Saturday, January 20, 2007

Spiritual Maturity?

"The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along."


My sister gets married next month in California. A friend that lives nearby here on Waiheke gets married the week before up in the Bay of Islands, a beautiful part of New Zealand. I will attend both and support their commitments to shared lives together. There will no doubt be celebrations worthy of the institution and the wonderful people taking part. A social fabric that at once is both revered and heavily criticised, still holds court all over the world in ways that no other pact does between two humans.

We are inherently social creatures. Our ability to work together in sustainable ways to leave a better planet for our children is not helped by the rising level of single person households, a trend happening in all "developed" countries with populations that can afford such luxuries. Still, there are a number of creative accomodation arrangements emerging through either necessity or desire. To have both community and harmony (often difficult), intimacy and solitude (often necessary), is an area of life that challenges cultural immunity. Any experiment outside cultural norms, and protection comes swiftly and often severely. One of the backlashes from the 60's and 70's communal movement is the current hijacking of American society by the religious right.

Extended families, or "whanau" is a concept embraced heavily amongst the Polynesian cultures, and whilst not necessarily a link through blood alone, the strong connection and sense of responsibility is there, and the support for the youngsters is shared and diverse. That was definitely one of the most positive aspects of my communal experiment, and my daughter agrees now 20 odd years later. The care was both genuine and unconditional.
Whatever works.

John Schumaker writes extensively in In Search of Happiness about personal satisfaction and the quest for some "thing" that becomes more and more unattainable in current times. In this article, he explains how the ancient Greek philosophers used to equate happiness with virtues such as loyalty, friendship, moderation, honesty, compassion and trust. Today, it is more about what we think we need to own, or who we need to be with in order to be happy. The conspiracy, as he calls it, is not driven by our genetic disposition, but rather our cultural attitudes, and is not sustainable. The Greek virtues, the Navajo hozho ("may you walk in beauty") are conditions that do not rely on any type of self gratification, which never lasts. They either exist or they do not. The question begs asking then, if something is not lasting, how real is it?

"Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are within our control and some things are not".


Indeed. And as the Talmud says wisely, "we do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are". In another clever NY Times piece called "Help, I am Surrounded by Jerks" (sound familiar?), we are made aware of the growing plethora of material available to help us deal with "difficult people". Whether you take a seminar, read any number of books, or listen to tapes, it all comes down to realising (either through pain of experience, or good fortune), that we cannot control anyone (or anything for that matter), only our reactions or responses.

Real spiritual maturity begins then with the ability to allow events beyond our control to weave their inevitable way through our lives without letting them rock our foundations.

Not at all difficult are the tuis, or parson birds, that have been especially prolific around Rocky Bay this summer, with the consistent flowering of trees and shrubs providing ample meals and good nests...

This one stays perched outside my bedroom window early each morning, and making sure I am up at the right time.

Widespread in New Zealand, they have an iridescent sheen, with the most conspicuous feature being the white tuft of feathers on the neck.

With a noisy flight and fluid, melodic song, it is certainly one of the true delights amongst the many companions in the forest. Another reminder perhaps of wider perspectives on the nature of divinity and spiritual understanding.

The Holy Men covering themselves in ash and bathing in a dirty (sorry, holy) river every year in Allahabad in India have other concerns. They won't have problems dealing with "difficult people"; they are no doubt beyond that. They will miss the song of the tui as well. When you live in a country with a billion others, difficult can be a relative term. The rituals and the ceremonies that "talk story", as the Hawai'ians like to say, may indeed have something to say, but how real are they in the overall context of this short life?

As a wise man said to me once:

Watch your thoughts
They become actions
Watch your actions
They become character
Watch your character
It becomes your destiny

And the next time someone tells you about how toxic some chemical or another is, be sure to remember that everything is at some point, including water. The key is the dosage. Whoever thinks up these stupid (and now deadly) contests on AM radio really needs to get a life, and they could start by knowing what they are doing.

I suppose we all could.

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