The Antidote to “Civilization Dis-ease”

This time I want to write about two different mythologies. Probably the two fundamental mythologies of mankind. Which one of them is dominant influences our collective values and behavior. I call the first mythology “Original Sin” and the second “Innate Goodness “.

“Original sin” is a mythology of fundamental suspiciousness of (mother) nature. It therefore posits that the innermost nature of mankind is ruthless and egoistic. To control the “inner”, a system of imposed morality and law & order is established and enforced. Rationality and self-restraint are highly valued character traits. The heavens are ruled by a masculine, omniscient, monarchical, supreme judge who has the power of ultimate punishment. Because humans are natural born sinners, they are in constant need to (im)prove themselves. Thus, work ethic is high, “doing”, efficiency and functionality is emphasized and there is a fetish of progress. This explicit orientation towards purpose and the future fuels desires and anxieties which motivate humans to create highly complex and sophisticated civilizations. Because always living for the future excludes the possibility of ever arriving “there”, civilization dis-eases like ongoing dissatisfaction and cynicism become prevalent. And because constantly doing something for a specific purpose prevents relaxation, a feeling of being caught in a rat race makes humans seek for meaning.

The anti-thesis to efficient but meaningless “Original Sin” is the mythology of “Innate Goodness”. Once we change the assumption of nature being untrustworthy, the whole mythology reverses itself. If there is reverence for (mother) nature, there will be the belief that the innermost core of a human being is gentle. Intuition and spontaneity are therefore the best ways to “control” behavior, not imposed morals, laws or a strict, fatherly God. Yielding and letting go are highly valued character traits and there is no need to (im)prove anything because the universe (including all humans) is already “perfect” (in its imperfection). Pain is completely unnecessary for gain. Thus, as opposed to a work ethic humans will have a strong life ethic. Efficiency, functionality and progress are not emphasized but “being” in accord with nature is. This explicit orientation to purposelessness and the present moment leads to deep rest and relaxation. There is a sense of “never not there” which brings natural joy and, thus, meaning to life.

I see these two mythologies as expressions of the primordial principle of Yin and Yang. It is therefore not surprising that Yin mythologies usually come out of Yang dominated societies and civilizations (think of Taoism as the anti-thesis to Confucianism, Buddhism as a movement of discontent with Vedic Brahmanism or the Hippie/ Human Potential movement as a dissociation from Consumerism). Whenever Yin and Yang get out of balance, even on the largest scales, there will be a natural corrective movement.

From that follows that neither of these mythologies constitute the Truth. Both comprise half the Truth. There is as much benevolence as cruelty in the universe. While the Yang mythology deals with our lower three Chakras (which are important for survival), the Yin mythology addresses the upper three (providing meaning). When they are in balance, the middle Chakra, the heart that embraces it all, opens. As this happens, we become a “whole” human being, transcending “good” and “evil” to settle into equanimity, compassion and sympathetic joy.

The very fact that so much of us are interested in spirituality shows that we have understood that a lack thereof makes us unbalanced, lopsided human beings. All societies need spirituality, but not of the “doing”, goal-oriented, self-improvement kind. That will only reinforce our Yang tendency. What we really need now is more love and respect for ourselves, and I think we are about to wake up to that.

“The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one’s humdrum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.”
~D.T. Suzuki

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Between Heaven and Hell

For me everything that re-aligns us with the bliss of being in the “Now” (sat-chit-ananda) is a form of Yoga. I’ve been writing in this blog about Yoga and in particular about the intellectual type of Yoga called Jnana Yoga. Obviously, there are other forms of “spiritual” and non-spiritual Yoga. There are the “artistic” Yogi’s who are playing with their bodies, their voices, with instruments, words, colors, material, or with other people to unite with the flow of the present-moment. And there are the mystics who accomplish the same by contemplating on the divine.

While the artistic Yogi’s invariably seek to spend as much time as possible performing and developing their craft, mystical Yogi’s try to take out as much time in their lives for contemplation. Unless mystics become monastics and artists are being paid appropriately for their art to make a living, all Yogi’s have to pursue money-earning activities that are in some sort of time-conflict to their Yoga.

I want to posit here, that this “conflict” is a good thing. In fact, it is an integral part of our Yoga.
Let me explain.

Let’s assume we could pursue our Yoga all the time and be in bliss permanently. Because that’s what we ultimate aim for, right? Would we really want it? I say no, we actually don’t. If we were to experience perpetual bliss, after some time we would forget what the absence of bliss felt like. Bliss would become ordinary and flat. We would soon enough long for some variation and seek out for thrill, for contrast. Have you ever noticed that if a game becomes too predictable, e.g. if we are always winning, we start to cheat or take on unnecessary risks to spice it up a bit? For this reason the most harmonious relationships never really work and even the most cunning criminals eventually get arrested. To experience bliss, we are dependent on experiencing piss from time to time. Heaven is a terribly boring place “where all the interesting people are missing” (Nietzsche) and deep down we know its true, don’t we?

Why, then, do we pretend to seek perpetual bliss? Because trying to achieve the impossible is how we keep ourselves in the game of oscillating between peaceful heaven and nerve-wracking hell. That’s how we get the most intense experience out of life. Without the contrast of opposites, we wouldn’t get any experience, and no life. We would end up as zombies. It is, thus, supremely ironic that, ultimately, we bliss-followers, worldly or spiritual, play the game we actually always wanted to play. A game that works for us exactly because we keep on trying to resolve it while its rules do not allow for resolution. And because we thought we wouldn’t take the game seriously enough if we knew it was a game, we had us forget that it was a game.

You might now say that this perspective on life is rather sadistic. After all, the rules of getting the most experience out of life imply that we could never really settle for anything and that suffering would be a necessary part.
On the other hand, though, suffering inherently provides the foundation for bliss and gratitude, and settling means flatness of life. One cannot enjoy winning without the possibility of ever losing. Don’t we love dramas and thrillers and pay money to read or watch them? Isn’t life without the zest of living the most sadistic game to live by?

No matter how our game turns out, though, we eventually die, and as we do, we realize it was all a dream. The dream then gets forgotten and the game starts again. Redemption is for certain.
Some people “die” before their physical death and wake up from the dream in midst of the game. It’s not that an awakened person drops out of the game. We cannot not play if we want to live. But an awakened person loses all hesitation to play. The game is seen through, accepted and ultimately revered as of perfect design. In this manner the awakened transcends the seriousness of the game and enjoys the ride going “up” and does not despair going “down”.

Nothing changes after an awakening other than we now know that we want what we get. We don’t need to pretend anymore that we don’t want the downers. We know that there will never be any settling, any final stage, perpetual XYZ, and that’s how it is supposed to be. This is it! Instead of unconsciously forcing the game with our struggling or obstruct it with our stubborn resisting, we can now consciously relax and be unperturbed as it unfolds.

As stated all over this blog, enlightenment can be seen as a surrendering into the interplay of Yin and Yang. It is not the formula for ever-lasting bliss and serenity but for a generally fuller, more intense experience of life which depends on both ends of the spectrum. When we open up to whatever “is” we feel more of everything: more pain and more gain. And as surrendering deepens, the juiciness and richness of life increases.

The more bliss we want to experience, the more pain we have to allow ourselves to feel. As we keep the sadness out, we keep the joy out. Every lower low increases the potential for higher high. That’s why when we let go of everything, we have a whole world to win.

Live!

“Possessions make you rich? I don’t have this type of richness. My richness is life.”
~Bob Marley

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