The Disease of Conceit

There’s a whole lot of people suffering tonight From the disease of conceit – Bob Dylan

The Tea Party/CNN Republican Presidential Debate was conducted on September 12, 2011. The Fox News/Google iteration followed on September 22nd. I’ve watched both contests again and again, always with fascination and sorrow. Fascination at the passion, pageantry, and predictability that surround the nominally quadrennial, increasingly continuous American presidential campaign. Sorrow at the dominant impression inadvertently created by each of the candidates – the impression of absolute, infinite conceit. All the candidates projected at every moment of these exceedingly long television discussions an imperturbable conviction of their own virtue and value. Their self-satisfaction was exceeded only by their sense of prepotent ability: their unequivocal certitude that she or he readily can solve every mammoth, multifaceted problem that besets our nation and afflicts the world. Throughout the two events’ mooting of dozens of Gordian questions, no debater ever said: “I don’t know.” Not once did any visage reveal an iota of perplexity, a fleck of fear. Never did anyone from her or his podium evince one instant of awe or a whit of temperate gravity. No. Each face, eye, motion of body, each inflection of personality, every enunciation of soul force declared again and again: “I have my being in an entirety of unqualified conceit. I, and only I, can be president of the United States. Indeed, I deserve to be. I’m born to be. It’s my manifest destiny. My entitlement. Hurry up and finance me, you fools. Then hurry up and vote for me.”

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When the word conceit entered our language in the 14th century it didn’t mean an attitude of regarding oneself with favor. It didn’t refer to narcissism at all. It meant, rather, a result of mental activity; thought. In particular it meant a fanciful idea or an elaborately developed metaphor: what we today might call an organizing theme or a concept. It referred especially to the inventive use of a fanciful theme in writing or speaking. Conceit came gradually to mean a notion or mannerism strained and bizarre. As the focus of ideation and activity in industrialized society grew ever more devoted to the individual person rather than the collective civilization, the term became pejorative. It referred progressively, then entirely, to an exaggerated valuing of oneself. Conceit came to mean an overweening and noxious vanity. The presidential debaters unconsciously combined both these etymologies. They played a whimsical comedy. They pretended their exchanges of rehearsed set-pieces constituted forensic dialogues. They enacted a conceit of debate. They also preened. How they preened. They trumpeted their intrepidity, blared their brilliance, extolled their worth, exulted in their preternatural capability. They danced with vainglory, hoofed brazen minuets of self-proclaimed merit. Swaggering, strutting, bowing, toe pointing, these debaters looked like nothing so much as well-tonsured, expensively tailored mountebanks: marionettes jerking and jolting at the behest of strings hidden but controlling.

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The strings to which they’re so manifestly yoked were apparently invisible to the candidates themselves. They acted as if their postures of aplomb were elements of identity. They behaved as though their shams of confident potency were internal and intuitive, aspects of character rather than concoctions crafted by their entourage of counselors, custodians, watchdogs, duennas, gaolers. They performed such a pretty parody of perfect qualification. It’s not surprising that the candidates seemed unaware of their conceit. Amour propre always is as unconscious as it is vapid. Self-importance never recognizes the actuality of its arrogance or the charlatanry of its presumptions and poses. Sensate or not, the magnitude of conceit on display during these two evenings was astonishing. Have a gander at the photograph that precedes our essay. Does not smugness radiate from each of these poised, polished persons? Limitless, unalloyed, evidently indestructible self-love? As I watched the candidates stage their studied set-pieces I asked with wonderment: does this woman and do these men in fact adore themselves? Can this be? Is their complacency veritable, and veritably unbounded? Do they truly believe themselves to exceed all others in qualities and skills? Do they indeed conceive themselves to be worthy – uniquely worthy, each of them repeatedly told us – of the immense burden and privilege of our presidency? Selected by their God for election? Anointed, and thoroughly deserving of anointment? Who knows what they think. Maybe they don’t even know. A more important question is why we permit the ever more baroque masquerade of American politics to continue unchallenged. In the 14th-century sense, the conceit of our process is patently preposterous. In the modern sense, the sheer vainness of our candidates is absurd. Every nominee on those two stages was a living monument to smug, insensible inanity. And let us remind ourselves the Republicans have no monopoly on the disease of conceit. They’ve just been the only ones debating so far. In due course the Democrats will affect to believe their sitting regent is omnificent and omnipotently capable, even though none of us any longer can identify with certainty a single belief, ideal, or even mundane goal President Obama verily holds in his distinguished intellect and immortal soul.

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Bob Dylan, one of our country’s most reliable compasses, rightly reminds us that conceit isn’t just ludic and it certainly isn’t comic. It’s diseased. Its pathologies are virulent, and they have viral impacts. Their impacts grow, they multiply, and they become grossly toxic to mind, spirit, and the body politic. Conceit isn’t a benign foolishness. It’s horrible, and it’s horridly agential. It’s a causative agent of individual disorder and social degeneration. We daily experience its contamination. We hourly note the increasingly pervasive failure of our communities, the exponential deterioration of our country’s constructs and consequence, the swiftly growing erosion not only of our nation’s economy and currency but – far more important – the tragic atrophy of our citizens’ confidence and creativity. We all realize we’re living in an era of emergency. In this crisis of our culture, nation, and individual identity we don’t need fake exchanges of sham ideas among lifeless idols of excellence. We need true distinction. We need gifted, truthful, modest, ebulliently communal leaders. We need inspiring champions: authentic, humble, and reverent heroines and heroes, not empty pilasters of vaunting conceit.

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There is no point in ascribing blame for the current state of presidential politics in the United States. There is no point in assigning fault to one party or another for the shocking condition of our society, economy, and collective state of mind. There is every point in striving collaboratively to repudiate the prating nonsense of our nation’s politics. We must move beyond the dangerous morass in which we find ourselves. We need to evolve. When? Now. Right now. Who is to do this? We are. Not our useless, self-involved, frantically pandering leaders but we ourselves. Each one of us, individually and together, alone and united. We need to see the shame of our society’s inequities. So many people in desperate trouble, whilst a few wallow in senseless and unfulfilling excess. We need to recognize, ache about, and effectively work to reduce the joblessness that is destroying millions of our sisters and brothers. That’s not all. Not by a long shot. We need to make a broad, deep, persistent healing. We need to salve our communities’ wounds, and restore our commonwealth’s health. We need to see our awful disunity. We need to acknowledge that, and make it well. We need to alleviate the vile conflict among our races, between our genders, betwixt the peoples and nations with whom each one of us shares this single planet. We need to confess and cure the interrelated crises that assault us: the crises of our vast disconnection from one another, our own best selves, this earth, the natural processes of life and living. We must behold and rectify the flaws and failures that lie plainly visible all about us. Children unloved and untended. Families fracturing. Schools floundering. Jails bursting. Homes foreclosed. Neighborhoods collapsing. Villages, towns, cities fissuring. Multitudes of our sisters and brothers giving up, despairing, forsaking their own sacredness and power. Women, men, and children all around us defining themselves as victims, hapless, aggrieved, helpless, done for. What a waste.

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And what are we investing in? What are we doing? We’re waging combats we don’t comprehend. We’re warring, maiming, killing for no clear reason – while closing many of our traditional pathways to the future for our soldiers and their families when our warriors return home, if they return home. We’re protecting and expanding Cyclopean wealth for a tiny minority, even as worldwide our governments render money every minute less valuable. We’re securing cosmic empowerment and colossal consumption for some folk in some countries, authorizing wanton debauch, even as scarcity crushes so many across this globe – this one earth upon which we reside as guests, not overlords. What are we doing? We’re plunging our beaks beneath desiccated sand. We’re ignoring the wrong and the misery we’re spawning. And the fear. Fear is rising everywhere. It surrounds us. It’s acute, it’s growing expansively, and it’s coupled as fear so often is with a burgeoning lust for reductive simplicity. This is dangerous. We know from history that, when people fear, they experience a somehow compensating anger toward their fright’s imaginary causers. We also know from history that wed with anxiety and anger is often a primordial yearning for a simplistic savior: a terrible demagogue who will adroitly channel our fear and fury, laser it, unleash it. Fix things.

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We need inspired healers, hosts of them, not a vicious demagogue. But what do we find? Affluent interest groups, dubbing themselves impartial social engineers. Media groups pretending to analyze and animate. Hucksters churning malarkey. Nude ambition naming itself impassioned call to selfless service. Ciphers seeking to become czars. Conceit all about us closely aligned, as so often it is, with dishonesty and treachery. The relationship of conceit to deceit is as proximal in life as in language. We can find falsity and malevolent intent, but we don’t need to yield to it. Nor need we surrender to fear and its workings. We haven’t the time, because we’ve got a job to do. Our job is to evolve. We’ve must haul our beaks out of the sands, see our mess roundly and plainly, and create remedy, make repair, rebuild and renew. We must become fully conscious about and try our level best to cure the terrible injustices, chaos, sorrow, and escalating despair our polity confronts. We must do this work. We’ve got to, because in great numbers real people are really suffering out there tonight. We’ll need to do this work on our own, locally, together, because our current crop of presidential aspirants can’t help us. They don’t even want to. They’re confined in the sad disease and feeble demise of conceit. We don’t have to follow them there. We don’t have to follow them at all. We don’t have to follow anyone. We can lead. Each one of us can. We can lead ourselves, our neighbors, every sister and brother in our reach. We can lead ourselves and our loved ones away from all that is failing, and set course together straight toward the light that glows within us all and shines warmly all around us. Humming softly to ourselves another lovely line from Bob Dylan: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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The United States of Delusion

The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
                                        – Bob Dylan

The first New Hampshire Republican Party presidential debate will place on June 13th. This event marks not the beginning of the quadrennial U.S. national campaign: the campaign has been conducted intensely since the election of President Obama. It does make an occasion however to reflect upon the nature of the exercise, and the condition of the nation that a host of declared and undeclared candidates propose to lead from 2012-2016.

Economy
Every thoughtful person will agree that the economic condition of the United States is profoundly unhealthy.

Unemployment is unacceptably high. If measured accurately, if the tallies published monthly were to include those who no longer feel able even to seek jobs and those who are permanently underemployed, the rate is far higher than even the grimmest figures presently define. This is particularly the case with respect to vulnerable ethnic and generational groups: notably African-American males, persons 40 years of age and more, and youthful entrants into the workforce.

The housing crisis is unabated. Indeed, it is worsening. Investor and consumer confidence is low. Our currency, deliberately but inexplicitly devalued, is weak. Household debt is high. Our sovereign debt is ruinous. Almost all bank shares continue to fall precipitously.

The most puissant financial system and market economy in history is gravely debilitated, and none of us can find meaningful signs of impending renewal. All laypeople and many professional observers fear the nation’s financial architecture, monetary foundation, and production capabilities, once stalwart and dynamic, have become weakened, perhaps even fragile.

Vast wealth continues to be generated in America. But it aggregates in increasingly large proportion to increasingly few, already established and perhaps excessively empowered segments of our society. Large numbers of our citizens and whole sectors of our populace are struggling, sorrowing, and suffering; and they discern no prospects for recovery – let alone mobility and growth.

Why?
What happened? What went wrong? How has so much damage been inflicted upon our supernally strong, seemingly invincible social and economic systems?

We hear a great deal about the malfeasance of investment banks, the chicanery of mortgage firms, the profligacy of government, the unfairness of China, the greed of oil-producing nations, the dysfunctions of illicit immigration, the injustice of free trade agreements, the pernicious impact of globalization, the perfidy of individual cheats, the excessive greed and power of corporations, etcetera.

Rarely do we hear the truth. The truth is that for many years – far longer at this point than the entire duration of World War II – the United States has waged undeclared and unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, undisclosed but numerous international and domestic espionage and paramilitary ventures in putative opposition to “global terror,” and, recently, open-ended combat operations in Libya nominally intended somehow to prevent one of the world’s multitudinous illegitimate tyrants from brutalizing his own people.

The price tag for these undertakings is not yet publicly known, and most likely never will be. The immediate cost to our nation’s treasury has been immense. The long-term costs are unpredictable, but we can be certain they will be prohibitive. Not to mention the physical and psychical cost to our soldiers and their loved ones, nor the cost to our combatants’ and innocent civilian bystanders’ equally human fundament.

The staggering expenses attendant upon our policies and practices is rarely measured or even mentioned in our national discourse. And, let us repeat, the outlays are almost entirely unfinanced. We do not levy the taxations required to support these enormous, open-ended costs because no faction in our otherwise polarized leadership wishes the nonexistent public support for our adventures to escalate into outright opposition. In fact our political class has chosen to enact major tax reductions throughout this lengthy period, and we the electorate consistently have rewarded them for doing so.

There exist no potential restraints or disciplines in future discretionary spending that can equal our prolonged expenditures for our undeclared warfare. This is surely the obvious, widely intuited, but never discussed major reason for the terrible imbalances in our country’s budget and the precipitous reduction in the value of our country’s currency. The precipitous reduction, we should say, in our nation’s value.

To believe differently is a delusion.

American exceptionalism
Our nation’s economic fundamentals are important. So are our national ideas and ideals.

Many political leaders, ministers, historians, and philosophers in the United States make frequent reference to American exceptionalism: the conviction that God approves and uniquely favors our country. These thinkers insist that the American systems of economic and social organization are divinely privileged. They assert that our values, virtues, and their design deserve to become universal, and in time inevitably will become so.

This ecstatic theory used to be termed Manifest Destiny. Now it’s called American exceptionalism. Some adherents of this visionary historiography attempt to adduce evidence to support it, but most don’t. They regard their beliefs as empirically evident and, some say, biblically endorsed.

The rest of the world, we need hardly state, regards the concept of American exceptionalism as preposterous, offensive, and perilous bunkum. A delusion.

American entitlement
The belief in our country’s singular sacral merit is closely related to the sense so prevalent in our society that life somehow owes Americans infinite privileges. Many Americans consciously or unconsciously believe they deserve wealth, gratification, importance, and influence simply because … we’re Americans.

Certainly Americans consume a monumentally outsize proportion of the world’s resources and goods. We also feel a monumentally outsize sense of prerogative and right in our relationships and interactions with other nations and civilizations. Many of us also enact this imperial consciousness in our associations with one another.

Abroad everyone notices, resents, and ridicules this increasingly pervasive American attitude of regal entitlement. This delusion. No one in any other country supposes she or he merits less happiness and power than women, men, and children who happen to reside in one large North American nation.

Is China our enemy?
We often hear on television and read in the print media that, since the demise of the former Soviet Union, our country’s most determined and formidable enemy is China. We’re told China unfairly maneuvers its economy and its currency, systematically violates its people’s rights and preferences, and is hell-bent on rapidly building land, air, and sea forces that can sustain combat against our own.

None of the commentators who expound these paranoiac views knows anything about China. They’ve committed little or no time to exploring China, living among Chinese people, or dispassionately observing and analyzing the actual phenomena of Chinese life.

I have. I know the anti-China hysteria that increasingly is being promulgated throughout the United States is arrant nonsense. A delusion.

China differs profoundly from the United States in point of every salient principle of culture, polity, and socioeconomics. This circumstance doesn’t define villainy. It only identifies difference – difference mandated by striking dissimilarities in geography, demographics, and their attendant history.

Anyhow, like us, like every civilization and every people, China faces massive problems of its own. No one of any consequence in China regards the United States as an enemy nation or seeks our destruction.

Is immigration our enemy?
We also hear, ever more shrilly, that immigration into our country is untrammeled and calamitous. We’re told that men, women, and children who seek entrance into our nation are stealing jobs from entitled Americans, crippling our healthcare services, ruining our public schools, doing this, doing that.

Let us recall that we all descend from courageous forebears who came to America to make a better life for their family. Many of us are the entering generation, and will be the pioneers for their descendants. Surely most of our currently immigrating sisters and brothers work desperately hard, conserve and build, are bedrock for their families and communities, and are deeply decent, deserving souls.

And let us recall that every element of the American society and spirit we and much of the world revere was created by the complex, difficult, miraculous fusion of the whole world’s countries and cultures.

Legitimate citizenry does not monopolize human grace and goodness. Nor does immigration precipitate anything like the preponderance of our nation’s problems. Immigration is, however, and historically always has been one of the constantly evolving solutions for our country’s challenges, one of the principal sources for our perpetually transforming national imagination and productive genius, and the single most significant reason for the respect, good will, and love our nation still inspires throughout the world.

Immigration legal and illegal is not our major problem. To believe otherwise is a delusion.

Let’s look within
We best can locate the root causes for our nation’s growing discomfort and decline in our own beliefs and behaviors.

Not terrorists, real and imaginary, not the people of China, not immigrants legal and illegal, not perfidious bankers or wicked corporation executives, not political leaders alone but each of us for a long, long time has embraced delusions about how we should think, what we should expect of ourselves, and how we should live.

We know full well that our patterns of consumption are unsustainable. We know our materialism is gluttonous, soulless, and invidious.

We know we can’t idly wreck our marriages, disregard our children, walk away from our consecrated commitments when they no longer effortlessly excite or swiftly reward us.

We know we can’t neglect our schools, discount and disregard the needy, insulate ourselves inside bubbles of appetites and volitions we name “needs.”

We know we shouldn’t spend more than we earn. We know we shouldn’t enter into mortgages we can’t afford. We know we shouldn’t trust a Bernie Madoff who promises we always and forever will earn far more with him than diurnal, volatile markets ever can return.

Sure, life should be fair and maybe in a future utopian America everybody will play honestly by agreed rules. But we know it changes nothing in the present reality, least of all our own lives, to whimper about privileges other folk were born into or rave against compensations a small number of seemingly insatiable souls seduce their companies into awarding them.

We know all this. So we also know why our country, once much greater in essence and in influence, is suffering deterioration. Our country is suffering because we’ve strayed far from the insistent, prideful self-reliance and stanch, persevering steadfastness that once was the hallmark and engine of our civilization.

Not chimera enemies but we ourselves built this house. We all built it.

Republicans and democrats
Now we commence another prolonged, loud, tendentious, horrendously expensive presidential campaign.

Each side will assure us we’re not responsible for our travails. They’ll tell us the other party is, our foreign enemies are, and our domestic enemies are.

Each side will vilify the other slanderously. Each will assert it unilaterally possesses every remedy needed – each one of which will be cost-free, easy of implementation, and somehow part of a divine plan to reward Americans for being Americans.

These are delusions. No they’re not. They’re conscious, deliberate, vile mendacities.

We might wish that those who master the science and art of political suasion would choose statecraft over blunt accession to influence and power. But we can’t blame professional politicians for preferring to retail mendacities. They do this because that’s what we continually reward them for doing.

We prefer our leaders to shower us with iterative delusional untruths. We don’t want to acknowledge that we ourselves have made errors in our lives, and that we and only we can fix our lives.

We can’t honestly say that we seek truths from our political discourse. We seek undeserved ratifications, unearned entitlements, and a raft of other impossible exemptions from obvious reality.

Our generation inherited the United States of America. On that beautiful foundation, our birthright legacy, we’ve for many decades been constructing the United States of Delusion.

Good news
Initially it may feel dispiriting to consider that we ourselves, not foreign bogeymen and domestic bugbears, have created the problems our country now confronts. But I think this actually is empowering news. It’s empowering because it means we readily can deconstruct every unwholesome custom into which we inadvertently have fallen.

Since we’re the authors of our delusions, we have authority over them. We can retire them, and substitute in their place practices greatly more authentic, natural, dignified, and enabling.

What can we do?
All of us feel overwhelmed by events. All of us feel we’re inconsequential pawns. Sometimes – often – it feels as though we barely can keep our heads above water. So, how can we possibly exert influence, drive change, save ourselves, help our country, and do our part to build a better world?

I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking about this question, and striving to find answers. I think I’ve learned some truths. I believe I know some concrete things we each of us can do.

Attitude change
Most importantly, we can stop searching for enemies to blame. We can recognize we’re the ones who made this mess, and resolve we’re going to clean it up ourselves. We can realize we’ve been stuck, and decide we’re going to emancipate ourselves.

We can renounce dread, and we can refuse rage. It doesn’t matter how afraid or angry we feel. No matter how understandable or consoling these emotions may be, they get us nowhere.

We will quit feeling helpless. We will void our surrender to the incubus of inertia. We will shake this off like mud from our trousers and choose to live our lives with confidence, joy, and power.

We will stop wallowing. The lost decades are lost. We will not any longer lament and ascribe blame for what’s wasted and gone. We will determine instead to look after the present, and build the future.

Finally, we’ll remind ourselves every day during the 2012 presidential campaign and every day thereafter that we don’t need our government to pretend it’s going to enliven our spirits, revive our economy, and provide for us.

Government can’t do any of these things, but we can. Individually, collaboratively, in time collectively we can take a host of actions that are mandatory for our individual wellness and essential for the health of our nation.

Life actions
There are a series of related measures we can take as individual women and men to break our paralyzing sense of fear, fury, and powerlessness. These measures are completely within our control.

Let’s get ourselves fit. Let’s get our own lives in good order.

Relationships
The most significant elements in our lives, really our only important works, are our relationships.

Day by day, we can nurture our loves: our families, our friendships, our commitments, our communions, our communities. We can do our utmost to be the best, the absolute best, human being we know how to be – not in our solitary existence, but in our sacred roles of association and connection.

Spending
Most of us need far less money than we believe we need – and we vitiate vital life energy to obtain it. Many of us find it difficult to coordinate our resources with our expenditures.

It’s impossible to nurture relationships if we’re constantly worrying about our finances. Somehow money worries can contaminate and capture all the spirit we possess.

We can take control of our money worries. We can begin by substantially reducing our wanton, unnecessary, unsatisfying consumption.

We should work earnestly with our loved ones to decide what we verily need and keep that, husband it, enjoy it, feel thankful for it. Then we should divest every extraneous possession that we don’t absolutely require. Sell it, give it away, throw it out. We can begin with the superfluous electronics that are a canker on our lives. Clean our garages, basements, storage cupboards, closets. Take a first pass. Wait a week. Do it again. Then again. Ruthlessly, relentlessly.

Decks cleared, we can work passionately with our loved ones to define and maintain a realistic family budget. We can get rid of costs we needn’t suffer, pay down debt we shouldn’t have incurred and eradicate it as soon as we can. Absorb what we’ve got to absorb, and begin anew.

We’ll need to give ourselves time, but not too much time. This is an act of emergency surgery. We’ll cut deeply, as swiftly as we can, and accept collateral losses. We’ll curtail our costs, pare them, prune them.

We’ll simplify. We’ll dismantle clutter, divest excess, shed expense, and get right with money.

It feels horrid to live beyond our means. We’ll learn by doing that it feels good to live within them.

Health and wellness
It’s even more important to get our bodies in shape. To accomplish serious, life-affirming, superb physical condition. We can do this vital rejuvenating work, because we have complete operational control over how we think and how we live.

We can eat more wisely. We can truly exercise, not with costly useless mail-order gizmos but by walking, biking, climbing, swimming, playing. Every day. No matter what.

No smoking. Reasonable drinking. No drugs: none.

It’s wise to get some free help with this. We’ll each find one good friend or two or three to help us set, keep, and expand our goals, and chew us out when we falter. We can return the favor for the friends who assist us.

Wellness feels sublime. It builds and builds. It helps us feel happy, hopeful, and powerful. It suffuses and rarefies every aspect of our relationships.

We can get ourselves well. It’s free. It’s fun. It begets a salvation fully available to every person who seeks it.

Kiss off our betrayers
Unemployment has become the most vexing problem in America. It’s here to stay.

We should say sayonara to the corporations that downsized us, off-shored us, expatriated us, de-unionized us. Those jobs and the fantasy of lifetime paternalistic sinecure that surrounded them are gone forever.

No politician can bring that delusive world back. It’s outmoded. So, let’s say good riddance to it and build anew. We can make our own worlds of work – new worlds, with new mentality behind them.

This already is occurring spontaneously throughout our country. It needs to happen more. It needs to happen everywhere.

If we deepen our loves and strengthen our relationships, reduce our detritus and trim our costs, train ourselves into vigorous good health, we don’t need big kind companies to take care of us.

We can focus during our hikes, our climbs, our bike rides, our swims on what we can do with our own unique, innate, personal skills. What we can build. What we can make. What we can give.

Everywhere we look we can see families, friends, and neighbors experimenting with localizations, collaborations, collectives. Women and men who once worked in offices and on factory floors are devising ways now to work on their own, from hearth and home. Hosts of people are rediscovering farming, baking, brewing. Exchanging services, trading, bartering. Means of diminishing or replacing hunts for money with services for hire or exchange.

Everywhere we look we can see partners changing roles, one generating a single salaried income, the other looking after the household and working as an entrepreneur at a venture close to her or his heart.

Everywhere we look individuals are recovering from their sufferings, claiming autonomous suffrage, and creating ways to work on their own or with loved ones is ways previously unimagined.

We can do all this and more. After all, we’re Americans.

Our forebears made that honorific mean something. We can too. On our own, in our families, with our friendship circles, in our communities. That’s what our forerunners did, with homesteads, family farms, ranches, villages, shops, stores, towns, hamlets. Small wasn’t perfect, but big hasn’t been ideal.

Pain can be a blessing
Suffering feels hateful, but it can be a blessing. Pain teaches us something’s wrong and makes us decide to fix it.

The hardships we’re experiencing may be gifts. They may be signs to us that we’ve been living in ways contrary to our essence, harmful to our nature, destructive to our selfhood, and devastating to our society with one another.

We can’t cure our sufferings by embracing delusions about their sources and causes. But we for sure can do a lot on our own, with the people we love, and with the people who love us to discern truths, find sensible optimisms, liberate strengths, devise remedies for wrongs, and create new growths in place of desiccated deadwoods.

National cleanup
Once we get ourselves fit, once we build our local renewals, we individually and communally can turn to our work of national cleanup.

We know what needs to be done. We can see surges of awareness and activity everywhere in our country. These phenomena of American uprising are related closely to the inchoate, often spontaneous populist movements that have transpired throughout Eastern Europe since 1989 and at present are occurring throughout the Middle East and northern Africa.

Our contexts are radically different, but our underlying longings and determinations are similar. People want life to become more human: more reasonable, fair, natural, and free.

Once we fix our own lives as best we can, we can work on our country in ways that individually and in assemblies we’ll figure out how to design.

Many thousands of women and men have made beginnings. We can join them, or we make other beginnings on our own.

We do know what needs to be done. Everyone knows.

1. We need to demand that our undeclared, unfunded, purposeless, open-ended warfare cease and desist. We must invest in our country, not decimate others. We must redesign and rebuild our entire infrastructure. We need to revolutionalize our calamitous education system. We need to revolutionize the ways we extract, aggregate, and use natural resources. We need to sponsor wellness and right worth at home, not rain destruction on those whom we do not know and need not fear.

2. We must demand that our moronic partisan political theater cease and desist. We have serious problems, and we need thoughtful, earnest, kind, and responsible people to help us solve them. If we authorize individuals to work as leaders, we need them to behave themselves fittingly. If our existing institutions cannot generate these baseline political and governmental requirements, these fundamental necessities, we’ll need to join our peers in many other rapidly changing nations and replace what is not working.

3. We need demand that, like each of us, our government – let’s emphasize that our government is ours – must quit its whining, reduce its costs, balance its outlays with revenues, help those who legitimately need help, and properly defend the real interests of our actual homeland. Of course this is hard. That’s why we elect gifted ones to lead the work. If they can’t do it, if they’re not gifted, if they can’t operate in office as adults, they need to be recalled and retired. Quickly, for this work needs to be accomplished right now.

We are, and we can
We all know what it’s like to feel helpless. We’re individuals in a nation of 300 million. We’re tiny, and so many entities are mighty. But we have potent weaponry at our command. We have minds, and we have souls. We have opinion, we have will, and we have the vote.

We all can mobilize our resources, and I believe many of us will. We do not need and we do not intend to fade into inertia, irrelevance, or impotence.

I think that anyone who fails to understand this is deluded.

Parenting In Our Time – 3: The Destination

This article was first published on Technorati as Parenting In Our Time Part 3: The Destination  on Technorati. It is the third essay in a series entitled “Parenting In Our Time.”

Henry Kissinger once said the reason academics fight with one another so viciously “is precisely that the stakes are so small.”

This is also true about primary and secondary school results. Children and parents are made to suffer agonies over grade-level standings, test scores, and final marks that have no real meaning as measures and little significance in life. They have particularly trifling significance if we consider the destinations that most matter to our children, and consequently to us who love, protect, and guide them.

The destinations that matter are the persons our children will become, and the lives they will lead. Our daughters and sons will grow swiftly into adults. They need to become women and men possessed of wisdom, honor, grace, and kindness. They need to give and receive love. They need to create goodness, happiness, security, and peace.

One day your children may lead families of their own. They will live in communities. They will inherit what you bequeath them, and they will continue your ancestry and lineage. To fulfill the complex, vital roles that await them they need to evolve into responsible, effective, loyal, resilient, thoughtful people. They need to become pillars.

It will be lovely if they also can become calm and contented beings, and share their blessings widely. It will be lovely if they can feel themselves to be confident and capable women and men, and become catalysts for others’ peace and abundance.

The Future

Our children will inherit and must navigate a world that will evolve radically from today’s constructs. Their workplace will alter from ours in ways at least as numerous and extreme as ours have changed from our parents’.

Like us, our daughters and sons must master continuous revolution in civilization, society, and consciousness. Like us, they will need to figure out how to produce and preserve rather than flounder in an environment of incessant, swift, transformative change.

Relevant Skills

To meet the topography of constant, fast, vast innovation that awaits them, the educational destination that will be salient for many young adults is admission into and success in a suitable liberal arts or pre-professional university.

Not all persons should or can attend tertiary learning institutions [we’ll talk together about this important subject in a later essay]. For those who do want and need to learn at the highest levels, the key requirements are highly advanced thinking skills, creation skills, problem-solving skills, and communication skills.

Successful university students also must possess internal leadership: self-knowledge, self-assurance, self-reliance, personal motivation, and a passionate love for lifelong learning. And it certainly helps to develop external leadership capacities: interest in, empathy with, and impact upon other individuals, groups, teams, and communities.

In this context – the context of what actually is necessary for success in university, career, and life – a great deal that our children are made to worry about during their primary and secondary school years simply doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.

Correct Perspective

The message here is that parents, especially first-time parents, easily can be led by uninformed social pressure into errors of myopia. We can become cudgeled by ignorant interest groups, erroneous influencers, well-intended but limited counselors.

Under the weight of misguided public opinion and hysterical media address, we can lose hold of our commonsense. We may fail to focus on the fact that our daughters and sons are engaged in a long, wondrous journey. We may forget that what most matters is their ultimate destination, not transitory way-stations or relatively inconsequential snapshot moments.

Anyone can panic: parenting is life’s most momentous responsibility. But we don’t have to accept panic. We don’t have to cede our inborn reserves of reason, self-belief, and power to a momentary fright. We can draw a deep breath, grin at ourselves, hug our partners, resolve to ignore the clangorous babble that surrounds and distracts us, and confidently teach our children to envision, desire, strive for, and achieve their most meaningful adult destinations.

This principle sounds simple, yet it can help immensely in providing us with clarity about how we should conceive of our calling and shape our activity as moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles.

For Example?

Let’s say you have a chance to take your daughter with you on a ten-day business trip to Estonia. Her teacher tells you that your child can’t afford to miss a week and a half of her grade five school year. What should you do?

From the standpoint of your daughter’s ultimate destination, her enduring development, this is an easy call. Go to Estonia. Extend your trip. Stay for twelve days. Stay for fourteen. Visit Latvia too. Maybe you can take a train ride to the Finland Station as well.

You can find a civil way to tell the teacher you’re going to give your daughter (and yourself) an invaluable, an irreplaceable experience. Your child will be quite okay, despite missing some small portion of her state-mandated standardized schooling.

Parents’ True Balance

The perspective of a lifetime’s ultimate destination applies just as much to us as it does to our children.

We confront such intense pressure to forego substantive contact and communion with our children, and commit all the best energies of our imagination, will, and waking hours to our professions. Of course our work is important. But is it all-important? Must it always outweigh our vocation as parents?

This, too, is an easy call. In our sunset years we won’t care very much about our world of work. We’ll care profoundly about whom we have loved, and how we have loved.

This is indeed an easy call. We who parent need to find balance in our lives, and we need to will our balance into resolute loving action.

Children’s True Balance

No doubt our children must master each of their learning’s way-stations. Fundamentals such as language acquisition, mathematics, and science are crucial.

So, though, are fundamentals such as developing a conscious personal identity: becoming a self-aware human soul given to integrity, dignity, kindness, courtesy, respect for life, and love for all persons and creatures who live alongside us.

It’s essential our children learn as much as possible about the nature of the exterior universe. It’s equally essential they comprehend, love, and joyfully express their own world. Their inmost emotions, ethics, beliefs, faiths, and esthetics. Their truth, hallowed and whole.

The Destination

This is your child’s ultimate destination, the one that most matters. Therefore this is the goal you should cherish and shepherd. All the rest is lesser.

* * *

In our series’ next essay we’ll discuss some of the most effective ways we can help our children discover and fulfill their individual lifetime potential.

Parenting In Our Time – 2: Who Is Your Child?

This article was first published on Technorati as Parenting In Our Time Part 2: Who Is Your Child . It is the second essay  in a series entitled “Parenting In Our Time.”

 

It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement – that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.
– Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

From time to time I lead parenting workshops in the U.S. and China. I begin the programs by asking the parents to reply briefly on a preprinted template sheet to four prompts:

  • Please describe 3-5 of your child’s most significant traits.
  • What are your child’s most evident talents?
  • What are your child’s greatest challenges?
  • What are your child’s most heartfelt hopes and dreams?

These questions provoke palpable distress. For a protracted period many of the participants stare into space, gnaw at their writing instrument, worry their fingernails, tug their hair. Eventually all the parents respond to some of the queries. Hardly any reply to #4.

Few fathers take part in the workshops. Many send word that they have sincere interest but no time because of the demands of their work. [Virtually all the mothers also work, almost always in professional positions at least as demanding as the fathers’.] When dads do attend our seminars, their replies to the questionnaire often disagree radically with the moms’.

My experience in workshops has been reinforced by a multitude of parent conferences in my capacities as a dean, a classroom teacher, and a school director. I’ve learned that few caregivers are convinced they know who their children are, and few converse comfortably with one another about this all-important subject. Not many women and men who partner in parenting have developed clear, definite, accurate understandings about their child’s consciousness, capabilities, tribulations, and aspirations.

Three universal misconceptions
The reason many parents find it hard to reply to the questionnaire is that we don’t often recognize our children as autonomous and distinctive persons. Consciously or unconsciously we regard our children as extensions of ourselves, markers of our legitimacy and worth in the communities in which we live.

In this context we commonly make three mutually reinforcing assumptions that are involuntary and unaware but powerful in their impacts – and most unfortunate in their consequences. Most parents believe:

1. My child is an entirely malleable blank slate. I can make her become whoever I think she ought to be.

2. My child is inherently uncivilized: unclean, indolent, underdeveloped, and not yet productive. My primary parental duty is to civilize him: make him hygienic, responsible, ambitious, and successful.

3. There exist definitive norms that at every stage in her development my child must achieve. No, must exceed. My child must excel, because my child is a reflection of me and I must be perceived as a normal – no, as a distinguished – person.

Why do we do this to our children?
We know these assumptions are false and injurious. We embrace them because we’re taught to embrace them. They’re socially programmed. Our parents believed them, and they inured them in us. Every society’s institutions enforce them. Every culture mandates them.

The assumptions are the more invidious because they’re subliminal. We don’t consciously recognize we’re experiencing them. Nor do we realize we’re imposing them upon the children we adore, thereby diminishing their individuality, hindering their inborn potential, and impeding their God-given freedom, dignity, and grace.

What part of us does this?
These terrible fallacies aren’t governed by our most empowered adult energies. They’re controlled by the inner child who always lives inside us. They’re maintained and managed by our primal memories of our own wounded youth and adolescence.

From the earliest moment that we were girls and boys we were compelled to acquire and yield to these obviously inaccurate and awful misconceptions about childhood. We’ve never outgrown them. How could we?

I believe our wounded, grieving, interior childhood personality reaches deeply into every aspect of our adulthood. Certainly it reaches into every aspect of our parenting. In crucial respects we continue as mothers and fathers to “know” what we were obligated to learn as children: that all human beings need to be circumscribed in order to be socialized, made “normal” in order to become valid and valuable.

This is why it’s so difficult, disorienting, and frightening for parents to reply to my seemingly simplistic questionnaire. We rarely can think of our daughter as a discrete, singular, authoritative person. We can’t easily conceive of our son as an independent, self-directed soul. We’re trained to regard our children as symbols or semaphores, prenatal social structures, incomplete civic sagas subject to our authorship and wholly dependent upon our ministry.

Like all of us Sigmund Freud made many errors in his thought and in his life. But he surely was wise, right, and healing when he taught that we frequently construct our lives’ most important beliefs and actions upon “false standards of measurement.” Without ever meaning to, we instinctively let our own early socialization distort our parental love. Without ever intending to, we commonly impart many of our own early wounds onto our loving, trusting children. And we give this tragedy such names as wisdom, maturity, and committed caregiving.

Our inner child’s suffering, grief, anger, and fear are real. But that’s all they are. That stuff is just residual internalized pain, sorrow, and rage. We can comprehend it. We can command it.

We can acknowledge and honor the tumultuous internal morass with which we must coexist – yet move beyond it to seek, find, cherish, nurture, and fiercely protect our children’s unique birthright humanity.

Who, then, is your child?
If you put aside our sad, sterile, unnecessary misconceptions about childhood you’ll discover your actual living child.

You’ll discover your daughter is herself. She is her own innate self and soul.

You’ll discover your son is himself. He is his own self-governing person and spirit.

We influence our children vastly, but who our children are is ordained. Their identity, nature, and future are intrinsic to themselves: related to us by genetics but sovereign, sacred, and free.

Every child’s essence is her own, or his. Our children are who they are, and they yearn and deserve to be seen for themselves, known, loved, and defended.

But what about norms?
Your child is subject to no social construct concerning type, mean, median, average, below-average, or above-average.

Each of us develops in our way, in our own time, for our own purposes that should not and ultimately cannot be defined or ruled by anyone else.

Our children are subject to no institution’s judgment about age-level appropriateness, grade-level achievement, or any other nonsensical imperative of quotient or percentile. Nor, for that matter, are we.

That is not what we are here for. Human beings are not born to replicate one another. We are not brought into existence in order to fulfill and reproduce preexisting criteria of commonalty.

We are granted life so that we will explore, experience, imagine, and act. Each one of us, child and adult alike, needs to do this in our own manner, with our own heritage of percepts, attainments, and challenges.

In this context “norms” are irrational and irrelevant. Our children don’t need to meet or exceed inapposite stereotypes. They need to identify, embrace, accomplish, and enact their maximum potential in every element and facet of their individual identity. They need to do this not to prove anything about us, but for their own sake and for the sake of the civilization of which we all are citizens.

The criterion of personal best – a criterion evident, indisputable, and sacral – has sweeping implications for teaching, learning, and assessment in all of our families, preschools, schools, and universities. We’ll discuss this cardinal subject in a subsequent essay.
 
What does my child want?
Again and again children of all ages tell me they want their parents and caregivers to know them, see them, hear them, and nonintrusively help them.

Again and again children tell me they feel lonely at home and solitary at school, underappreciated, expected to be someone they don’t know, don’t understand how to become, and don’t want to become. Someone taller, shorter. Thinner, less thin. More beautiful. More gregarious, less gregarious. Smarter, stronger, faster. This, that, or the other. Someone bigger, someone better. You know the drill. You remember it well.

Again and again children tell me they don’t need and don’t want money, things, lacquers or liquors. They need and want their parents to see them, know them, accept them, love them for themselves, and assist them as they find their own way on their own journey.

What’s next?
In future posts we’ll workshop how we better can accomplish our holy work of knowing, accepting, loving, and helping our children – and helping the hurt child who lives within our adult selves find understanding, forgiveness, love, and peace.

About Us

Dr. Peter J. Glassman is an educator and author who has worked extensively in early childhood, elementary, and post-secondary education in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Peter has taught at Columbia University, Tulane University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has been awarded permanent visiting professor status in China. He has served as Provost at New England College, and Dean at The University of Macau and The California Institute for Integral Studies. He also has worked as Vice-President for Curriculum and Instruction at The Early Learning Institute in Palo Alto, California.

Peter consults widely on issues concerning education, cross-cultural communication, and education policy for education and government groups. He is an experienced organizational leader with a record of inspiring profound and persisting institutional growth.

He has been a Fulbright professor, a Fellow of the NATO Atlantic Council and a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. He has won awards for outstanding teaching from Columbia University, Tulane University, Hangzhou University, and Guangxi Normal University.

Peter’s core competency is teaching young people to believe in themselves, and to believe in their power to drive change. He is particularly effective in helping young people discover, accept, and manage the forces in civilization and the parts of our own mind that inhibit our faith and impede our action.

Peter has lived and worked in North America, Asia and Europe, and was raised with foster brothers from Sudan and Japan. He has an uncommon joy in human diversity, and an unusual ability to transact effectively across cultures.

Peter is the author of four books and numerous essays on human creativity and community. He received his Ph.D. degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Peter and his wife, Karen Lam, live in Vancouver, B.C.

Parenting In Our Time

This article was first published as Parenting In Our Time on Technorati.

 

Introduction

For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.

Despite the infinite importance of parenting no nation on earth provides parents with meaningful advice about or training in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Nor do faith traditions, schools, or workplaces assume this vital work.

Isn’t this odd? We require substantive preparation, qualification, and licensure before anyone can drive a car, pilot an airplane, operate a motorboat, practice a profession, serve as a tradesperson – almost every complex vocation in which a polity conceives we have important mutual interests. In every jurisdiction on earth, though, anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, gentle or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose.

Surely none of us would want the state or any other institution to exercise authority over parenting. Yet there exists a vast void in this, our lives’ most vital office. Few of us can feel confident that we possess authentic knowledge about how our children develop, what our children most need, and how we best can give our loved ones the devotion, guidance, and freedoms they require. Few of us feel that we have any access to suitable teaching, discussion, or sheer feedback about our all-important calling.

Voids are hateful to nature. Vacuums tend to fill opportunely with one or another substance. This is especially true for children. Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it fulltime, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.

Children prefer to learn from their parents. But in every culture there exist many engaged and powerful competitors: especially, in our time, the electronic media and our children’s peer groups.

For better and for worse, our children learn. They want and perforce will learn primarily from us. However our parenting will be challenged by immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and, above all others, the contemporary pop milieus that form our children’s affective civilization.

Our children will flourish if we parent them wisely and well. But we need to be there. (We’ll talk at a later time about what being there really means.)

If we’re not there our children will seek and find alternative providers. They’ll absorb other influences from substitute influencers.

These influencers abound. Many are commercial in their motivation, exceptionally skillful in their pursuits, readily available, and by any estimation terribly pernicious.

__________

Doubtless we all can agree that how we parent is of utmost importance to our children. We surely can agree that we who presently are parents should make our parenting the center of our emotion, thought, and action. Trained or untrained, ready or not ready, we must commit to our parenting all the love, knowledge, and time we can provide.

Many among us are not yet parents, but soon will be. Those of us who contemplate forming adult relationships, entering into permanent communion, and preparing to birth new children need to know that parenting is a monumental undertaking like no other in its joyfulness, consequence, and demands.

We know this. We know it beyond doubt. But among the saddest of truths is the fact that, in our time, in all our societies, an ever-growing number of pressures make it ever more difficult for parents to form and remain in unions that are permanently partnered.

And it is becoming ever more difficult for parents, partnered or single, to command time. We work ever harder, in workplaces ever more consumptive of hours, energy, and spirit.

And for any number of reasons many of us – most of us, now – decide to move ever further from our extended families. Many of us live in communities in which we have few roots. Many of us live in locales that are not communities at all. We may be the only family members with whom our children enjoy persisting contact and connection.

These elements of contemporary existence combine in ways that are mutually reinforcing and potentially very dangerous for our children. However good our intentions, many of us commit less and less time to our children. The time we give them may be heavily compromised by the frustrations and exhaustions we encounter in our working lives, the anxieties imposed upon us by the world’s protracted economic crisis, the confusions and fears that devolve upon us during this epoch fraught with deep, swift, and incomprehensible changes.

These stresses often are exacerbated by the strains that may arise in our adult relationships: and the suffering that afflicts us if our parenting partner goes away.

Not to mention the perplexities and guilt we may feel when we’re navigating and transacting with one another, as so many of us now do, across multiple cultures.

Despite our best intentions we may yield to these burdens. We may invite our televisions or computers or iPhones to become our children’s primary companions and supplemental caregivers. We may let go of our appropriate and necessary supervision of our schools. We may let lapse our passion for our children, our heartfelt soul life with them, our elemental and absolutely necessary expressions of love and care.

As we noted earlier, our children will not accept void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do, in my experience, three things.

1. They will decide we do not truly love them.
2. They will conclude they do not deserve to be truly loved.
3. They will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences who will parent them in our place.

__________

Our new technology provides a wonderful platform for concerned people of all ages and backgrounds to consider important issues in our lives and converse about effective solutions. No other issue can be of more importance than how we birth new lives, shelter new souls, shepherd new minds, gentle and assist new beings.

No one has all the solutions to all the problems we’ve raised here. No single vision or view can meet every family’s needs, wishes, or situations. Certainly, though, frank discussion is vital and feasible.

With our new technology’s help I want to mount a sustained conversation about several interrelated, incomparably important issues:

— Children’s true nature
— What children truly need
— How we best can parent to help our children achieve happiness and success

 

Posts on these crucial subjects will follow at regular intervals.

Animal Wisdom

Steller sea lions

We have a seaside cottage on the Sunshine Coast in Gibsons, British Columbia. We awoke early during the morning of March 6th, and as always we began our day by looking out our windows at the ocean below.

For a long while we studied by eyesight and binoculars a sight we’d never before seen. It appeared a lengthy mammalian shape floating either on its stomach or side, a large dorsal or sail fin waving or flopping from port to starboard, its head and neck area swaying from side to side. Or was this an object, not a creature: flotsam or a log, perhaps with some sort of frond caught up in or tied to its frontal segment?

We called our neighbors, and together we scrutinized this most uncommon spectacle. We concluded we were watching a drifting log, laughed at ourselves for wanting the driftwood to have been a whale, and went off to our breakfast.

Which was disturbed by a telephone call. Our neighbor told us an oarsman had rowed out to see what this odd floating, shifting mass might be. As his boat approached, the animal dived deep and never reappeared in our field of vision. I think she must have been a whale calving, for a beautiful orca cow did calve in our cove approximately at this time last year.

Not long thereafter, an almighty ruckus erupted. Bevies of harbor seals appeared in front of our house, then a pod of five enormous Steller sea lions, many California sea lions, all manner of cormorants, ducks, and other waterfowl, three Great Herons, and three otters. Two bald eagles swooped into a stand of tall ancient cypress to join the family of three who commonly perch there to rest, sightsee, superintend, and, often, feed. Masses of gulls stood patiently on the rocks or swirled around the marine mammals. The seals and sea lions plashed about, plunged, made powerful eddies, sounded raucously each time they surfaced. Clearly they were hunting and gorging. But what was their prey?

At last we saw what had summoned this frantic commotion and ebullient activity. Untold numbers of small silvery fish were swarming, leaping, fleeing. It was impossible to tally their number. They were everywhere.

I mention the date, March 6th, because one of our neighbors is a skilled scientist. He keeps a daily log of natural events in our area. Last year, precisely one day earlier to the date, a very large herring spawn occurred. This is what was unfolding before our eyes. A massive herring spawn.

Our neighbor explained these tiny creatures chose our cove because it’s sheltered within a protective strait. They timed their laying to the mid-tide because the eggs they release, eggs by the billion, need to float gently or be pushed by waves or lifted by the tidewater to the seaweeds that abound among the rocks and flourish along the shoreline. The roe harbor and shield themselves there while the fry nourish, incubate, and prepare for their hatching.

We sat on the rocks below our cottage and watched the animals and birds flock, hunt, scoff their fish, leap, dive. What a racket they made: cascades of woofs, barks, bleats, honks, shrieks. What a riot of movement, shape, and color: deep anthracite eyes, shiny snouts, blazing beaks, whirling, diving, chasing, sometimes blissfully taking the sun, often just playing, frolicking in the water.

All at once – this seemed to occur in the course of mere moments – the Strait of Georgia waters that all morning had been crystal clear aquamarine developed a vastly long, broad trail of murk. Milky in hue, dense, opaque, the swath swiftly suffused the entire shoreline. We thought the tumultuous fish, birds, and mammals must somehow have uprooted tons of muck or disturbed acres of sediment. But the swath grew and grew, spread all along the shore, filtered outward into the bay for many meters, and seemed ever more unlikely to have been anything like a mud or silt disturbance.

Simultaneously a strong scent, in truth a stench, arose on the wind. It smelled strongly, in truth it stank, of fish. The odor was precipitate, profound, and primal.

Our neighbor laughed at our citified puzzlement. This of course was the spawn. We were sighting and smelling herring roe discharged: an infinitude of eggs scudding in the tidewaters, seeking seaweeds, rock beds, sand scoops, shelters, cradles.

The mother fish now seem consumed or departed. Their predators will return. They’re waiting patiently for the natal hatching.

That will make a scene to remember. Our neighbor tells us it won’t be long. The fry emerge quickly because it’s even more perilous for them to exist as eggs tucked into leaves and crevices than as juvenile fishes darting freely in the sea.

Eagle soaring above our cove (photograph by Geert Verbeeten)

 

Everything about the event we witnessed seemed wondrous. We felt it revealed sacral spirit life as well as an order and process divine. No wonder the First Peoples regard our region as a consecrated site, and therefore heritage land.

Three days into the North American business week, I’m struck by what we did not see in the sea on that Sunday morning.

We didn’t see anyone among this immense multitude who required government, armed forces, treaties, environmental officers, bureaus of administration, vehicles, navigational systems, maps, charts, business plans, executive leadership, personal trainers, life coaches, caterers, insurance, or entertainment corporations.

No one cared who among these creatures was Californian, Alaskan, or Canadian. None appeared to have any documentation. They didn’t seem to have or need names, gender identification, generational taxonomy, ethnic classification, or any other form of stereotypy.

No one informed the herring this would be spawn day, or commanded them to prepare. No one instructed them how to spawn, where to spawn, or when to spawn. Nor did anyone teach the predators what they needed to do, or tell them when they needed to do it.

We saw among the dozens of mammals, hundreds of birds, and millions of fish none of the colossal catalogue of human discomforts, discontents, disorders, and dysfunctions. No one seemed depressed. If any of the animals had physical or psychological disabilities they managed them on their own. Certainly we encountered no arcane eating ailments, allergies, or anomies. Nor did we see anyone obsessing about nutritional values, caloric contents, cholesterol counts, good fat, bad fat, fiber percentiles, calcium levels, carbohydrates, glucides, riboflavin. All the animals just stuffed themselves silly, and they seemed to enjoy the bejabbers out of every gulp.

In fact no one seemed ambivalent about their purposes and pursuits. No one appeared confused, confounded, or conflicted about any aspect of their metaphysical condition. We saw no evidence that they experienced ideals, ideologies, awareness of their individuality, or agonies of self-consciousness.

None of these beings seemed to need permission to behave as they did. No one seemed beset by ambition: we saw no evidence of career objectives, or personal growth goals. No one seemed beset by guilt or riven by shame. There were no assertions of majesty. There were no professions of sincerity or avowals of piety. No one made any promises, pledges, espousals, or vows. The marine realm doesn’t seem to develop such matrices as value, worth, merit, class, truth, or consequence.

No one exhibited any awareness or anxiety about body type: who was pretty, who was handsome, who was not. Nor did we see any possessions – not a single electronic device. We saw no adornments – not a single item of jewelry or cosmetic. We saw no clothing, costumes, uniforms, or insignia. No one seemed to have a servant. No one seemed to require a savant.

Each species was highly distinctive. Yet we beheld an utter interrelatedness among the species, as well as an absolute harmony between the species and the environment in which they were living.

It appeared as though each creature we encountered was experiencing existence simply and solely on its own terms. All of them seemed simply to be. All of them seemed to find sufficiency – no, unalloyed joy – in their own essence, in the world’s, and in the unmediated conditions of their mutual being.

They seem to need nothing that they don’t already have, except to be left alone by us. [We should note that the Steller sea lion is a gravely endangered species.]

 

California sea lion

 

Are these animals simple? Are they primitive? Is life lived on terms so instinctive and elemental as theirs a form of existence less meaningful or noble than our own rational, societal modalities? Is not our self-aware, striving, willful, intricately ethical, insistently creative humanness incomparably higher on The Great Chain of Being?

I didn’t think so during that wonderful morning of the herring spawn. I love being human. I realize the lives being lived all around us on the lands and in the seas and sky doubtless are fraught with peril and probably brief in duration. Nevertheless the purity, passion, prowess, and prodigious pleasure in which those glorious creatures luxuriated seemed holy to me. I believe all the creatures with whom we coexist have a wisdom of their own: an accumulated, wholly internalized discernment, insight, knowledge, skillfulness, and contentment that I long to comprehend and in some measure to share.

The complex life we saw in process during the great herring spawn was a teaching. The universe that gives life to us gives life to many. The earth that provides unbounded abundance and variousness beyond measure is a cosmos filled with creation, committed to content, devoted to complexity, enamored with energy, and limned utterly with beauty.

I never have received the godhead as a deity discrete and directive. But on that day, in that place – as always we may, during every moment of every day in every place – we saw witness that this world is a part of a cosmos replete with spirit, soul, and sanctity. All created, given, and deeply loved, I believe, by The Divine.

And You Know That For Sure

John and Yoko Peace Bed

Love is the answer
And you know that for sure
                                     -John Lennon, “Mind Games”

On February 18th, Yoko Ono published at her own expense a full-page letter in the New York Times entitled Imagine Peace 2011. She framed her letter as a missive to humanity. She spoke in her voice for herself and on behalf of her husband in response to the momentous events that have transpired throughout the world during this tumultuous year.

How good to hear from her, and how good to have her help in remembering John Lennon and loving him anew. In the many years since John’s awful murder, in all the years of our lives, there have been no other public persons who have exercised such enlightened, sweet, healing influence as John and Yoko. No one else has offered us such wise counsel, caring passion, and disinterested transforming tenderness as these dear, dear souls.

Yoko describes her epistle as an impulse inspired by her birthday. Yoko, incredibly, is now 78 years of age. John would be 70, had The Divine not chosen to summon him so long ago. George would be 68. Paul is 68, and this year he has composed an exquisite score for our nation’s preeminent ballet company. Ringo is 70.

Each of them wrestled with demons throughout their lives, but in your lifespan have you ever encountered more pure and benign souls than the Beatles? Have you discovered a more reliable compass than that which John, Paul, George, and Ringo gave us? Have you found shepherds more inventive, melodic, and bountiful? Have you made more valued friends?

I haven’t. I listen to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s music virtually every day, always with trust, affection, and joy. Their literature is brilliant and beautiful, and their consciousness and character seem to me ever more suffused with genius, animated by goodness. Their poetry and they themselves are spirits kind, gentle, and essential.

I don’t know who we would be, how we would imagine, what we would envision, how our dreams and desires would sound and in other respects manifest themselves if it were not for these sublime and endearing artists. What a miracle: four lifelong pals who were birthed within blocks of one another in the most mundane and in many respects mephitic cities of a small island in Europe during a dismal decade in humankind’s gravely troubled history.

And Yoko.

Many people have scorned, mocked, and even detested Yoko Ono. They blame her for fissuring the Beatles, and forcing them to break asunder. Those who contemn her never explain how she could force anyone to do anything, let alone such prodigious personalities as Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starkey.

Yoko didn’t destroy the Beatles. They weren’t destroyed. They just evolved. The three major artists who centered that uniquely successful and adored quartet outgrew the constituents of its fame. John, Paul, and George are among the greatest of all literary and musical geniuses. At the point of their group’s dissolution they needed to live and work on their own, outside the parameters and paradigms of their early mythos. [All three retained during their lives the deepest emotions of respect and friendship for Ringo, who never once has pretended to share his friends’ immense gifts.]

I admire and love Yoko Ono, and I always have. I don’t understand why so many people have supposed she’s a parasitic nonentity who by some cunning calculus latched onto her titanic husband and somehow sullied or trivialized him. The daughter of one of Japan’s most distinguished modern diplomats, Yoko is an important visual and performing artist in her own right and a person of formidable intelligence.

What does it matter how capacious and apparent her distinctions seem to anyone else? John made it clear in his life and in his literature that Yoko saved his soul, gave him immense happiness, was utterly necessary to his art, and central to his beatific joy in living.

How did Yoko and John discover one another? How did they grant faith to one another? How did they journey through his fairy tale world, struggle through their mutual offenses, infidelities, ego mess, link their true souls to their true love, and cleave to one another?

And how did they succeed in demanding that we listen to them, hear them, accept them, and confer our faith upon them? How did they teach us to disregard all the hyperbole and hysteria that deluged them? How did they lead us to receive them, trust them, accept and share their sense of the transcendent? This was rare and potent work. In the modernist western culture, only Bob Dylan has exercised remotely comparable, although radically different, consequence and influence.

I think the answer to this seemingly unanswerable question is simple. John, Yoko, and all the Beatles accomplished their profoundly great work by the wisdom of goodness and beauty: what Mahatma Gandhi called, in reference to his own vocation, soul force. The lives they have led and the art they have made matter so much to us because they are beneficent and beautiful, and we all know that for sure.

Have you listened lately to any of their stunning songs?

Across The Universe. Dream #9. Something. Here, There, and Everywhere.

Penny Lane. For No One. Golden Slumbers. The Fool On The Hill. I’d Have You Anytime (Bob Dylan helped George with that masterpiece).

Here Comes The Sun. In My Life. A Day In The Life. She’s Leaving Home. Within You, Without You.

Because. Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp. Isn’t It A Pity. Girl.

Dear Prudence. Blackbird. Good Night. Eleanor Rigby. Sun King.

Because. Don’t Let Me Down. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Strawberry Fields Forever. When I’m Sixty-Four.

Come Together. All You Need Is Love. Let It Be. The Long And Winding Road. Happy Xmas [War Is Over], While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

In The End. Love. Beautiful Boy. Woman. Mind Games. Oh, Yoko! Imagine. The Ballad Of John And Yoko.

Can’t stop, can I? Can you? Adducing a list of the Beatles’ masterworks is an exercise without a swift end.

It’s not just their literature that has been crucial to our experience. Have you thought lately about their causes, campaigns, and crusades? Their remarkable deployment of their global celebrity for principles of consciousness and conscience? Their search for The Divine. Their experiments with community and commonalty. Their longing for peace on earth. George’s at the time unprecedented Concert for Bangladesh. In this age of selfishness, chicanery and corruption their shared and individual passions, purposes, and pursuits always have been so gentle and so generous.

George, Paul, Ringo, John, and Yoko, like each of us, have wrestled with demons devious and destructive. But Lord almighty, these four men and one woman have wrought miracles of creation. Their lives, their work, and their teaching are magnificent.

They have no equal in our time. No one else has affected so many of us in so powerful and so wholesome a manner.

__________

If you read Yoko’s letter cerebrally, if you parse it, if you restrict your intellect to its solely intellective properties, you’ll tell yourself her missive is insipid and she is inane.

From this mindlessly intellective point of view, so are John’s songs and Paul’s and George’s. So, cynics say, is every Beatles’ song – even Imagine, surely the world’s most loved work of modern writing.

Oh, but their songs are marvelous. Their extraordinary melodies, their gorgeous voicing, our loving memories of their authors’ lovely personas make every one of their works wonderful. Through the medium of their own infinite goodness and their poetry’s beauty Paul, George, Ringo, John, and Yoko make magic everlasting. They compel us simply to listen to them. Their embrace and transfer of the exquisite make it necessary and safe for us to receive their awareness, respond to it, and change ourselves.

They do cause us to change, deeply and forever, as no other contemporary leaders ever have. At least this is the case for me. No one has taught me more than the Beatles.

How about you? Did your Grade Five curriculum help you a lot? How about your high schooling? Your university experience? Has your work life been aiding you? Are our nation’s politicians, preachers, philosophers, pundits, prognosticators, performers giving you good guidance, peace, and grace?

Not me. As I grow older, I turn with ever more confidence and gratitude to the poets and spiritual leaders who shaped much of my youth. I know of no other modernist force more salubrious and powerful than the Beatles’ purity, grace, and beauty. Their wise soul force.

__________

Yoko’s letter draws upon this power, recalls us to it, and offers it to us once again. She tells us in Imagine Peace 2011 that, despite his nobility of mind and spirit, regardless of his exceptional goodness and talent, President Obama does not understand the contemporary moment. He does not comprehend that his authority and command, that all the institutions and organizations in the world, all the circles and cycles of consequence in the formal cerebral universe, matter naught.

Yoko engages President Obama’s recent appeal in his State of the Union speech that, as revolutions arise throughout northern Africa and the middle east, as the world’s economies and geopolitics alter, tussle and brawl, as our country confronts reverses and upheaval we should strive to more informedly understand one another, more generously tolerate one another, and more peacefully coexist with one another.

Yoko tells us that, his excellent intentions notwithstanding, President Obama is making an unneeded and essentially irrelevant address. For, she writes, all of us inherently are united, already and absolutely, Across The Universe – her husband’s most brilliant, most divine poem.

We already are joined Here, There, And Everywhere.

Without intending to, without commandment from committees of instruction or direction from temporary presidents, we already are bursting boundaries once thought inevitable and ineluctable. We already are connected to and cohering with one another, each of us in our own way. This always has been so, it always will be so Within You, Without You.

We don’t ultimately need interpreters, reporters, columnists, intelligence officers, mandators, commanders-in-chief, prime ministers, kings, caliphs, the Pope, or the president of the United States. It’s easy. All You Need Is Love.

We may not realize consciously that we all are joined with one another. We just are. Love is old, love is new, love is all, love is you.

One unmistakable sign of our essential unity may be found in the Beatles’ beloved literature. Anywhere you travel on our earth, hum one bar of any of their beautiful songs and people of all ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic spheres will beam at you, join your melody, and chant the words. Everybody knows these poems by heart, even if they don’t speak English. Here Comes The Sun.

In her letter Yoko reminds us, in her name and in John’s, that all the quandaries we confront, all the pains that shake us, all the fears that shame us, all the conflicts that beset us have but one source, one meaning, and one resolution. We just need love. We just need to love ourselves and love one another. Let It Be.

You can do this. We all can. You’re trying to. We all are. One day, Across The Universe, we’ll succeed. Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.

__________

It’s so good to hear again from Yoko Ono. I hope the business folk at the New York Times didn’t charge her too much to speak to us.

I mistrust myths and all other miasmas. Yet I trust Yoko, I revere her husband, and I cherish their beautiful mysticism.

We should thank her. She has done such good work in her life. This new letter she has created for us is a precious gift.

We ought also to thank her for Strawberry Fields, in New York City’s Central Park. Who else but Yoko would have conceived of, built, and sustained that gift for all these years? Every time I visit her memorial to her husband, that sacred site, I find myself weeping for her, for John, for us all.

Their teaching and our learning are simple. They knew we should love ourselves, and we should love one another. Love is reaching, reaching love. Love is asking to be loved.

They knew love is the answer, and we do too. We know it for sure.

I want to thank her in person, soul to soul, but her letter teaches that’s not necessary because we all of us are united always and forever whether we know it or not.

Thank you anyhow Yoko, for your letter to us, for everything you are, and for everything you have done in your distinguished life. Happy birthday, too. We all need you and love you, even those – especially those – who don’t yet realize they do. Love, love me do.

The Dream Chamber

I have removed the individual posts entitled: The Dream Chamber 1-6. I send my heartfelt gratitude to the many readers worldwide who have sent me comments and responses. Your responses have significantly influenced my final revisions.

The Dream Chamber is now available for sale at:

www.amazon.com/Dream-Chamber-Memories-American-Family/dp/1434887057/ref=sr_1_24?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313034780&sr=1-24

__________

The Dream Chamber is a full-length work of memoir shaped as a novel. The story is told from the perspective and in the voice of the child whose life it narrates.

The child’s family emigrated from a shtetl in Ukraine to the United States at the turn of the century. The Dream Chamber takes place in the State of Maine from 1945-1955. The narrator describes the first ten years of his life, from the perspectives and in the voice of his evolving consciousness.

This story is profoundly personal. Yet it captures and conveys the manner in which many children come to consciousness, accomplish identity, enter a family, and in time depart to construct an adulthood of their own.

The story’s soul concerns forgiveness: how one child and potentially all children can exert the power of love to move from suffering, mystification, error, and anger to understanding, compassion, peace,and productivity.

The Dream Chamber is about hope and healing.

__________

I authored The Dream Chamber, but throughout the years I worked on its many drafts I felt as though I received it – received it from what I know as The Divine.

Writing this radically unusual book has helped me understand, embrace, and forgive the struggles and suffering I experienced during my childhood. In particular it helped me comprehend and rescue the learning in my sustained effort to create my intellect, spirit life, and moral imagination.

The Dream Chamber is a work of autobiography, but I always knew as I was writing it that it would help others with their life journeys. The spirits (I know them as Loas) who shepherded me told me this. They said this is why I must write and publish my otherwise intensely private, extraordinarily intimate narrative.

Many readers tell me The Dream Chamber recounts the story of their life, not mine. They say the book makes a magical impact on their relation with their own childhood and filial consciousness. They say the work transforms their crippling confusion, grief, and rage into clarity and compassion, and grants them a pathway to release and renewal.

__________

 Here are several samples of the responses readers have sent to me:

I hold your book and feel that it is a bit of sacred writing. It is exceptional.

Your opening pledge is one of the most poignant pieces on childhood I have ever read.

I stayed up to read as much as possible – a second reading only deepened the magic. Peter, your work is profound, living, and as all true narrative does, it teaches what is beautiful, profane, sacred, eternal.

I am moved to literal tears. Blessings on your “invulnerable and sacred soul.”

I try to read your book slowly but I can’t. I’m reading it too quickly. And I can’t put it down. Your book is a wonder.

You have achieved your goal, but the pain is unavoidable. I found myself laughing loudly and then after a few more sentences, crying for you and your childhood self. You have really captured the innocence of the boy narrator.

I cried and cried after reading it for the first time. Your story helped me to remove the lid I had covered on my past. I was able to let it go. I don’t love my mother but I’ve forgiven her.

The passages of you protecting your brother and sister will always tear my heart out, but strangely, also make me smile to think of you, so young yet so adamant to keep them safe.