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Truth and Goodness

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve often marveled at the ingenuity of those standouts in history who dedicated their lives to the restoration of goodness and truth to their rightful place at the apex human understanding and function. It hasn’t been easy. Human beings have resisted this restorative process tooth and nail throughout the ages, giving every reason and excuse for not coming to the point of yielding every ounce of their capacity to the expression of goodness.

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” ~ Albert Einstein

In my estimation, the greatest hindrance to the restoration of sanity on earth is the obsessive pursuit of comfort. Human beings want comfort on their own terms. For each one, it means something a little different, and yet those differences always seem to conflict and contradict rather than complement one another.

Don’t get me wrong. Comfort is not intrinsically bad or evil, but it becomes so when its possession is put ahead of goodness and truth. Comfort achieved at the expense of goodness and truth is fleeting, hence the multitude of comfort-seekers in every corner of the earth.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What percent of your energies do you devote to the development of a greater understanding of truth? What is truth to you? To me, truth is the pattern of principle, purpose, design and control that govern the expression of life as well as all creative activity.

The principles of truth are eternal, while their application is specific in relation to the need at hand. There is no “your truth and my truth,” for the truth is holistic and more importantly, never in conflict with itself.

The truth is the one thing that will set you free from a life of wishful thinking and despair. Get to know it and you will not be left comfortless! No matter how much the world challenges, criticizes and condemns you, you will be at rest if goodness and truth are your central concern.

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In Retrospect

“Righteousness is easy in retrospect.” ~Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

How true is that?!? More often than not the right thing to do is the least popular thing to do. Politicians find themselves between a rock and a hard place on this point as reelection concerns are often pitted against the need to support unpopular but clearly necessary legislation.

If you’ve ever had to take an unpopular stand with your family because it was the right thing to do you likely faced chastisement, disdain and perhaps even rejection. For whatever reason, mankind tends to prefer the comfort of the known to the discomfort that often accompanies the road of integrity, which, incidentally, is typically the road less traveled.

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~Alan Simpson

To that I would add: “…neither friends nor family, worldly possessions nor reputation.” Your value as an individual requires that your character stand above all these. I repeat. Your value as an individual requires that your character stand above all these.

If righteousness requires that you take a stand, then stand! Don’t apologize. Don’t be afraid. Don’t lord it over those around you. If the stand you are taking is the right thing to do, you will feel good about yourself, you will be at peace with yourself. And that, my friends, is the perfect starting point.

I’ve made decisions in my life that took years to come to fruition. You must be careful not to set fixed expectations as to how and when the harvest should appear, for what you send out in righteousness rarely comes back in the size, shape or timing you anticipated.

Many people have nullified what could have been tremendous if not miraculous blessings because they reacted unnecessarily to the time between the planting and the harvest. Reactive proclamations like “Well I didn’t think it would take so long to work out” or “I made the right choice and I have lost so much” turn into attitudes and actions that abort the creative process.

While it is true that righteousness is easy in retrospect, I would be remiss were I not to mention a balancing factor. The French have a proverb which clothes this balancing point nicely: “Une bonne conscience est un doux oreiller(“A good conscience is a soft pillow”). Even if the world turns against you, if you have done the right thing and you know it you will be at rest with yourself, a rare state of being that can only be described as “priceless.”

To William Lloyd Garrison’s question posed over a century-and-a-half ago…”Are right and wrong convertible terms, dependant upon popular opinion?” I reply: absolutely not!

The Fountain of Life

Der Jungbrunnen by Lucas Cranach, Image by Wikipedia

 

“A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Man’s obsession with the discovery of the fountain of youth reaches deep into early history. Whether driven by the desire to overcome his mortality or by the quest to rediscover the key to eternal life, his search spans the written record.

Herodotus, in his “History of Herodotus” written in 440 BCE, tells of Ithyophagi messengers who made their way to Ethiopia to visit the king of the land, where the men were “said to be the tallest and handsomest in the whole world.” Upon their arrival they “questioned the king concerning the term of life” and they were told that most of their people lived to 120 years and some of them well beyond.

Herodotus then added “When the Icthyophagi showed wonder at the number of the years, he led them to a fountain, wherein when they had washed, they found their flesh all glossy and sleek, as if they had bathed in oil- and a scent came from the spring like that of violets.”

Al-Khadir and Alexander the Great, Image by Wikipedia

Islamic tradition also tells an intriguing tale of a prophet named al-Khadir (The Green Man), who was the only person to have discovered the secret to immortality by drinking once from the fabled Ma’ul Hayat (Fountain of Life). Eastern versions of the Alexander Romance describe the tale of Alexander the Great and his servant crossing the Land of Darkness in search of the fountain of life. The servant, incidentally derives from the Arabic tales of al-Khadir!

The archetypal idea that there could be a magical place where restorative waters flow freely is tantalizing, but I have to wonder if we are looking at the record too literally, as children often do when told a story. Could it be instead that the fountain of life is figurative and not literal, a state of being instead of a geographic location or a physical spring?

The stories of great men and women through history who lived phenomenally influential lives are appealing to anyone who has not yet given up on life. They lived life fully and in some cases they found a way to do so without being used up in the process. Was it serendipity, the right combination of genetic material or did they tap into the source of life itself, deep within their bosom?

I imagine that all three of these explanations had some part in it, though good luck and the right genes were likely secondary to the strong sense of self that comes only to those who tap into the wellspring of life within themselves. This connection, I suspect, is not something that can be “gotten” or “possessed,” instead, it is something that manifests as it is given into expression through body, mind and heart.

I am a firm believer in the idea that you cannot give what you do not possess, and I believe in this case that we must add, “…what you do not possess or do not know that you possess.” I believe that the fountain of life is present in each and every person on earth. Whether or not you tap into it is a matter of choice.

Education, religion, spirituality, inspirational and motivational tools that line the self-help shelves and so on are a means to an end in the sense that they provide (in varying degrees) the guidance necessary to reestablish this connection between inner resource and outer expression. When taken as an end, they quickly become a dead end rather than a living one. When viewed as the key to “getting” life rather than giving it, the well-paved road to enlightenment morphs into the road to a hellish life, paved with good intentions.

I would love to hear what lights your fire, what inspires you to push where others crumble and fade away. Don’t be shy…the world needs your vision!

Dust of Snow

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

It has been an interesting weekend, starting with an all-nighter caring for a sick child on Friday and ending in the first of two company parties yesterday evening. What was sandwiched in between was, in a word, rueful: a dead HVAC unit, a minor flood in the office, my recuperating hawk perching on my shoulder and then head and finally a close friend’s new puppy diagnosed with parvovirus. Oh, that I had happened upon a crow and a hemlock tree!

On the bright side, Northeast Georgia (Dahlonega in particular) is experiencing unseasonably low temperatures and drumroll, please…snow! Having spent most of my childhood in colder climes, the freezing temps aren’t that big of a deal, though past injuries do seem to creak a little more than in summer and than in my youth.

Frost’s poem is delightful to me as I’ve often considered how a change in heart leads immediately to a change in mood. I was speaking with a yoga instructor friend of mine at dinner last night and she made an interesting statement. She said that most people take up yoga with a desire to gain physical flexibility but if they stick with it long enough they become more mentally end emotionally supple.

Mental and emotional resiliency come from the inside out. If you base your mood on what is going on outside of you, you will live life on a roller coaster. Your good moods will come when things are going well and your bad moods will rear their ugly head, well, the rest of the time. It doesn’t need to be that way.

You can use your heart radiantly as well as reactively. Most people emphasize the latter capacity, but those with true grit regularly exercise the former. The expression of radiance does not require more exertion, in fact, it comes as a result of greater relaxation.

Unrelieved tension is the nemesis of radiance. You cannot try to be radiant. You either are or you aren’t. Engaging in regular changes of pace, such as yoga or massage, when you lead an otherwise busy, go-getter life, generates valuable space in heart and mind that lead, in turn, to a greater expression of radiance.

Wise, stable and sane is the person who cultivates this balance, a balance achieved, incidentally, through oscillation between rest and exertion or put differently, between “being” and “achieving.” Foolish, unstable and nuts is the person who relies solely on cues from the environment to determine the state of his heart and subsequently his mood.

Radiance comes from an inexhaustible source deep within. When you truly understand this you won’t rue another day. Some days will provide more openings than others and if you’re lucky and you’ve forgotten that every day is an opportunity for radiance, you might just be lucky enough to be sprinkled by the dust of snow from a hemlock tree as a gentle reminder!

The Spirit of the Age

“The spirit of the age is filled with the disdain for thinking.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Learning to think is one of the most underrated and overlooked of the steps that lead to living a purposeful, meaningful and fulfilling life. Far more than developing the ability to ingest, digest and retain information, learning to think involves developing that uncommon sense called wisdom.

I once heard wisdom described as the “sense of the fitness of things” and I have yet to discover a better definition for this rare commodity. Wisdom comes only from those who are truly at rest in themselves and it only emerges through a heart and mind free of tension, fear or greed. Wisdom, in a way, is the natural expression of one who stands assuredly yet humbly in this place that is uniquely his or hers to occupy.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca once wrote that “No man was ever wise by chance.” Wisdom is not cleverness, neither is it the ability to manipulate knowledge. Wisdom, instead, is received as you learn to think in the sense that I believe Dr. Schweitzer was describing.

Every flash of inspiration or stroke of genius was nothing more than the evidence of an individual who was, at least for the moment, open to the ever-flowing fountain of wisdom. Thinking is much more than mental machination. Thinking involves both heart and mind, and both must be at peace for the windmills of your mind to work properly.

Have you ever focused intensely on resolving a problem and then walked away from it for a moment, forgetting about it in the process and then somehow had the solution magically and suddenly “come” to you? Well, duh, you came to rest for a moment and voila, the wheel could turn and wisdom flowed freely.

Your level of education is no more a measure of your ability to be wise than your shoe size is a measure of your ability to run quickly. Neither is your relative accumulation of “street smarts.” Wisdom comes only to those who are captains of their soul, those who have come to the point where they are not defined by the outer things – clothing, looks, social position, wealth, wit and so on – but instead those who are at rest in themselves.

You can and should be an aperture for the expression of wisdom into the world you center. Don’t be afraid of thinking, truly thinking. There is an old saying: “Teach a man to think he thinks and he will love you. Teach a man to think and he will hate you.” Well, I for one stand ready to be hated if those are indeed the terms.

Thinking in the sense being described here is a tremendous privilege. It is the means by which purposeful, meaningful contributions are made. Without thinking you may live a life that feels comfortable at first, but in the long run you will miss out on the fulfillment of your life’s true purpose.

Reverence for Life

Albert Schweizer, Image by Wikipedia

The holidays are fast upon us and I had the good pleasure of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my sons after dinner last evening. At one point in the show, Linus mentioned that Albert Schweitzer’s dislike of Christmas stemmed from the fact that he did not take kindly to writing thank you notes. I hadn’t heard that name in a while, so I did a little digging…

As you may know, Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence of Life,” which is translated from the original German phrase “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben.” The compelling ethical philosophy was best summarized by Schweitzer himself in his book Civilization and Ethics: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”

The idea came to him after a period of deep thought in Gabon in 1915 as he was developing the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. Again, Schweitzer tells it best:

But what is civilization?

The essential element in civilization is the ethical perfecting of the individual as well as society. At the same time, every spiritual and every material step forward has significance for civilization. The will to civilization is, then, the universal will to progress that is conscious of the ethical as the highest value. In spite of the great importance we attach to the achievements of science and human prowess, it is obvious that only a humanity that is striving for ethical ends can benefit in full measure from material progress and can overcome the dangers that accompany it…” “The only possible way out of chaos is for us to adopt a concept of the world based on the ideal of true civilization.” “For months on end I lived in a continual state of mental agitation. Without the least success I concentrated – even during my daily work at the hospital, – on the real nature of the affirmation of life and of ethics and on the question of what they have in common. I was wandering about in a thicket where no path was to be found. I was pushing against an iron door that would not yield.

In that mental state I had to take a long journey up the river…Lost in thought I sat on deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal concept of the ethical that I had not discovered in any philosophy. I covered sheet after sheet with disconnected sentences merely to concentrate on the problem. Two days passed. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase : “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben” (reverence for life”). The iron door had yielded. The path in the thicket had become visible.

You would think that breakthrough moments like that are unforgettable, but I have known many people who have “seen the light” or put in different terms, recognized their life’s purpose and then for one reason or another have turned their backs on it. Fortunately we have the example of Dr. Schweitzer (among many other great leaders), who never gave up on his passionate quest to discover a universal ethical philosophy.

A passionate, thoughtful, purposeful life is a life worth living. Anything less is a compromise, a deliberate refusal to let the vibrancy of life course through your heart and mind and out into the world through your expression.

The will to live is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Life has a magical way of finding expression through even the most limited and barren places. If given the chance, a literal or figurative womb, life will spring forth abundantly.

Take time this holiday season to renew your reverence for life. Magnify its blessings by extending blessing to the world around you. Remember this always: your fulfillment is directly proportional to your reverence for life.

Der Friede sei mit dir. Peace be unto you.

A Converging World

The last two hundred years were particularly transformative for humanity. Dramatic increases in both longevity and wealth swept across the globe, affecting the industrialized nations first and the developing nations second. While a wide gap remains between the richest and the poorest nations, just about every nation is better off no than they were two short centuries ago.

A friend of mine sent this excellent presentation that depicts the statistics of this phenomenon in a creative and understandable way:

It’s no wonder that the largest charities in the world are looking to bring financial prosperity to the nations they serve. With higher incomes comes lower birth rates and improved longevity. Whether or not happiness follows these trends directly or inversely is debatable, but the point is that a nation’s wealth and the longevity of its citizens appear to be directly related.

Longevity and health, on the other hand, do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can be both extremely old and extremely ill. While longevity has improved dramatically, there is much more that we could be doing to improve health and subsequently, quality of life.

Many of the doctors served by the company I work for are finding that toxicity is no longer strictly intercellular. In fact, toxins are moving deeper and deeper into the cells of the modern body, a fact that presents great challenges to anyone seeking optimal health. Eating cleanly, exercising regularly, hydrating sufficiently and getting enough rest can go a long way, but the world – as a result of the industrial development that made the advances in longevity and wealth possible – is becoming increasingly toxic.

The good news is that the body does have the ability to rid itself of these xenobiotic squatters. With the right support, including the presentation of homeopathic sarcodes (which I’ve heard described as a “blueprint for healthy tissue”), the body can come to the point where it is in position to release the toxins that are likely stored so deeply out of self-preservation.

When the flow systems of the body are blocked for whatever reason, the body wisely, but dangerously (as it is a last resort) walls off and hides away that which normally would be expelled under less stressful circumstances. Helping guide a patient through a process of naturally-paced detoxification is an art and a science, and I would highly advise against unmonitored self-detoxification programs. They are often do more harm than anything.

I believe that we can create a world where health, longevity and wealth converge and become the norm rather than the exception. What about you?