My last post, “good knowledge, bad ignorance”, was a way for me to express some frustrations I was experiencing at the time. My desire to detach is part of the cynicism and skepticism that has plagued my well-being and my peace of mind since I can remember. As a child I was always troubled by the simple act of being that is associated with existence, and as an adult with access to the worlds information resources and the cognitive ability to sort through the data and create my own knowledge base, I am more troubled than ever.
With that said, I decide to be troubled. I make a conscious decision to allow my deep troubles to impact my overall attitude. In the case of my education and my complaints with the way education is practiced in the West, I have control to change my situation. I have to take responsibility and acknowledge that any short-comings I feel that i’m experiencing in respect to the knowledge I am attaining at the institutional level is within my control. I have access to three libraries in the region in which i reside, and within those libraries I can access books, online articles, e-book resources, and scientific journals, as well as talk to librarians to help me find relevant research and record citations. On top of that I can also gain peer support for my mathematics, writing and general studies in the resource centers at the SOU library. To add to my resources, I could consult with my instructors during office hours and voice my concerns or frustrations to help me understand the topics of interest as well as provide constructive criticism to assist with the way the material is presented and reviewed by the educators. And to top it off, I could form study groups that allows for me to explain concepts to other students and work together on clarification of difficult topics.
I literally have access to all the information that exists in the world. It’s my decision to let others attitudes affect my own. And in doing so, I further the attitude problem I addressed in my last post. My attitude furthers the ignorance that troubles me so deeply. My desire to escape the confounds of my environment is not a solution that leads to more knowledge. The only way anyone makes a difference in their immediate environment is to exist within the environment and do so in such a way that spreads positivism and awareness. And in doing so, the positive sentiment will propagate and create a better overall environment for all. Just as hate spreads hate, and love spread love, positive attitudes are hard to be negative towards. Don’t get me wrong, I know that sometimes it becomes easier to stay in a cold, dark hole rather than see what the hustle and bustle outside in the sunshine is all about. That cold, dark hole is complacency and no matter what, complacency is beneficial to no one.
On the topic of complacency, I found an interesting passage in a book by Thomas Merton; a Christian Trappist Monk and author who lived from 1915-1968. In his time, he wrote a book intended to be a guide to those living within the Monastic system, monks and nuns, called Contemplative Prayer. The book is a practical manual to experiences one may have when struggling through stages of deep contemplative meditation about the nature of God, Jesus Christ, and the scripture that is a constant item of interest to those who have devoted their lives to looking deep within for answers about spirituality. In the latter sections of the book the discussion shifts to complacency, ego, and arrogance. The section reads,
“Such are the routines of piety that sacrifice everything else in order to preserve the comforts of the past, however inadequate and however shameful they may be in the present. Meditation, in such a case, becomes a factory for alibis and instead of struggling with the sense of falsity and in-authenticity in oneself, it battles against the exigencies of the present, armed with platitudes minted in the previous century. If necessary, it also fabricates condemnation and denunciations of those who risk new ideas and new solutions.” P.104, Image Books Edition: 1971
Thomas Merton was referring to arrogance within the practice of Spiritual contemplation. His warning was pertaining to becoming too enveloped in yourself to realize that something is different than how you yourself, or the group you associate with, perceives a concept. His words point towards old beliefs being supplanted in the place of new evidence. Evidence that is glaringly obvious but perhaps hard for the ego to swallow based on the contradictory nature of the self-concept of an individual. And his words also point towards the tendency of focusing on the self(ego) as a hindrance to recognizing piercing truths, which he describes as the creation of alibis. This, in turn, leads to a kind of shame that the humility of recognition and acceptance cannot compare. To accept the flaws in your own perception, and see reality for what it is rather than what you wish it to be should not be a threat to individual identity more so than it provides opportunity for humility. The humility is temporary, but the suppressing of the truth is something that pervades for long periods of time, and can negatively affect many circumstances.
To close up, I’ll remind myself that humility is a difficult thing to swallow, but with the choking down of humility comes the satisfaction of humbleness. To be humble is to be comfortable in the humility, or in the least to accept the compassion of others when wading through the kiddie pool of humiliating experiences and revelations. No one ever has it all figured out. For me, when I think I’ve got it, whatever “it” may be, something comes along and humbles me by letting me see that the search for knowledge and understanding is an infinite adventure; once you give up, or allow attitude and arrogance to become a veil of complacency and condemnation, you’re not only cheating yourself out of being the best person you could possibly be, but you’re also cheating everyone else within your sphere of influence from experiencing that person as well. I am ultimately responsible, for everything that I think, feel, and experience, and in doing so I must accept responsibility for how my attitude influences those I come in contact with. If I want to live with compassion for myself, i must also hold a place of compassion rather than contempt for people I interact with who don’t trouble themselves as heavily as I do with the trials and tribulations of existence. The Buddhists acknowledge that life is suffering, which can be related to Christianities view that we are all sinners who need to be saved. The Buddhists do not rely on a central figure to relieve the suffering or remove that original sin; the path to relieve suffering is following the self-realized path of insight into the causes of suffering, and taking initiative to relieve the suffering and let go of the self-image that feeds the suffering. Detachment, then, if not a way to escape as much as it is a way to remove the individual influence from the objective truth, no matter how much it may threaten the almighty ego.