Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category


The Supernatural Life: A Goal Above Our Nature – Frank Sheed

November 14, 2013

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin -- a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God's -- breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why "the greatest of these is charity."

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

“Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” So St. Paul tells the Corinthians, quoting Isaiah. Until we reach heaven, we shall not know what heaven is. But, in the inspired word of God, we are given glimpses. In heaven we shall know God in a new way, and love him according to the new knowledge.

We shall know, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12), as we are known. It is a mysterious phrase, more dark than light, but soliciting our own minds powerfully. We are not to know God with the same knowledge with which he knows us — for he knows infinitely and we are incurably finite — but with a knowledge similar in kind to his, different from our present way of knowing.

In the same verse, St. Paul makes another attempt to express the difference between our knowing here and our knowing there. “Here we see through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” St. John (1 John 3:2) says, “We shall see him as he is.” And we remember Our Lord saying of the angels (Matthew 18:10), “They see the face of my heavenly Father continually.” Seeing is the key to life in heaven.

We can approach the meaning in two steps. First, those in heaven shall see God, not simply believe in him as now but see him. Here on earth we do not say that we believe in the existence of our friends, we see them; and seeing them, we know them. But, second, we shall see God “face to face,” see him as he sees us.

The Church has worked out for us a first beginning of the meaning of this. Concentrate upon the way we know our friends. We have an image of them, a picture, so that we know what they look like. But also our knowing faculty, our intellect, has taken them into itself. How? By the idea it has formed of them. By means of that idea, we know them. The richer the idea, the better we know them; if there is any error in our idea of them, to that extent we do not know them as they are. This is the way of human knowledge, the “seeing through a glass in a dark manner” which is the kind of seeing proper to human nature. It is the nature of our intellect to know things by means of the ideas it forms of them.

Here below we know God like that, by the idea we have formed of him. But in heaven, our seeing will be direct. We shall see him, not “through a glass,” we shall know him, not by means of an idea. Our intellect will be in direct contact with God; nothing will come between it and God, not even an idea. The nearest we can get to it, perhaps, is to think of the idea we now have of God; then try to conceive of God himself taking the place of the idea.

That is why the very essence of the life of heaven is called the Beatific Vision — which means the seeing that causes bliss.

Just as our knowing faculty, the intellect, so our loving faculty, the will, is to be in direct contact with God, nothing coming between, God in the will, the will in God, love without detour or admixture. So it will be with every one of our powers — energizing at its very fullest upon its supreme object. And that, if you will think about it, is the definition of happiness.

But observe that all this is based upon doing something which by nature we cannot do. The natural powers of man’s intellect fall short of seeing God direct by a double limitation: as we have seen, our natural way of knowing is always by means of ideas, so that we cannot see anything direct; and God, being infinite, can never be within the hold of our natural strength, or the strength of any finite being whatever.

Putting it bluntly, the life of heaven requires powers which by nature we do not possess. If we are to live it, we must be given new powers. To make a rough comparison: if we wanted to live on another planet, we should need new breathing powers, which by nature our lungs have not got. To live the life of heaven, we need new knowing and loving powers, which by nature our souls have not got.

For heaven our natural life is not sufficient; we need supernatural life. We can have it only by God’s free gift, which is why we call it grace (the word is related to gratis). Sanctifying grace will be our next topic. Everything the Church does is connected with it, and it can be understood but cloudily if we do not grasp what it is.

Sanctifying Grace
When we come to die there is only one question that matters — have we sanctifying grace in our souls? If we have, then to heaven we shall go. There may be certain matters to be cleared, or cleansed, on the way, but to heaven we shall go, for we have the power to live there. If we have not, then to heaven we cannot go; not because we lack the price of admission, but because quite simply our soul lacks the powers that living in heaven calls for.

It is not a question of getting past the gate, but of living once we are there; there would be no advantage in finding a kindly gate-keeper, willing to let us in anyhow. The powers of intellect and will that go with our natural life are not sufficient; heaven calls for powers of knowing and loving higher than our nature of itself has. We need super-natural life, and we must get it here upon earth. To die lacking it means eternal failure.

We must look at grace more closely if we are to live our lives intelligently. Two things about it must be grasped. First: It is supernatural, it is wholly above our nature, there is not even the tiniest seed of it in our nature capable of growing, there is nothing we can do to give it to ourselves. We can have it only as God gives it, and he is entirely free in the giving. That, as we have seen, is why it is called grace; and because its object is to unite us with God, it is called sanctifying grace.

Second: Even the word supernatural does not convey how great a thing it is. It is not simply above our nature, or any created nature. It enables us to do — at our own finite level, but really — something which only God himself can do by nature; it enables us to see God direct. That is why it is called “a created share in the life of God.” That is why those who have it are called “sons of God”; a son is like in nature to his father; by this gift we have a totally new likeness to our Father in heaven.

Giving us this new life, God does not give us a new soul with new faculties. He inserts it, sets it functioning, in the soul we already have. By it our intellect, which exists to know truth, is given the power to know in a new way; our will, which exists to love goodness, is given the power to love in a new way.

We get the supernatural life here on earth. Not until we reach heaven will it enable us to see God face to face and love him in the direct contact of the will. But even on earth its elevating work has begun; it gives the intellect a new power of taking hold of truth — by faith; it gives the will new powers of reaching out to goodness — by hope and by charity (which is love).

Faith, then, does not mean simply feeling that we believe more than we used to; hope does not mean simply feeling optimistic about our chances of salvation; charity does not mean simply feeling pleased with God. All three may have their effect on our feelings; but they are not feelings; they are wholly real.

Even this first beginning is beyond our natural powers, the powers we are born with. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:3). The supernatural life in our souls is a new fact, as real as the natural life we have to start with. The powers it gives are facts too; they enable us to do things which without them we could not do. They are as real as eyesight, and considerably more important. Without eyesight, we could not see the material world. But without sanctifying grace we should not be able to see God direct, which is the very essence of living in heaven.

Not only that. Here below we should not be sharers of the divine life, sons of God, capable already of taking hold of God by faith and hope and charity, capable of meriting increase of life. This increase of life must be realized; one can be more alive or less, and our life in heaven will differ according to the intensity of faith and hope and charity in our souls when we come to die.

We shall go on to consider these three virtues in detail. Meanwhile concentrate upon one truth: grace is not just a way of saying that a soul is in God’s favor; it is a real life, with its own proper powers, living in the soul; and he who has it is a new man.

A soul with sanctifying grace in it is indwelt by God. Here the reader may raise a question. Since every created thing has God at the very center of its being, maintaining it in existence, surely all things whatsoever are indwelt by God. In what can God’s indwelling of the soul by grace differ from that?

That first presence of God by which we exist is not called indwelling, for this word means God making himself at home in the soul, and it is not merely fanciful to think that this can only be by invitation. About the first presence we have no choice; we did not invite God to bring us into being, and it is not because we ask him that he keeps us in being. The choice is wholly his. No request of ours would move him to withdraw his presence; in the depths of hell he is there, maintaining each spirit in existence. It is a fearful thing to have nothing of God but his presence, to have existence from him and nothing more, refusing all the other gifts that the creature needs and only God can give.

But the indwelling is by invitation. If we receive sanctifying grace in infancy, the sponsor extends the invitation on our behalf; as we come to the use of reason, we make the invitation our own. At any time we can withdraw it, and God’s indwelling ceases, leaving us only his presence. The God who indwells is the Blessed Trinity. Father and Son and Holy Spirit make the soul their home, acting upon the soul, energizing within it, while it responds to their life-giving, light-giving, love-giving energy. That essentially is the process of sanctifying grace.

Faith, Hope, Charity
By it the soul has new powers — the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first three are called “theological” because they have God not only for their end but for their object. It is worth our while to pause upon the distinction. All our actions should have God for their end or purpose; that is, they should be aimed to do his will, to praise him and thank him and bring us closer to him. But they cannot all have God for their object.

The organist plays for the glory of God, the cook bakes a cake for the love of God; God is the end of their action. But he is not the object. The object of one is the organ, of the other the cake; the organist who makes God and not the organ the object of his playing will produce strange noises; the cook who makes God and not the cake the object of her action will produce an inedible mess; neither will glorify God.

The moral virtues have God for their end, but for their object they have created things — how we shall best use these to bring us to God. But for the theological virtues, God is object as well as end. By faith we believe in God, by hope we strive towards God, by charity we love God.

God is their object. God is also in a special sense their cause. They are wholly from him. By faith we have a new power in the intellect, enabling us to accept whatever God reveals simply because he reveals it. We may see it as mysterious, we may feel that it is beyond us, we may not see how to fit it in either with some other of his revealed truths or with our own experience of life.

But we do not doubt that what he says is so. By faith the soul accepts him as the source of truth. And it does so, not by its own power but his. He gives the power, not our own reasoning. He sustains faith in us. Our hold upon anything we have arrived atfor ourselves can never be surer than the mental process by which we got to it. Our faith rests upon God who initiates and sustains it.

Faith is the root of the whole supernatural life. With it come hope and charity and the rest. The soul is alive with them. To its own natural life of intellect and will, there is now added this new and higher life. The new life, like the old, is actually in the soul, as the power of sight is in the eye. And it never leaves the soul unless we withdraw the invitation.

Next we shall look more closely at hope and charity, with a glance at sin, by which the invitation is withdrawn.

Faith is directed to God as supremely truthful, hope to God as supremely desirable, charity to God as supremely good. Faith we have already glanced at; it is the simple acceptance of God as our teacher.

Hope is more complex. There are three elements in it; it desires final union with God, sees this as difficult, sees it as attainable. The nature of hope comes out more clearly as we see the two ways of sinning against it, by presumption and by despair.

Despair will not believe in the attainability, the sinner seeing himself as beyond the reach of God’s power to save. Presumption ignores the difficulty, either by assuming that no effort on our part is necessary since God will save us whatever we do, or by assuming that no aid from God is necessary since our own effort can save us unaided. The answer to both is St. Paul’s “I can do all things in him that strengthens me.”

Charity is simple again. It is love of God. As a necessary consequence it is love of all that God loves, it is love of every image or trace or reflection of God it finds in any creature. Many writers prefer the word “love” rather than “charity.” But “love” has such a variety of meanings in daily speech — including lust!  – that its use can mislead. One might tell oneself that one is committing adultery through love.

Charity is less likely to lend itself to that kind of misuse. Whatever the soul in charity loves, it loves for what of God is in it, the amount of God’s goodness it expresses or mirrors. This is true love, since it means loving things or persons not for what we can get out of them but for what God has put into them, not for what they can do for us but for what is real in thent. It means loving things or persons for what they are, and it is rooted in loving God for what he is. (This we have already noted is the strongest reason for learning what he is — that is, for studying theology.)

Supernatural Habits
Faith, hope, and charity are called habits by the theologians, and this is not simply a technicality. If we think over our natural habits, we see that there is a real change in ourselves after we acquire them, something in our very natures leading us to act in certain ways — to drink cocktails, for instance, or answer back sarcastically. We say that a given habit grows on us. Really it grows in us, becomes second nature. The theologians apply the word to any modification, whether in body or soul, which disposes us either to do things we did not do before or to do more easily or competently things we did. The skill of a pianist is a habit.

It is in this sense that the theological virtues are habits. They are really in our very souls, and they enable us to do things which without them would be impossible for us. They differ from natural habits in the way we acquire them. A natural habit is acquired gradually, as we repeat some particular action over and over again; supernatural habits are given to us in an instant by God. They differ again in the way they are lost. To be rid of a natural habit — drinking cocktails again — we must make a long series of efforts; supernatural habits are lost by one mortal sin against them. But while we have them, habits they are, in the meaning just given.

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose the natural habits. Our soul has the supernatural power to act towards God, but it has a natural habit of acting for self, ignoring God. It has the supernatural ability to make the unseen its goal, but a natural habit of being overwhelmed by the attractions of the visible. By steadily acting upon such natural habits as run counter to the supernatural we may, with our own efforts and God’s grace, bring our nature and its habits wholly into harmony with supernature and the habits that belong to it.

For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul 1 Corinthians 13


Creative Time Alone — Anthony Storr

November 12, 2013


Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius; and the uniformity of a work denotes the hand of a single artist.
Edward Gibbon


Gibbon is surely right. The majority of poets, novelists, composers, and, to a lesser extent, of painters and sculptors, are bound to spend a great deal of their time alone, as Gibbon himself did. Current wisdom, especially that propagated by the various schools of psychoanalysis, assumes that man is a social being who needs the companionship and affection of other human beings from cradle to grave. It is widely believed that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness.

Yet the lives of creative individuals often seem to run counter to this assumption. For example, many of the world’s greatest thinkers have not reared families or formed close personal ties. This is true of Descartes, Newton, Locke, Pascal, Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. Some of these men of genius had transient affairs with other men or women: others, like Newton, remained celibate. But none of them married, and most lived alone for the greater part of their lives.

Creative talent of a major kind is not widely bestowed. Those who possess it are often regarded with awe and envy because of their gifts. They also tend to be thought of as peculiar; odd human beings who do not share the pains and pleasures of the average person. Does this difference from the average imply abnormality in the sense of psychopathology? More particularly, is the predilection of the creative person for solitude evidence of some inability to make close relationships?

It is not difficult to point to examples of men and women of genius whose interpersonal relationships have been stormy, and whose personalities have been grossly disturbed by mental illness, alcoholism, or drug abuse. Because of this, it is easy to assume that creative talent, mental instability, and a deficient capacity for making satisfying personal relationships are closely linked. Regarded from this point of view, the possession of creative talent appears as a doubtful blessing: a Janus-faced endowment, which may bring fame and fortune, but which is incompatible with what, for the ordinary person, constitutes happiness.

The belief that men and women of genius are necessarily unstable has been widely held, especially since the time of Freud. It cannot possibly be the whole truth. Not all creative people are notably disturbed; not all solitary people are unhappy. Gibbon, after his initial disappointment in love, enjoyed a particularly happy and equable life which anyone might envy. As he wrote himself:

When I ‘contemplate the common lot of mortality, I must acknowledge that I have drawn a high prize in the lottery of life … I am endowed with a cheerful temper, a moderate sensibility, and a natural disposition to repose rather than to activity: some mischievous appetites and habits have perhaps been corrected by philosophy or time. The love of study, a passion which derives fresh vigor from enjoyment, supplies each day, each hour, with a perpetual source of independent and rational pleasure; and I am not sensible of any decay of the mental faculties … According to the scale of Switzerland, I am a rich man; and I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my wishes. My friend Lord Sheffield has kindly relieved me from the cares to which my taste and temper are most adverse: shall I add, that since the failure of my first wishes, I have never entertained any serious thoughts of a matrimonial connection?
Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writing

As Lytton Strachey wrote in his essay on Gibbon:

Happiness is the word that immediately rises to the mind at the thought of Edward Gibbon: and happiness in its widest connotation – including good fortune as well as enjoyment.
Lytton Strachey, Portraits in Miniature

Some might allege that Gibbon, by renouncing his love for Suzanne Curchod at the behest of his father, had cut himself off from the chief source of human happiness, and should be labeled pathological on this account. Sexual love may have played little part in Gibbon’s life, but Gibbon’s other relationships were rewarding. Although the immense labor of composing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire necessitated long periods of solitary study and writing, Gibbon was equally happy in company. When he was in London, he led an active social life, was a member of Boodle’s, White’s, and Brooks’, as well as of The Literary Club, and was appreciated everywhere as a fascinating talker. In addition, he displayed a touching affection toward his aunt, Mrs Porten, who had largely been responsible for his upbringing, and a gift for friendship which was most clearly manifest in his long and close relationship with Lord Sheffield. Gibbon occasionally laments his solitary state in his correspondence, and toyed with the idea of adopting a female cousin. But the prospect of matrimony was a daydream which he soon dismissed.

When I have painted in my fancy all the probable consequences of such an union, I have started from my dream, rejoiced in my escape, and ejaculated a thanksgiving that I was still in possession of my natural freedom.
Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writing

Modern insistence that true happiness can only be found in intimate attachments, more especially in sexual fulfillment, does not allow a place for characters like Gibbon. It is clear that, although his friendships were many, his chief source of self-esteem and of pleasure was his work, as the famous sentence which closes his autobiography makes plain.

In old age, the consolation of hope is reserved for the tenderness of parents, who commence a new life in their children; the faith of enthusiasts who sing Hallelujahs above the clouds, and the vanity of authors who presume the immortality of their name and writings.
Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writing

Gibbon was a classical artist whose style embodies an attitude toward the follies and extravagances of mankind which is both ironic and detached. Romantics, like Rousseau and Coleridge, detested him for this reason. In his writings, Gibbon’s human sympathies certainly appear as limited: sex is generally treated as a subject of amusement; religion dismissed as superstition. But the immensity of the task he set himself demanded such a stance. To impose order upon the turmoil and confusion of so long a period of history required an Olympian perspective.

Gibbon’s humanity did not, and could not, manifest itself in his great history; but the warmth of his feelings towards his friends and the affection which they showed him demonstrate that the man himself possessed a human heart. By most of the standards adopted in the past, Gibbon would be rated as exceptionally well-balanced. It is only since Freud advanced the notion that heterosexual fulfillment is the sine qua non of mental health that anyone would question Gibbon’s status as a more than commonly happy and successful human being.

It is not only men and women of genius who may find their chief value in the impersonal rather than in the personal. I shall argue that interests, whether in writing history, breeding carrier pigeons, speculating in stocks and shares, designing aircraft, playing the piano, or gardening, play a greater part in the economy of human happiness than modern psycho-analysts and their followers allow. The great creators exemplify my thesis most aptly because their works remain as evidence.

That mysterious being, the ordinary man or woman, leaves little behind to indicate the breadth and depth of interests which may, during a lifetime, have been major preoccupations. The rich may accumulate great collections of the works of others. Enthusiastic gardeners can be notably creative and leave evidence of their passion which lasts for years, if not for as long as a book or a painting. But nothing remains of a passion for windmills or cricket.

Yet we must all have known people whose lives were actually made worthwhile by such interests, whether or not their human relationships were satisfactory. The burden of value with which we are at present loading interpersonal relationships is too heavy for those fragile craft to carry. Our expectation that satisfying intimate relationships should, ideally, provide happiness and that, if they do not, there must be something wrong with those relationships seems to be exaggerated.

Love and friendship are, of course, an important part of what makes life worthwhile. But they are not the only source of happiness. Moreover, human beings change and develop as life goes on. In old age, human relationships often become less important. Perhaps this is a beneficent arrangement of Nature, designed to ensure that the inevitable parting with loved ones will be less distressing.

In any case, there is always an element of uncertainty in interpersonal relationships which should preclude them from being idealized as an absolute or seen as constituting the only path toward personal fulfillment. It may be our idealization of interpersonal relationships in the West that causes marriage, supposedly the most intimate tie, to be so unstable. If we did not look to marriage as the principal source of happiness, fewer marriages would end in tears.

I shall argue that human beings are directed by Nature toward the impersonal as well as toward the personal, and that this feature of the human condition is a valuable and important part of our adaptation. We share with other animals the prime biological necessity of reproducing ourselves; of ensuring that our genes survive, though we do not. But the long span of human life which extends beyond the main reproductive period also has significance. It is then that the impersonal comes to assume a greater importance for the average person, although seeds of such interests have been present from the earliest years.

The great creators, as we shall see, may in some instances have been deflected from human relationships toward their own field of endeavor by adverse circumstances which made it difficult for them to achieve intimacy with others. But this is a matter of emphasis rather than substitution. It does not imply, as some psycho-analysts assume, that creative endeavor is invariably an alternative to human relationships. One might argue that people who have no abiding interests other than their spouses and families are as limited intellectually as those who have neither spouse nor children may be emotionally.

Many ordinary interests, and the majority of creative pursuits involving real originality, continue without involving relationships. It seems to me that what goes on in the human being when he is by himself is as important as what happens in his interactions with other people. Something like one third of our total lifespan is, in any case, spent in the isolation of sleep. Two opposing drives operate throughout life: the drive for companionship, love, and everything else which brings us close to our fellow men; and the drive toward being independent, separate, and autonomous.

If we were to listen only to the psycho-analytic `object-relations’ theorists, we should be driven to conclude that none of us have validity as isolated individuals. From their standpoint, it appears that we possess value only in so far as we fulfill some useful function vis-a-vis other people, in our roles, for example, as spouse, parent, or neighbor. It follows that the justification for the individual’s existence is the existence of others.

Yet some of the people who have contributed most to the enrichment of human experience have contributed little to the welfare of human beings in particular. It can be argued that some of the great thinkers listed above were self-centered, alienated, or `narcissistic’; more preoccupied with what went on in their own minds than with the welfare of other people. The same is true of many writers, composers, and painters.

The creative person is constantly seeking to discover himself, to remodel his own identity, and to find meaning in the universe through what he creates. He finds this a valuable integrating process which, like meditation or prayer, has little to do with other people, but which has its own separate validity. His most significant moments are those in which he attains some new insight, or makes some new discovery; and these moments are chiefly, if not invariably, those in which he is alone.

Although major talent is rare, creative people remain human beings with the same needs and wishes as the rest of us. Because they leave behind records of their thoughts and feelings in their works, they exemplify, in striking fashion, aspects of human striving which are common to us all but which, in the case of ordinary people, escape notice. Perhaps the need of the creative person for solitude, and his preoccupation with internal processes of integration, can reveal something about the needs of the less gifted, more ordinary human being which is, at the time of writing, neglected.


Anthony Robbins

September 11, 2013

I would normally shy from self-help as a learning genre and seek answers in exploring the spiritual or in my connection with Jesus Christ through prayer. But I do have to acknowledge that Tony Robbins is an engaging speaker and will tell you things that will help you. “The defining factor [for success] is never resources; it’s resourcefulness.”

“Explore your web — the needs, the beliefs, the emotions that are controlling you … so there’s more of you to give … and so you can appreciate what’s driving other people. It’s the only way our world’s going to change.”


Love’s Evolution – John Armstrong

June 18, 2013
Evolution is also the story of unintended success. Human beings, it is true, have survived partly because of such things as their ability to make fires and fashion tools. But knowing how to make bonfires or bows and arrows is not a genetic endowment. We are not born with an understanding of these things; we are born only with the kinds of minds and bodies which are, in principle, able to cope with such undertakings.

Evolution is also the story of unintended success. Human beings, it is true, have survived partly because of such things as their ability to make fires and fashion tools. But knowing how to make bonfires or bows and arrows is not a genetic endowment. We are not born with an understanding of these things; we are born only with the kinds of minds and bodies which are, in principle, able to cope with such undertakings.

John Armstrong is a British writer and philosopher living in Melbourne, Australia. He was born in Glasgow and educated at Oxford and London, later directing the philosophy program at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. Armstrong is currently Philosopher in Residence at the Melbourne Business School and Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University. He is author of several books on philosophical themes. Armstrong’s work has covered a range of themes including art, beauty, and civilization. His work focuses on restoring traditional ways of thought by their modern application. This particular essay is drawn from his 2003 work Conditions of Love.


One of the most basic questions we can ask about any kind of human activity or experience, including love, concerns purpose: what is it for? Currently the most powerful way of formulating such a question does not focus on the present. It does not ask: what is love for today? Rather it makes inquiry into the distant past of humanity and asks: what role, if any, did love play in the lives of our prehistorical ancestors?

Evolutionary psychology proposes that the basic structures and propensities of the human mind as they are exhibited in the modern world were laid down in the millennia between the emergence of the human species and the waning of the last ice age. The subsequent period, a hundred or so generations, is too short to have much evolutionary significance.

Evolution is the record of reproductive success. We have inherited the genetic material of those individuals who managed to reproduce in the face of competition from other humans and against the hostile forces of the environment they inhabited. Evolution is also the story of unintended success. Human beings, it is true, have survived partly because of such things as their ability to make fires and fashion tools. But knowing how to make bonfires or bows and arrows is not a genetic endowment.

We are not born with an understanding of these things; we are born only with the kinds of minds and bodies which are, in principle, able to cope with such undertakings. Human beings obviously had this potential long before they deliberately mastered the arts of survival. The potential itself must have emerged, as all genetic development does, in a complex sequence of accidents. Genes, obviously, do not observe the world and assess what kind of mutation or development would further their reproductive aims. Genetic material simply is prone to mutation and no one has had any conscious control over the direction of mutation until the last years of the last century.

Almost always the mutation of genetic material makes no difference to the resulting organism or leads to some defect or infirmity. However, very occasionally mutation causes the organism to behave in a way that, fortuitously, enhances its chances of successful reproduction. If the offspring inherit this genetic reproduction, which increases their chances of successful reproduction, they will in turn pass on the same material to their descendants. Since these individuals are marginally more successful in reproducing than those around them, this genetic material and the kind of behavior which it promotes will come to be characteristic of the species. Although, of course, this will take an extremely long time to happen.

One of the most extraordinary claims of evolutionary psychology has been that the capacity and tendency to experience love is part of our genetic endowment. The structure of our minds is set for love. Such a claim, if it is to have credibility, has to be able to meet two challenges. Firstly, it must be able to explain how a disposition to such a complex set of intentions and reactions could be built into the mind. The claim that it is has benefited greatly from the rise of cognitive science, which undertakes to show how extremely complex emotions and thoughts are enacted in material processes.

It makes it plausible to think that the detailed architecture of the brain governs the way a human being feels and thinks. In so far as genetic material determines the brain’s architecture, it can thereby determine the kinds of thoughts and feelings to which we are prone. It therefore makes sense to claim that the capacity to love and the tendency to experience love could be genetically inherited. The first challenge to the evolutionary thesis can be adequately met.

This, however, does nothing to show that such a disposition is part of the standard genetic inheritance of a modern human being. So, a second challenge to the genetic thesis arrives: how could a tendency to experience love have conferred a reproductive benefit on our remote ancestors, a benefit sufficient to ensure that this endowment would eventually come to predominate in the species?

The response to this challenge is necessarily speculative. We do not actually know very much about the emotional or social lives of our remote ancestors. What we can do, however, is attempt to reconstruct the reproductive difficulties they were under and to show the benefits which would have followed from the unintentional evolution of certain capacities and tendencies – those which we think of as related to love.

The reproductive condition of early humanity, prior to the emergence of love, might be described in the following terms. Males seek to mate with as many females as possible, but they are especially drawn to those females who have the secondary characteristics of fertility and health: clear skin, long hair, well-formed breasts and hips. Such attraction is involuntary. The males who didn’t have such a focus for their desires mated with unhealthy and infertile women and left fewer descendants who, inheriting this lack of discrimination, in turn left even fewer.

Of course, access to such prime women would be the preserve of the most powerful males. Females, by contrast, would instinctively try to reserve their reproductive efforts for the most powerful males. Again, this is imagined as an involuntary reaction, not as a calculation. Females who didn’t have this instinct would have weaker offspring less able, in their turn, to reproduce successfully. Grim though it appears, this ruthless arrangement nevertheless provides an opening for love.

Successful reproduction, obviously, does not just depend upon the art of procreation. For an individual’s genetic inheritance to be passed on, their children must not only be born but must develop in such a way that they, in turn, are well placed to reproduce. The male offspring need to be powerful and the females need to be healthy and fertile. Any mode of parental behavior that increases the probability of such an outcome therefore enhances the probability of the parents’ genetic material being passed to subsequent generations.

Any mutation of genetic endowment which led an individual to behave in ways that encouraged the production of successful children would, gradually, become a general characteristic of the species. The central contention here is that loyalty to, and care for, a mate in the period following conception helps to ensure the well-being of the offspring. The male needs to ensure that the mother of his child will be loyal to him and to his child; that she won’t mate with another male and devote her attention and nourishment to another man’s child. The female needs to be sure that her mate won’t abandon her and the child, won’t go off and give his protection and support to another partner.

The chances of successful reproduction, therefore, are enhanced by character traits in both parents which tend towards enduring loyalty and care; enduring, that is, at least for the period in which a child is most vulnerable and has most to gain from parental support. The thesis proposes that such a characteristic will be structured like lust. That is, it will function as an emotion. This is because emotions guide complex action and are involuntary. The involuntary aspect means that, once it is up and running, the individual is likely to persist in the course of action to which the emotion tends.

We are, therefore, looking at the evolution of an emotion which guides one individual to be loyal and caring towards another; this is very close to love. The evolutionary thesis, therefore, claims that we can understand how love could develop as a human characteristic because it has a plausible story about how such an emotion would confer a reproductive benefit on those who experienced it. And, in conjunction with cognitive science, it can plausibly claim that the capacity to feel such an emotion could result from genetic mutation (over a suitably long time) and hence could be an inheritable quality: a feature of the human genetic character.

If we find this account convincing, or even just credible, we might wonder what light, if any, it sheds upon our understanding of love today. One crucial implication is this: we should expect the alignment of love and lust to differ between the sexes. According to this thesis, a male cannot lose by promiscuity. Even a male who is loyal and devoted to a particular mate may still succeed in leaving more descendants if he also tries to mate with other females. Any children resulting from such encounters will have a lesser chance of survival than the offspring of the female to whom he is devoted.

Nevertheless, if any of them do survive that male’s genetic material is spread more widely. This point is not meant to suggest a subtle calculation on the part of prehistoric males. All it suggests is that an inheritable tendency to non-promiscuous behavior would not become dominant in the male sex. Thus, in general, we should expect lust and love to be separable for males. Further, love should, according to the logic of the argument, only occur in the wake of lust. In the prehistorical era a male should only have become attached to a female once he had successfully mated with her.

By contrast, we should expect love and lust to be more closely connected in female experience. Because a female can, in principle, reproduce much less often than a male she should only be attracted to the more powerful males. And her experience of love should, according to the theory, coincide with her experience of lust. That is, we should expect a female to feel lust more or less only for the same partners towards whom she feels love. We should also expect that for females lust will be dependent upon love. For, from an evolutionary point of view, a female will have a better chance of reproducing successfully if she makes herself available only to a mate of whose devotion she is already convinced.

Thus, for a female, feeling loved would be a key condition for feeling lust. Again it is important to stress that these statements about what we should expect a woman today to feel are not meant to record deliberate strategies. We are not being asked to imagine prehistoric or modern females working out rationally what will best serve their reproductive aims and then acting accordingly. We are, instead, being asked to imagine a series of involuntary genetic mutations which influence the structure of the brain and which lead to patterns of feeling and conduct over which the individual has no direct control.

A second major implication of the genetic thesis derives from just this involuntary aspect. The thesis suggests that we should regard elements of modern behavior as deriving not from the conscious personality of the individual but as laid down by genetic inheritance. We should not, therefore, blame men and women, as individuals, for their patterns of conduct, in so far as these are determined genetically. We have, the thesis tells us, less control over how we feel and act than we might like to believe.

The basic features of two very different emotional genders were established prior to the emergence of civilization. A fundamental conflict of modern romance, the fact that men more easily separate love and sex than do women, is seen as being a dictate of nature. We need love, we have an inbuilt need to love and be loved, yet the two sexes have divergent notions of how love works. The unhappiness of love is the fault of the evolution of the species. How far should we trust this view of love?


Our Spiritual Unrest 2 – David Malouf

May 15, 2013
For Condorcet, as for the Plato-Protagoras of the Epimetheus story, Man is driven; there is no end to what he cannot become. The need to discover and invent, to remake, improve, is essential to him. He must pursue perfection come what may. More land must be brought under cultivation, with higher productivity per acre; higher production, higher sales, more profits must be our goal; a higher population to make up the workforce and the pool of consumers, a higher leaving age for school students, a higher life expectancy. Only when all these, as Condorcet lays them out in the tenth part of the Sketch, have been achieved at last, and perfection is within his grasp, will Man be happy.

For Condorcet, as for the Plato-Protagoras of the Epimetheus story, Man is driven; there is no end to what he cannot become. The need to discover and invent, to remake, improve, is essential to him. He must pursue perfection come what may. More land must be brought under cultivation, with higher productivity per acre; higher production, higher sales, more profits must be our goal; a higher population to make up the workforce and the pool of consumers, a higher leaving age for school students, a higher life expectancy. Only when all these, as Condorcet lays them out in the tenth part of the Sketch, have been achieved at last, and perfection is within his grasp, will Man be happy.

David Malouf is Australian, some say the leading contemporary author down under, author of eleven novels, as well as bountiful collections of stories, poetry and opera libretti. He has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Prix Femina Stranger and the Australia-Asia Literary Award; he has also been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. This post (and the previous) come from a little book titled The Happy Life, an elegant, succinct, secular meditation on what that makes for.


What is extraordinary, when we come to the present, is the reversal that has occurred in our notion of “unrest” in a century of iPods, mobile phones, multitasking; of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter; of news bites, 24-hour news cycles, jump-cut video clips; and the stimulation of our senses at every moment, in public as well as private spaces, by verbal admonitions and warnings and visual enticements of every sort, from rolling advertisements at bus stops and TV monitors at supermarket check-outs, to plasma screens in bars and pubs.

Far from being an existential state of anxiety requiring cure, unrest is itself the cure, and for something quite opposite but equally close and pervasive: the fear of inactivity, of stillness; most of all, of the withdrawal of every form of chatter or noise in an extended and unendurable silence.

As if that terror of “the eternal silence of infinite spaces” that haunted Pascal in the seventeenth century had found its new form on Earth, and had now to be exorcised from every lift in every public building; every bar and restaurant (right down to the toilets); every supermarket or boutique or waiting room in every city, great or small, of the civilized world; even from our telephones as we wait to be “connected.”

But then it was Pascal who first identified in us an earlier and more essential anxiety. “I have discovered,” he tells us, “that all our ills derive from a single cause. That we cannot live at peace in a room.” (So much for Montaigne’s “little back-shop” and the consolations of retirement into the self.)

A lone figure in a closed and lonely room is our image now for existential dread. That inner life where, for Montaigne as for the ancients, the freedom of self-containment, of self-sufficiency was to be worked for and found, is no longer a choice because it is no longer an option.

Imagine a modern politician who is announcing his retirement telling the media pack at a press conference, “I’m hoping to spend more time with myself.” A Montaigne or a Jefferson might get away with it, but a Bill Clinton or a Tony Blair would be mocked around the clock from Wapping to Waterloo or Woolloomooloo. The “little back-shop all our own” is to be escaped at all cost, by more and more adventuring elsewhere — on the moon, in the furthest reaches of space — or is to be filled with noise and such activity, virtual or real, as is permanently available at the touch of a keyboard.

It would be easy to dismiss this as shallow, mindless; to see in the sensory overload of these contemporary diversions a sign — like consumerism and the pursuit of the fifteen minutes of celebrity we have all been promised — of the decadence that comes with affluence, and the fact that we now have on our hands so much time that has to be filled. But there is another and more interesting possibility.

It is that this is a new form of “being” in which the Ego is by-passed not in the old way, by contemplation in the Greek and Roman sense of internal argument, or in the Eastern way through meditation — both of which require and make a virtue of silence — but through an overload that is the equivalent, in mental activity, of those extreme forms of physical activity that are a feature of some sports. We know that the high levels of endorphins released by intensive physical exercise produce euphoria.

Perhaps the exercise of the brain, when it is involved in dealing with rapid stimulus and response, as in video games or in the sort of attention we call upon when we are multi-tasking, creates in us a similar rush of wellbeing, of exhilaration, elation; an awareness of intense personal presence, in a fast-moving and richly crowded world that we are intensely in tune with, and where a new form of “happiness” may be found.

What this suggests is the possibility that the mind — or, more precisely these days, the brain — is still evolving, and at an increasing rate as technology presents it with new forms to master and new stimuli to respond to. This would mean that the mind, as Aristotle might have known it, and Montaigne too in the state of slow change that existed in the long period between his century and the fourth century BC, is quite a different mind from the one a five-year-old is employing when he deals with a video game today.

One aspect of the Epimetheus version of the creation story is that in this account of things the history of Man can have no end, is never done. So long as we are driven by the need to make up for our needs; by the restless sense that we are not yet fully assured of our place in the world and our hold on its swarming phenomena; so long as there is more to be discovered and made, more to grasp for and make real, we must go on inventing ourselves.

And as technology goes on increasing, and at greater speed, so the agency in us that allows us to deal with the world must go on evolving to keep up with it. Jefferson’s guarantee of happiness for all might be seen, in this context, to have been made to a generation of beings that had still to come into full existence, to be a condition that was to be aimed for rather than an immediately available gift.

It was Jefferson’s contemporary, the Frenchman Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, who first understood the power of this idea of “futurity” and in 1793, in his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, laid out a theory of “History as Progress.” It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this astonishing work.

First published, after Condorcet’s death, in 1795, it replaced forever what had till then been an unchallenged orthodoxy: that history was a closed system, a storehouse of exempla; of human character-types, events, movements that were fixed in number and endlessly repeatable from age to age, so that for every apparently new event, or great man or “change,” there was an existing prototype or model. Condorcet’s idea of Progress was one of those Copernican moments when a reality, as we had previously taken it to be, was turned on its head.

Condorcet considers the progress of Man through nine stages, from the nomadic hordes of pre-history to his own early-Industrial present and the establishment, in 1789, of the French Republic. He concludes that:

“from observation of the progress which science and civilization have hitherto made, and from the analysis of the march of human understanding and the development of his faculties, Nature has fixed no limits to our hopes … The advantages that must result from this state of improvement … can have no limit but the absolute perfection of the human species.”

Such new orientations in thinking produce others, and rapidly. The notion that history might be progressive rather than cyclical, that an event, a thought, an individual man (Napoleon, for example) might have no precedent — might, in the whole of time as we knew it, never have occurred or been seen before, and was original rather than recurrent — directed our attention away from the past and towards the future. We no longer had to look to the past for the interpretation of present happenings, or to consult it, study its events and types, so that when they arrived in a new guise we could recognize and identify them.

Our attention had now to be used in a new way, in developing an eye for occurrence rather than recurrence, for the unknown, the unexpected, the unlikely, the entirely new. Time had another shape and we stood at a different point in its unfolding. Once the future had been opened up to our vision as the direction in which we might turn our face, it developed a vastness as infinite, if only in prospect, in our imagination, as the immemorial past. All kinds of new ideas would depend upon it: Darwin’s theory of evolution, when it came half a century later; in the arts the notion of an avant-garde–that only what had never been done before, what moved things forward, what belonged, like Wagner’s “Music of the Future,” to Progress and the New, could be properly significant.

The eighteenth-century belief in a progressive future, the assurance of an improved and better time to come, together with a growing sense, as I suggested earlier, that true goodness is the goodness that we extend to others (as Condorcet puts it in the last part of the Sketch, “the general welfare of the species, of the society in which one lives”), accounts for a new willingness in men and women to devote themselves, politically, but now with an almost religious fervor, to the future; to living so that future generations may be “happy” even if they are not. This is the note we hear, of such plangency and with such a mixture of hopeless desperation and hope, in Chekhov’s sad comedies of Russian life at the turn of the twentieth century: in the doctor, Astrov, in Uncle Vanya, and Vershinin in The Three Sisters.

“I wondered,” Astrov tells the old nurse Marya, “whether the people who come after us, in a hundred years’ time, the people for whom we are now blasting a trail — will they remember us kindly?” Later in the play, he comes back to the idea, but more bitterly: “The people who come a hundred years, or a couple of hundred years, after us and despise us for having lived in so stupid and hopeless a fashion — perhaps they’ll find a way to be happy.”

Vershinin is in no doubt of it, nor of the part he must play in bringing it about:

“All the same, I think I do know one thing which is not only true but also very important. I’m sure of it — oh, if only I could convince you that there’s not going to be any happiness for our own generation.. . We’ve just got to work and work. All happiness is reserved for our descendants, our remote descendants.

Chekhov is wonderfully sympathetic towards these good men with their passionate feeling for others and their yearning — their sentimental nostalgia we might call it — for a future that will justify their existence as they cannot justify it in the present, even to themselves. He recognizes their pain, their desperate sense of being, as Dostoevsky puts it, ciphers, superfluous, unnecessary men. But their rush to self-denial and self-sacrifice disturbs him.

What haunts us in the plays is that the future for which these characters are so ready to sacrifice their lives and their own chance of happiness has already arrived now and passed. We know only too well the fate of that future generation — Shukhov, for example, where we found him in his Gulag — who will be the inheritors of those “happy lives.”

Behind Condorcet’s optimistic belief in infinite progress we hear Mao’s proclamation of “perpetual revolution” and the murderous slogans of the Cultural Revolution, Trotsky’s scornful evocation of the “scrapheap of history” that is reserved for those who stand in the way of historical necessity; and on the other side of politics, what was put to idealistic young SS men after Heydrich’s announcement to the Wannsee Conference, in 1942, of the Final Solution: that whatever the moral cost to those whose duty it would be to dispose of the millions who could have no place in it, future generations of the Thousand Year Reich would recognize their sacrifice and, as Astrov puts it, remember them kindly.

Condorcet was a mathematician — his special interest was probability theory — but also a philosopher with a keen interest in education (he designed the education system that would later be used throughout post-Revolutionary France). He was also a member of the National Assembly in the best days of the Revolution, a moderate who voted against the execution of the king. Hounded out by the Jacobins, he wrote his Sketch on the run, and died, by poison perhaps, in hiding, five months before Thermidor.

Condorcet had a large influence on the thinkers, and especially the poets, of the generation immediately behind him: Wordsworth, Coleridge, de Quincy, who wrote The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, the Ettrick Shepherd James Hogg, who wrote The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Novalis and Holderlin in Germany — all born around 1770 — who, as they came into their twenties, found his idea of infinite energy, of perpetual change and progress, of particular significance to their own rising wave of revolutionary Romanticism.

They were the first generation — there have been many since — to recognize energetic unrest as a requisite of creative genius and to cultivate intensity for its own sake as a reassurance of presence, of being, though the intensity was not always of a happy kind, and did not, for their purposes, need to be. As well as Joy, Delight, Ecstasy, there was also Terror, the source of the Sublime, and intensity could sometimes manifest itself as Dejection (Depression we would call it) or Rage. Their chief demand was that it should be permanent, that the emotions should at all times be at the highest pitch, and, when this could not be achieved (that is, when the body lapsed into the ordinary), it had to be maintained, as we see in Coleridge’s case, and de Quincy’s, with drugs. The “fine frenzy” to which these poets aspired could also be a form of madness.

For Condorcet, as for the Plato-Protagoras of the Epimetheus story, Man is driven; there is no end to what he cannot become. The need to discover and invent, to remake, improve, is essential to him. He must pursue perfection come what may. More land must be brought under cultivation, with higher productivity per acre; higher production, higher sales, more profits must be our goal; a higher population to make up the workforce and the pool of consumers, a higher leaving age for school students, a higher life expectancy. Only when all these, as Condorcet lays them out in the tenth part of the Sketch, have been achieved at last, and perfection is within his grasp, will Man be happy.

It is no coincidence that Condorcet’s close contemporary was Goethe. There is something Faustian in this new, this “modern” version of Man as both the happy child of progress, of the will to knowledge and power, and its endlessly unresting slave.


Our Spiritual Unrest 1 – David Malouf

May 14, 2013

What Protagoras identifies as the irritant in human nature that makes the pearl is our essential restlessness, our dissatisfaction, our unrest; a lack in us that has endlessly to be filled. But this "endlessly" is also the cause, in the individual, of a spiritual disabling that it is the role of philosophy and the rival Athenian schools, in their different ways, to cure.

What Protagoras identifies as the irritant in human nature that makes the pearl is our essential restlessness, our dissatisfaction, our unrest; a lack in us that has endlessly to be filled. But this “endlessly” is also the cause, in the individual, of a spiritual disabling that it is the role of philosophy and the rival Athenian schools, in their different ways, to cure.

David Malouf is Australian, some say the leading contemporary author down under, writer of eleven novels, as well as bountiful collections of stories, poetry and opera libretti. He has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Prix Femina Stranger and the Australia-Asia Literary Award; he has also been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. This post (and the next) come from a little book titled The Happy Life, an elegant, succinct, secular meditation on what that makes for.


In Plato’s Protagoras, the Sophist who gives his name to the dialogue offers his listeners a version of the origin of things, a creation story of how animal and human life on the planet came to be. It is a story. It does not claim, as Darwinism does, to be scientifically true, or like the Biblical version demand belief.

In the sophisticated way of classical thinking it begins with the world as we observe it — our place in creation, our history — and comes up with a speculative version of the origin of all this that will allow us to think through what is peculiar to the animal world on the one hand, and humans on the other, so that we can arrive at a clearer understanding of what is.

Plato’s interest here is in which of our capacities (he is particularly concerned with the civic virtues) are learned, and may therefore be taught, and which are innate, but the story Protagoras tells is open to other readings. It also has something to say, as the German philosopher Heidegger used it in a series of lectures in 1942 — at the precise moment, incidentally, when the entire industrial complex of his country was devoted to the manufacture of weapons of war and the extermination, by the use of advanced technology, of several million human beings — about the part that techne (art, craft, invention) has played in our unfolding history, and where, in its late-industrial form as technology, it may be leading us.

In the genesis story as Protagoras tells it, Zeus, the father of the gods, who might have seen to things himself, passes the job of creation to the Titan Prometheus, and he in turn passes the actual handling of the business to his brother and twin, Epimetheus.

The brief is to distribute among the various species a supply of qualities that will provide each animal, or reptile or bird, with a life in the world that will be fruitful and full, and at the same time to establish among them a balance that, given their difference in size, strength, aggressiveness etc., and the inevitable rivalry that must arise over resources, will keep the species safe from one another and the whole system sustainably intact.

Epimetheus begins by distributing to each of the creatures in turn the special quality they will need to protect them from the elements, the fur or feathers or thick hide that will keep them dry and warm; then the fangs or claws that will protect one beast from another or the fleetness of foot, or power of flight, or capacity to dart away underground that will allow them, when threatened, to escape. He compensates for sheer size with slowness to move, makes some animals plant-eaters only and the carnivore predators rare and with few offspring, but their prey, so that their numbers will be maintained, both fertile and abundant.

But Epimetheus, as his name tells us, has a deficiency.

Prometheus in Greek suggests forethought or thinking ahead, Epimetheus afterthought or thinking later or too late. Epimetheus is associated, in a positive sense, with the power of memory but also with forgetting. His is the spirit of reflection, of looking back and reconsidering, but also, as on this occasion, of oversight.

When he has distributed as wisely as possible all the qualities at his disposal, created for each creature a good and safe life and a proper balance among them, he looks around and discovers, standing patiently behind him, entirely naked and unaccommodated, another creature that he has entirely forgotten — perhaps he has left this creature till last because its needs are more difficult to satisfy than the rest. Man has been given no quality or gift and the sack is empty.

With neither feathers nor fur nor hide to protect him from the elements, no shell to house him or cover his head, no hoof or padded foot to protect him from sharp flint or thorns, no great size to deter aggressors, no speed like the big cats to run down prey or like the mouse to scurry away, no wings to fly upward out of reach, there he stands, and there is nothing in the sack to provide for him. In desperation at this oversight, this huge error, Epimetheus turns back to Prometheus, who in his usual way takes a daring leap into the unknown and comes up with a solution.

What the gods have done for others, Man will have to do for himself. He will have to be, from start to finish, the inventor of his own nature, and to get for himself the gifts he was denied. With no natural advantage, he will have to become an improviser, the shaper of his world, of his environment and conditions, to the service of his own weakness. He will be a designer and builder of shelters, a maker of clothes and tools; the fashioner of the weapons he will need to keep him safe, and of the hoe and spade and plough that will force the earth to feed him; of the machines and engines at last that will give him the speed that went to the cheetah and the power of flight that went to the sparrow and the hawk.

But to do all this he will need to develop in himself such “interior” and godlike qualities as the power of imagination, of invention, and these Prometheus agrees to steal for him out of the realm of the gods, from Heaven itself; beginning with the earliest and most essential of skills, and the source of all technology, the knowledge of how to make fire and carry it with him wherever he goes.

This version of the creation myth sets Man in a heroic light. His life is endless unaided struggle against the odds. Everything that has to do with him, everything human, beginning from an original error, an oversight on the part of the Creator, will be an attempt to rectify that error and make good what was denied him, to turn what was an essential weakness to strength. He is to be the self-sufficient custodian and creator of his own nature, his own history and fate.

A lonely figure, heroic but also restlessly anxious and eternally incomplete, this is Man the Maker, whose peculiar gift is craft or techne, the capacity to forge, shape, fashion; to take a world that had no place for him and make it his own. To turn wilderness into a fruitful landscape and lay down roads to move on; above all, to found societies and build cities, those ideal human artefacts, the embodiment of neighborliness and civic virtue and industry, of good governance and the rule of law.

But the special quality with which Man is endowed in this version of our story, and with which, in a risky experiment, he has been sent forth to claim the world — this techne and capacity for invention — implies other and earlier qualities. Curiosity, for example, and, preliminary even to that, a flair for observation, for seeing below the surface and beyond the recording of singular phenomena, for setting two separate things side by side and deducing a relationship; the capacity for productive thought.

A capacity, simply, for looking about and being puzzled and asking why, and moving on from puzzlement to the demand for an answer. And what this speaks of is dissatisfaction, a sense of insecurity and final incompleteness; a belief always that there is more to be discovered and claimed, and that until you have grasped this “more,” and have it in hand, you will be neither happy nor whole.

What Plato uncovers, at least in Heidegger’s late and “modern” reading of the Protagoras, is what it is in the make-up of our human nature, our psychology, our psyche or soul, that makes Man supremely, among the creatures, the one that sets out to take the world he is in and shape it to his needs, but more significantly, to be led, by the spirit of invention, beyond the mere satisfaction of those needs to what, already in Plato’s time, was the wonder of “civilization,” the complex working unit of the city-state; “Athens,” with its dedication to order, productivity, democracy and the rule of law, to science, the arts of sculpture and architecture, of poetry, music, drama, dance, games and the sort of mind-activity that is represented by the schools of philosophical enquiry of which Plato’s Academy is just one.

What Protagoras identifies as the irritant in human nature that makes the pearl is our essential restlessness, our dissatisfaction, our unrest; a lack in us that has endlessly to be filled. But this “endlessly” is also the cause, in the individual, of a spiritual disabling that it is the role of philosophy and the rival Athenian schools, in their different ways, to cure.

I will return to the philosophical schools, and their versions of the “talking cure,” in just a moment. What I want to look at now is another creation story, one that springs this time from the other side of our heritage, the Judeo-Christian, though this, too, like the Epimetheus version, is not the usual one. It comes in a poem, “The Pulley,” by the seventeenth-century devotional poet George Herbert:

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by;
“Let us” (said He) “pour on him all we can:
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all His treasure
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should” (said He)
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”

Here, as in the Epimetheus story, the Creator has gifts to distribute but decides, deliberately, to withhold the last of them. Man, he tells us in a nice pun, can have the rest, but the gift of “rest” itself — peace, contentment, final satisfaction — will be denied him. Unrest will be his condition until he finds rest in the Lord.

Though these readings of Man’s nature, of where, as humans, we stand in the crowded ranks of creation, belong to cultures — Greek and Christian — that are often seen as opposite and antagonistic, they agree in this: that our defining quality as humans is restlessness, unrest.

In the classical version, this restlessness is the source of all that is productive in our lives and is to this extent good, but in its negative sense it can be a source of anxiety that is deeply injurious. To this extent it is a disease in need of cure. The cure is philosophy, a long course of study, of argument and analysis, question and answer, through which the individual, by learning to distinguish between real and unreal desires and fears, frees himself from the “busyness” of a world that is endlessly pushing for the new, the more; from engagement, attachment, dependency; from what, as we have seen in Montaigne, in being external takes us away from the sufficiency of the self.

This is very different from the cure that Herbert turns to. The cure here is resignment from the self, and submission, without argument, to the Divine Will. Man gives up his natural tendency to willful disobedience and devotion to a fallen world and becomes simply a child again of the strict, all-loving Father:

Throw away Thy rod,
Throw away Thy wrath: O my God
Take the gentle path.
For my heart’s desire
Unto Thine is bent:
I aspire
To a full consent.

We get an even more dramatic version of the same act of submission in another Herbert poem, “The Collar.” Here the move, within the thirty or so lines of an almost hysterical monologue, is from the rebellious anger (“choler”) of:

I struck the board, and cried, “No more.
I will abroad.
What? Shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store .. .


But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!
And I replied, My Lord.

The Christian cure for unrest, as here, comes in a moment. The soul is caught by surprise, a sudden flash of illumination, in a spontaneous yielding of individual consciousness to the finality of Faith.


Groundhog Day: Breakthrough to the True Self

April 22, 2013
When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation, it tells us, then life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate. Murray's character makes two such breakthroughs: first he accepts being condemned to being stuck in the same day, then he accepts the fact that everyone else is condemned to die.

When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation, it tells us, then life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate. Murray’s character makes two such breakthroughs: first he accepts being condemned to being stuck in the same day, then he accepts the fact that everyone else is condemned to die.

Found this on a website called Transparency: Brief, easy to read, philosophical essays on how stories and the media reveal our yearning to become whole, and lead a good life in a good society. This one is on a favorite movie of mine. Read, recall and enjoy.


An example of an exceptional work of moral fiction is the apparently minor comedy, Groundhog Day, which shows us a character who has to be exiled from normal life so he can discover that he is in exile from himself. In the movie, actor Bill Murray plays Phil, an arrogant, Scroogelike weather forecaster who spends the night in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he is to do a broadcast the next day about the annual ritual of the coming out of the groundhog. He wakes up the next morning, does his story and is annoyed to discover that he is trapped in Punxsutawney for a second night because of a snowstorm that comes in after the groundhog ceremony.

When he wakes up in his guest house room the next morning, lo and behold, it is the morning of the day before all over again. Everything that happened to him the previous day — the man trying to start a conversation at the top of the stairs; the old high school acquaintance recognizing him on the street, the ritual of groundhog day — it all happens again.

And, once again, due to inclement weather, he is forced to spend the night. When he wakes up the next morning, it is the same day as yesterday and the day before, with the same oncoming snowstorm keeping him stuck in town and the same events repeating themselves like a broken record.

And so it goes, day after day, as this misanthrope of a human being finds himself trapped in Punxsutawney on groundhog day in what science fiction would refer to as a time loop. If he does nothing different, events will repeat themselves as they were on the original day. But if he changes his behavior, people will respond to his new actions, opening up all kinds of possibilities for playing with the unfolding of events. Either way, with each “new” day, he alone remembers what happened in previous editions of the same day.

At first Murray’s character responds with bewilderment. Then he despairs and begins to treat life as a game: he risks his life and gorges on food, expressing both his sense of hopelessness and his growing recognition that, no matter what he does, time will reset itself and he will wake up as if nothing had happened.

In one scene, which turns out to be central to the movie’s theme, he expresses his despair to two working class drinking buddies in a local bar.

One of his two inebriated companions then points to a beer glass and sums up the way he is responding to his situation: “You know, some guys would look at this glass and they would say, you know, ‘that glass is half empty’. Other guys’d say ‘that glass is half full’. I bet you is (or I peg you as) a ‘the glass is half empty’ kind of guy. Am I right?”

But as the days pass endlessly into the same day, this half-empty character finally finds a purpose in life: learning everything he can about his female producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, so he can pretend to be her ideal man and seduce her. When that fails, and his efforts net him slap after slap, day after day, his despair deepens and he begins to spend his days killing himself. He kidnaps the groundhog and drives over a ledge into a quarry; he takes a plugged-in toaster into the bath; and he jumps off a building, always waking up whole in the morning.

In desperation, he reveals his plight to the female producer and she stays with him (without sex), in his room, through the night. Once again, he wakes up alone in the same day.

But, enriched by this experience of intimacy, and by the fact that someone actually liked him for who he is, he finally figures out a constructive response — he begins to live his life in the day allotted to him, or, rather, he begins to live the life he never lived before. Instead of allowing circumstances to impose themselves on him, he takes control of circumstances, aided by the fact that he has all the time in the world and the safety of knowing what will happen next.

He begins to take piano lessons from a music teacher who is continuously surprised at how proficient he is, since she always believes it is his first lesson. He learns how to be an ice sculptor, which is the perfect art form for him since everything he does will have melted away when he wakes up anyway. And he becomes more generous.

Then, an encounter with death — an old vagrant dies in his day — has a deep effect on him. At first, he can’t accept the man’s death and, in at least one subsequent edition of the day, he tries to be good to the old man, taking him out to eat (for a last meal) and trying, unsuccessfully, to keep him alive.

When he stops trying to force death to relent, his final defenses fall away and his compassion for the old man transfers to the living. He begins to use his knowledge of how the day will unfold to help people. Knowing that a child will always fall from a tree at a certain time, he makes it a point to be there and catch the child every time. Knowing that a man will choke on his meal, he is always at a nearby table in the restaurant to save him.

Slowly, he goes through a transformation. Having suffered himself, he is able to empathize with other people’s suffering. Having been isolated from society, he becomes a local hero in Punxsutawney.

Now, he sees the glass as half full, and the day as a form of freedom. As he expresses it in a corny TV speech about the weather that he gives for the camera, at the umpteenth ceremony he has covered of the coming out of the groundhog:

“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the of warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

In other words, having accepted the conditions of life and learned the pleasures afforded by human companionship, he is no longer like all those people who fear life’s travails, and try to use the weather forecast, by human or groundhog, to control events. He accepts “winter” as an opportunity.

Finally, the female producer falls in love with the good person he has become and she again spends the night (although he falls asleep so, again, there is no sex.) They wake up in the morning. She is still there and it is the next day.

In a last bit of irony, the couple, (who get to know each other, in the Biblical sense, once the new day begins), decide to settle down in Punxsutawney. Like Maxwell Klinger in the last episode of MASH, Murray’s character will end up living in the one place he couldn’t wait to escape.

What is so powerful about Groundhog Day is the way it lets us experience what it would be like to make a breakthrough like this in our own lives. The movie shows us a character who is like the worst in ourselves. He is arrogant and sarcastic, absorbed in his own discomforts, without hope, and cut off from other people. Like us, he finds himself in an inexplicable situation, seemingly a plaything of fate. But, unlike us, he gets the luxury of being stuck in the same day until he gets it right.

Whereas most of us go semi-automatically through most of our (very similar) days, he is forced to stop and treat each day like a world onto itself, and decide how to use it. In the end, he undergoes a breakthrough to a more authentic self in which intimacy, creativity and compassion come naturally – a self that was trapped inside him and that could only be freed by trapping him. Like many of the heroes of fiction, he can only escape his exile from himself by being exiled in a situation not of his choosing.

In telling this story, the movie hits on a message that is commonly found elsewhere and that appears to express an essential truth. When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation, it tells us, then life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate. Murray’s character makes two such breakthroughs: first he accepts being condemned to being stuck in the same day, then he accepts the fact that everyone else is condemned to die.

Inevitably, the movie also has mythic resonances and literary counterparts. Murray’s character is like all kinds of saviors and heroes in well-known stories, secular and religious, who experience some combination of suffering and courage, until they go through a transformation to a new state of knowledge. Among the religious and mythic elements we can recognize in the story: he fights off his demons; he is changed by an encounter with death; he experiences a kind of rebirth; he appears to people to exist in time but he also exists outside of normal time; he manifests deep compassion; he is in the world but not of it, suffering with a special knowledge that he uses to save those around him; and he is given a second chance in life by the love of a beautiful woman. He condenses images of Buddha and the Beast, Scrooge and Jesus.

But the movie keeps myth and archetype, as well as message, blessedly in the background. It also employs only a little visual spectacle and only the barest minimum of fantasy, in the form of the ever-repeating day, to tell the story. It is effective because it is understated, allowing Murray and the theme to engage us.

Perhaps it gets a little too sweet as it moves toward a conclusion, but that is forgivable. At the end, it saves itself from going over the top by revealing that Murray’s character still has some of the old, calculating, self inside him. As he and his new mate walk out of the guest house into the new, snow-covered day, he exclaims, with his new enthusiastic wonder at life: “Its so beautiful — Lets live here.”

Then, after the obligatory kiss, he adds: “We’ll rent to start.”

Happily-ever-after is very nice, the character slyly tells us. But in the real world it’s important to keep your options open, just in case you need to beat a quick retreat.


Finding True Happiness 2 – Anthony de Mello

March 19, 2013
Imagine that you're unwell and in a foul mood, and they're taking you through some lovely countryside. The landscape is beautiful but you're not in the mood to see anything. A few days later you pass the same place and you say, "Good heavens, where was I that I didn't notice all of this?" Everything becomes beautiful when you change. Or you look at the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless.

Imagine that you’re unwell and in a foul mood, and they’re taking you through some lovely countryside. The landscape is beautiful but you’re not in the mood to see anything. A few days later you pass the same place and you say, “Good heavens, where was I that I didn’t notice all of this?” Everything becomes beautiful when you change. Or you look at the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless.

The scriptures are always hinting of that, but you’ll never understand a word of what the scriptures are saying until you wake up. Sleeping people read the scriptures and crucify the Messiah on the basis of them. You’ve got to wake up to make sense out of the scriptures. When you do wake up, they make sense. So does reality. But you’ll never be able to put it into words.

You’d rather do something? But even there we’ve got to make sure that you’re not swinging into action simply to get rid of your negative feelings. Many people swing into action only to make things worse. They’re not coming from love, they’re coming from negative feelings. They’re coming from guilt, anger, hate; from a sense of injustice or whatever. You’ve got to make sure of your “being” before you swing into action. You have to make sure of who you are before you act.

Unfortunately, when sleeping people swing into action, they simply substitute one cruelty for another, one injustice for another. And so it goes. Meister Eckhart says, “It is not by your actions that you will be saved” (or awakened; call it by any word you want), “but by your being. It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be judged.” What good is it to you to feed the hungry, give the thirsty to drink, or visit prisoners in jail?

Remember that sentence from Paul: “If I give my body to be burned and all my goods to feed the poor and have not love . . .” It’s not your actions, it’s your being that counts. Then you might swing into action. You might or might not. You can’t decide that until you’re awake. Unfortunately, all the emphasis is concentrated on changing the world and very little emphasis is given to waking up. When you wake up, you will know what to do or what not to do. Some mystics are very strange, you know.

Like Jesus, who said something like “I wasn’t sent to those people; I limit myself to what I am supposed to do right now. Later, maybe.” Some mystics go silent. Mysteriously, some of them sing songs. Some of them are into service. We’re never sure. They’re a law unto themselves; they know exactly what is to be done. “Plunge into the heat of battle and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord,” as I said to you earlier.

Imagine that you’re unwell and in a foul mood, and they’re taking you through some lovely countryside. The landscape is beautiful but you’re not in the mood to see anything. A few days later you pass the same place and you say, “Good heavens, where was I that I didn’t notice all of this?” Everything becomes beautiful when you change. Or you look at the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless.

You want to go right out there and change those trees, change those mountains. Wait a minute, let’s examine your window. When the storm ceases and the rain stops, and you look out the window, you say, “Well, how different everything looks.” We see people and things not as they are, but as we are. That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get two different reactions. We see things and people not as they are, but as we are.

Remember that sentence from scripture about everything turning into good for those who love God? [Romans 8:28] When you finally awake, you don’t try to make good things happen; they just happen. You understand suddenly that everything that happens to you is good. Think of some people you’re living with whom you want to change. You find them moody, inconsiderate, unreliable, treacherous, or whatever. But when you are different, they’ll be different. That’s an infallible and miraculous cure.

The day you are different, they will become different. And you will see them differently, too. Someone who seemed terrifying will now seem frightened. Someone who seemed rude will seem frightened. All of a sudden, no one has the power to hurt you anymore. No one has the power to put pressure on you. It’s something like this: You leave a book on the table and I pick it up and say, “You’re pressing this book on me. I have to pick it up or not pick it up.” People are so busy accusing everyone else, blaming everyone else, blaming life, blaming society, blaming their neighbor. You’ll never change that way; you’ll continue in your nightmare, you’ll never wake up.

Put this program into action, a thousand times:

(a)  Identify the negative feelings in you;
(b)  Understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality;
(c)  Do not see them as an essential part of “I”; these things come and go;
(d)  Understand that when you change, everything changes.

Change As Greed
That still leaves us with a big question: Do I do anything to change myself?

I’ve got a big surprise for you, lots of good news! You don’t have to do anything. The more you do, the worse it gets. All you have to do is understand.

Think of somebody you are living with or working with whom you do not like, who causes negative feelings to arise in you. Let’s help you to understand what’s going on. The first thing you need to understand is that the negative feeling is inside you. You are responsible for the negative feeling, not the other person. Someone else in your place would be perfectly calm and at ease in the presence of this person; they wouldn’t be affected. You are. Now, understand another thing, that you’re making a demand. You have an expectation of this person. Can you get in touch with that?

Then say to this person, “I have no right to make any demands on you.” In saying that, you will drop your expectation. “I have no right to make any demands on you. Oh, I’ll protect myself from the consequences of your actions or your moods or whatever, but you can go right ahead and be what you choose to be. I have no right to make any demands on you.”

See what happens to you when you do this. If there’s a resistance to saying it, my, how much you’re going to discover about your “me.” Let the dictator in you come out, let the tyrant come out. You thought you were such a little lamb, didn’t you? But I’m a tyrant and you’re a tyrant. A little variation on “I’m an ass, you’re an ass.” I’m a dictator, you’re a dictator. I want to run your life for you; I want to tell you exactly how you’re expected to be and how you’re expected to behave, and you’d better behave as I have decided or I shall punish myself by having negative feelings. Remember what I told you, everybody’s a lunatic.

A woman told me her son had gotten an award at his high school. It was for excellence in sports and academics. She was happy for him, but was almost tempted to say to him, “Don’t glory in that award, because it’s setting you up for the time when you can’t perform as well.” She was in a dilemma: how to prevent his future disillusionment without bursting his bubble now.

Hopefully, he’ll learn as she herself grows in wisdom. It’s not a matter of anything she says to him. It’s something that eventually she will become. Then she will understand. Then she will know what to say and when to say it. That award was a result of competition, which can be cruel if it is built on hatred of oneself and of others. People get a good feeling on the basis of somebody getting a bad feeling; you win over somebody else. Isn’t that terrible? Taken for granted in a lunatic asylum!

There’s an American doctor who wrote about the effect of competition on his life. He went to medical school in Switzerland and there was a fairly large contingent of Americans at that school. He said some of the students went into shock when they realized that there were no grades, there were no awards, there was no dean’s list, no first or second in the class at the school. You either passed or you didn’t. He said, “Some of us just couldn’t take it. We became came almost paranoid. We thought there must be some kind of trick here.” So some of them went to another school. “

Those who survived suddenly discovered a strange thing they had never noticed at American universities: students, brilliant ones, helping others to pass, sharing notes. His son goes to medical school in the United States and he tells him that, in the lab, people often tamper with the microscope so that it’ll take the next student three or four minutes to readjust it. Competition. They have to succeed, they have to be perfect.

And he tells a lovely little story which he says is factual, but it could also serve as a beautiful parable. There was a little town in America where people gathered in the evening to make music. They had a saxophonist, a drummer, and a violinist, mostly old people. They got together for the company and for the sheer joy of making music, though they didn’t do it very well. So they were enjoying themselves, having a great time, until one day they decided to get a new conductor who had a lot of ambition and drive.

The new conductor told them, “Hey, folks, we have to have a concert; we have to prepare a concert for the town.” Then he gradually got rid of some people who didn’t play too well, hired a few professional musicians, got an orchestra into shape, and they all got their names in the newspapers. Wasn’t that wonderful? So they decided to move to the big city and play there. But some of the old people had tears in their eyes, they said, “It was so wonderful in the old days when we did things badly and enjoyed them.” So cruelty came into their lives, but nobody recognized it as cruelty. See how lunatic people have become!

Some of you ask me what I meant when I said, “You go ahead and be yourself, that’s all right, but I’ll protect my‑  self, I’ll be myself.” In other words, I won’t allow you to manipulate me. I’ll live my life; I’ll go my own way; I’ll keep myself free to think my thoughts, to follow my inclinations and tastes. And I’ll say no to you. If I feel I don’t want to be in your company, it won’t be because of any negative feelings you cause in me. Because you don’t anymore. You don’t have any more power over me. I simply might prefer other people’s company.

So when you say to me, How about a movie tonight?” I’ll say, “Sorry, I want to go with someone else; I enjoy his company more than yours.” And that’s all right. To say no to people — that’s wonderful; that’s part of waking up. Part of waking up is that you live your life as you see fit. And understand: That is not selfish. The selfish thing is to demand that someone else live their life as You see fit. That’s selfish. It is not selfish to live your life as you see fit. The selfishness lies in demanding that someone else live their life to suit your tastes, or your pride, or your profit, or your pleasure. That is truly selfish.

So I’ll protect myself. I won’t feel obligated to be with you; I won’t feel obligated to say yes to you. If I find your company pleasant, then I’ll enjoy it without clinging to it. But I no longer avoid you because of any negative feelings you create in me. You don’t have that power anymore.

Awakening should be a surprise. When you don’t expect something to happen and it happens, you feel surprise. When Webster’s wife caught him kissing the maid, she told him she was very surprised. Now, Webster was a stickler for using words accurately (understandably, since he wrote a dictionary), so he answered her, “No, my dear, I am surprised. You are astonished!”

Some people make awakening a goal. They are determined to get there; they say, “I refuse to be happy until I’m awakened.” In that case, it’s better to be the way you are, simply to be aware of the way you are. Simple awareness is happiness compared with trying to react all the time. People react so quickly because they are not aware. You will come to understand that there are times when you will inevitably react, even in awareness. But as awareness grows, you react less and act more. It really doesn’t matter.

There’s a story of a disciple who told his guru that he was going to a far place to meditate and hopefully attain enlightenment. So he sent the guru a note every six months to report the progress he was making. The first report said, “Now I understand what it means to lose the self.” The guru tore up the note and threw it in the wastepaper basket. After six months he got another report, which said, “Now I have attained sensitivity to all beings.” He tore it up. Then a third report said, “Now I understand the secret of the one and the many.” It too was torn up.

And so it went on for years, until finally no reports came in. After a time the guru became curious and one day there was a traveler going to that far place. The guru said, “Why don’t you find out what happened to that fellow.” Finally, he got a note from his disciple. It :said, “What does it matter?” And when the guru read that, he said, “He made it! He made it! He finally got it! He got it!”

And there is the story about a soldier on the battlefield who would simply drop his rifle to the ground, pick up a scrap of paper lying there, and look at it. Then he would let it flutter from his hands to the ground. And then he’d move somewhere else and do the same thing. So others said, “This man is exposing himself to death. He needs help.” So they put him in the hospital and got the best psychiatrist to work on him. But it seemed to have no effect. He wandered around the wards picking up scraps of paper, looking at them idly, and letting them flutter to the ground. In the end they said, “We’ve got to discharge this man from the army.” So they call him in and give him a discharge certificate and he idly picks it up, looks at it, and shouts, “This is it? This is it.” He finally got it.

So begin to be aware of your present condition whatever that condition is. Stop being a dictator. Stop trying to push yourself somewhere. Then someday you will understand that simply by awareness you have already attained what you were pushing yourself toward.


Finding True Happiness 1 – Anthony de Mello

March 18, 2013


Do you want to be happy? Uninterrupted happiness is uncaused. True happiness is uncaused. You cannot make me happy. You are not my happiness. You say to the awakened person, “Why are you happy?” and the awakened person replies, “Why not?”

Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired.

Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels!

Four Steps To Wisdom
The first thing you need to do is get in touch with negative feelings that you’re not even aware of.
Lots of people have negative feelings they’re not aware of. Lots of people are depressed and they’re not aware they are depressed. It’s only when they make contact with joy that they understand how depressed they were. You can’t deal with a cancer that you haven’t detected. You can’t get rid of boll weevils on your farm if you’re not aware of their existence.

The first thing you need is awareness of your negative feelings. What negative feelings? Gloominess, for instance. You’re feeling gloomy and moody. You feel self-hatred or guilt. You feel that life is pointless, that it makes no sense; you’ve got hurt feelings, you’re feeling nervous and tense. Get in touch with those feelings first.

The second step (this is a four-step program) is to understand that the feeling is in you, not in reality. That’s such a self-evident thing, but do you think people know it? They don’t, believe me. They’ve got Ph.D.s and are presidents of universities, but they haven’t understood this. They didn’t teach me how to live at school. They taught me everything else. As one man said, “I got a pretty good education. It took me years to get over it.” That’s what spirituality is all about, you know: unlearning. Unlearning all the rubbish they taught you.

Negative feelings are in you, not in reality. So stop trying to change reality. That’s crazy! Stop trying to change the other person. We spend all our time and energy trying to change external circumstances, trying to change our spouses, our bosses, our friends, our enemies, and everybody else. We don’t have to change anything. Negative feelings are in you. No person on earth has the power to make you unhappy. There is no event on earth that has the power to disturb you or hurt you. No event, condition, situation, or person. Nobody told you this; they told you the opposite. That’s why you’re in the mess that you’re in right now. That is why you’re asleep. They never told you this. But it’s self-evident.

Let’s suppose that rain washes out a picnic. Who is feeling negative? The rain? Or you? What’s causing the negative feeling? The rain or your reaction? When you bump your knee against a table, the table’s fine. It’s busy being what it was made to be — a table. The pain is in your knee, not in the table. The mystics keep trying to tell us that reality is all right. Reality is not problematic. Problems exist only in the human mind. We might add: in the stupid, sleeping human mind. Reality is not problematic. Take away human beings from this planet and life would go on, nature would go on in all its loveliness and violence. Where would the problem be? No problem. You created the problem. You are the problem. You identified with “me” and that is the problem. The feeling is in you, not in reality.

The third step: Never identify with that feeling. It has nothing to do with the “I.” Don’t define your essential self in terms of that feeling. Don’t say, “I am depressed.” If you want to say, “It is depressed,” that’s all right. If you want to say depression is there, that’s fine; if you want to say gloominess is there, that’s fine. But not: I am gloomy. You’re defining yourself in terms of the feeling. That’s your illusion; that’s your mistake. There is a depression there right now, there are hurt feelings there right now, but let it be, leave it alone. It will pass. Everything passes, everything. Your depressions and your thrills have nothing to do with happiness. Those are the swings of the pendulum. If you seek kicks or thrills, get ready for depression. Do you want your drug? Get ready for the hangover. One end of the pendulum swings to the other.

This has nothing to do with “I”; it has nothing to do with happiness. It is the “me.” If you remember this, if you say it to yourself a thousand times, if you try these three steps a thousand times, you will get it. You might not need to do it even three times. I don’t know; there’s no rule for it. But do it a thousand times and you’ll make the biggest discovery in your life.

To hell with those gold mines in Alaska. What are you going to do with that gold? If you’re not happy, you can’t live. So you found gold. What does that matter? You’re a king; you’re a princess. You’re free; you don’t care anymore about being accepted or rejected, that makes no difference. Psychologists tell us how important it is to get a sense of belonging. Baloney! Why do you want to belong to anybody? It doesn’t matter anymore.

A friend of mine told me that there’s an African tribe where capital punishment consists of being ostracized. If you were kicked out of New York, or wherever you’re residing, you wouldn’t die. How is it that the African tribesman died? Because he partakes of the common stupidity of humanity. He thinks he will not be able to live if he does not belong. It’s very different from most people, or is it? He’s convinced he needs to belong. But you don’t need to belong to anybody or anything or any group.

You don’t even need to be in love. Who told you you do? What you need is to be free. What you need is to love. That’s it; that’s your nature. But what you’re really telling me is that you want to be desired. You want to be applauded, to be attractive, to have all the little monkeys running after you. You’re wasting your life. Wake up! You don’t need this. You can be blissfully happy without it.

Your society is not going to be happy to hear this, because you become terrifying when you open your eyes and understand this. How do you control a person like this? He doesn’t need you; he’s not threatened by your criticism; he doesn’t care what you think of him or what you say about him. He’s cut all those strings; he’s not a puppet any longer. It’s terrifying. “So we’ve got to get rid of him. He tells the truth; he has become fearless; he has stopped being human.” Human! Behold! A human being at last! He broke out of his slavery, broke out of their prison.

No event justifies a negative feeling. There is no situation in the world that justifies a negative feeling. That’s what all our mystics have been crying themselves hoarse to tell us. But nobody listens. The negative feeling is in you. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred book of the Hindus, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, “Plunge into the heat of battle and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord.” A marvelous sentence.

You don’t have to do anything to acquire happiness. The great Meister Eckhart said very beautifully, “God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.” You don’t do anything to be free, you drop something. Then you’re free.

It reminds me of the Irish prisoner who dug a tunnel under the prison wall and managed to escape. He comes out right in the middle of a school playground where little children are playing. Of course, when he emerges from the tunnel he can’t restrain himself anymore and begins to jump up and down, crying, “I’m free, I’m free, I’m free! A little girl there looks at him scornfully and says, “That’s nothing. I’m four.”

The fourth step: How do you change things? How do you change yourselves? There are many things you must understand here, or rather, just one thing that can be expressed in many ways. Imagine a patient who goes to a doctor and tells him what he is suffering from. The doctor says, “Very well, I’ve understood your symptoms. Do you know what I will do? I will prescribe a medicine for your neighbor!”

The patient replies, “Thank you very much, Doctor, that makes me feel much better.” Isn’t that absurd? But that’s what we all do. The person who is asleep always thinks he’ll feel better if somebody else changes. You’re suffering because you are asleep, but you’re thinking, “How wonderful life would be if somebody else would change; how wonderful life would be if my neighbor changed, my wife changed, my boss changed.”

We always want someone else to change so that we will feel good. But has it ever struck you that even if your wife changes or your husband changes, what does that do to you? You’re just as vulnerable as before; you’re just as idiotic as before; you’re just as asleep as before. You are the one who needs to change, who needs to take medicine. You keep insisting, “I feel good because the world is right.” Wrong! The world is right because I feel good. That’s what all the mystics are saying.

All’s Right With The World
When you awaken, when you understand, when you see, the world becomes right. We’re always bothered by the problem of evil. There’s a powerful story about a little boy walking along the bank of a river. He sees a crocodile who is trapped in a net. The crocodile says, “Would you have pity on me and release me? I may look ugly, but it isn’t my fault, you know. I was made this way. But whatever my external appearance, I have a mother’s heart. I came this morning in search of food for my young ones and got caught in this trap!” So the boy says, “Ah, if I were to help you out of that trap, you’d grab me and kill me.” The crocodile asks, “Do you think I would do that to my benefactor and liberator?” So the boy is persuaded to take the net off and the crocodile grabs him.

As he is being forced between the jaws of the crocodile, he says, “So this is what I get for my good actions.” And the crocodile says, “Well, don’t take it personally, son, this is the way the world is, this is the law of life.” The boy disputes this, so the crocodile says, “Do you want to ask someone if it isn’t so?” The boys sees a bird sitting on a branch and says, “Bird, is what the crocodile says right?” The bird says, “The crocodile is right. Look at me. I was coming home one day with food for my fledglings. Imagine my horror to see a snake crawling up the tree, making straight for my nest. I was totally helpless. It kept devouring my young ones, one after the other. I kept screaming and shouting, but it was useless. The crocodile is right, this is the law of life, this is the way the world is.”

“See,” says the crocodile. But the boy says, “Let me ask someone else.” So the crocodile says, “Well, all right, go ahead.” There was an old donkey passing by on the bank of the river. “Donkey,” says the boy, “this is what the crocodile says. Is the crocodile right?” The donkey says, “The crocodile is quite right. Look at me. I’ve worked and slaved for my master all my life and he barely gave me enough to eat. Now that I’m old and useless, he has turned me loose, and here I am wandering in the jungle, waiting for some wild beast to pounce on me and put an end to my life. The crocodile is right, this is the law of life, this is the way the world is.”

“See,” says the crocodile. “Let’s go!” The boy says, “Give me one more chance, one last chance. Let me ask one other being. Remember how good I was to you?” So the crocodile says, “All right, your last chance.” The boy sees a rabbit passing by, and he says, “Rabbit, is the crocodile right?” The rabbit sits on his haunches and says to the crocodile, “Did you say that to that boy? The crocodile says, “Yes, I did.” “Wait a minute,” says the rabbit. “We’ve got to discuss this.” “Yes,” says the crocodile. But the rabbit says, “How can we discuss it when you’ve got that boy in your mouth? Release him; he’s got to take part in the discussion, too.”

The crocodile says, “You’re a clever one, you are. The moment I release him, he’ll run away.” The rabbit says, “I thought you had more sense than that. If he attempted to run away, one slash of your tail would kill him.” “Fair enough,” says the crocodile, and he released the boy. The moment the boy is released, the rabbit says, “Run!” And the boy runs and escapes.

Then the rabbit says to the boy, “Don’t you enjoy crocodile flesh? Wouldn’t the people in your village like a good meal? You didn’t really release that crocodile; most of his body is still caught in that net. Why don’t you go to the village and bring everybody and have a banquet.” That’s exactly what the boy does. He goes to the village and calls all the menfolk. They come with their axes and staves and spears and kill the crocodile.

The boy’s dog comes, too, and when the dog sees the rabbit, he gives chase, catches hold of the rabbit, and throttles him. The boy comes on the scene too late, and as he watches the rabbit die, he says, “The crocodile was right, this is the way the world is, this is the law of life.”

There is no explanation you can give that would explain away all the sufferings and evil and torture and destruction and hunger in the world! You’ll never explain it. You can try gamely with your formulas, religious and otherwise, but you’ll never explain it. Because life is a mystery, which means your thinking mind cannot make sense out of it. For that you’ve got to wake up and then you’ll suddenly realize that reality is not problematic, you are the problem.


Christopher Hitchens’ Dying Days With G. K. Chesterton 1 – Ralph C. Wood

January 23, 2013
To Hitchens' complaint that Chesterton's Christian humor is shallow, one can only wonder whether he may have had a native incapacity for plumbing the depths, an invincible ignorance about ultimate things. Or perhaps Hitchens was properly scandalized, for the most joyful paradox is also the greatest offense: the crucified and risen God-Man lightens the heaviest load of sin, and his yoke eases the worst of atheist burdens.

To Hitchens’ complaint that Chesterton’s Christian humor is shallow, one can only wonder whether he may have had a native incapacity for plumbing the depths, an invincible ignorance about ultimate things. Or perhaps Hitchens was properly scandalized, for the most joyful paradox is also the greatest offense: the crucified and risen God-Man lightens the heaviest load of sin, and his yoke eases the worst of atheist burdens.

Hitchens’ Challenge
The enfant terrible of the New Atheism, Christopher Hitchens, spent his dying days in a Houston hospital reading G. K. Chesterton — not only the 750 pages of Ian Ker’s massive recent biography, but also an equivalent amount of GKC’s own poetry and prose. The novelist Ian McEwan, who was at Hitchens’ bedside before his death in December 2011, reports that they spoke of various writers: Theodore Dreiser, Robert Browning, Thomas Mann, George Orwell, Philip Larkin.

McEwan also reports that Hitchens died nobly and without complaint at age 62, though ravaged by esophageal cancer that deprived him of his most important gift: the spoken word. Yet there was no last-minute conversion. On the contrary, Hitchins seems never to have felt the sting of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s aphorism that Chesterton often cited: “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” Gratitude to his wife and many friends seem to have sufficed for Hitchens.

Even so, he was reading huge chunks of Chesterton at the end. I suspect that “Hitch,” as his friends called him, was not only fulfilling his promise to write a 3000 word review of Ker’s book for the Atlantic. (Titled “The Reactionary,” the review was posthumously published in the March 2012 issue.) He was also settling scores with his bete noire. Far from granting him the generous farewell of a dying man to a worthy opponent long dead, Hitchens bid Chesterton a bitter parting word.

His review is so acerbic and dismissive that one cannot but suspect that our most celebrated public atheist may have been overcompensating — as if he had a secret wish that Chesterton might have been right. “There are days,” he wrote in God Is Not Great, “when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb.”

Any serious assessment of Ker’s huge book must come to terms with Hitchens’ damning conclusion that “when [Chesterton] was charming, he was also deeply unserious and frivolous… ; when he was serious, he was really quite sinister… ; and when he was posing as a theologian, he was doing little more than ventriloquizing John Henry Newman at his most `dogmatic.

“The whole phenomenon of “Chestertonianism,” as Hitchens calls it, “came to represent a minor but still important failure to meet a distinct moral challenge.” Each of these challenges must be met if Chesterton is to be embraced as an authentic Christian apologist, and Ker’s book offers an opportunityfor doing so. More is at risk here than Chesterton’s reputation; it is his Christian faith – and, by extension, the faith of the church itself – that remains at stake

Chesterton’s Humor
Against Hitchens’ charge that Chesterton’s celebrated humor is silly and superficial, Ker offers a solid rebuttal. He constantly stresses the link between the comic and the serious in Chesterton. It was a virtual article in Chesterton’s creed that Christianity deals with the darkest and deepest matters byway of a certain gaiety and buoyancy, overcoming the heaviness of sin with the joyfulness of the Gospel.

Satan fell by the force of his gravity, Chesterton famously observed, while the unfallen angels still fly because they take themselves so lightly. Joking is a vital form of thinking, he added. It often bursts the bounds of pedestrian thought. A transcendent leap is required to “catch” the jest. “Smiles from reason flow,” Milton observed, echoing Aristotle. “A joke can be so big,” GKC more rumbustiously remarked, “that it can break the roof of the stars.”

Far from being self-centered, a proper kind of laughter puts a stop to all serpentine seriousness about ourselves. “Hilarity,” Chesterton wrote, “involves humility.” It allows us to comport ourselves in an undignified manner, whether in laughter or play. These, he said, are “the essence of real happiness.”

Like C. S. Lewis, Chesterton despised all political utopias, chiefly because of their unhappiness: their stern propriety and grim solemnity, no matter whether their cheerlessness issues from the left or the right. Religious faith, he countered, “is much nearer to riotous happiness than it is to the detached and temperate types of happiness in which gentlemen and philosophers find their peace.” Ker supplies us with endless strings of such fine apercus: “the more serious is the discussion the more grotesque should be its terms,” for if “a thing is universal it is full of comic things…. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.” The deepest truths are the most outrageous, he insisted, and they require an artistic form befitting them – something akin to farce and mime and slapstick.

Precisely because she was so deeply Christian — indeed, Chesterton was led to the church by her devout practice of the faith — did he describe his wife Frances as having “the asceticism of cheerfulness, not the easier asceticism of melancholy.” When she accepted his proposal for marriage, he saw (as did Luther) the deep link between conjugal love and divine delight, as he wrote to tell her:

Happiness is not at all smug; it is not peaceful and contented…Happiness brings not peace but a sword: it shakes you like rattling dice: it breaks your speech and darkens your sight. Happiness is stronger than oneself and sets it palpable foot upon one’s neck.

What he meant, I suspect, is that the deepest happiness also puts one under the fiercest obligation — namely, to throw away one’s life into the bottomless abyss of gratitude, as Chesterton said of St. Francis. It also thrusts a stiletto into any bloated conviction that one deserves so great a joy. And surely it weights one with an inescapable care for those whose lives seem irreversibly unhappy.

The test case for Chesterton’s claims about joyfulness lies in the life of monastics, those who sacrifice everything for the sake of the Kingdom. Chesterton knew well that monks are not so foolhardy as to surrender felicity for misery. Their vows of celibacy and poverty and obedience bring, instead, a “terrible consolation and a lonely joy.” Chesterton cheekily suggests that monastics could be likened to a man who may go “ragged and homeless to drink brandy.”

In either case, the point about monks and nuns still holds: “They [give] up all pleasures for one pleasure of spiritual ecstasy.” To Hitchens’ complaint that Chesterton’s Christian humor is shallow, one can only wonder whether he may have had a native incapacity for plumbing the depths, an invincible ignorance about ultimate things. Or perhaps Hitchens was properly scandalized, for the most joyful paradox is also the greatest offense: the crucified and risen God-Man lightens the heaviest load of sin, and his yoke eases the worst of atheist burdens.


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