Stability and durability are user-generated illusions that are helpful. They facilitate happiness and happiness – like attention – can be our spiritual teacher if we want.
What do I mean when I say that “stability and durability are user-generated illusions that are helpful?”
Well, I don’t perceive the back stairs as clouds of atoms which are mostly empty space in which electrons swarm. Rather, I perceive and otherwise experience them as solid wooden beams nailed to a wooden frame. Doing so is functional. I’d never get in and out of the house if I experienced nothing but clouds of atoms and swarms of electrons.
In a similar way, a lightening bolt’s existence seems very short – a mere blip in the long span of a human life. Yet that human life barely measures against the expansive duration of, say, a star.
What appears stable and durable from one perspective does not appear so from another.
That is why we say that stability and durability are a matter of perception inhering in an observer and working for that observer. The observer’s perception constructs a world in which that observer enacts their living. Thus, there are as many worlds as there are observers.
The comparisons humans make (to suns and lightning bolts, say, or to floorboards and atoms), and the conclusions we draw from these comparisons (usually some variation of “our world is the one true world”), tend to confuse the fundamental issue that everything is a process. Even the observer who is observing the various changes is a process.
But so what? What good is knowing all that? We still have to figure out how to be kind to people who are not kind to us. We still have to figure out how to share resources with other living creatures, including other humans (especially those who don’t look like us or think differently from us et cetera). We still have to deal with our confusion and unhappiness nudging us toward clarity and joy, as if clarity and joy were ideals. We still have to deal with ideals.
For me – which explicitly means not for you, though my experience may be helpful in the context of your own, and vice-versa – dialing down the drama of these issues and questions has been helpful.
I don’t need to solve fundamental problems of the cosmos – what banged and where it banged and what happens when it all runs down, if in fact it does. I don’t need to untangle the metaphysical and theological bracken of the past few millenia.
I find those issues fun and interesting – they have a place – but the pressure to do more than merely give attention to them has abated considerably.
No, what I need is to be patient, generous, forgiving, nurturing, humble, diligent, just, fair – in a word, loving.
So the question is fundamental and clear: what helps me be more loving?
That is the only question that matters anymore, and everything that appears – from A Course in Miracles to baking bread to legal weed to swimming in the brook to teaching research and writing to making love – is evaluated accordingly.
The answer is basically this: If it’s for love, then use it and share it. If it’s not for love, then set it aside.
And here’s a fact I am only just beginning to see in a deep sustainable way: everything, without exception, is for love.
I certainly don’t think that the answer to all our problems lies in emulating first century Christian communities, but I do think it’s worth reflecting on how they understood love (in the wake of Jesus): shared wealth, commensality (eating together), all property held in common, service to the poor, non-participation with evil, pacifism and so forth.
And I agree with Tara Singh that “in service there is holiness that takes away loneliness and depression.”
We have to rise to a state of right-mindedness to extend the compassionate nature of Mother Earth with her flowing rivers blessed by rain. Right-mindedness knows nothing of the duality of loss and gain, success and failure. It identifies only with the abundance of goodness (The Joseph Plan of A Course in Miracles for the Lean Years 17).
That is, by giving our lives to our brothers and sisters, we are made whole. Giving love is the way to receive love. And the giving varies according to the observer, because the world that needs love varies according to observer.
Thus, I march to protest the mistreatment of women and immigrant families. I teach from texts that explore what it means to be a peaceful, thoughtful, responsible human being in community with other beings, including plant, mineral and animal. Chrisoula and I grow our own vegetables and fruit, raise our own meat, and work closely with local farmers and gardeners to make up the balance through barter, potlach and local non-corporate sales. We join and patronize cooperatives as much as possible. We try to reduce and reuse and repurpose with an eye ever on sustainability.
I am learning to “lean out” of the commons as a white man in order to make space for women and people of color to assume leadership roles and guide the creation of a more just and loving world.
In dialogue I try to listen. In writing, I try to keep it simple and honest.
I have a lot to learn, and to unlearn.
These are all actions that feel important because they place the radical equality of all life at the center of our civic and communal and private life. They aim to sustain local agriculture and business practices which help ensure food safety for all of us. They actively redress present and historical patterns of violence and repression. They dislocate the discrete self, expanding the apparent center so that it is more inclusive, and thus more creative and fertile and sustainable
I take literally these maxims of Heinz von Foerster: “A is better off when B and better off” and “Always act so as to increase choice.”
In light of all this, “awakening” as such is not a personal event but rather remembering the shared awareness of the vitality of love as a ongoing process in which we are all included without condition or qualification and through which our living as discrete entities is transcended and undone.
That is a mouthful! But if it sounds fancy or unduly mystical, it’s not. It looks and feels like what it looks and feels like when you are deeply happy and maximally helpful. Critically, you already know this. It is already your experience.
Happiness and helpfulness naturally intersect, reinforcing and infusing one another. We call this mutuality “love.”
I want you to be happy. The best I can do to this end is to act in ways that leave us both better off, and that optimize your ability to act in ways that leave us all better off. Since the “whole” and the “future” are cognitively closed to human observers, we are left with doing the best we can with what is given to us. It’s not a mystery; the love you need is the love you have to give, and the love you have to give is the precise love the world is – right now – asking you to share.
So we give attention, and we give love, and we try to stay open to the love that others give. We know we are doing it right when we are happy. Happiness is a great teacher, well worth following.