Keeping Hopelessness Alive
Actually, it's much more of a Zen thingy, except that I don't have to actually practice Zen to be this way. I can't really claim credit for it, because it's just my nature. However, there was a time that I tried to fight against it and be like The Others, and it's not always easy to explain it to people who don't have a clue as to what I'm talking about.
For example, I tried to explain it to someone at that family function I attended last week. The person actually took sympathy, as if I were depressed or somehow missing out. Perhaps I should point out that this side of the family is Jewish, but only in a deeply secular -- which is to say, materialistic -- sense, so that my way of living is basically incomprehensible to them. The conversation revolved around my relatively late fatherhood, and I made the comment that if a man hasn't more or less seen it all by the age of 40, he's sort of pathetic. Being that I'd seen it all, I wanted to have the one experience I hadn't had, fatherhood. His response was, "noooo, why do you say that? Life isn't over at 40!!!"
But that wasn't at all the point I was attempting to make. Rather, what I meant is that for most people, they have had all the usual worldly experiences by the age of 40; they know what it's like to get drunk, fall in love, have some good meals, make some money, go to Disneyland, see their favorite team win the World Series, have some nice vacations, see their candidate become president. But then they merely try to either perpetuate the same things, or ramp it up and try to wring more pleasure out of these things than there is in them. In this man's case it was a new career and a younger wife, but it's really just the same wine in a new bottle.
That way of living is fine and appropriate for the first half of life, as the sun moves toward its zenith at your personal summer solstice. But to try to hold the sun there as it gravitates back to the winter underworld is again just sort of pathetic. One way or another, the purpose of the second half of life is to make a decisive turn toward the interior adventure, not to cling to the exterior one.
In my case, I'm fortunate to be living this life of radical novelty at an age when things are usually just repeating themselves. The presence of Future Leader assures us that every day is the same, and yet never the same. We are totally rooted in the moment, which is quite liberating. Specifically, we are liberated from the tyranny of linear time. Again, this always came naturally to me, but now it is simply heightened.
I believe it was in How To Know Higher Worlds that Rudolf Steiner makes the point that it is critical to pay attention to organic growth in all of its modalities, whether it is flowers blooming in your garden or watching children grow.
The operative word is life, and there is nothing so alive as a child. I can never be alive in the same vital sense that he is, and yet, I feel as if I have transposed that vitality to a higher key that is appropriate for my age. Extremes meet, so they say that old age is like a second childhood. I'm only 52, so I'm not there yet, but I feel as if I am starting to get there in spirit -- to let go of the world and to allow the others slowly learn the same lessons or fight over the scraps. I'm too consumed enjoying the present.
Anyway, one reason I live this way is that I can then be pleasantly surprised when things turn out well. If you always imagine that things are going to go well, then you are going to experience disappointment and frustration on a continuous basis. I've heard Dennis Prager discuss this same idea, and although I haven't read it, I know he writes about it in his book Happiness.
Also, I think you have to be aware of historical irony. That is, events that look bad constantly lead to good things, and vice versa. You can't just take one abstract "time slice" and decide whether something is good or bad. It's always a mixed bag. I think this is the deeper meaning of "God's will, or that we cannot know the plan of creation. Whether or not you believe in an activist God, it's out of our hands. You just do what needs to be done in the moment.
In fact, there's a famous old Taoist story about a man whose horse runs away. His sympathetic neighbors comment on his bad luck, and he responds, "we'll see." The next day the horse returns with three wild horses following behind. Now his neighbors rejoice and congratulate him on his good luck, but he remains noncommittal: "We'll see." The next day his son is thrown while trying to break one of the horses, and fractures his leg. "Such bad luck." "We'll see." Then the next day the military officials arrive to conscript his son, but he's laid up with the broken leg, so they pass him by. "What luck!" "We'll see." Etc.
So I think this is the deeper meaning of "giving no thought for the morrow." I do everything I need to do in the present, and then just forget about it. The present moment is the field of karma that one is constantly tilling. We are always planting little seeds that have varying timelines of development. Eventually, when something bad or good happens, it's easy to tie it to a proximate cause, much more difficult to relate it to its ultimate cause. I mostly worry about not planting any more lousy seeds.
I never imagine that my life will change in any fundamental way, no matter what happens. I realize that the environment I live in is in my head, and that the only way to really change things is to change my head. Here again, this can be confused with solipsism or narcissism, but it's quite the opposite. I just mean it in a very concrete, experience-near sense. You must be very, very careful about the ideas you allow to take up residence in your head, because they will end up sharply limiting your ability to know the Real, which always transcends any idea you have about it. Life is impossibly rich, with hundreds of little daily pleasures that will pass you by if you do not heighten your awareness and hone your ability to appreciate them. Never imagine that getting what you want will satisfy you so long as you cannot appreciate what you have.
I remember a patient of mine who was contemplating an affair. One reason I don't do therapy anymore is that I constantly blurted out things that therapists aren't supposed to say. In his case, I said words to the effect of, "why do you want another woman when you have no idea how to appreciate the one you have?" My professional training prevented me from adding, "you narcissistic bastard."
A little over four years ago I was diagnosed with adult onset type I diabetes. Such bad luck! Yet, I have never for a moment thought of it that way. It just is what it is. While it has certainly changed my life, I can't even say that it has been for the worse. As soon as the diagnosis came, I merely decided to be the best diabetic in the world. I work out at least once a day, always keep my blood sugar in a normal range, and keep my blood pressure and cholesterol even better than the normal range. Even so, you just never know. No matter what the state of your health, you can only try to tilt the odds in your favor, but there is always a random element, or at least an element that is so multifactorial and non-linear that there's nothing you can do about it.
One thing I do sometimes wonder about is the ticking time bombs that might be hidden in plain sight. For example, for a number of years we had a beautiful Great Dane named Finn. We got him from a rescue, so we didn't know much about his background. He had occasionally been a little aggressive, but it was nothing we thought we couldn't control. However, in 2005, out of the blue, he basically tried to eat me. I was pulling his bed from the living room to the bedroom, and he took it as a grave offense. He came at me like a grizzly bear, and if I hadn't been wearing a bathrobe, he probably would have severed an artery in my arm.
Long story short, all the dog trainers agreed that this was not something that could be trained out of him. It was more like a rage seizure that was totally unpredictable. In hindsight I realized the truth of this, because he would get this far-off look during these episodes, and appeared dazed and out of it for a few minutes afterwards. So with great reluctance, we had to put him down. It was very sad, because he was one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen, and most of the time he was quite endearing.
Such bad luck!
But then along came Future Leader a few months later, and I still almost swoon when I think of what might have happened. There is no doubt that he would have innocently crawled into Finn's bed, and then.... well, you probably would heard about it on TV.
So, what have we learned today? I don't know, I don't have time to reflect.