Month: October 2017

Is there a highest good?


I haven’t written anything here for years. It’s odd. It feels a little like the conversation I had with my son yesterday, which was also odd, but profoundly moving and poignant. Like having a conversation with one’s most private self. Is there a most private self? That’s what I want to talk about here: hierarchies. Is there a higher self? A greatest good?

My son and I agreed we’re not ‘group’ people. We’re not misanthropic, we just prefer dealing with people as individuals, and prefer it when people deal with us as individuals. It reminded me of something I’d read about Ayn Rand saying that the smallest minority on earth is the individual, and if we don’t respect individual rights, then we’re not defending the rights of minorities. This struck me as both paradoxical (how on earth do we respect the rights of all individuals, and what are those ‘rights’? I’ve always thought ‘rights’ were rather artificial concepts we give ourselves, usually only human selves, in order to protect ourselves from the greed and exploitative tendencies of others, usually more powerful. But I never really understood why rights defined like this should be restricted to humans, since this automatically suggests that those who are least able to defend, or even understand that they have, their own rights, are those at greatest risk of exploitation). I’ll write about all that in another blog, about Sartre, and Nausea, and mental health, and loneliness, and being at home in the universe. All these ideas seem intimately connected, and important to explore. I’ll write about self criticism, fragmentation, loneliness, and the capacity to feel the consolations of connectedness through being in nature, and giving care and attention to the ‘more than human’ world. Is there a hierarchy of rights? That’s rather an Orwellian idea, don’t you think: some are more equal than others? Yet how on earth do you grant equal rights, unless those rights are vanishingly insignificant (I have a right to what, to life? But that right must not infringe on the right of all other humans to life: how could that work, in a world of limited resources, and more, in a world where so many of the sources of energy and material substance are controlled by so very, very few).

This all connects with what I wanted to write about today, which is inspired by the Tricycle Dharma (www.tricycle.org) site and its many wonderful posts. I’ll post a link to the relevant page below. I was particularly motivated to write about the difficulty I have with defining a ‘higher way’ to respond to the overwhelmingly huge and clamouring needs of the world, human and more than human, that echo around us now, and that can overwhelm even more if we are constrained by financial, emotional, relationship, health or work challenges ourselves. My own challenge is the inability, so far, to realise my ‘greatest good’, the dream of pursuing academic research, and of communicating the three ‘big’ ideas I unearthed during my PhD research (I’ll write about them separately in another blog, though I may summarise them below, in case, in the words of the great song, tomorrow never comes). The dream of being a successful writer who communicates difficult ideas effectively, and who is read (do I really want to be read? Can one ever be understood? My perspective has no equivalent, so how can I make someone see what it’s like from where I’m looking? And isn’t there a tremendous arrogance in believing that what I have to say has not been said effectively already, in general terms at least (which are the only terms the world seems prepared to understand things in) by all the greatest authors of the past? I want to write short stories, poems, novels and dramas about the juxtaposition of being an outsider on the inside, of being unable to fit and yet being at home in the universe, of being unsuccessful and yet feeling rich as Croesus when I view my estate, which is an attitude of compassionate attunement, and an understanding of how to live in harmony.

My dream includes, also, teaching yoga in a new way, including ecological activism as a part of the practice, recognising and developing the transformational power of the shift in perspective yoga gives one. My dream is also to continue the work I’ve undertaken, a mammoth task, to open an ecotherapeutic community in Ireland based on the ecotherapeutic benefits of being in nature, and of paying attention to, and engaging with, the more than human world, in a non-dualistic way, as a part of what we are.

These are ambitious dreams, I’m sure you will agree. I become overwhelmed by the amount of work required, particularly given my circumstances – working in a low paid, low status job, with a young family scattered across two nations, in an insecure housing situation, and so on. The problem with being overwhelmed is that I become (and because I’m human, I think this is probably a feature of every human experience) paralysed. I stall. I use every distraction possible to avoid the enormity of the task at hand. Wrestling with the problem in an intellectual, rational manner does not provide answers. I cannot think myself out of the entangling trap of demands, unmet needs, violence, collapse, and a sense that there is no place in this world of groups, communities, clubs and meet-ups for someone whose identity refuses to conform to any generalised definition.

When I meditated last night (or, in Eliot’s wonderful phrase, ‘wept and fasted, wept and prayed’, because that’s what it really feels like, struggling with insomnia, practicing Yoga Nidra while I twitch and fidget and am unable to lie still, wanting to read but being incapable of focus, eyes simply too bleary to unravel the blur of words), I thought of failure, and of where it might be possible to find some small seed of comfort. Stillness and silence eluded me for a long time. It was as though my very being was a scream, unendurable agony of ineffectiveness resonating in every cell. I began again. Right hand thumb, forefinger, long finger, ring finger, and so on. There were seconds of silence that opened between the clamouring restlessness that would not allow me to keep physically still, moments when my body collapsed into a kind of desperate death state. Savasana. I became a corpse. But I’m alive, and so I could see myself becoming this stillness, this waiting, this listening self.

Apart from the obvious good of sleep, knitting back the shredded and torn experiences of the day, the bubbling cauldron of my subconscious burst again and again into questions of hierarchy: how can I have a ‘higher’ self? How can there be a ‘greater’ good in a universe that has no inherent value. Unless we agree that there is a ‘good’ inherent in systems (and hence in us). This ‘good’ is actually a ‘good for’ – there are things that are good for us, but better when that ‘good’ resonates with what is ‘good for’ all the systems we’re enmeshed in. Obviously there are some inherent contradictions here – energy coming to me is not available to other systems. However, when we meditate on our interconnectedness, and even, I think, when we consider in a methodically rational way, how energy distributes itself, how we are energy, and how the balance between having enough to sustain us so we can contribute most effectively to the energetic unfolding that contains us, we come to understand that the highest good we can express is to attune and act in harmony with this unfolding. This means, in a sense, that there is a highest good, and that my highest self is that which recognises, attunes to and acts in accordance with this recognition of energetic flow that balances my needs with those of all the systems within which I’m enmeshed. If there is a state of existence that is ‘good for’ systems, that means there is value, of a kind, inherent in the universe. If value is inherent in the universe, do we call this ‘good’ God? That might be a big step to take. I’ll meditate on it.

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