Tuesday, July 26, 2022

In An Instant

In the twinkling of an eye ...  we shall be changed.

When it comes to seeking the Divine, no other moment of life can compare to the last moment of life. In an instant, so many worldly concerns - money, position, jealousy, envy - all take a back seat to the final event of life. If you find the idea of dying is troublesome, welcome to my club. After all, we're programmed for survival. 
I am not suggesting that anyone should wish for death. If you believe in a higher power you likely also believe, as I do, that life is a gift and contains some purpose. To seek death is to turn away from the gift and the purpose. But death is going to come and, when it does, will we go kicking and screaming, filled with regrets, or will we go serenely into that mystery? Thinking about dying isn't the same as wishing for it, hmm? 

The Chinese novelist Mo Yan is quoted as writing “Where there’s life, death is inevitable. Dying’s easy; it’s living that’s hard. The harder it gets, the stronger the will to live. And the greater the fear of death, the greater the struggle to keep on living.

It seems clear that in those final moments control of our body leaves fairly quickly, so literal kicking or screaming are out. Studies and observations of electrical activity in the brain suggest that there is some time before consciousness leaves after the heart stops, but there is debate on how much time. In that time, can we chose the thoughts that come? I believe so, but if we have never considered what it will mean ahead of time, it seems impossible that we will do anything other than react to the surprise by screaming (internally, one would expect) NO!

I recall several loved ones' deaths, and in each case, they knew that death would come soon. My GrandDad told me that he believed that 'it' would be the same as those times he had been anaesthetized - a quick cessation of all thoughts. I hope that is what he got. 

Seven years ago, considering what my final thoughts might be became very important. I had to make a life choice that would affect many. I asked "Will my final gasps be filled with regret?" I needed to gauge the importance of following my bliss. Was following my heart somehow part of fulfilling my purpose in living? Heavy thoughts indeed, but life-changing.

At any rate, when we go to join the choir eternal, we are ideally situated to finally let go of that 'mist of thought' that was referred to in the previous post. I suspect it will be a little bit like that feeling of relief I get when I wake from dreams of still being a teacher and having piles of marking to do and reports to write with a deadline looming. 

"Oh, wow!  I'm not a teacher anymore ... it was all just a dream!!"

To what extent greeting death will be like waking from a dream might be determined by how attached one is to living and all that goes with it. There are many documented cases of people whose hearts stopped having "near death" experiences. Many completely change their life because of the experience. If we are seeking the Divine, we should probably "prepare to meet our maker". Use some quiet time to contemplate what it will be like when the only thing that still responds to your will is your will. Body still, as though it is detached, with no responsibilities left for you to deal with - no judgements of 'who you are' remaining under your control. Just ... what?

Dare to ask, and dwell on, the question: "When in that final instant all of my ego-centred thoughts and desires are stripped away, who is left?"

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Seeking the Divine - part 2

When Evelyn Underhill published the quote below, in 1911, she lived in a world of relatively few distractions. Even so, she understood that in all ages, the search for the Divine requires that we first of all put aside what our five senses gather. 

Today that "mist of thought", the ever more complex assault on our minds, is an even greater barrier to knowing that stillness at the core of our being. It sometimes feels like a conspiracy to keep us from being fully human. 

What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought, convention, self-interest. We throw a mist of thought between ourselves and the external world: and through this we discern, as in a glass darkly, that which we have arranged to see. We see it in the way in which our neighbours see it; sometimes through a pink veil, sometimes through a grey. Religion, indigestion, priggishness, or discontent may drape the panes. The prismatic colours of a fashionable school of art may stain them. Inevitably, too, we see the narrow world our windows show us, not "in itself," but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences; which exercise a selective control upon those few aspects of the whole which penetrate to the field of consciousness and dictate the order in which we arrange them, for the universe of the natural man is strictly egocentric. We continue to name the living creatures with all the placid assurance of Adam: and whatsoever we call them, that is the name thereof. Unless we happen to be artists — and then but rarely — we never know the "thing seen in its purity; never, from birth to death, look at it with disinterested eyes. Our vision and understanding of it are governed by all that we bring with us, and mix with it, to form an amalgam with which the mind can deal. To "purify" the senses is to release them, so far as human beings may, from the tyranny of egocentric judgments; to make of them the organs of direct perception. This means that we must crush our deep-seated passion for classification and correspondences; ignore the instinctive, selfish question, "What does it mean to me?" learn to dip ourselves in the universe at our gates, and know it, not from without by comprehension, but from within by self-mergence.

from Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People Chapter III, paragraph 8. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Seeking The Divine

"You see many stars in the sky at night, but not when the sun rises. Can you therefore say that there are no stars in the heavens during the day? O man, because you cannot find God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God." 
Sri Ramakrishna

I have been reading a collection of essays by Aldous Huxley, from a book titled The Divine Within - Selected Writings on Enlightenment.
One of these essays, Man and Reality, captures the essence of the challenges when seeking a deeper understanding of what it means to be truly human while living in this world.  

This video quotes a large portion of the essay, and carries the essentials quite well I think. The images might distract more than aid, but you can judge. 

Man, proud man, 
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d;
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep.

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure act 2, sc. 2

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Attentiveness & Survival

More than a few times I have said a silent thank you to my step-father. He was a very opinionated person more likely to snarl at you because he knew you were smart than if he thought you were stupid. If he knew you were smart, and you did something he thought of as stupid, clearly you weren't paying attention to the task at hand, at least, not at the level he believed you could and should. 

Driving was a case in point. When I had my learner's permit, he suggested I take him for a drive so he could see how I was doing. Driving along, suddenly, he reached up and turned the rear-view mirror so that I couldn't see behind me and simultaneously asked me to describe the car that was following us - how close it was and so forth. Luckily, I had just checked, figuring he might do such a thing. I passed his test, but his comment was that I didn't check my mirrors often enough and I must always know what was going on all around my car while I was in charge of it. "One never knows when an emergency will come up - the car in front might suddenly stop and you will need to know that you have room to swerve. You won't have time to check in that moment, so you have to always know that you are clear to manoeuvre."

What brought this back to my mind, you ask?  I have been reading a book by Hannah Fry called "Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms". In her chapter "Cars", she describes a not-so-distant future where cars can drive themselves - mostly. In this future, the driver will give over control to the car for long periods of time. The car will mostly be capable of decision-making. However, if the situation becomes overwhelming, or too complex, the car will sound a signal for the human driver to take over.  I can imagine the horrified look on the face of the driver as they realize that the situation is out of hand - a scary way to end one's life. 

My step-father would be appalled at the very idea of this situation. He didn't even like automatic transmissions, power steering, or power brakes because they would make one less attentive to driving. And because he would have been appalled by a self-driving car, and he taught me about attentiveness and preparedness, the idea appalls me too.

You can be sure the self-driving feature won't be something I will use when it becomes standard equipment on all automobiles. I don't want the ghost of my step-father to haunt me! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

No One is Alone

Sometimes a message you need comes from a chance encounter. So it is with this video. 

Here is Bernadette Peters singing No One is Alone from Into the Woods. Its composer, Stephen Sondheim, died two months ago, but he can never be truly gone when such music and words remain. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

You Are Your Data

If you think climate change is a difficult problem to solve, you might be surprised to discover there is another much more difficult - no let's be honest - impossible problem to solve and we are contributing to it right now. 

We all know that while we use our phone, pad, or computer, every click and search is used to target us in, for example, advertising. We might even know that our 'likes' and 'comments' are all used to make sure we see more of the same thing online. A word like "algorithm" sounds very mathematical and computerlike, yet the term "business model" is much more to the point, for nothing in this capitalistic world is free. What we do online is our payment for the provider's service, and this is like gold to a political party or a potential dictator. It would be unfair to give away much more. There is a video below and it is informative and well-presented.

Maybe you know a teenager who needs to watch this.  While I definitely learned some things, at my age, my searches and clicks don't matter to most companies, or politicians, or ... anyone. Cynic that I am, I honestly have no hope that we, as a society, can escape the traps that have already been sprung or will be sprung very soon. 

However, it is better to know the problem. That way you will know where to allocate the blame when ... No, I'm not going to spoil it. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Importance of the Moment

My friend Joanna put up this post about living in the moment. It got me thinking seriously about something that has been in the back of my mind for some time - how I can better approach living, and yes, eventually but hopefully not soon, dying.

Of course, dying is something most of us want to ignore and definitely to postpone. What we might not want to acknowledge is that we often ignore and postpone living as well. 

As Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote:
"We think that living is always in the present and that dying is something that awaits us at a distant time. But we have never questioned whether this battle of everyday life is living at all. We want to know the truth about reincarnation, we want proof of the survival of the soul, we listen to the assertion of clairvoyants and to the conclusions of psychical research, but we never ask, never, how to live - to live with delight, with enchantment, with beauty every day."*

When young, I was always thinking - what next? -  instead of savouring life. Even now, writing this blog post is an example of not living in the moment. In my hubris I try to make something permanent out of a moment's thought when instead I need to make moments into the most important thing. 

Here, then, is a message I would send to my younger self if I could. It is definitely an instruction to myself now, to repeat as a mantra:

Find joy in what you are experiencing every moment so that when your last moment comes you will be prepared to experience even that - fully - and without fear. 

*Krishnamurti, J. (Jiddu) (1895-1986): Freedom from the Known
New York, Harper & Row, 1969