This afternoon, I was in the backyard, with some dear friends, enjoying the day and each other’s company. The dogs lounged in the sun, the bees buzzed in the sunflowers, the chickens pecking at each other and squawk, squawk, squawking. We shared a raw smoothie and got to talking about life, society, and the worldview that we bring to it.
It was then that one friend said, “All this messed up thinking, all these politicians and big businesses, this selfishness, this suffering… I’m not living in that world anymore. That is not what life is about. Life is what I make of it… all those other things don’t even exist.”
I am paraphrasing, but I think I get the general idea.
“If we can live in such a way that those negative views and ways of living don’t even enter our consciousness,” she said, “it will spread and grow and eventually the world will be a better place.”
“But suffering and pain and greed and capitalism do exist,” I said. “We can’t just act as though they don’t, can we?”
“Yes! We can… we don’t have to acknowledge their presence at all. We don’t have to engage them.”
I get these ideas, and I can imagine the logic here and how we can make a difference simply by living our “conscious” lifestyle, while the world spins madly on. But I’m not sure that it is realistic. Or practical.
Frankly, I don’t have the luxury of living as though these negative parts of our world don’t exist. I have a child. I have a wife. My life is not just about the way that I want to live it. I have to be present to other people’s depression, their suffering, their financial hardship. Daily, sometimes in my own home. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t effect me.
The wise elder and psychologist, James Hillman did an interview with Sy Safransky of The Sun where he talked about the insult and outrage of meditation as the means and end of the spiritual person disconnected with the world:
Safransky: You’re rather an uncompromising critic of spiritual movements and everything called “new age.” You once suggested that meditation is a fascistic activity, that people who meditate are as uncaring as psychopathic killers.
Hillman: I did once remark that meditation, in today’s world, is obscene. To go into a room and sit on the floor and meditate on a straw mat with a little incense going is an obscene act… I was saying that the world is in a terrible, sad state, but all we’re concerned with is trying to get ourselves in order…
Your question is very legitimate. I don’t want to be locked into an antimeditation position. I think every consumer – for that is what we actually are – needs a lot of neutral time, a lot of turnover time: idleness, fantasies, images, reflections, emptiness; not necessarily disciplined meditation. But when meditation becomes a spiritual goal, and then the method to achieve a spiritual goal – that’s what worries me.
Safransky: And the goal you are suspicious of is transcendance.
Hillman: Yes. The quest to flee the so-called trivia of the lower order seems misguided. Personal hangups, fighting with the man or woman you live with, worrying about your dreams – this is the soul’s order.
Safransky: What if the goal is merely a few minutes of calm?
Hillman: If that’s the goal, what’s the difference between mediation and having a nice drink? … Or writing a long letter, a love letter? … I think we’ve locked on to meditation as the main method for settling down.
It’s better to go into the world half-cocked than not go into the world at all. I know when something’s wrong. And I can say, “This is outrageous. This is insulting. This is a violation. And it is wrong.” I don’t know what we should do about it; my protest is absolutely empty. But I believe in that empty protest.
“It’s better to go into the world half-cocked than not go into the world at all.” This is it. Most of us go into that broken, hurting, economically segregated, politically divided, untruthful world every single day. Then many of us come home to it too. Then we turn on the television or check the news and there it is again. Very few of us are going to engage that world as having reached enlightenment… unaffected and un-phased. If we wait till then, or we simply stay home or drink “consciousness” smoothies with our consciousness friends, we are not being honest. See when my son is screaming and his diaper is full of shit and all I want to do is yell at him to “Shut UP!! STOP! PLEASE!” I realize that a lot of that darkness is right there inside of me… Like I said, I don’t have the luxury of pretending that the negative doesn’t exist.
5 thoughts on “I’m sorry… it does exist.”
Nate, I don’t have a solution, or even a coherent response… but I like this post and I think I need to read it about ten more times.
Nate, the conversation must continue! I, too, know it does exist. After all it was my family (my family! gasp) that taught me about some of the most awful suffering this life can hand us. I have lots of thoughts (mainly, I’m questioning your choice to put quotation marks around your general gist of something that was very open to loose interpretation at best and basically made in passing ha) but here is the one I will share in this forum: In the event of an emergency, please secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others. I love you! Nice writing (though the inferred support of your man James Hillman’s thoughts on meditation has me a bit concerned).
Thanks for the thoughts. Of course, it is all made in passing, open to loose interpretation, etc. Quotes are just an easier way of setting apart the ideas. It’s all literary technique. One can put quotes around mental voices too!
I think there has to be a both/and when it comes to helping others. We both know perfectionists, and probably ourselves at times too, who would never be able to get the oxygen mask right enough to feel confident to help the next person. Grace towards myself allows me to know that I will never be “right enough.” I have to help others even on my dark days, even in my brokenness. And this is why I don’t believe I am only helping with my own strength alone.
I think Hillman is more concerned about those who seek meditation as the end all solution. Elsewhere he quotes a guy who says people should just meditate and let computers fix the world’s problems, because they can do a better job. It’s out of touch with reality and the plight of our neighbor. And a bit escapist, if you ask me.
Love to you too! and I look forward to more conversation!
I agree with you on this thought. I think it’s hard for a lot of us to simply turn off the bad. Even when every ounce in our being wants to, I think human nature prevents this. I think the better thing to do is just be aware and continue to do our best in helping out those in need.
Your answer was just what I needde. It’s made my day!