- the Death, and the Resurrection,
of Modern Civilization -
re-mi consciousness finds the seed of Mystery within itself "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life"
the practice of wisdom
Wisdom is not studied, it is earned. Remember: the most difficult thing to do in all the world is to be a human being. The seeking after wisdom is this struggle to find our humanity. True wisdom comes from reflection. We look back on our experience; we "reflect" on it. In this way, we grow inside. We look on our experience and we ask: What can this teach me? What have I learned? What do I have yet to learn?
This means, first, we have to have experience. The young are seldom wise, except in one way, whose understanding will help our reflections on the nature and practice of wisdom.
This way is noted in the saying: "From the mouth's of babes..."; an idea completed in the Gospels, Matthew 18:3: " ...Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
This verse means: In order to enter into the kingdom of heaven (in order to experience the integration of personal consciousness with universal consciousness - the meeting of personal essence with divine essence) one must be converted (become transformed in soul and spirit) in a manner similar - as - to little children (playfully, spontaneously and unselfconsciously in tune with the divine).
The child has yet to differentiate him or herself from the totality of their immediate experience. The world is a whole and the child is united to it. This means, also, that the child's "consciousness" is integrated into the "general consciousness" of the world.
It is part of the un-wisdom of the age of confusion that consciousness is assumed to be confined to organic beings with highly developed nervous systems. What we call "instinct" in the animal (its obvious wisdom), and the child's spontaneous wisdom, are both derived from the same source: Mutual interpenetration of individual consciousness with universal consciousness.
For modern humanity, our freedom is only possible because this relationship has been severed, in the change from participation to the onlooker separation. The children of our age, even though they begin awareness in a state of naturally given participation, have to grow out of it. Only separated and alone can we discover the freedom from which to choose whether or not to take a path leading to a new state of integration; what Owen Barfield calls "final participation" (see his: Saving the Appearances: a study in idolatry).
Wise reflection need not be confined to individuals. Communities can do it as well. When this is done, communities preserve this collective reflected experience as tradition. One hallmark of the age of confusion is the disintegration of a great deal of this accumulated tradition. Humanity evolves inwardly, and eventually tradition is unable to any longer serve the changed human being. We see the evidence of this everywhere around us.
The so-called "family values crisis" is the appearance in Western cultural life of this effect - the necessary destruction of tradition - brought about, principally, by two mutually interacting social processes: the growth of the strength of the individual (which arose from the change which began in the bridge from Summer to Fall - the emergence from original participation into the onlooker separation); and, by the industrial revolution. These two processes work on traditional community life, dissolving it. One (individualism) dissolving traditional community from the inside, and the other (a revolution in the effect of work on the relationships within the family and the community) dissolving tradition from the outside.
Let us reflect on this more concretely. If we look back into a few generations past, we will see that over time, it has become more and more frequent - now unto the point of being commonplace, that children refuse to accept the values of their families and instead order their own lives in such a way that the social roles and the work they undertake are assumed to be their own concern. It is a matter of personal freedom. It is only since the 1950's, in America, that this push from the inside against the traditions of the family has erupted into public notice. The pot, so to say, has been bubbling for a long time.
From the outside, on the part of economic forces, work demands have taken the father further and further from being able to participate strongly in family routine; and, what is worse, these same unrestrained forces have now (by not paying an adult with a family an adequate wage) forced the mother out of the family life as well. Moreover, corporations, by frequently requiring their workers to move, have brought it about the communities no longer have a stable and constant pool of adult leadership by which to maintain their traditions.
These processes reached, in the 1960's and '70's, a kind of flash point, with the appearance of the abortion debate. Hidden deeply in the souls of this very heart felt social dilemma was the clash between the dying forces of tradition and the emerging impulses of the new civilization. This was most poignantly represented in the dichotomy between the ideas: "do the right thing" and "do your own thing".
"Do the right thing" is the phrase by which one directed one's attention to the community, and to the moral ideal in that community's tradition. "Do your own thing" directed the attention to the self as the final arbitrator of morality, rather than tradition. Here we see the individual achieving its present dominance over the conforming power of tradition. "Pro-life" says the community has a right to determine the behavior of the individual, that the individual must give way to the community's idea of what is moral. "Pro-choice" says the individual has the right to determine their own individual behavior, and that the community must accept the individuals statement of what is moral as regards that particular individual.
The poet Robert Bly has written very deeply on these and related themes, especially opening his readers eyes up to the wisdom still latent in the deep true stories of the now ending civilization - in fairy tales. See: Iron John and the Sibling Society.
As a consequence of this age of confusion, where tradition is being rooted out in the dying of civilization (leading to the Strange Fire of the Day of Purification), individuals and communities are being prepared to realize the need to reconstruct a wise social order. But this cannot happen until we have first experienced the loss of this past wise way of life - the pain of its absence - so as to hunger for something new.
Wise reflection is threefold: an art, a science and a religion - or beauty, truth and goodness - or imagination, reason and devotion. I have placed art first in this particular expression of these ideas, because it is central, and therefore needs to be understood in this role. Life, as we know, is art. But the art of a wise life includes acknowledging the role of truth and of goodness. The Hopi People see the world, without the guidance of tradition, as out of balance. The Navaho give expression to a balanced way of life in the idea "to walk in Beauty". Yet, even these Peoples, so close in their central understanding of a wise life, are yet - as is so common in this age of confusion - often at war with each other.
Wise reflection requires time. The pace of modern life almost completely interferes with this process. Isn't it odd, how the modern stressed parent has come to think that the parental opportunity can be met by giving the child something called "quality time". Ah, yes, I've got an hour, I think I'll create a painting, or write a sonnet. Yes, what? Oh, raise a child, that is no art, all it needs is "quality time".
In this age of confusion, children raise themselves in the industrial West. They raise themselves without tradition, without any understanding of their inner life, and in response to a world whose main path of thought, science, conceives of the human being as an animal, brought into being by accident and chance, and living in a cosmos only understood through number. Given these most disturbing realities - the complete absence of human meaning in these ideas, we have no reason to be surprised by the suicides, the violence and the drug use among the young.
Wise reflection understands human limits, and science, art and religion, in that they claim to function in separate spheres, operate without any clear and disciplined sense of their own limitations and disunity. The consequence for the social order, of this confusion, is a fatal disharmony.
Reason, without imagination and devotion, cannot find the truth. The best thing the modern scientist could do is to discover in his or her soul the true shame that needs to accompany the realization that Darwinian evolution and big bang cosmology are false gods and no credit to the true moral center of the wise practice of science.
Imagination, without reason and devotion, cannot produce beauty. The best thing the modern artist could do is to discover in her or his soul the true shame that needs to accompany the realization that the mere expression of the self is another false god and no credit to the true moral center of the wise practice of art.
Devotion, without reason and imagination, cannot achieve goodness. The best thing the modern religious could do is to discover in his or her soul the true shame that needs to accompany the realization that the mere adherence to tradition and belief is another false god and no credit to the true moral center of the wise practice of religion.
What is meant, in the above, by true shame? Reflection, looking back, if done honestly must find error. We are not perfect, we have not lived perfectly, and we most certainly have more than once behaved shamefully. Wisdom is only earned in that honest self reflection which will feel shame and remorse at what has been done. It is only through the door of this feeling that the strength to go forward is found. St. John the Divine, a contemplative monk, writes of these deep feelings, in their religious context, in: The Dark Night of the Soul.
Wisdom is earned in rites of purification - in an inner fire that cleanses. The dross of the soul burns away and the golden light of the spirit shines through. The experience of shame and remorse over past acts is a necessary alchemical crucible of transformation. No one should fear such a process, for, when it is done authentically, it always is met by grace.
Wisdom understands that true social change is the work of generations. Revolutions do produce change, but the human cost often outweighs the results. Again the Gospels give firm guidance, Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.".
If I walk up to someone and give them a push, I not only act violently, I also engender feelings in them - I give them energy to resist. If I attack someone verbally the result is the same. They react to my attack - they are, in a way, strengthened by this energy - this verbal or physical violence - which I have directed at them.
These same facts have ramifications in politics. The anti-establishment activities of the 1960's and 1970's solidified conservative and establishment opinion. In America, politics turned to the right, not to the left, as a consequence of those attacks on established values.
Christ's admonition is not just a moral ideal, it is a practical psychological observation. Social change, which begins by focusing on what it is against, and who its enemies are, simultaneously engenders strength and power in that which it opposes. Only an impulse that is for something, that treats all as entitled to its benefits, can bring social change in a sane, balanced and harmonious manner.
This does not mean that positive social movements will not meet resistance. Such movements will be attacked; this is a given. The established order always resists change. However, if these movements are founded on the basis of being for something, then from the attacks they will receive the benefits, the solidification of their communities, the transmission of their opinion and the strengthening of their essence. Just consider the facts of the rise of Christianity, grounded in the blood of the martyrs and the sacrifice of the saints.
Wisdom understands walking in another's shoes. When we are young we are naturally very self centered. If maturation has been accompanied by reflection, we will begin to understand just how different each individual life is. Two types of experience unveil this for us.
In the first experience, we notice when we have been misjudged and misunderstood. Someone will say or act toward us in a certain way, and we will realize that the reason they act this way is because they have not understood us. We feel the pain of this, and careful reflection will reveal to us when we have had the occasion to treat another in this same way. The pain inflicted on us can make us sensitive and awake to when we act toward others in a like manner.
The second experience is when we find our own freedom confined by the acts of others. This can be a range of experiences, from outright oppression in a relationship or workplace, to something more subtle, such as social pressure to think in a certain way. It is this more subtle oppression which is the most significant.
Thus, there a two kinds of soul pain, which can awaken in us a greater appreciation of the reality of the life of the stranger-other. One pain is that which we feel when we are not understood, and the other pain is that which we feel when social circumstances oppress our freedom of thought.
In the wise reflection on these experiences, we will realize that what is true for us is necessarily true for others. Following this thought through to its natural conclusion leads quite easily to the understanding of the need to be able to imagine ourselves in another's shoes to even begin to appreciate the trials and struggles of their particular lives.
We may wish that others would treat us in such a way - that is to judge us not for our differences, but to empathically imagine themselves in our shoes. If we want this, the Gospel is clear about the method by which to achieve it, as is the Golden Rule: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" Matthew 22:40 (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you)
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