Just yesterday I posted a satirical piece on our beloved Elephant Journal about fear, courage and the human brain. It addresses the differences that are being discovered between the actual physical structure of a conservative brain vs. a liberal brain, which many find fascinating.
As I was writing my article, the news of the Arizona shooting came across the MSNBC web site. It was deeply disturbing. I almost sent the article I was writing to the desktop trash can. Instead, I posted it, hoping it might shed a little light on the topic of fear, which I believe too often leads to violence.
In the midst of senseless violence, we look for comfort, we look to the wisdom of elders, we seek answers to our questions. In the animal world, when an Elk dies, other Elk gather around, they sniff the scene, they carefully observe the surroundings, they do their best to understand what happened, they gather evidence and information, presumably to inform their awareness. WHY? In order to avoid meeting the same fate. Can we humans do that with the loss of these precious lives in Arizona?
Today, I’m pondering “The Great Conversation” – the transcendent themes of a Western Liberal Arts Education – Virtue and Vice, Good vs. Evil. You know, the black and white of it all, the judgments we make about “right or wrong.” This dualistic tendency to focus only on “this, or that”. How do we learn qualities of discernment, if not through a comprehensive liberal arts education? Yes, life can teach us plenty outside of a classroom, especially if we live in a culture that values authentic education. Since this tragic event falls within the political spectrum, Liberal education has long been considered essential to preserve a healthy democracy and a vibrant society. Or, is it? Imagine a society that would blend conventional education with the cultivation of the wisdom of the human heart! Education has to capture the imagination and inspire students to care and to engage, not put them to sleep! Or worse, alienate them from all desire to learn and grow. It also has to be experienced as more than just a “stepping stone” to a secure job! In any society, what is honored is cultivated!
That isn’t a pretty picture. It gives creative young people the impression that all classrooms are boring. Too often, they are! It has been said that “Liberal Education is liberation from vulgarity”. The senseless shooting in Arizona was certainly a vulgar act. Magically and surprisingly, I paid enough attention in school to learn that the Greek word for vulgarity is apeirokalia, which means: the lack of experience in things beautiful.
Vulgarity may well be the fundamental affliction that is the root cause of the shooter’s so called “insanity”. Perhaps he wanted to escape the suffering all around him and his difficult life circumstances. How many times have you said to yourself, “stop the world, I wanna get off”?
Let’s not allow the media to write this off as an aberrant act of one lone individual. Let’s not dismiss it as another pathologically unstable person acting out anger, without investigating the factors that contribute to so many young and old finding themselves in a state of desperate alienation. In our super specialized, technologically oriented world, the cost of “progress” is losing touch with our senses! Jared Loughner is being characterized as “emotionally disturbed” perhaps paranoid. Let’s ask the difficult question – what is it within our culture that fosters alienation, despair and resignation? Self inquiry isn’t always easy. Some courageous Americans wanted to ask deeper questions during the aftermath of 9/11 – including how the behavior of our Nation might have fostered hatred, resentment, fear and anger from “others”? No easy answers in a complex world of swirling energies and competing ideologies.
We don’t know enough about Jared’s life to make any definitive judgments – perhaps he became a “child left behind”. Is it judgment that is needed or compassion? Is he just another troubled young adult, with easy access to semi-automatic weapons. Who are his parents, what were they like? Did he have brothers or sisters, did our mental health system, or lack thereof, fail him miserably? Is he another lost soul in the wilderness of a society obsessed with consumption? Tragic for the victims, tragic for the perpetrator, tragic for our nation.
Aren’t we all a bit emotionally disturbed these days? Intuitively knowing that we are living out of balance and harmony? I suggest our beauty deficit disorder may be at the heart of our cultural malaise, just as Richard Louv has coined the phrase: “nature deficit disorder”, as a deeply disturbing trend in our modern world. John P. Milton is another astute observer of our culture who advocates a return to an authentic connection to our inner and outer nature in Sky Above, Earth Below and through his wilderness programs he calls Sacred Passages and Nature Quests.
Perhaps, this moment provides an opening for new learning and a deeper inquiry into root causes of our imbalance and disharmony with Nature and one another. This invitation to awaken, as I put it in the title, will inspire all of us to renew our commitment to put an end to senseless violence and find peace, clarity and comfort in Nature and all of our human constructs. Find what we care about and live our lives from a place of passion and joy. Let’s not loose touch with the “spell of the sensuous” and forget the healing power of nature, in our rush to study the mind and compulsively place economics at the top of our urgent agenda. Stay alert for the movement toward Gross National Happiness.
We must remember the immeasurable sacred value that our connection with nature means to us emotionally and spiritually. This connection with the Earth nourishes our spirit and grounds our sense of place in the web of all life! As the Dalia Lama shared this beautiful reminder:
“Let us try to recognize the precious nature of each day”.
It’s tough to do that inside a high rise, or in any overcrowded urban area, bombarded by WiFi, microwave and EMF radiation all day and night!
Consider the appalling expansion of violent entertainment that “permeates American life – an unprecedented flood of mass-produced and mass-consumed carnage masquerading as amusement and threatening to erode the psychological and moral boundary between real life and make-believe” as Newsweek reported just a few years ago.
Well, here I am, still caught-up in trying to figure it out, seeking answers in the abstract, to what happened and why? Lamenting the direction of our culture. Wondering how and when we’ll wake up. I’m waxing nostalgic about a course I took with Dr. Mortimer Adler at the “heady” Aspen Institute. It was called The Six Great Ideas from The Great Books series. I actually loved the course and the “Shared Inquiry” process.
Here are the Six Great Ideas:
TRUTH * GOODNESS * BEAUTY
LIBERTY * EQUALITY * JUSTICE
These are the ideas we judge by and the ideals we act on according to Dr. Adler. Bill Moyers took “A walk through the 20th century” with him when he was still alive. Moyers considered him to be our most brilliant Western philosopher. I was proud and inspired just to be sitting in his executive course. I was hoping to soak in his brilliance and absorb it like a sponge to water. You know the feeling when you’re being bathed by intelligence, or drenched with blessings from an enlightened being through direct transmission?
So there I was, back in the mid 1980’s, sitting at the feet of a master teacher. All of a sudden, my critical mind jumped in when he emphatically stated: “humans cannot teach moral virtue”. Every cell in my body didn’t want to believe that. If his assertion were true, it would guarantee that human suffering would continue for lifetimes to come. Back then, I resisted that notion with a passion. I still don’t want to believe it. I was practically jumping out of my skin, wanting to object. My heart jumped up into my throat, as I felt compelled to speak against his proposition. But, who was I to challenge the greatest living western philosopher of our time? My heart began to beat even louder in my chest. The pounding grew louder, telling me I was too nervous to speak my own truth to his power and authority, as an esteemed intellectual.
Spirit grabbed me, I couldn’t contain myself and I blurted out: “But, Dr.Adler, would you be willing to at least say that human beings have not yet learned how to teach moral virtue”? In my mind that left a huge opening for us to learn how to educate people to live an ethical life filled with integrity and virtue.
The class fell silent, they knew I was asking a big question of a stubborn, (some might say cantankerous) 80 year old academic. Much to all of our surprise, he looked at me and said: “Mr. Wilson, I rarely budge from my position, but in this case, I accept your proposition”!
I took a deep breath and silently hoped that we humans would learn how to do it sooner rather than later.
Diminishing our Western emphasis upon the rational mind, I’ve come to appreciate the Tibetan view… The wise sage will make a gesture by lifting his hand to his forehead with his fingers touching one another and say: “Body”; then he brings his hand and fingers to his throat and says: “Speech”; finally, he places the hand and fingers in front of his heart and says: “Mind”. Thanks to John P. Milton for that gem of a teaching! I also honor the Taoist view that we should all “seek the valley” and honor the divine feminine principle!
May we all be guided by the wisdom of our hearts during this time of transition and transformation, especially in the presence of ignorance. So, take care of your “heart/mind” – get active, participate, find ways to engage in projects that make you come alive, with joy.
When I began this post this morning, I only intended to share this poem, and leave it at that – alas, I got carried away… The mother of the youngest victim in this shooting is pleading for an end to violence, so, I decided to offer my thoughts as a way to hopefully add value to our interest in this drama. The youngest who lost her life at Congresswoman Giffords shooting was born on an ironic birthday and featured with other children, also born on 9/11 in a book called Faces of Hope.
Here is my morning poem, composed during the media frenzy and Breaking News from Tucson…
The target’s in sight, believing might makes right
it’s just a political fight, fueled by rhetoric and spite.
It’s the system they say, don’t get in the way,
keep your change, just go away! Guns will have the last say.
In Arizona the sun shines hot. There’s not a lot to say
when guns rule the day and spray their hateful scorn
Sounds like popcorn, but it’s not.
Six lay dead by someone “crazy” in the head.
Good hearts and minds wonder how peace is torn asunder
dragging us down, hope is drowned, that thunderous sound of violence, chaos and plunder.
This weary, jaded play reveals the ancient feud,
right versus wrong – good versus evil
The heart hears this clarion call
it feels; and oh, how it reels
groping for meaning through dreadful ordeals.
When one goes down, we all fall
Today is a brand new day! Our love is here to stay,
Find your path to light,
There’s no escape, don’t take flight
Please Don’t shy away, soar above the fray.
So, there’s my poem… Onward with Courage
“Let your love bind you to all living things”…
as we move forward, let’s keep music, beauty and kindness in our hearts