THE COUNTRIES OF OUR MIND
As human beings, we each have three countries in our mind: The Past, The Present, and The Future. Although we are intimately familiar with two of them (The Past and The Future), we know little or nothing about the third, The Present. Of these three countries, only The Present is real. The other two—The Past and The Future—are illusions.
The countries of our mind each have their own precepts, which can be roughly summed:
Illusion of what was
Longing to go back in time
Depression due to an inability to recapture yesterday
Remorse for one's behavior
Wanting what's gone
Regretting what's been missed
Regretting what could have been, but never was
Acceptance of what is
Enoughness—knowing when enough is enough
Wanting what one has and having what one wants
Responding calmly to circumstances
Dissatisfaction with what is
Resistance to what is
Wanting things to be different
Haunted by uncertainty
Plagued by self-doubt
Attempting to control circumstances, but not oneself
Despair due to an inability to control circumstances
Depression due to a disaster-victim mentality
Addicted to the illusion of predictability
Knee-jerk reaction to circumstances
Every human has a simultaneous citizenship in each of these three countries of the mind. We also have a choice of which country we want to reside in at any given moment. The caveat is that we can live in only one country at a time, and we must accept everything that country has to offer, to the exclusion of everything the other countries have to offer. This simply means that once you cross the border into a country, you are there and nowhere else.
For example, to cross the border into The Present is to step into eternal reality. To cross the border out of The Present is to step into illusion. To be in The Present, is to be totally within the border of eternity and thus at one with life—the only place God (however defined), love, and peace can be found. Fear, worry, guilt, and regret, on the other hand, are forever banished from the eternal country of The Present. They are precepts of the illusive countries, The Past and The Future, which lie immediately beyond the border of The Present. This, however, is a journey without distance, a journey of the mind from certainty into doubt, from eternal reality into the flickering shadowlands of illusion.
I will begin this essay with a view of The Present, the eternal country beyond time, wherein reality abides. I do so because, like a physician, one must understand what is whole and healed, what is healthy, before one can diagnose that which is diseased.
THE PRESENT, COUNTRY OF ETERNAL PEACE
To understand The Present, the eternal country, one must first understand the nature of "Time." Time, as measured by the ticking of a clock, is constant in tempo. With a clock, you see the hands move from second to second, minute to minute, and hour to hour—as 'round and 'round the clock's face they go. While to a youth time seems to drag, even stand still, to an older person it seems to fly, despite the fact that watching a clock's hands make their appointed rounds belies both the impatience of youth and the sensation of time as fleeting in old age.
Contrariwise, if you measure time through the functioning of an hourglass, you have the distinct impression that time is "running out," like the sand pouring to the beck and call of gravity from the top of the hourglass, through the small hole in its middle, to the bottom. Most adults view time with a growing sense that theirs is running out, so they must grab all of life they can before their time is "spent," which champions the fear of loss. This sense of impending loss as time "runs out" causes people to avoid, as best they can, the admission of bodily changes wrought by the inevitable advance of aging.
In reality, of course, time does not run out; our bodies expire instead. And it's precisely this dual sense of time running out and the demise of our bodies that causes the blindness of most people to the "eternal now" in their bid to stop time. Time, however, does not exist in the way we attempt to measure it. The eternal country—The Present, the here and now—is all we have, and thus beyond time.
Like the river on whose current I watched things come and go in years past, I find, as I get older, that things come daily into focus with the dawn only to past out of focus with the passing of each day. My focus is becoming such that time for me disappears in the eternal moment, and before I know it, the sun is setting on yet another day.
I experienced eternity in Nubia, Egypt, forty years ago, when I sat on a piece of iron stone in the abiding stillness of the desert and "felt," through the silence of bygone millennia, the presence of a man who had sat there before me chipping hand axes out of the iron stone upon which I now sat. It was as though he stood there to give me company in the seeming infinity of space and timelessness that embodies the Nubian Desert. In that eternal moment, I realized that "time" is merely a trap of my mind.
I suddenly understood that The Past and The Future are but figments of my imagination and therefore illusions that do not exist because time is a human construct. By this I mean everything happening in the world right now is happening simultaneously in the eternal moment—which is forever beyond time.
Because the eternal moment is beyond time, it represents the "invisible" moment in that what happens, happens without the context of The Past or The Future. The invisible moment can be likened to a man who is playing a perfect game of golf, but doesn't know what hole he is on or what the score is.
Consider that the mechanical clock was invented to make ocean travel as predictable as possible because mariners on the open sea must navigate in the invisible moment, while sandwiched between a seemingly endless ocean and an endless sky, where everything is constantly moving and changing, which makes it extremely difficult to know exactly were you are when all your guide posts disappear behind clouds, in a fog, or in the fury of a storm. Only the mechanical clock seems predictable in the face of ocean travel's inevitable uncertainty. And yet, it is the mechanical clock's very predictability that fragments our sense of eternity.
If you are wondering why we fragment eternity with the invention of time, I think it's due to our human discomfort with limitlessness, like the open-ended experiment of life wherein we have no idea what our never-ending story will confront us with next. In other words, the seamless nature of eternity is beyond the human mind's ability to grasp and thus presents a frightening perspective in which the tenuous nature of our earthly existence seems magnified. On the other hand, the notion of time consummates the certainty of our ultimate demise.
While we may be frightened of both the limitless unknown and death, we are taught to expect the one, which is clearly beyond our control, whereas we have a sense that we can have some control over open-endedness, albeit it's only an illusion. Here, two analogies may be helpful to your understanding of what I mean.
In years past, when I worked in hay fields on cattle ranches, I used to "buck" baled hay, which meant to grab a bale of hay with metal "hay hooks" and load it onto a "slip," which was a sled-like affair pulled behind a tractor. While loading the bales was easy for me, some of the fields were so big and had so many bales in them I could not discern any progress by just picking up bails in the outermost row. I therefore picked them up in small areas—disrupting the autonomous continuity of several rows—in order to see that I was actually making some headway. In other words, I "fragmented" the sea of bales so I could have a visual sense of accomplishment, because the size of the fields and the number of bails were otherwise overwhelming.
The second analogy has to do with fences. Although we normally think of fences (be they wooden, metal, or a combination), as a practical means of keeping such things as cows or horses in a particular area or out of a particular area, I once experienced a fence with a different purpose. I was working in the "Brown's Hole Country" of northwestern Colorado, which is flat and open in every direction as far as the eye can see. One day, I came across an old house, which, long abandoned and weathered by time, squatted tired and rickety in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by seemingly limitless space.
I drove over to the house, parked my vehicle, and got out. Only then did I even notice the one-rail fence and small, creaky gate that surrounded the faded building with its haunting, glassless windows. Although I thought nothing of the fence as I approached the gate, once through the gate, I sensed a totally different feel about the house—almost a feeling of welcome, as though protective arms had suddenly been extended around me, but why? Exploring the house held no clue to the cause of this feeling of "security" and "friendliness," and it wasn't until I went back through the gate to get my lunch that I understood. The house had nothing to do with my feeling of welcome and security. It was the presence of the fence!
While the fence might have kept adult horses and cattle out of the yard in years past, it also defined the yard—and that was the point. The fence appeared to hold uninterrupted space in abeyance and in so doing gave the people who lived in the house a sense of human scale, of definable proportion within a boundary they could both see and touch. They could, for instance, lean upon the fence and contemplate the vastness of space without feeling directly confronted by it, but only if the fence stood between them, the indefinable void of eternity, and the vagaries of its ever-blowing winds. And it occurred to me that I would still have a feeling of welcome and security within the confines of the fence—though perhaps not as profound—were it to have a single stand of wire, string, or even a piece of thread, just as long as it was visible, and I could touch it.
That was a physical fence, the kind with which humanity is increasingly fragmenting the Earth's surface. In addition to such visible structures, there are myriad "fences of the mind," the boundaries of resistance we erect to avoid the discomfort of life's propensity for the endless uncertainty of change. And then there are ideas deemed too frightening to entertain and so we imprison them within the boundaries of denial.
With each fence we impose to shatter the omnipresence of eternity, we seek to control the direction and scope of our life's never-ending story by reducing it to discernible snapshots that, in our deluded state of mind, we think we can control and hold constant. In reality, however, there is no such thing as a fixed boundary because everything exists in the eternal now, where change is the abiding constant. As eternity is timeless and space is infinite, so sounds—words—are meaningless until a boundary is placed around them to create the illusion of meaning, where none can exist. I say this because no two people conceive anything in the same way. Therefore, all meaning, all understanding is only approximate and forever changing.
The ultimate irony is that most people are afraid of the open-ended adventure that constitutes life as it is—right now, this moment. So, instead of accepting life, they're always wanting it to be something different, and thus miss life altogether because the eternal, timeless now is sum total of what is. We either grasp it with gratitude, even when it hurts, or we lose it forever.
The timelessness of eternity holds within it the "invisible moment," that moment in which we are an indivisible part of the ever-changing relationships, the ever-shifting novelty of the Universe. In that timeless moment, we are molding and being molded by the inner mystery of ourselves, even as we help to shape and then respond to the mystery that surrounds us in both space and our notion of time. There is, however, one abiding mystery with which we daily struggle, and that is notion of control.
Since we are forever entrained as a human particle in the fluid current of Universal Creation, we are part and parcel of every intersecting ripple of causation and effect, beginning with the Eternal Mystery into the everlasting. This embodiment in Creation means that we are forever out of control of control itself, despite the fact that so much of human life is centered around the attempt to usurp control from the Eternal Mystery—which is akin to a person standing in the mouth of a river, with arms extended in an attempting to halt the flow of its water by pushing it back upstream. Of late, however, that imaged is beginning to fade as I increasingly explore the aging process with which I am growing intimately familiar, a process that exaggerates most people's fear by propelling them into the country of The Future.
Eternity And The Banishment Of Fear
It's strange, given choice, as people are, how they gravitate to the Dark Kingdom of fear in The Future, where the perceived enemy has no face. There, people strengthen fear by giving credence to its demands of absolute surrender as though it was a concrete entity, rather than a self-created monster of negative energy in one's own mind.
Be that as it may, what exists in the country of The Present, this eternal moment, now, is all we can be certain of. The future is only as a figment of our imagination based on the illusion of time, which is also a figment of our imagination. "Time" is not real. It does not exist beyond our intellect. All that is real is this eternal moment in the country whose name means "love, peace, and God"—The Present.
But to experience the certainty of the eternal moment means to be totally immersed in this day, now, with no escape clauses. Everything else is represented by the uncertainty of illusion. By analogy, you are real and touchable, but your shadow, which appears real, is forever beyond your grasp as a light-induced figment of yourself, a shadow puppet, as it were.
Let a single blemish mar our acceptance of what is, a single second of our time be spent away from this moment —now—in either The Past or The Future, and we enable fear to dominate our life in a negative, self-reinforcing, codependent relationship. Thus, every expectation, to which we become firmly attached, imbeds itself as a condition in our thoughts that can project us into a no-win, psychological relationship with fear: if negative, we're afraid our expectation will be met, but, if positive, we're afraid it won't.
Either way, fear causes us to become increasingly self-centered in our search for outer security, which, of course, does not exist. The irony is that love and fear are merely shades of the same dynamic, our human emotions. Nevertheless, by our choices, we create an almost irreconcilable dichotomy in our minds between love and fear:
Where love reaches out, fear shrinks within.
Where love gives, fear takes.
Where love sees, fear is blind.
Where love believes, fear doubts.
Where love understands, fear comprehends not.
Where love learns and grows, fear holds fast to ignorance—
the status quo.
Where love accepts, fear resists.
Where love is patient, fear is restless.
Where love risks, fear withdraws.
Where love is calm, fear is agitated.
Where love is content, fear can never acquire enough.
Where love holds lightly, fear clings in desperation.
Where love is self-knowledge and self-mastery, fear knows
not itself and is out of control.
Where love is rational, fear is irrational.
Where love knows it can choose, fear is a fatalist.
Where love sets free, fear owns.
Where love is free and cannot be purchased, fear has a price.
Where love forgives all and lets go, fear carries a grudge and
passes it on.
How, then, do we prevent ourselves from becoming enslaved by fear? There are two ways. One is to live forever in the eternal moment, in the here and now, for by doing so we imprison fear in the only place it exists, but cannot leave—the Dark Kingdom of The Future. With fear thus imprisoned, there neither is nor can there be any fear in The Present—this moment, now—for that is where love, peace, and God are found. After all, fear is only a flight of fantasy into the dark side of The Future.
The second way to foil the power of fear is to simply accept life as it is given in this eternal moment because fear feeds on, and is nourished by, resistance to that which we do not want. Unconditional acceptance of a circumstance is to deftly sidestep fear and allow it to rush harmlessly past, like the clumsy brute it is.
Life becomes perfect, despite its pain, when we accept its circumstances as lessons and opportunities for personal growth, which in turn, bring increasing immunization against fear. With this in mind, I think we humans can elevate ourselves by so refining our own nature that it reflects what is behaviorally possible when we raise our consciousness to its highest potential, where fear cannot tread, even as a stranger.
It is, after all, our choice—to live in peace with love and God in the eternal moment of The Present or with fear in the dark side of The Future. If we do not make a conscious choice, fear will choose for us. It always does, if we let it.
Eternity And Peace
It's easy to get caught up in the seductive social trance of collective beliefs in today's world of forced conformity. Trapped in these beliefs, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer frenzy of motion and constant noise in our increasingly hectic and loud society, where haste and worry are the perpetual entrées on the daily menu. Yet few people realize that a hectic lifestyle equals a hectic mind, which inevitably results in "time sickness," of which the predominant symptom is worry.
Worry is a weakening of the self as it gives way to the fear that clouds the mind when the latter enters its great hall of past emotional entanglements or potential disasters and everywhere skulk dark possibilities that taint and dim our view of this moment—now.
These fearful thoughts caused Franklin Delano Roosevelt to observe: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." Worry, the marauding "Darth Vader" of the mind, chokes creativity, stifles and drains energy, exaggerates potential problems before they exist, and steals confidence by overshadowing positive thought and action to dwell chronically on the fear of imaginary disasters.
Worry comes to us from the Old English wyrgan, which means to strangle, through Middle English worien, which means to seize by the throat, harass. Worry is a strangling or seizing of the mind by deranged thoughts. When, instead of worrying, a person continually focuses on this moment—now, the tormenting internal conflicts of the Past are loosened and eventually evaporate. Hence the anxiety and fear that derive from projecting into The Future also expire.
Contemplating the eternal now reminds me of a passage I read somewhere, which said, in effect, there's nothing I can do about the yesterday, but I can ruin a perfectly good today by worrying about tomorrow. This is so because it's my reaction in the eternal moment that sets in motion the circumstances I will confront when tomorrow becomes my today.
All conscious life begins with thought, and all thoughts produce effects consistent with themselves. Therefore, as my past thoughts and deeds have brought me to my present set of circumstances, so my present thoughts and deeds are the seeds I sow that will shape my tomorrow when it becomes my today. If, therefore, I focus first and foremost on contentment, joy, love, trust, respect, and peace I have those kinds of thoughts, make those kinds of decisions, and sow those kinds of seeds—and vice versa if I sow negative thoughts of mental pollution, such as discontent, fear, hatred, distrust, arrogance, and violence.
Not knowing where peace abides, however, we keep looking to this government or that to make peace among its own people, or to broker peace with its neighbors, or at least to keep the peace it promised. But governments cannot make peace in the first place. They can only control violence to some extent.
Peace already exists in the primordial germ of Nature and thus underlies all manifestation, which is beyond time in the eternal moment. That which we focus our attention on in the eternal moment (such as peace) is real. In fact, the only place peace can be found is in the eternal moment, which is peace. On the other hand, those things from which we withdraw our attention because they are not in the eternal moment (such as worry and fear), cease to exist because they were, after all, merely specters confined to the dark shadows of our mind in a land we call "The Future."
Unfortunately, we usually destroy our chances of discovering peace because we live perpetually out of sync with life—which itself exists only in the eternal moment beyond time. Peace, on the other hand, not only resides within each of us as a manifestation of Nature in the eternal moment but also comes from within each of us as a manifestation of Nature in the eternal moment. As such, there is nothing we can do to create peace, but there is much we can do to avail ourselves of it.
As for myself, I have found that when I am peaceful in one sphere of life I am able to kindle peace everywhere I reach. It is the law of life. I now see peace as the unconditional acceptance of what is and the willingness to embrace it unconditionally for the intrinsic value of the personal lesson it has to teach.
And I have learned that peace is an inner state, which can only be reflected outwardly, that true peace in the world is the collective inner peace of individuals—not the so-called "political peace" of nations. Because peace is secreted within each of us, the degree to which we each respond to our own inner peace enhances the peacefulness of the world. Our common global bond is that, regardless of creed, color, sex, religion, social status, or national heritage, we all face the same inner search for peace and the same inner obstacles to finding it and recognizing it when found.
Most people in Western industrialized society, however, find it necessary to look outside of themselves for the causes and solutions to most of their problems. "We rage against 'forces' over which we have no control, " says Joseph Chilton Pearce, former humanities professor and author. "But control would require effort, and our efforts go to self-comfort, personal benefit, and living the good life." It often makes people angry to hear the truth, to know that their emotional and psychological healing is essential to their search for peace.
When people come to grips with the fact that they always have a choice of thought and behavior, that any serious reformation of character has to begin with transforming the thought process itself, two things will happen. First, people will begin asking themselves: What am I doing physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to cause my inner turmoil? Second, they will discover hope and begin to seek the self-knowledge and determination that will enable them to heal toward inner peace.
But without doing the inner work necessary to find one's own peace, world peace is certainly not possible because peace is based on one's being defenseless, which demands great inner strength and courage. It's not danger that comes when defenses are laid down, but rather safety, peace, joy, and a remembrance of the Eternal Mystery. Defenselessness takes enormous discipline, the discipline of individuals who are staunchly committed to finding and retaining inner peace.
For peace to be experienced in the world we must each learn that: (1) the only true peace is within us as part of Nature's endowment, (2) our task is to find peace, recognize it, and hold fast to it, and (3) peace in the world is the outer manifestation of the inner peace of individuals and is possible only through the collective thoughts and actions of an ever-increasing number of such peaceful people because the infectious nature of peace, is peace.
Thus, by the thoughts we each sow daily through our actions, we collectively reflect to a greater or lesser degree either the light of inclusive peace into the world or the darkness of fear, separateness, and violence. And the degree to which we individually find peace is the collective degree to which peace in the world is possible.
As we serve others, we build peace and contentment in our hearts. As we build peace within our hearts, we build peace in the world. By building peace in our hearts—where the only true peace can reside—we create a healed society and a healed Earth. As peace grows, it becomes evermore a hologram, which Gandhi knew when he said, "peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals." But first we must find the courage to struggle within ourselves, because courage is the price of peace, which, after all, is only a choice.
From our own inner peace, we become emissaries of peace among the people with whom we daily interact, from a small group of family and friends, to casual acquaintances, to our various communities. As communities become more peaceful, cities and states become more peaceful. As cities and states become more peaceful, nations become more peaceful. As nations become more peaceful, the world becomes more peaceful. And it all begins with our own search for inner peace, one person at a time as we each embrace the eternal moment wherein we all dwell in peace as the foundation of our relationships in life.
THE PAST, COUNTRY OF REMEMBRANCE
The Past is a country of remembrance seen more clearly in the imagination than through the lens of reality, where truth often becomes lies and wishful thinking is mythologized into fact. Being a country bounded by things that have already happened, The Past is a land without fear but not without peril for it is haunted by injustice and regret out of which the shadow of fear grows. After all, The Past, which is largely an archive of human strife, is written by the winners and thus tainted by the color of their biases.
Before one can leave the country of The Past and enter that of The Present as a permanent resident, one must obtain a visa called "Forgiveness." To forgive, to let go perceived injustices is one of the most difficult tasks of the human journey through life—a task for which there are few contemporary examples that an average person might be aware of. Two of today's examples are Nelson Mandela, once president of South Africa, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
First, let's consider the attitude of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years. In 1994, the year of his historical presidency, Mandela, a free man, visited his old prison cell on Robben Island, which caused the white-minority rulers of South African apartheid to malign him as a likely trigger for a vengeful blood bath against his oppressors. Despite the fact that apartheid was an oppressive system of government, which kept South Africa's white minority in power over the black majority, Mandela prevented such a blood bath. He revealed further the moral bankruptcy of the white-minority rulers by choosing intelligence, civility, and reason over vengeance, vitriol, and violence, commenting that "…people want things explained to them clearly and rationally."
Mandela, following his election as president of South Africa, assured the white South Africans that his would be an administration of peace, not vengeance. "I cherish the idea of a new South Africa," he said, "where all South Africans are equal, where all South Africans work together to bring about security, peace, and democracy in our country." And he meant it!
As he stepped down from the presidency in 1999 and bid farewell to parliament, he said, "To the extent that I have been able to achieve anything, I know that this is because I am the product of the people of South Africa," a typical response from the man who won the hearts and minds of his nation with his message of racial reconciliation. "You had the ability to be everybody's president," said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, leader of the New National Party, which created apartheid. "You did not only possess generosity of spirit, as president, you lived it. You are living proof that no jail can ever keep an idea imprisoned."
Following in Nelson Mandela's footsteps, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, in speaking about his experiences during the fight for freedom from apartheid, "I fought against apartheid as racial injustice which sought to penalize people for something they can do nothing about, the color of their skin. . . . It would have been easy," he continued, "to accept bitterness against the Whites. [But] there is no point exacting vengeance now, knowing it will cause future vengeance by the offspring of those we punish. Vengeance leads only to vengeance." As chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, however, he has been a leader in the national movement to forgive whites for their crimes against black South Africans without either excusing or burying their crimes, some of which were truly gruesome.
Tutu brought the barbarity to light by listening to such stories in the hearings as that of a white South African who held a barbecue to pass the time while the body of a black South African man he had kidnapped and murdered was being burned nearby. "That's the depths of depravity of which all of us are capable," warned Tutu. And yet, Tutu continued, he was moved by the power of forgiveness as victim after victim of apartheid's horrors was reconciled with his or her oppressor during the course of the hearings. "I have two lasting impression: the horror of what we are able to do to each other and almost exhilaration at the nobility of the human spirit that so many demonstrate." The last impression Tutu had of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "an overwhelming sense of hope."
Tutu went on to say that forgiveness is not a religious function, but rather a human one. "Forgiveness is not nebulous, unpractical, and idealistic. It is thoroughly realistic. It is realpolitik in the long run. We in South Africa do not have a blueprint, but we have understood this lesson."
To forgive the person is to have compassion, which is recognizing that we all do the level best we know how to do at all times under any given circumstance because our sense of survival depends on it. But this is not to say that our "best" is wise or even socially acceptable. On the other hand, to "forgive" the act of injustice is to condone the act of injustice. Therefore, we must forgive the person his or her act of injustice, but condemn the act itself as unjust.
"We would not have succeeded against apartheid," said Tutu, "if we had been fragmented along religious lines," recalling how he had marched arm in arm with Muslim and Jewish leaders in his protest of white minority rule. "Unless we look the beast in the eye, we find that it has an uncanny habit of returning and holding us hostage. . . . Frequently, it is in facing up to evil that the essential unity gets to be experienced." Now as in the days of old, it is still better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Desirable attitudes, such as those of Mandela and Tutu, which are based on one's own set of inner values, can be neither legislated nor coerced. They can only be taught and nurtured be example and experience, as the following story illustrates:
An army attacked a foreign land only to be captured by the king's own army and ordered to surrender their weapons, which they did. Then, rather than putting the soldiers in prison or killing them, the king freed them within his borders to work as public servants for the very people they had attempted to conquer. Their first task was to repair the physical damage they had done. As the years passed, some of the soldiers made friends among their former enemies and others even married into local families.
After the soldiers had labored for five years on behalf of his people, the king called them together. He thanked them for their labor, offered to let those stay who wished to, offered friendship to those who did not want to stay, and returned their weapons to them. The king then offered them peace and freedom and bid them farewell as they left for their homes.
The king in this story was not only a psychologically mature man who ruled with compassion and wisdom but also a builder of true community through the example of his rule. His country—The Present—was built on a firm commitment to the highest form of justice he could imagine and the greatest sense of sustainability he could understand and convey to his people in the eternal moment of the here and now.
THE FUTURE, COUNTRY OF ILLUSION
Unlike The Past, in which we may have participated, The Future is a land of time shrouded in possibilities and probabilities that lie beyond even the transient certainty of knowledge. As such, it's a land always out of reach, despite the length and breadth of life's journey because tomorrow, wherein The Future lies, keeps curiously apace with the fervor of our human striving and is thus always on the horizon and forever receding.
Seen but dimly through the mist of imagined possibilities and nervously calculated probabilities, The Future is divided into two competing kingdoms, one of light and one of darkness. The kingdom of light, ruled by the positive possibilities of love, has a tiny population because almost everyone crossing the border into The Future becomes entranced by the dark power of negative possibilities in the kingdom ruled by fear—hence, our national "disaster mentality."
Although there is today a growing number of books that deal with how society must change if it is to survive even the 21st century with any semblance of its current order, such books, while absolutely necessary to the survival of the best of American society as we know it, seldom journey deeply into the dark corners of our national personality to ferret out the causes of our social malaise. There are many personal and national reasons people resist the journey into the dark shadowlands of their psyche, not the least of which is the fear of what hideous things might be found lurking there; of being weighed, measured, and found wanting; of secreted moral sins being found out, which fear dictates will bring swift and merciless judgment be they known.
We humans, however, are born without fear. We are taught fear by our parents when they themselves face life with a constant knot of fear in their hearts, minds, and bellies. This is not to say that our parents are bad people; it is to say that they can teach us only what they themselves know—what their parents taught them, and if fear predominates in their lives, that is what they teach because that is all they know how to teach. Yet fear is not a subject of open discourse, but rather fleeting suggestions and furtive behaviors that originate in the shadowlands of the mind. This murky place of the human psyche harbors a pessimistic Russian proverb about the supposed unchangeability of human thinking: If men could foresee the future, they would still behave as they do now.
Fear makes life seem to be full of risks outside of one's known, practiced, safe, and acceptable routine; but the "normal" or "usual" risks of living to which people are habituated are not so scary, such as driving an automobile, despite the relatively high probability of being in an accident sometime in their life. Nevertheless, perceived risks lurking in the unknown are frightening, so people avoid them at almost any cost. Doubt, the rudiment of fear, causes people to fall back on their assumptions, which are almost always negative because we have been—and still are—taught in the negative.
Although "security" (which to many people is synonymous with "predictability") does not exist in life, outside of one's own spiritual beliefs, people nevertheless confuse "possibility" with "probability. " Clearly, almost anything is possible, but the probability of a given thing happening at any particular time is a totally different issue.
For example, every casino owner in Las Vegas knows there is the possibility of a customer winning big, which is precisely what the customer is betting on, but the owner also knows the probability is slim that a given customer will win big. Conversely, the probability is great that a given customer will lose, which is clearly the customer's abiding problem; whereas the probability of a casino owner making money is clearly in the owner's favor. Understanding this confusion between the meaning of "possibility" and "probability," as well as the concepts they convey, is critical because "life is God's casino." The difference between life and Las Vegas is that God's casino is based on winning, whereas casinos in Las Vegas are based on losing.
When I say life is God's "casino," I do so advisedly. Looking back over my life, I find many more positive influences than negative ones. The jackpot of love, trust, and faith has supported me all my life. In addition, love, trust, and faith always seem to point out, when I listen to my inner voice, that my assumptions can be founded on either a positive outcome or a negative one. The choice is mine! And part of that choice is understanding the difference between possibility and probability—whether positive or negative.
Because some people find living to be such a frightening proposition, they plan their lives to the nth degree, all the while thinking they can plan their way into security. But, as stated in the movie Inn of the Sixth Happiness, "A life that is planned is a closed life. It can be endured, perhaps, but it cannot be lived." Here, I submit, that people who might normally be thought of as driven by ambition are really driven by the fear of insecurity and thus feeling out of control of their lives. Such people usually see the future as a potential disaster that has an almost-certain probability of striking them.
If one lives their life from a negative point of view, they almost invariably have a knee-jerk reaction to any uncomfortable circumstance because they elevate the possibility of something unwanted happening to the probability of its happening. This type of thinking is the cause of worry, which, as Broadway actor Glenn Turner points out, "is like sitting in a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere." On the other hand, someone who lives life from the positive point of view tends to respond to the same uncomfortable circumstance, rather than reacting to it, and in so doing most often perceives the "right relationship," in the Buddhist sense.
Having a choice in God's casino, as we always do, we can choose to win. Our payment for winning is invariable—the wonder of spiritual growth, which reminds me of a church marquee I once saw. Its message: "God is looking for spiritual fruit, not religious nuts." In the end, spirituality is the visa one needs to become a permanent resident of The Present—the only country of eternal peace.
The discussion of Nelson Mandela 's attitudes is based on: (1) Paul Harris. 1999. Mandela bids parliament farewell. The Associated Press. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. March 27 and (2) Rhonda Chris Lokeman. 1999. Mandela's candle gave light to the world. The Kansas City Star. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. March 30.
The discussion of Desmond Tutu 's attitudes is based on: (1) Colin Greer. 1998. "Without Memory, There Is No Healing. Without Forgiveness, There Is No Future. " Parade Magazine. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. January 11 and (2) Bennett Hall. 2000. Tutu says God remains a force in our society. Albany (OR) Democrat-Herald, Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times. February 13.
©Chris Maser 2005. All rights reserved.