Newton lives. I know we like to think we’re past all that mechanistic thinking, but just because the universe has (also) become relativistic and quantum, that doesn’t mean that everything else just fades away into falsehood. His second law of motion, as it turns out, applies not only to objects moving through space, it applies to thoughts and ideas as well (which in some schools of thoughts are considered things, and, as such, would naturally be subject to the same laws as are other things, like billiard balls or cars or stars. It has long fascinated me that the more globalized; that is to say, the more homogenized, our world becomes, the more areas and ethnic groups want autonomy; the more irrelevant the nation-state proves itself to be, the more those groups and regions strive to become one. It is the same, I believe, with our own experience, our yearnings for connection: the more we want it, the harder it seems to be to find. There’s an old Zen story about gathering sand: the harder you try to grab hold of it, the less you end up with; you get a lot more into a gentle cupped hand than into a clenched fist. And so, when we relax, we encounter. It’s just how the universe works.
I’m certainly glad you mentioned what I believe to be is the most profound and insightful thing that Gebser ever said/wrote: “In the end, everything is simple.” I’m reminded of the story of HIllel, the first-century BCE rabbi, who was asked by a gentile thinking of converting to Judaism, to explain the Torah (the Law) to him while standing on one leg. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary–go and study it!” It is not only the Zen-like quality of the tale that is so attractive, it is the elegant simplicity of his answer that moves me most. What he say, of course, is the Jewish version of what we know in the Christian world as the Golden Rule (the real one, that is, not the cynical version that goes, “he who has the gold rules”). Oddly enough, the Golden Rule, the one about engaging and interacting with others – any others, not just one’s own, if you will (this was clarified quite brilliantly in the story of the Good Samaritan), is the only principle, admonishment, “rule” – whatever you want to call it – that appears in every world religion. It is, regardless of assumptions, presuppositions, mythology, dogma or creed, the one “feature” common to them all. It is something all of them share. To make things even better, even atheists have their own version. Sure, there’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative for the brainiacs, but I find the Australian comedian Jim Jefferies summed it up for Everyman best: “try not to be an asshole.” How simple can you get? It doesn’t get any simpler than that; and apparently, the whole planet agrees – with the sentiment, and the simplicity.
But, I’m also reminded of something my mother used to tell me (a lot, if I think about it long enough): some things, maybe a lot of things, and certainly important things, are simply easier said than done. Just like the expanses of globalization calls forth its opposite in the drive for local autonomy, and just like the longing for connectedness results in incessant feelings of isolation, so too does the recognition of simplicity drive us insane with feelings of complexity. We can think of a gazillion reasons why we should hate – and if that’s too strong a word, let us say “dislike” – Trump and his ilk, but the truth of the matter is he’s just a poor slob stuck here on planet earth with the rest of us. Oh sure, he’s in a position to make our lives more miserable than they might otherwise be, but I feel sorry enough for him and his own lack of humanity that I feel inspired not to be like that and to get back to my own “roots” and try not to be an asshole myself, knowing full well that there are times I need to be trying harder, and also knowing that just saying “no” is the most courageous act you can perform.
Of course, the time and place to do just that is here and now. It always has been and always will be. So, I try to be that way with my family, and with the neighbors, and I try not to get too upset by our local mayor who is a challenge to everyone’s faith in these parts, and I find I have to put more effort into dealing with people in positions of so-called authority than I think is necessary, but when the opportunity arises I try to get them to realize that all of us are struggling to make sense of the world and our lives and that we have at least that in common so why not try to resolve our current common issue. It works more often than not, so I keep at it. What I learned in my esoteric sojourns was that the magnum opus, the Great Work, was not called so because it was so lofty and noble, but rather simply because there was so much of it.
And then, there’s Infinite Conversations where I find others not dissimilar to myself who are also trying to make sense of things, and the whole scope of interaction expands in ways and to a degree that I sometimes have trouble following. I listen to a couple of podcasts based on an essay-series and realize that there are more folks that I thought doing lots of wonderful, important, meaningful things that I wasn’t even the slightest bit aware of before, and the curmudgeon in me is gob-smacked for a while for he has to concede that there’s just a whole helluva lot taking place of which was beyond his ken. It’s one of those ignorance-is-not-bliss-rather-knowing-is cases. And if all those little efforts continue and multiply and infect and inspire those around all those who I now know are doing and acting and struggling and sometimes even succeeding, it is not hard for me to imagine that the accumulation of all those little points-of-fact will at some point tip, and where nothing was even suspected before, something new will manifest. And that’s how I understand the cosmos works.
In other words, if I’m just a butterfly, it would probably be a good thing for me to not stop flapping my wings.