life itself.

An exercise of my course was to practise Metta while walking, projecting this benevolence to all you meet. This practice does first require you to be mindful.

It is not surprising that the response of people you meet is more positive than when you are immersed in your own concerns. This is, literally, spreading goodwill around the world.

Worth a try, don’t you think?

Featured image is a Japanese representation of Buddha.