Saturday, December 31, 2011

Look Not Forward, Nor Back, But Within

As the hours close on another calendar year, this is often the time for reflection on the events that have transpired since the last time the calendar turned and the making of resolutions for how things will change in the coming year.

Maybe, however, we should not be concentrating on these things. Maybe, this would be a good moment to disconnect from the societal externality that surrounds us and withdraw within ourselves. Maybe, we should be dissociating ourselves from the things which drive us from the outside, and look to those things that should drive us from the inside.

Our modern world, in supplying us with a seemingly endless stream of information and drawing the various cultures of our globe in tighter toward each other, is creating an undeniable pressure on each of us, whether real or perceived. That which was local is now global; events we thought hidden from view are thrown into stark relief in the glare of attention. From its dark corners and dank places, the true breadth of humanity bubbles up, exposed to the light of day, and leaves us wreathed in fetid miasma. We are not the enlightened and social species we convinced ourselves we are; we took our societal progress to be a finished product, rather than the papering over it is.

We may strive each day in vain hope that Utopia lies within striking distance, but as a twist to the admonition goes, objects in society's mirror are further than they appear. Struggle though we have, gain though we may, voices raised in protest or in song, we have not breached the smog to find clean air, only pockets slightly less choked with the by-products of hubris and fear. Our moment in the calmer air is all too brief.

I often speak of human duty, that idea that lies dormant below the surface of many, wherein it is our responsibility to see others as we see us, to provide for them as we provide for ourselves, to do for others as we do for ourselves. While this is a noble aspiration, and many have known it full, it is not a state of being that can be attained without knowledge and understanding of the self. Without seeing our true reflection in the mirror, without reading the lines etched upon us by time and life, without casting a critical eye at each thought, action, or utterance, striving to free ourselves of our selfish tendencies is a course in futility.

Those of us who have worked tirelessly to alter ourselves, who have given up so much of us that we give more to others, have done so with the knowledge that in as much as we have done these things, perfection lies beyond our grasp. To deny discrimination, to suspend judgment, to reach beyond the surface to see behind and beneath the person... these are things that we find ourselves capable of doing, but not completely free to do. Breaking the last ties that bind us to a primitive past is not so easily accomplished.

We must accept that we are only human. Our cerebral capacity for free thought and free action is built upon a bedrock of primitive survival instincts, and the power of the modern neocortex to control all aspects of the human body through the auspices of mind is still easily sabotaged by unconscious mechanisms that dwell in the deep recesses. To overcome fear, ignorance, hatred, and malice is to start a war within, a war that is not always completely won, because the reptilian brain is not so easily chained.

So, at this moment, think not about what has passed, or what is to come -- think about who you are and where you stand. Take no pledge or oath, nor wallow in regret; instead, look down into your soul. There you will see yourself as you are; recognize that person, cherish that person, accept that you are both unique as an individual, and the same as each and every other human being. To change the world, you can start by changing yourself, not radically, but gradually. Enlightenment does not come in a second or a minute or an hour or a day or a year; it is built up each passing moment, through the length of a life and more. Take the time you have, use it well. Treat yourself with care, and you will find it easier to treat others that way.

I bid each and every person on this planet peace, prosperity, and long life.

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