Conversations June 12, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

6 AM. So, my friends. Between finishing “Schindler’s List” and reading of the first year of the Civil War in Allan Nevins’ masterful work, and preparing my talk for tomorrow — today, now — I had quite a day. But the high point has come to be sitting down at sunrise, more or less, and communicating. If this were to continue for the rest of my life, which I suppose it cannot, I’d be well satisfied.

I am becoming a throwback to the Middle Ages, aren’t I? Someone said that in Christian Europe at that time, it is conceivable that a man might know that he was the last man on earth and know that it is all right, that it is God’s plan. To me, that translates pretty well into your saying, that Rita and I sent out into the world, “All is well. All is always well.” It is a way of being that is totally out of harmony with this world they call modern, and totally in harmony with the world that endures. So I feel, anyway.

Perhaps you are not a throw-back but a throw-forward — and you are hardly the only one! At the end of an era, the coming patterns initially show themselves in the guise of a return to something previously discarded — the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone — but life does not really return to anything previous as it was; it reshapes what is in light of what was, and the result is something new, but newer than was possible by attempting to get something new.

In other words, the new and the old are continuously intermixed. Or — since your time cannot quite really hear the meaning of that without some explanation, we will provide it.

Is this where you were going originally? It doesn’t feel like it.

It doesn’t matter. What arises of the moment is always fresh and vigorous and may be pursued with confidence. The only thing is to remember it in context of what has come before. To re–member in, you see — to hold it together. This is both the subject of what we will say, and an example of it.

Let us put it this way. In living in duality, as you must, you can never live at either pole of whatever axis. You cannot rest at all-new or at all-not-new. The temperamentally conservative — in the sense of resisting unnecessary change — or the temperamentally innovative — in the sense of instinctively propounding reforming and reworking everything — are both perhaps relatively extreme, but as Yeats said, “there is no life at the dark or the light of the moon”: No one can be all anything. The staunchest resister of change nonetheless finds that in order to preserve the present it is necessary to do some things differently, or to do some things that were not previously done; the staunchest innovator finds that some continuity provides the only ground to stand on.

Even your most extreme cases — we are tempted to say, especially your most extreme cases — show that no one can live at an extreme. You have heard Abraham Lincoln say that the one thing that people want after a war is the one thing they cannot have, which is a return to things as they were previously: Since “things as they were previously” led to war, how could things return to that state, and why would the war’s survivors want them to? They don’t, of course, they want to return to “things as they were previously,” only saving the results of the war that occurred in the intervening time — that is, they want things to return to their previous condition unchanged, but changed.

I won’t swear that it was Mr. Lincoln who said it, but I do remember it. It seemed obvious once stated that way, and does now.

So. If it is impossible to live at either extreme, what you are left with are person-groups and social-groups thinking they (or their opposite numbers) are embodying an extreme, when in fact, they and their opposite numbers are always within a range somewhere mid-scale.

Can you see that understanding this reduces your inner temperature, so to speak, in considering matters of society or economics or politics or even the health of the planet? Unlike Teddy Roosevelt campaigning for office, you do not “stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord.” Your philosophical or political or ideological opponents are never the fiends you are tempted to perceive them to be. (Indeed how could they be?) Neither are your friends and allies any purer than you yourselves.

Yes. It has been a chastening experience for me, endlessly revising my earlier dogmatic opinion about everything. I remember well, being in college, trying to determine which side “the people” supported in the Spanish Civil War! As if there was ever a civil war in which “the people” were all on one site! But in those days I thought in terms of right and wrong, black and white, good guys and bad guys, and it would have been hard on me psychologically — impossible, probably — to move to the relativistic point I hold now.

This earlier phase is characteristic of a certain type of person-group, we would say. Encompassing a great range of elements, many of them discordant or rather contradictory (for contradiction need not bring discordance and strife, depending on how it is handled) you felt an anxiety: Which was true and which mistaken? Which was reliable and which not? Which was on the side of the angels, so to speak, and which was reprehensible? In short, you were wondering which parts of your person-group would predominate and which would be suppressed. Remaining in a state of flux, when surrounded by other person-groups who were in no doubt (apparently) left you feeling vulnerable, ignorant and directionless. In that situation the natural impulse is to seize a certainty from without that did not arise from within.

This is how the Nazis and Communists and what you call extremists always emerge: the violent truncation of internal possibilities; the forcible suppression of contradiction; the attempt by willpower to enforce unanimity not merely of action (a mere plurality suffices for that, at any given time) but of opinion.

As within, so without. As a person-group is governed, so the person-group will attempt to govern or shape or conform to social-groups.

Internal fascists; external fascists. Internal fanatics of any sort, external fanatics.

Thus, yesterday we included environmentalists among our little lists of those responsible for condemning and being condemned.

What does it profit to sign on to the noblest of causes but lose one’s own internal possibilities?

What we are saying seems simple enough, however little it fits in with the temper of your times. When you look at the dynamics of the person-group, you see that fanatics are fanatics; haters are haters; suppression of contradiction and dissent and doubt are what they are. And the place they occupy on the liberal-conservative scale, or on any other scale, does not matter. Each will choose the part of any issue or any shall we call it political “mood” or set of associates that is most congenial to the dominant part of the person-group, and — in truncating contradiction within the person-group (and hence within the social-group) — will express the same way!

Hatred is hatred. Rejection, scorn, condemnation are what they are, and it doesn’t matter that you are part of the Nazi Party determined to fight godless communism (never noticing what you have made into your own god) or an idealistic communist willing to sacrifice yourself (and soon others) to uphold the rights of the oppressed. It doesn’t matter if you are an oil driller trying to keep civilization alive or a conservationist trying to keep the planet alive — for causes always come in alluring form — what matters is what you live, what you express.

In thinking yourselves individuals it is natural that you think yourself naturally to be of one viewpoint. Some time ago – years, now — in our exercises for spiritual development, we included practicing changing viewpoints. Perhaps now you can see more clearly why.

Enough for today. You have other things to do. We will be with you as you speak, so don’t worry that you will come up dry. Spiritual thirst comes only from isolation, not from connection.

I do understand that. Thank you for all this.


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