Accepting what is
This is an entry from my journal.
I spent the afternoon sitting at a small, wooden, half-broken table I have. I took the opportunity to sunbathe and relax. Too much work detracts from the capacity to be productive. The autumn sun is still warm, though the wind is already feeling cold. No-one passed by. This year’s vintage is probably over. I will not be seeing any labourers until early spring, when they will come to prune the vineyards. It is quiet here. The nearby village does attract visitors. The fields are tranquil regardless: just some farmers and wild animals.
There are a million things I could complain about despite being in this otherwise peaceful place. Why must my daily showers be so cold? At what point do salads lose their flavour? And what is the point of spending these fulfilling moments alone? Humans have a bottomless capacity for ungratefulness. God gave us the garden of Eden and all we could do with it is find a reason to complain by asking for more.
I cannot completely forgo this ungrateful aspect of my humanity. I cannot become a non-human human. For as long as I have this presence, I will live with all it entails, cherishing what I like while tolerating what I dislike.
We don’t get to pick our presence: to be human is to have a bit of everything germane to humankind. All the archetypes are present, in different proportions and combinations. The poet will thus correctly point out that while there is Aphrodite, in all her beauty, she is standing beside the ever-bellicose Aris. We will never be completely identified with these or other such archetypes, but only exhibit aspects of them.
Ambiguity disturbs us. We seek clear guidelines and wish to have indelible lines delineating the boundaries between good and evil. Yet the world is one of admixture. Ideals are analytical constructs, which exist in their pure form in vitro. In practice, however, in our in vivo experience, we have to deal with uncertainty, relying on imperfect knowledge, while labouring in complex arrangements of indeterminate factors. All dogmas assume the form of “do this no matter what” while we know how most of our experience unfolds within the confines of “it depends”.
The million complaints I have extend to our shared humanity. Why must there be bullies, tyrants, rapists, bigots, warlords, traffickers, and so on? Why can’t we all just get along as equals? I have no answer; none that I can prove, anyway. Maybe there is a grand reason and we have to trust the process. Or maybe the reality is ugly.
I do not complain though. Not about my humanity nor the prevailing conditions in my immediate milieu. Rather, I have learnt to find the universal in the common things. Instead of the numerous reasons to be negative about, I am content with what I have. If I have more, I am fine. If I have less, I am fine. Not because I do not exhibit preferences. No! As a human, I do have preferences and always wish for the best. Rather, I recognise how powerless I am to affect the workings of the cosmos. I pursue my goals conscious of the fact that my stratagems are a heap of leaves in this November wind.
My modus vivendi rests on acceptance of the human condition. I have no delusions about people, myself included. As a physically fit male, I know I have the capacity to be aggressive and to confront even the fiercest of animals in combat, given the right triggers. Whether I actually express that is beside the point: the potential is there. As a son, I am inherently biased in favour of my parents, even tough I know the perils of bias. As a rational agent, I recognise the practical benefits of being methodical and contemplative. Though I cannot be purely reasonable. There are sensations that require a different faculty altogether; sensations which are felt at the emotional level. Reducing those to rational terms is exactly that: reducing. In short, I have accepted that I am a bit of everything in potentiality. There is a mind and a body as facets of a singular presence. I am well-meaning and eager to help, though I know all too well that humanity has an inexhaustible capacity for inhumanity.
I am inclined towards benevolence. This, I think, is my natural disposition. At the conscious level, it also is what I consider right. Though I would be fooling myself if I claimed that I do whatever I want, contrary to what my nature renders feasible. We give too much value to our schemes, while our culture makes us think that we can do anything we set our mind to. This tiger within, however, hugs us continuously and its claws are razor sharp. As such, I have neither high nor low hopes about me and us. We simply are the way we are. I try to push us in what I believe is the right direction, by carrying out the deeds, not by uttering big words, though I honestly cannot tell if my path is the correct one. I have not yet reached its terminus. How am I supposed to know? Those who claim to have all the answers are fools.
Of course, I can pretend to be purely rational or perfectly loving. It would fit the persona of the hermit philosopher, I guess. Everything is a brand nowadays, so why not this too? A captivating ad with a glittering logo. Add some “-isms” to the mix to sound profound. The package is ready to be marketed… They teach us too many books and too little life. Lots of people choose such a pretentious course of action, thinking they are too clever to deal with the world of admixture like the rest of us. Yet they are still human and, as such, are bound to suffer from the unsustainable contradiction between their designs and natural outlook.
Let us be honest about who we are. Only then can we aspire to our highest while working to improve upon—or ameliorate the effect of—our lowest. If I assume to be incorruptible, then why bother taking preventive action against corruption? The frailties of the human character are there. Only after recognising them will we be ready to face them.
The body is a source of pleasure but also of pain. It generates attraction, while it can cause repulsion. So it is good or bad? Such dichotomy is misleading, as it wants to treat the body as an optional magnitude. Suppose it is bad, despicable even. So what? We cannot live a human life without it. The distinction is not actionable. As for living a life to prepare for the eventual emancipation from the body, this too is not a way of escaping it in the here and now: we must still feed it, feel the pain, experience the passions, et cetera.
I am not a advocate for absurdity. I do care about reasonableness and for it to be practical at that. I simply recognise there is more to humanity than reason. I have yet to find a perfect dictionary entry for “love”, for example. I also have no words to describe its full extent. Yet I have known it since as far as I can remember. How do you rationalise and then verbalise in full that which you recognise only once you feel it?
Back to the quietude of this place. I choose not to complain about anything. It simply is. Will it get better or worse? How am I supposed to know? Will I feel good or bad about it? My feelings are ultimately irrelevant. When I am happy, I thank God for showing me what happiness is. When I suffer, I thank God for teaching me what misery is. Whether divinity actually exists is irrelevant. Mine is a figure of speech that may resonate with sometihng greater than me. What matters is that at all times I accept what is and admit to my powerlessness in the grand scheme of things.
All I can do, then, is work with what I have to achieve what feels like a sustainable local arrangement: a balance between the various facets of my being. I shall not treat some of them as inherently undesirable. Nothing in nature is useless. Why would some facet of humanity be an exception?
I have learnt not to place a disproportionate value on cleverness. I don’t need to appear smart to anyone. What I aspire to as a philosopher (i.e. “friend of wisdom”) is to be more wise. Perhaps I will then smile in the face of this cosmic admixture and utter these words as I look skyward: “you know better”. Maybe it will be on another day like this one and I will decide to sing with the birds. What’s the point of singing? Who knows?