Friday, April 01, 2011

What Makes a Life Worth Leaving?

As our explorers begin their ascent, the mountain is quite steep, far more steep than the line drawn from middle-quadrant to the center point. I'm not sure what that means, but it doesn't matter anyway, for it's just a metaphor of the vertical journey -- which is much more difficult at the outset than it is later on. Says Virgil,

This mountain is of such sort / that climbing it is hardest at the start; / But as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.

This reminds us of how potentials become inclinations, inclinations become habits, and habits become virtues or vices. In a way, we have more free will at the outset than we do at the end, when the inclination has become almost "hardwired" from repetition. This runs counter to the scientistic belief that we are genetically frontloaded to become who we are. But to the extent that we are, this mostly involves potential, not invariant behavior.

For example, we are born desiring. This does not mean we are hardwired to steal, despite those studies "proving" that liberalism is innate.

Virtue is rooted in free will, for we become virtuous by choosing between good and evil. No act in itself is virtuous, but becomes so with reference to its end. Nor is mere knowledge of good and evil sufficient, for the knowledge must be put into action. Virtue must be embodied, or it won't be of much use to anyone.

In Dante's case, his whole journey is predicated on his pursuit of the highest good, which, one might say, is located at the furthest extreme of the vertical cosmos. As a result, it exercises the least "gravitational attraction" when we are most distant from it. Virgil confirms this, letting Dante know that

When the time comes when it appears / To you that the ascent becomes as easy / As going down the current in a skiff, / Then you will have reached your journey's end, / And there you may expect to rest from toil.

In other worlds, one reaches a point of transition into the orbit of the Great Attractor, for it is written on P. 257:

O Death, you old mahahasamadi, show us your secret mannascrypt, your Divine Cosmodeity. Take us before & beyond this womentary maninfestation, reveal not the horizontal but our inmost upmost vertical bigending. Floating upstream along the ancient celestial trail, out from under the toilsome tablets of time, cast your I on the meager image below. So long. So short! Whoosh! there went your life.

Yes, yes, I know -- why the annoying and self-indulgent mystagoguery, Bob? Do you really expect anyone to know what you're talking about? Or is this just an elaborate way to conceal the fact that you don't?

O Death. Death is the Guru without whom we would never dream of embarking on the vertical journey. For why would we?

The problem for human beings is not having a life worth living. Rather, it is having a life worth leaving. Life values itself, as we see in the world of biology. Biology assures us that life is worth living, but not for any reason outside itself. Self-preservation is the Law of nature.

But human beings have been fugitives from this Law ever since they became human. For to say "human" is to say "vertical." We became human when we entered the vertical; or, when the vertical descended into man. Either way, it is the vertical that not only makes a life worth leaving, but makes it possible to do so. In coonspeak, this is called the big teloscape.

Again, the whole of the Divine Comedy is predicated on this reality. At midlife (back in the first canto), Dante realized that he wasn't actually living his life, but that it was living him. Thus, rather than being guided by Death, he was, for practical purposes, dead (or guided only by biology):

For the right path, whence I had strayed, was lost. He had succumbed to earthly gravity, or "temptation." Thus, So weary was my my mind, so filled with sleep [and sleep is the gentle brother of Death], I reeled, and wandered from the path of truth.

And it all went by so fast. Dante alludes to this at the beginning of canto IV, noting that When any of our faculties retains / a strong impression of delight or pain, / the soul will wholly concentrate on that, / neglecting any other power it has.

This is again an animal capability, one that "secures the soul in stringent grip," to such an extent that time moves and yet we do not notice it.

So short! Whoosh! there went your life.

Here again, the Divine Comedy is predicated on a reversal of this tendency, which has become deeply ingrained by midlife. As Dante writes, unlike animals, the human soul has the power to perceive the course of time; but this is distinct from the power that captures all the mind. The former has "no force," while the latter "binds."

Thus, it will require a conscious decision and an act of will to exert the force necessary to "turn around" and break the chains that bind us to the lower world of the immediate, of the passing stream of pleasure and pain.

Dante does this by keeping the end in mind; one might say that only by faith may we know that the end even exists, for one cannot know what one has not yet experienced. So lofty was the summit, that it soared / Beyond my sight.

Virgil tells him not to despair, but to keep climbing Until we meet some guide who knows the way. In other words, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Nonlocal ʘperators are always standing by, ready to assist you. For they literally have nothing better to do.

And whatever you do, Do not take a backward step, for we have heard from the wise that it is not a good idea to put one's hand to the plow and look back. Inward and upward!

B-but the mountain soars / Much higher then my mortal eyes can reach.

Don't worry about that. So long as you see that the mountain exists, that's the important part. For every mountain has a summit, does it not? You don't need to see the dark side of the moonbat to know that it exists, do you?

Next we come to an important way station -- or station of the way -- where the slothful depart from the slackful. Nondoing is hardly the same as doing nothing! Nevertheless, at least doing nothing is preferable to doing something harmful, a lesson Democrats will never learn. Thus, these souls are in a low level of purgatory rather than hell. In other words, they are independents, not liberals.

Dante converses with one of the idlers, who says that he repented too late -- i.e., that he put off the journey till the last, so he is not enjoying the true rest, the slack sabbath. It's just the false slack of the comfortable and self-satisfied. Nothing to see here. Let's move along.

You pseudoslackers need to move out of Mom's basement and gita life!

30 Comments:

Anonymous Sacerdote said...

This post is a brilliant explication of Dante's work. In my classroom it would recieve the highest possible accolade.

One underlying thesis of the post, or the series of posts, is that Dante has a good and accurate grasp of the path both down and then up the vertical axis.

He also possessed a vivid imagination and unsurpassed ability to put his visions into memorable verse.

This crowns Dante as a master yogin, a seer, a sage, and a genius artist. Quite a package.

Your own original ideas are interpolated within Dante's and for the this post the will to live is discussed.

Life innately wants to live, as you pointed out. A human being shares that urge. However, the will to live correctly comes from somewhere else, and is a choice.

What factors impinge on that choice? What makes one person choose good, the other bad? What is a person responsible for, and what not? Those are the questions on the table.

4/01/2011 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Virgil tells him not to despair, but to keep climbing Until we meet some guide who knows the way. In other words, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Nonlocal ʘperators are always standing by, ready to assist you. For they literally have nothing better to do.

"Our critical day is not the very day of our death, but the whole course of our life; I thank him, that prays for me when my bell tolls; but I thank him much more, that catechizes me, 
or preaches to me, or instructs me how to live."

John Donne (1573-1631), Works of John Donne, vol. VI

4/01/2011 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . it will require a conscious decision and an act of will to exert the force necessary to "turn around" and break the chains that bind us to the lower world of the immediate, of the passing stream of pleasure and pain. <<

The vertical ascent is literally un-natural, which is why, contrary to the modern health fetish and body-cult ethos, the goal of achieving pure animal robustness is NOT spiritual.

When one earnestly starts the vertical ascent, it's as if the old bio-battery pack starts to fail. Check it out - many, if not all of the saints and holy ones encountered all manner of physical maladies. But they soldiered on though by virtue of a new spiritual battery pack that invested them with an entirely different form of energy, albeit one that takes quite a while for the human organism to adjust to. It's a fact that this new energy can be quite punishing to the human body

>> . . one might say by faith that the end even exists, for one cannot know what one has not yet experienced.<<

And yet we can experience, I think, intimations of the divine lode star. As St Paul says, faith is the *perception* of things unseen. It's during the Dark Night, which all path-travelers have to pass through, that even this faint perception of things unseen seems to dry up and disappear. This is the time, when even one's memory of spiritual experience seems illusory, for a truly blind faith and a willingness to stay the course.

Night has descended on the world, it seems. Keep the blind faith.

4/01/2011 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The problem for human beings is not having a life worth living. Rather, it is having a life worth leaving.

Indeed. One thing I've come to realize is that dying doesn't scare me. What scares me instead is that I fail to live as I ought.

4/01/2011 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Virtue is rooted in free will, for we become virtuous by choosing between good and evil. No act in itself is virtuous, but becomes so with reference to its end. Nor is mere knowledge of good and evil sufficient, for the knowledge must be put into action. Virtue must be embodied, or it won't be of much use to anyone."

Yep. Dear Prudence, won't you come out and playyy.........

4/01/2011 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Will -- Yes, it's a sort of blindsight, isn't it? Like sOnar or something.... There can be no effect without a cause. One way or another, our (↑) bounces back in the form of (↓), so we can intuit the contours of O....

4/01/2011 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"The problem for human beings is not having a life worth living. Rather, it is having a life worth leaving."

Wo... that's one head snappingly good way of putting it. The person letting their life or dearth live them, are unlikely to have created a life worth either defending or dying for, but the person who has actively lived a virtuous life, is the person who will willingly risk their life to defend it... knowing I suppose, that they will leave behind a life worth having lived.

'The coward dies a thousand deaths (and is condemned to keep living it), the Hero only once.'

4/01/2011 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad said "Like sOnar or something.... There can be no effect without a cause. One way or another, our (↑) bounces back in the form of (↓), so we can intuit the contours of O...."

Ooh. Next time you're slacking about for a post to come to mind... let that one cut to the front of the line.

4/01/2011 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob said,
"In other words, when the student is ready, the teacher appears."

I see this is striking some chords.

When I read it, I thought, Teacher. And have often wondered if Jesus was always among us (as a man even?) waiting or rather trying until someone could see or hear. As the story goes, they started hearing one at a time.

Lately been thinking about Mary in the same way, that maybe many were asked but none were ready... to even understand the words. Finally or firstly Mary said "yes".

4/01/2011 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does one need a live spiritual mentor or can one rely on a past master who is well documented in print?

4/01/2011 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

The latter, of course, so long as they are herenow.

4/01/2011 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

The ladder, of course, so long..

4/01/2011 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Live spiritual mentors ain't bad though. They can "instruct" wordlessly.

Trouble is you have to eventually kill them on the road.

4/01/2011 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Will said "Trouble is you have to eventually kill them on the road."

You mean like...

Boo!

Duh.

4/01/2011 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

If we could not rely on a past master, there would be no point to studying Dante. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Will - I suppose that's one of the advantages to following Christ; we kill him, and yet he lives and continues to instruct.

4/01/2011 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can we tell how far up the vertical axis we are, or if we are making progress? Can we rely on our own assessment, or should we seek the opinions of others?

What are some of the signs of being on the correct path, and what signs of straying off?

4/01/2011 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Julie y Van -

Yes, I think Christ made a point of "disappearing" so that His image did not get in the way of His disciples' own spiritual perception.

St Teresa of Avila once observed that, though her meditations of/on Christ began with His image, she found that her deepest, most profound and transforming meditations had to eventually become image-less.

4/01/2011 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Julie, great point.

Despite - or because of - what I said about Night falling on the world, I think that the Light of Christ is also ever-more present in the world. He is, to be sure, the ever-living Master. Ask and ye shall receive.

4/01/2011 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>>Can we rely on our own assessment, or should we seek the opinions of others?

What are some of the signs of being on the correct path, and what signs of straying off?<<

I wouldn't say the opinions of others are worthless, but I think that ultimately it's for us to determine whether we are on the correct path or straying. For that, you need to work on self-observance, self-awareness. Do that constantly and you're on the right path.

4/01/2011 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Jesus rises from the dead. He appears to the confused and distraught Mary who is, understandably, overjoyed to see Him. He says, "Don't cling to Me."

4/01/2011 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

By the way, this has been a great week of posts. One of the disadvantages of trying to catch up is not being able to spend as much time as normal reading comments.

4/01/2011 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Julie says:

"Indeed. One thing I've come to realize is that dying doesn't scare me. What scares me instead is that I fail to live as I ought."

Death? Not a problem.

Aging poorly? Now that can be really really annoying.

4/01/2011 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Quoth Will: It's a fact that this new energy can be quite punishing to the human body.

I have suspected as much for some years. Based in part on the drive-by mention by Paul that taking the sacramental communion casually may prove deadly or cause illness and weakness. Then there is the story of the man who tried to give the Ark of the Covenant a helping hand and was struck dead at once. The Philistines (in the literal sense, at that time) managed to get hold of the Ark, and plague and disaster followed as long as it stayed in their land.

Holy energies are not to be taken lightly, it seems.

4/01/2011 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Musical Interlude, "The Road Home", Conspirare Choir, Austin, Texas

Tell me where is the road I can call my own,
That I left, that I lost, so long ago.
All these years I have wondered, oh when will I know,
There's a way, there's a road that will lead me home.
After wind, After rain, when the dark is done,
As i wake from a dream, in the gold of day,
Through the air there's a calling from far away,
There's a voice I can hear that will lead me home.

4/01/2011 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Magnus, try this:

http://www.elcollie.com/st/st.html

4/01/2011 06:08:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

ah, okay, a lyric interlude:

THE ONLY ROAD HOME (not to be confused with the fine song, The Road Home)

In winter’s dream, one breathless night
When all was sleeping sound,
I walked the trail to Deacon Hill
And I stood upon its high holy ground –
The stars were candles in the sky,
The moon a golden dome –
The wind sang out my heart’s lament
To seek and find the only road home –

As I stood there my soul went out
To fly across the land,
And down below I saw dreaming souls -
They shined like a fine, silvery sand –
I saw each road, each leafy lane,
Each highway stretching on –
I saw these things by heaven’s grace,
But I could not see the only road home -

Ah, the only road,
The one and only road –

As I was caught up in the air,
I fell into a swoon –
When I awoke a golden light
Was streaming though my room –
I stepped into the streets of stone
That my brothers had arranged,
I looked around, it seemed the same
But everything had changed –

Now I’m a pilgrim by my own free will,
A soldier without price –
Every pilgrim walks through lonesome years
Of cold wind and burnt sacrifice –
We go to heaven or we go down below,
The choice be ours alone –
The way begins just where you stand,
That’s where you will find the only road home –

Ah, the only road,
The one and only road -

4/01/2011 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ah ha. Re Magnus' reference to "the man who tried to give the Ark of the Covenant a helping hand and was struck dead at once," I think I finally figured out what this song is about. I'm a little slow.

4/01/2011 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous S. Africanus said...

I am the living dead. I was at Cannae. I was at Zama.

Although I share your postulates, dialogue with me is still nothing more than a stupid way to kill time.

DO NOT answer this question:

Boxers or briefs?

4/02/2011 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Apropos the death of the Master: From the Foundations

4/03/2011 08:37:00 AM  
Anonymous lawyer said...

In some place i can't understand what you want to say about death and human life.

4/05/2011 04:09:00 AM  

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