A Way Forward

By Glenda | August 8, 2011

“The way forward…” An expression we’ve heard frequently on television this week, spoken tentatively, as pundits, professionals, and politicians, like all the rest of us, grapple with the uncertainty of the present moment in our national history.

A few days ago, I happened across some notes I had made years ago in preparation for a lecture I was about to give. Right at the top of the page was this penciled phrase: “Uncertainty as a sacred state.”

Well, it’s been a long time since that lecture, and though I know, of course, that all states are sacred, still, when one is in the midst of challenge, as we are now, uncertainty can feel anything but sacred. Sir Laurens van der Post once talked about people “running amok” out of a sense of meaninglessness, a sense of despair , and that seems to be much the case today.

My refound lecture notes take this into account, and then point to another way, beginning with a quotation by Ghandi: “…Life is governed by a multitude of forces. It would be smooth sailing if one could determine the course of one’s actions only by one general principle…But I cannot recall a single act which could be so easily determined.” Uncertainty.

Uncertainty is inevitable, he says, and he isn’t the only one. Plato recognized that “… the generation of this universe was a mixed result of the combination of Necessity and Reason.” Necessity? The necessity for something other than reason?

James Hillman helps us find the distinction between these two principles. Commentators on Plato, he says, use, for the principle of Necessity, such words as : rambling, digressing, straying, irrational, irresponsible, deviating, misleading, deceiving, irregular, random. Necessity, Hillman says, “operates through deviations… We recognize it in the irrational, irresponsible, indirect…”

Necessity, then, is seen as a kind of wayward, often difficult giveness, a recognition that “here we are, this is, and we must deal with it, like it or not.” Plato and many others, all the way back to the beginning of the earliest written accounts of the meaning of things and all the way forward to modern physicists, insist that we cannot avoid times of uncertainty, insecurity, chaos.

What, then, is Reason to do in the face of such Necessity, of “irrational” things over which we have no control, of Chaos?

I don’t pretend to have “the answer,” but it feels right to share the few insights in my recovered notes, to make whatever offering I can to you today. (This is, of course, no place to recreate the whole lecture I gave, even if I could, but my notes do point to a way forward, to other ways available to us.

My notes list what I called “some qualities of the new way.” Here are some of the things on the list. (I’m no longer aware of how I developed these themes back then, so you can expand upon them for yourself, but there were some interesting quotations listed for some of the items on the list, which I will include.)

So here’s the roughly organized, penciled list, from long ago.

1) Humility is Power.

““The acquisition of the spirit of non-resistance is a matter of long training in self-denial and appreciation of the hidden forces within ourselves. It changes one’s outlook upon life. It puts different values upon things and upsets previous calculations. And when once it is set in motion its effect…can overtake the whole universe. It is the greatest force because it is the highest expression of the soul…” Ghandi

2) Careful and proper placement of trust

“Picasso was right when he said that we do not know what a tree or a window really is. All things are very mysterious and strange (like Picasso’s paintings), and we overlook their strangeness and their mystery only because we are so used to them…” Ernesto Cardenal

“I believe in a new world. I do, yes I do. And I live in this trust: that although everything I see may turn to dust, we are moving inexorably, inexorably, inexorably, toward a new world.” Al Carmines

3) Avoid absolute statements and rigid principles

“There is an art to wandering. If I have a destination, a plan—an objective—I’ve lost the ability to find serendipity. I’ve become too focused, too single-minded. I am on a quest, not a ramble. I search for the Holy Grail of particularity and miss the chalice freely offered, filled full and overflowing.” Cathy Johnson

4) Keep childlike openness.

“Devotees of all ages, approaching the Mother in a childlike spirit, testify that they find her ever at play with them.” Yogananda

5) Awareness of and interaction with more subtle realms (energy fields that are non-human but interactive with us)

“In a recent article on astrophysics, I came across the beautiful and imaginative concept known as ‘the butterfly effect.’ If a butterfly winging over the fields around Crosswicks should be hurt, the effect would be felt in galaxies thousands of light years away. The interrelationship of all of Creation is sensitive in a way we are just beginning to understand. If a butterfly is hurt, we are hurt. If the bell tolls, it tolls for us.” Madeleine L’Engle

“Our lives extend beyond our skins, in radical interdependence with the rest of the world.” Joanna Macy

“Even before reason there is the inward movement which reaches out towards its own.” Plotinus

6) Silence as a gateway to the subtle.

“It has often occurred to me that a seeker after truth has to be silent…If we want to listen to the still small voice that is always speaking within us, it will not be heard if we continually speak…A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech….” Ghandi

“Cultivate the art of deep listening in which you lean toward the world in love. All things in the universe want to be heard, as do the many voices inside us.” Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

7) Courage and Tenacity.

George Matthew Adams says that enthusiasm is “a kind of faith that has been set on fire.”

8) Sense of Proportion, a sense of humor

I read somewhere about a Greek Orthodox tradition in which believers gather on Easter Monday to trade jokes, because the best joke of all happened on Easter, the triumph over death, so people gather to tell stories with unexpected endings and a sense of humor.

The Apaches say that the Creator was not satisfied with humans until they were given the ability to laugh. Only then were they “fit to live.”

9) Dare to fantasize, imagine, recreate

…We’re so bogged down in traditional ways of doing things, we don’t know what’s buried in the human spirit or how much capacity there is for change.”

“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” St. Paul

10) Retell the story, reframe the meaning.

Maya Angelou records that she was raped at age seven, and after the rapist she named was later found dead, she stopped talking, for five years. She notes:

“…To show you how out of evil can come good, in those years I read every book in the Black school library; I read all the books I could get from the White school library; I memorized James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes; I memorized Shakespeare, whole plays, 50 sonnets; I memorized Edgar Allan Poe, all the poetry—never having heard it, I memorized it. I had Longfellow, I had Guy de Maupassant, I had Balzac, Rudyard Kipling—it was a catholic kind of reading. When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say, and many ways in which to say what I had to say. I listened to the Black minister, I listened to the melody of the preachers, and I could tell when they meant to take our souls straight to heaven, or whether they meant to dash us straight to hell. I understood it. …there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case, I was saved from that muteness. And out of this evil, I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself.”

At a conference on the topic of facing evil, Chungliang Al Huang once said:
“…We are often looking in the wrong place where we miss the truth right under our nose. ..Often people say, ‘just another lousy sunset. I’ve seen it. …’ Our heart closes, our mind closes. We become small human beings. And when an individual becomes internally small, he or she turns evil. But when we continue to open our eyes, open our spirit, there is no chance evil can breed. We can also influence others to open up. Let’s all open. This time, let’s say ‘another lousy sunset in paradise!’ Of course, you have seen a sunset, but this time it is different. It is always different.”

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