The Byzantine Empire was at it's absolute zenith when BLAM! a plague collapsed the entire enterprise. The roaring 20's gave way to the depression. The trust in government, institutions, and companies to be honest (and care for our best interests) collapsed into the disillusionment of the 1960s.
The Roman's might say these pivotal moments were caused by Fortuna turning her rudder. This mythical figure is a good object of contemplation. She represents a fundamental truth about the nature of life.
Fear not. We'll get through these Coronavirus times. We will evolve as a species for the challenge and the reminder that we are not outside of history or nature.
There will be many things you do this week for the last time in the decade. The last time you see certain friends, the last time you eat a particular food, and the last time you visit a special place. What’s the big deal? You’ll do it all again in 2020..... Or will you?
As an experiment consider that these could be the very last times you do these things. Why would you entertain such morbid thoughts? Because one day it will be the last time, and most likely you won’t realize this as that moment passes. You will probably not give tit your full attention, lost partially in thought and preoccupied with the phone.
How would you treat 2019’s last scenes as if they were final? How would you say goodbye to the friend you’ll never see again? How would you savor that meal? How would you soak in the atmosphere of your favorite spot?
Let’s give ourselves the holiday gift of placing full attention, appreciation, and intention on the decade’s final moments.
There is a misguided concept that runs deep in Western culture. Christians express the idea with the acronym NOTW (Not of This World). Neo-spiritualists rephrase it by saying "We are spiritual beings having a human experience." And most of us carry this frame by imagining ourselves static capsules, encased in flesh, walking through a foreign (and often hostile) environment. This is a complete illusion of separation in an interconnected universe, where everything leans on something else. It's a misconception that undoubtably leaves us all feeling disconnected and anxious, and puts our planet in peril.
Here is a quote from gotquestions.org, a Christian site (highlights added):
"We are still surrounded by all the horrors and tragedy of this life, but this is not our life. The knowledge that we are not of this world gives Christians hope even in the darkest times; hope that this will pass and at the end of it we will be in heaven with our God, face to face forever. This cracked and broken place is not where we belong, and it is not where we will stay.
The appeal of this philosophy is evident. The challenges we have as a species are stressful. Watching the news is like consuming anxiety. What a relief to completely wash one's hands of all global problems with zero guilt. Stand by, ride it out, and grab your flight to paradise.
But what if this conjecture is wrong? It's impossible to verify stories of an afterlife. We see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the world every day. If this reality, confirmed by our physical senses, is our home then NOTW becomes a disastrous manifesto of non-responsibility. A bad idea that has spread past Christianity.
Recently I was at the University of Santa Monica, a school offering a spiritual degree in philosophy. This same concept was passed around in different clothing. One man, addressing the entire room with a microphone, began a long, rambling thought with, "We all know that this world is not our home..."
This perception even permeates the secular world. Look up from your screen and you'll likely feel a sense of subject and object with everything you see. There is a clear border between "you" and "not you". But is it really so distinct?
To challenge the idea here are a few questions to ponder:
"Hold on Jonny", one might say, "there is a difference between the body and the spirit." We have a spirit that is NOTW... that's the real us. OK. Let’s think about our spirit and how it might resemble the person our friends and family know.
What makes Jonathan Legg different than you?
Imagine a steel bar falls off a construction site and lands on my head. Instantly the brain is reorganized. My travel stories and a sense of adventure disappear. The new man remembers nothing about Jonathan Legg. However, he is a much more peaceful and kind person. When this man dies what does his spirit feel like: Jonathan Legg with his sense of adventure or the man who doesn't like to travel, but is extra compassionate?
The steel bar is unnecessary. This restructuring is happening every day.
This brain (and body) of ours is constantly reorganizing in a slower fashion. Brains at 2 years, 30, 90, and 'recently dead' are assembled differently, with profound affects on perception and behavior. Which version determines the characteristics of the spirit? Would a person to be lucky to die at 30 (to have a spirit in its prime), unlucky to die with Alzheimers, and terribly unfortunate to die while in a coma?
If this undocumented spirit, flying off into eternity, resembles none of these personalities, with no cognition of former selves, why do we cling so tightly to this phantom?
Here is the answer: the "spirit" is an escape capsule for the ego. A doomsday shelter for the pending identity apocalypse.
We live in an era of individualism unknown to our tribe-centered ancestors. The constant anxiety we feel in this modern age stems from our hyper-inflated, separately packaged egos. Egos that are culturally isolated from their environment, disconnected from each other, and terrified of their mortality. We cling to NOTW theories out of fear. They are sequels scripted to give the ego the happy ending of a Hollywood action hero.
Like many sequels there are some serious flaws with Jonathan Legg Part 2: The Real Jonathan:
What if we drop the sequel script and pay closer attention to the original movie that is in production right now. Let's look at it fresh as if all the characters, including us, are entirely OTW.
What if we embrace the fact that we are part of this planet just like the plants, birds, and whales? The air we are breathing at this very moment came from a tree that needs sun. The sun is crucially a certain distance from this earth. The sun's distance is governed by forces that extend beyond this solar system to the farthest reaches of the universe. This would make us a glorious arrangement of pieces which connect both down and up into the entirety of existence.. a continually changing assortment which is remarkably conscious in the here and now.
Who needs a far-fetched, piddling sequel? The original is a timeless classic.
Last Spring I made a blogpost which featured my pixelated buttocks. The post appeared on a popular hiking Facebook page. While most comments were supportive, a couple men blasted me. They were profoundly offended to see a bottom even blurred. One dude told me I should register as a sex offender.
When did these men consciously decided they found the gluteus muscles (and the skin and fat which surround them) so offensive? Did they sit down one day to figure out which body parts were cool and which shameful? Of course not. They were impressed at a very young age through a variety of mediums.
Now I had my awareness completely on the subject. What was wrong with the backside of the human body? For that matter, what was embarrassing about the frontside? Did we not all have similar features from little innocent babies to sweet old grandparents? I couldn't seem too find fault with this design when putting full reason on it.
However, the disesteem for ourselves runs deep. So deep that I discovered a new pocket of it under the full moon in Goa, India. Once again the matter cleared up when put under the full gaze of awareness and query**.
Have you had a similar experience?
*Book reference in video is Lost Connections by Johann Hari. He speaks about some of these thoughts on this podcast.
**There are some thorns imbedded so deep, however, that noticing them is just the beginning of a long process of pulling them out. The most pernicious, given to us by the same advertisers who have contributed to body shame, is materialism. Extrinsic thinking that acquiring a possession will make us happy. Study after study contradicts this belief, but it's so dominant all but the most enlightened fall under it's bewitchment.
I'm the lonely protagonist obstructed from my objective. The folks slow to get off the plane keep me from my goal, inefficient drivers do great injustice by reducing my speed, a crowded sidewalk on the way to the taco truck is a colossal inconvenience.
I often slip into this perspective under the bewitchment of thought or emotion. It occurs during figurative or literal movement towards a goal. Fulfillment awaits me at a destination and any impediment threatens my heroic mission. Yet, upon arrival, my troubled journey ends with only brief satisfaction before a new quest begins. I got from A to B, but now C beckons.
There are two unhealthy viewpoints in play here.
The first is that life can be savored only upon arrival. But arrival to exactly where? The majority of life will unfold between landmarks, goals, and achievements. It happens in traffic, on the plane, and during day to day striving.
Ultimately we labor towards a moment in which we hope to rest in present contentment. But.. Could that contentment occur right now?
The second problematic perspective is duality: Jonathan against the world.
Am I not a creature of the world? Do I not fall somewhere in the spectrum between atoms and galaxies? And is everything in this span not a piece of one big thing?
The airline incident occurred between myself and a woman. Both of us believing ourselves to be inconvenienced protagonists. Both of us focused on getting to a future moment instead of resting in a present one. It's a classic road rage formula which transcends highways and airports to infect our whole lives if never brought under the light of awareness.
What are your favorite drugs? Chances are they match up closely with The Aztecs'. Pulque (An alcohol beverage) and chocolate (caffeine and theobromine) were consumed throughout Pre-Hispanic Central America to connect with the divine.**
The fertility goddess Mayahuel (the Dionysus of Mexico) is still well-represented today with the addition of beer and mescal in the national palate.
But Mayahuel's matriarchal status is in danger. A new substance arrived with the Europeans. Like them, it has gone on to conquer.
Mexicans are now the world's most avid consumers of soft drinks. Diabetes kills more people every 2 years than the drug war has in the last decade. The government, detecting an epidemic, introduced a sin tax on such beverages in 2014. The effort is proving to be an effective counterbalance to a product that gives the brain a bigger dopamine kick than cocaine.
On the summit of a jagged cliff, a temple to the alcohol gods stands exalted high above the town of Tepoztlán. Beside it, a small refreshment stand dishes out drinks to thirsty hikers. Pulque is nowhere to be found and ice cold beer is off the menu; but rows of plastic cups are filled with brown and yellow soda, fizzing like a chorus of praise to the sticky-sweet usurper.
**All cultures in history have roughly two socially acceptable drugs. These two drugs often changed. Coffee was illegal during large stretches of time in the Ottoman Empire and Sweden. Alcohol was blacklisted in the U.S. for 13 years, but you could buy opium over the counter for most of the 19th century.