The Meaning of Meaning

Recently I have been immersed in Viktor E. Frankl‘s, Man’s Search For Meaning. I ended my last blog with the confession that for me, “Meaning” is just another word for God. My experience of God is thorough, and it continues to provoke my curiosity.

 

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

In a meeting a few weeks ago a very wise woman spoke briefly about momentum. She said that God was in the momentum. She said she had all kinds of crazy dreams to become a rock star and a super model, but that there was nothing in her life indicating either one of those two things would happen – there was no momentum. She went on to explain that she honors her prayers to God by living them. Through her actions she tells God how much she desires her prayer.

On Sunday I skipped church for the third week in a row. I experience this as a failure because I am always setting my intention to attend. My will is weak in this matter. And I wonder over this…  This Sunday I received a texted message from a good and new friend from recovery named Myron. His text came on Sunday morning while I was in bed skipping church and it encouraged me to come to high noon – an popular AA meeting on Sunday that I call my home. I told him I was coming and his following text to me read: “God wants you there.” I felt the truth of his statement to me. God did want me there and I answered that calling with my body, which is a presence.

I went to the meeting agitated and left the meeting with great peace. My body did not take me to glide, it took me to a meeting. And I got what I needed. I am so deeply impatient. I am on a journey of momentum. My confidence resides in the trajectory of my life, and I have no reason to doubt it whatsoever. I have some strange intuition that my dreams of actualizing my power through teaching, leading, and healing – even as they are situated at glide – will take about 5 years to come to fruition. I’m told in AA that it takes 5 years to get your marbles back and it takes 5 years to learn how to play with them. I’m on a good course then. And with that subtle hint of direction, built on the tide of my life’s momentum, comes a peace and a patience I need more often.

God or Meaning is growing concurrent with my experience. This happens under any circumstance I explore with trust and willingness and is not necessarily separate from the mundane acts of everyday habit. Indeed, it is precisely in the everyday God’s power reveals itself most mightily. Paradoxically this experience brings with it a strange sense of being lived, as though something flows through my experience that I have no power to control and at the same time an incredible sense of self-determination and freedom, as if I am the locus of meaning. It has taken years of practice to live a co-extensive relationship with God. And, to be certain, I’m not quite sure I understand what I mean.

When I am One, I am being lived; I have let go to the best of my ability. In that space I experience flow, no resistance, perfect order, and I am curious, grateful, cheerful, attentive, attractive, and present. I can measure the distance I gain from old patterning through my internal state of well being. If I am experiencing frustation as I was the past few days, in those moments my past pain, failure, resentments, and fear – past experience of suffering – concresces on my present experience and solidifies my external circumstance. I feel the haunting and a spectre draws near. I am distracted, discontent, resentful, angry. I breath shallow, make less eye contact and I am without; without solutions. Currently, I would say that I am living under a 75% flow state, where 25% of my experience I am not well; I just might as well… be sick.

God is the power of auto-production; an autopoiesis. I expect to hit 100% generation and through that skillful task of reconstructing the boundaries of my daily life, I will be connected to others and in communication or communion, will all parts… this task, as it is impossible… is at least a decade away.

Many times I fall into a meditation where I am very old, dreaming with longing over my current experience from that aged place. This mediation brings gratitude almost instantaneously. Without gratitude a piece of God is missing.

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The Meaning of Choice

I am reading Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. It is extraordinary and rich. Richness has little to do with money or power and everything to do with service, responsibility, and love. The laying down of one’s life and will for another’s sake, that is wealth, and that type of wealth is not popular. 

Recently the power of choice has been a central theme of my understanding. As a teacher of k-8 graders, I will often emphasize their self-determination and empowerment by telling them to “make good choices.” In the concentrations camps, Frankl tells us that the phenomenon of choice often decided between life and death. It was rarely admitted because the power of debasement, the loss of self-determination, the horrors of camp life where so extreme that to blame anyone for dying seemed out of the question. No doubt the condition of suffering in the concentration camps were so terrible that death was expected, normal, almost inevitable. Still, as Frankl’s title suggests, the choice each individual made to find meaning through the suffering, even amisdt the absence of a future would often decide whether they would live or die that day. Frankl calls his psychological practice logotherapy – an art he describes as finding a “will to meaning.” For those of you who know Nietzsche, you’ll hear his voice in Frankl’s work: “As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygenic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why—an aim—for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence.”

A powerful lens into the depths of human suffering Frankl’s work joins the ranks of books that describe the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. The value of Frankl’s book is the meaning. There is meaning. If we are not careful, the experience of suffering will drive us toward absence and meaninglessness. The power of choice does not mean life is responsible for our suffering, rather that we are responsible to life through the suffering. We are to be found worthy of our suffering, especially when and if that is all we have to offer. I do not have a bad day… my day… has a bad me. Within that re-evaluation of values encapsulates all the necessary power to chose wisely and our actualize potential.

My relationship to meaning has been reaffirmed over and over through countless philosophies and especially through experience. My experience is that meaning is overwhelmingly present, is Presence itself, refined, purified through consciousness and our greatest sufferings. I like to call that meaning God.  

  

Love

 

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understand how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such position a man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words: “Angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

“Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.”

 

Excerpts from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning.

 

The Ecozoic Era

Thanks to The Light Party – http://www.lightparty.com/Visionary/EcozoicEra.html

 

AND especially to Thomas Berry whose intellectual lineage I stand within … Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Adam Hudson – I’m proud to say!

 

THE ECOZOIC ERA

by Thomas Berry

As we think about the future form of an integral Earth Community we might begin with the observation that in the sequence of biological periods of Earth development we are presently in the terminal phase of the Cenozoic and the emerging phase of the Ecozoic era. The Cenozoic is the period of biological development that has taken place during these past 65 million years. The Ecozoic is the period when human conduct will be guided by the ideal of an integral earth community, a period when humans will be present upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.

The Cenozoic period is being terminated by a massive extinction of living forms that is taking place on a scale equaled only by the extinctions that took place at the end of the Paleozoic around 220 million years ago and at the end of the Mesozoic some 65 million years ago. The only viable choice before us is to enter into an Ecozoic period, the period of an integral community that will include all the human and non-human components that constitute the planet Earth.

The first principle of the Ecozoic era is recognizing that the Universe is primarily a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. This is especially true of the planet Earth. Every being has its own place and its own proper role in the functioning of the planet, its own presentation of itself that might be identified as its voice.

Our difficulty is that we have become autistic. We no longer listen to what the earth, its landscape, its atmospheric phenomena and all its living forms, its mountains and valleys, the rain, the wind, and all the flora and fauna of the planet are telling us. Since the Seventeenth Century we have not heard, we have not understood the inner world about us. We have experienced the external phenomena. We have had no entry into the world of interior meaning. We have not heard the voices.

Until we do listen, until we do hear these voices and understand what they are telling us, our lives will continue to be shriveled, our judgment as absurd, as destructive as we can presently observe in what we have done to the soil, the water, the air, and the living forms of this loveliest of planets. We will appreciate or revere the planet if we are to form a viable Earth Community.

To achieve this intimacy with the Earth we need new religious sensitivities. The redemption- oriented religions in their traditional forms have fulfilled a significant part of their historical mission. Cosmologically oriented religion is the way into the future. We need to recognize the story of the universe as we know it through our empirical sciences as our sacred story. From its beginning the universe has had a psychic-spiritual as well as a physical-material dimension.

Earth in a special manner has given expression to this psychic-spiritual dimension of the universe. The human belongs among these forms. It establishes with them a single community. There is no effective spiritual or religious mode of being for the human in isolation from this community. The visible world about us is our primary scripture, the primary manifestation of the divine, and this for human communities throughout the entire planet.

A second principle of the Ecozoic era that might be proposed is the ethical principle that beyond suicide, homicide, and genocide, there are even more violent crimes — biocide and geocide: biocide, the wanton killing of the life systems of the planet; geocide, the killing of the planet itself in its major forms of expression. Ultimately humans cannot extinguish life on the planet. What humans can do is to severely damage the planet beyond recovery to its former grandeur within any comprehensible period of human historical time. This in some manner deserves the designation of geocide.

We might indicate the third principle of the Ecozoic era by noting that the human is derivative, the Earth is primary. The primary concern of every profession, institute, and activity of the human betrays itself unless it makes this larger earth community its primary referent.

So with Economics, the first concern, the first principle of understanding, must be the economic integrity of the planet. Concern for the Gross Earth Product must be the primary concern, not the Gross Human Product. Only within the ever-renewing cycle of Earth productivity can human productivity be sustained.

So with the healing professions, the primary concern must be to maintain the integral well-being of the planet. Not even with all our medical sciences and technologies can we establish well human beings on a sick planet.

A fourth principle might propose that in the future the Earth will function differently than it has functioned in the past. Throughout the Cenozoic the Earth evolved independently of the human. In the emerging Ecozoic period almost nothing will happen that will not in some manner be related to the human. Not, however, that we will control the inner workings of the planet. We cannot make a blade of grass. But there is liable not to be a blade of grass if it is not accepted, protected, and fostered by the human. We have completely new and comprehensive responsibilities now that we never had before. Ultimately we should be diminishing the domestication of the planet and assisting the wilderness to reactivate itself. A contradiction, perhaps. Yet what is needed is that we accept and foster the wild fertile forces of the planet that are consistently being weakened, unless humans withdraw their terrifying presence and grant to the other members of the Earth Community their rights to habitat and their share of the Earth’s benefits.

A fifth principle might propose that any valid Progress must be progress of the entire life community, not progress of the human at the expense of the non-human members of the community. To designate human plundering of the plant as Progress is an absurdity beyond description.

A sixth principle guiding the future might propose the need for celebration. The universe throughout its vast extent in space and its sequence of transformations in time might be considered a single multiform celebratory event. The very purpose of the planet Earth seems to be to exhibit a culminating celebratory mode of expression, something to justify the emergent galaxies, the supernova explosions wherein the elements were formed, the shaping of the solar system, the emergence of this privileged planet. When we ask what is the meaning of the flight of the birds, their song; what is the meaning of the quiet gliding of fish through the sea; what is the meaning of the evening song of the cicada: we can indeed assign some pragmatic answer, but that would not go to the deeper meaning of the phenomena. This we find under the rubric of celebration.

So with the human, our entry into the Ecozoic period can only come through celebration of the grandeur and loveliness and joy of existence on the planet Earth. Once we begin to celebrate, all things become possible even an Ecozoic era.

Thomas Berry is an historian of cultures and a former President of the American Teilhard Association. Presently he is Director of the Riverdale Center for Religious Research in New York. He is author of The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico, The Religions of India, Buddhism, and most recently The Dream of the Earth, published by Sierra Club Books, as well as numerous articles on human-earth relations.

 

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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Futurist

I just signed up for 24Hour Fitness. It’s crowded. Fit Asian men mostly. The treadmills are endless. Endless fitness. Endless heat. Everyone is sweating, breathing, running, burning, pushing. The air is thick and I seem to run well in this environment. The key to humidity … or is it humility? It feels amazing to swim. Tonight I swam for 20 mins straight and my Asian American partner’s words encouraged me, “Impressive,” he said. I respected him for being my lane partner for the entire twenty – every other lap he would rest and I would swim and that difference kept me going.

Earlier today I substituted 7th grade girls all day. The very beginning of the morning – during morning meeting – the girls insisted that I watch the “Girl Scout Cookies” video:

It’s funny.

Over the last few weeks I have substituted almost exclusively at one school. Its all girls, K-8th. I am building rapport with them and my co-workers. I was greatly encouraged when the Middle school head invited me to submit my resume, which I did last night. Dynamics shift with time, residency, commitment. My subtle urge to impress, seem young, and “swag” as the girls say… has introduced some unexpected and utterly delightful results. I have impressed them – the girls. Today a few of them witnessed me breakdance in dance class – seems reasonable enough. But, they really liked it – more than I would have expected. Completely flattering. I happy. 🙂

San Francisco is saturating. It is overwhelming culture. I escape to Tennessee a few months out of the year just to remind myself a real world exists. Creatively blurs everything. Newness is culture, a cosmopolitical therapy for world building; a philosophy of magnanimity; a radiance of miracles. A theater of difference and engagement. Every significant science fiction movie I give a shit about has centered San Francisco in their futurist narratives. Star Trek places its Star Fleet Academy in San Francisco. Terminator’s Skynet is birthed in San Francisco. Planet of the Apes ground zero is San Francisco; etc. etc. etc. SF is more than future it is the center of the fucking planet. How lovely. (right? how many centers where there again?)

So many things are an honor. I’m beginning to mentor in a way that suits me. Today I realize that I am a man. My life is a mirror and my reflections are peace. Everyday God. Waking. Sleeping. Showering. Singing. Soccer. The next thing on  my little agenda here – prayer.