There’s a certain transformation (still not sure if it’s permanent) that’s come about in me in reading just the first half (so far) of Eckhart Tolle’s book, "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose" brings more than just perspective. It’s slowly but steadily confirming a trend that I’ve suspected for a long, long time: I am a Feral Buddhist. In the sense that even though I have no formal training or study in Buddhism (something I intend to remedy), I seem to have arrived at very many of the same notions. I just don’t have the language (I know!) for them. But I’m learning.
The gist of what I’m saying is that in the face of base, false accusations and lying out of fear or irremediable arrogance, meeting it at the same level is only continuing in the vein of egoic unawareness. Moreover, if such stuff must be met, there should be a larger wisdom not to meet or challenge lies and fabrications, but to quell the fear and anger that produced such in the first place. Yes, "larger wisdom". Sometimes words can comport with specificity.
What has Dune to do with all of this? Well, Frank Herbert was more the prosaic poet than an easily pigeon-holed fiction writer. I learned from him the beauty of lyrical qualities baked into simple prose—not so simple a task.
Anyway, Dune. I rarely read science fiction, except when I cannot say no to Kurfty (well, you try it!) The only science fiction that ever stuck with me is the entire Dune series—ending properly with Chapterhouse: Dune. I’ve used it as a metric to observe the continuing evolution of my world view and perhaps even my psyche. It is a fixed point, which is required for any measurement: without space, there is no time. Without time, no space. This, in my opinion, is the nexus where physics and philosophy and poetry occupy the same space at the same time. I have been astounded at the increased visibility of self (the awareness that says “I”). With that has come empathy at the expense of sympathy (a more than fair trade), wisdom at the expense of intellectualizing, truth at the expense of Truth and fairness at the expense of justice.
It’s that poetry of phrase that makes a text quotable, and Frank Herbert is easily the most quotable author I know. I should have added “Herbert, at the expense of Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America" as well.
Everyone can quote the Litany Against Fear, so I’ll give that one a much needed rest. The one that always comes to mind (and now I understand that it’s all about a well-fed ego) is a poem that headed up I believe the first chapter of “Dune Messiah”:
Here lies a<br/>
His fall was not a<br/>
We did but build<br/>
A narrow and a<br/>
It’s a compact treatise on the dangers of an egoic mind.
There’s one parable about the nature of humans’ participation in the world entire in that we are not peoples inserted into a planet’s ecosystem, but rather we have emerged from it and are intrinsic to it:
It is said of Muad’dib that once when he saw a weed trying to grow between two rocks, he moved one of the rocks. Later, when the weed was seen to be flourishing, he covered it with the remaining rock. “That was its fate,” he explained.
To choose to give up the power of choice is the only sin, the only enjoinder of the mind and the spirit.
Anger and fear are one in the same thing. This is a fairly recent revelation for me, but one that shakes a certain measure of order out of chaos: actions and the motivations behind them fall neatly into pairs as a side effect of the revelation.
No one likes to admit he or she is afraid, but when fear and anger are the same, I can say with fair confidence that no one likes to live with anger. So why does it make sense to some to live begrudgingly with fear and yet refuse to diffuse the anger? Yes, we are a marvel.
How often it is that the angry man rages denial of what his inner self is telling him.
Everyone, on the other hand, enjoys being certain, about anything. That’s always a trap. Always. Certainty is an absolute, and that should be the first clue that certainty is a dangerous gambit. Certainty is the trap. Certainty is the thing that shuts everything else down: no more choosing; you’ve chosen! No more thinking; you’ve answered! No more feeling; you’ve settled it, sunk it with a stone and you’ve convinced yourself you’ve left it to drown.
Larger wisdom doesn’t live in the world; it’s not of the world. It’s a lonely pose, far and away from everyone else. It’s of no world, really. It’s a spatial harmony in which there is no dissent because it doesn’t participate:
Show me a completely smooth operation and Ill show you a cover up. Real boats rock.
Not an easy thing to say to another. Not an easy thing for another to grasp. Most don’t. What I take that Dune quote to mean is that sometimes things go off the rails in a marriage, a friendship, even a workplace. The difficult part (always) is what follows: do you expend energy to resolve a point of contention or do you pretend it never happened? Do you bother to get closer, knowing that there will be rifts that require constant alertness or do you stay in a safe, completely fictional world where nothing but conviviality exists?
The purpose of argument is to change the nature of truth.
I’d rather live close to people and brave those dangers and remain vigilant to be sure none of those coverups gain too much momentum (because no one is brave enough to confront them). But thats just me. Another quote which only at first feels extreme:
You should never be in the company of anyone with whom you would not want to die.
Let the let the extremeness of it pass through you, then consider the possibility of a reckoning at the end of things. Was that final tableau representative of your life? Those people you were consorting with in those final moments. Are they the standard by which to measure your own eternity?
Then again, this is only an extreme consideration when you declare degrees of transgression, degrees of violence:
The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy. Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: “I feed on your energy.”
On whose energy do you feed? Would you rather feed and remain or respect and fade away?
The only way to avoid argument is to remain apart. This brings to mind solo efforts: the loner who refuses company, the smug who collect to themselves in order to feel superior. But the more common (yet far less easily spotted, perhaps because of that commonality) are the groups which would create artificial worlds, banal empires where social territoriality defines boundaries: self-made ghettos
Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague rituals.
“Enclosures of any kind are a fertile breeding ground for hatred of outsiders,” she said. “That produces a bitter harvest.”
“Enclosed,” she said. “How tempting it is to raise high walls and keep out change. Rot here in our own self-satisfied comfort.”
Rules build up fortifications behind which small minds create satrapies. A perilous state of affairs in the best of times, disastrous during crises.
Therein is created a vague desire to express individuality:
“My son displays a general garment and you claim its cut to your fit? […] What a fascinating revelation!”
Watch for members of a given empire to jump at perceived insults for no other reason than to give some credence—however sickly—to the phantom notion that their own individuality remains intact. This is probably the easiest way to recognize a hunkered-down empire. That is, if membership isn’t defined by surface features; in that case, the obvious should suffice.
At times, even a larger wisdom must account for practicality. How else can wisdom expand itself? Wisdom without relevancy isn’t wisdom, it’s religion.
[…]The drowning man who climbs on your shoulders to save himself is understandable—except when you see it happen in the drawing room.
Enclosures are more about keeping people out than keeping them in, but a true enclosure has no means to maintain itself without a regular influx of energy: members become ectothermic. Since they produce no energy themselves, the take it from others. This can take the form of extreme bias; this can take the form of vampirism; this can take the form of pillage.
These musings are all well and good, but how do you exist beside such? How do you protect yourself in the face of a threat that has so single thing to call out for debate or battle? Well, you don’t. Making someone into an enemy always costs you something:
We tend to become like the worst in those we oppose.
So if opposing isn’t the answer, what is? Is there even an answer to be had? I don’t think so: any quest to find a concrete answer ends in a dangerous place. Answers must be avoided. Instead, search for better questions. It’s the ego that needs answers, needs to be self-satisfied and not left in any kind of limbo. In limbo, egos starve.
When a wise man does not understand, he says: “I do not understand.” The fool and the uncultured are ashamed of their ignorance. They remain silent when a question could bring them wisdom.
Never fear expressing yourself. Just remember that not everyone is configured to accept the meaning in what you say. If you’re expressing yourself with the goal of winning, stop. You’ve already lost. Draw no conclusions yourself, because you draw people into matching egos with you. Real learning requires humility (admitting you don’t know a thing must happen before you’re receptive to learning) and initiative (a person can only be led up to the curtain, the learner must choose to peek over it herself). Therefore, put a burden on the listener; you’ll never force understanding. Rote is not instruction.
Ultimately all things are known because you want to believe you know.
Real boats rock.