Eventually, we will all experience a profound sense of loneliness. We will realise that however close we are to others, we will still suffer intimately, excessively, alone. This assumed isolation from others may drive some to despair and others to desperation; we seek and thirst for attachment. Yet, what isolation do we know of when we have already acquired language, and through language, meaning and association. What loneliness do we speak of when we can already see, hear, speak and write. The multitude of blind, deaf and mute cannot begin to express their sense of separation from the rest of the world. They cannot even assert their loneliness as superior to ours, for we do not know them at all.
Yesterday, a ten year old girl asked, “Are you emotional?” I replied confidently, “Yes, I am.” Then, a huge smile stretched across her face and our conversation went elsewhere.
I have almost forgotten this precious moment in the midst of all moments when working with kids. At every stage, these kids face a multitude of insecurities, fears and challenges. At ten, this girl is probably beginning to feel insecure about herself, about her identity as a girl. She might have been laughed at or criticised for being emotional. It might have caused her to doubt her capability, her worth and the fullness of her character. With my simple and straightforward answer, I have given her a boost of confidence and acceptance, to be just as emotional as one can be. We ought to embrace and appreciate the emotional side of ourselves for I have done many things with the strength of emotions. I have cared for children when they were sick, listened to people in need and wrote alot of poems to alleviate the general suffering of life.
It is important to tell your girls and boys that they can be emotional, that it can be a strength to be emotional. Teach them to channel emotions into compassion and empathy.
It is important for us to rely upon facts as the realm of mystic and faith is vulnerable to abuse and manipulation. To support this, I draw upon Galileo’s experience and the myth of Apophis.
In 1615, Galileo discovered that “the sun remains motionless at the center of the revolutions of the celestial globes, and that the earth both turns on its own axis and revolves around the sun.”
As the discovery contradicted commonly held views, detractors began to “spread abroad the idea that these propositions are contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore to be condemned as heretical” and they found “others who were prepared to declare from the pulpit, with uncharacteristic confidence, that they were indeed to be condemned as heretical.” […]
In addition, “They pretend not to know that its author – or rather the one who revived and confirmed it – was Nicolaus Copernicus, a man who was not just a Catholic but a priest and a canon.” […]
Hence Galileo had no choice but to make a case for himself. He remarked, “It seems to me that the starting point in disputes concerning problems in natural science should not be the authority of scriptural texts but the experience of the senses and necessary demonstrations. For while Holy Scripture and nature proceed alike from the divine word…it is agreed that Scripture, in order to be understood by the multitude, says many things which are apparently and in the literal sense of the words at variance with absolute truth. Nature, on the other hand, never transgresses the laws to which it is subject, but is inexorable and unchanging, quite indifferent to whether its hidden reasons and ways of working are accessible to human understanding or not.” […]
“So I do beg these most prudent Fathers to consider very carefully the difference between statements that are a matter of opinion and those which can be demonstrated. If they keep in mind the strength of logical deduction, they will better understand why it is not in the power of those who profess the demonstrative sciences to change their opinion at will.”
The unbending spirit of Galileo in his maintenance of scientific observation and truth, reminds us that we should too be fact finders and defend truth with reason.
In Ancient Egypt, Apophis or Apep was the spirit of evil, darkness and destruction who threatened to destroy the sun god, Ra. It was associated with several frightening natural events, such as the unexplained darkness of the solar eclipse, storms and earthquakes. It was depicted as a huge serpent, all-powerful and impossible to overcome.
To defeat Apep, priests of Ra would conduct an annual ritual: “Banishing Apep”. An effigy of Apep would be taken into the temple and imbued with all of the evil of the land. The effigy would then beaten, crushed smeared with mud and burned.
After learning of this myth, I felt great sympathy for Apep. It was the scapegoat for all that it could not control; its name cursed and its image crucified for natural events that were bound to happen. Hence, it is important to have knowledge. We have come a long way from the times of Gods and myths, but our human nature remains the same. We still retain some irrational fear, some imagination; yet all must be in moderation and reason shall inform most of our modern lives.
“It is characteristic of many neurologists (and patients) that they mistake intransigence for strength, and plant themselves like Canutes before advancing seas of trouble, defying their advance by the strength of their will. Or, like Podsnaps, they deny the sea of troubles which is rising all around them: “I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!” Neither defiance nor denial is of the least use here: one takes arms by learning how to negotiate or navigate a sea of troubles, by becoming a mariner in the seas of one’s self. “Tribulation” dealt with trouble and storm; “Accommodation” is concerned with weathering the storm.” – Oliver Sacks, Awakenings
In our lifetime of troubles big and small, we must learn to accept and manage every situation as it arrives. It must be done so with as little ego as possible, for trouble is trouble enough.
“In that long time of captivity I had also come to know all the many people that were in me. Here again, I saw the same: many different qualities in each man and each of them looking and seeking for expression. Though we were all different, our shared suffering had made of us a collective community. We sought to complement each other, to understand the different aspects of each others’ personalities and meet with them meaningfully. By so doing we were always aware of each others’ mood swings and frustrations. […] But as I came to know each of them in the confines of this room, I began to re-understand that each man’s humanity and capacity to love expresses itself in different forms. In those sharing moments I discovered qualities that were lacking in myself.
The squabbling, when it did come, came over insignificant things. Always it is the case that when the mind is empty or tired or when like a child we need to be fed, we cry out in tantrums. Some men needed to be proved right to gain a small victory over their neighbour. It was a means of restoring identity. We all needed these things and we sometimes turned squabbling like hungry birds fighting over crumbs. At other times we realised the pettiness and futility and turned away embarrassed.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling
The above excerpt provides advice on sustaining a marriage, or any other relationship that involves living closely with another:
- We have many different qualities in each of us. We can be inconsistent.
- We should understand these qualities and
- meet with them meaningfully (i.e. not to pick a fight).
- We must be aware of our own and their moods and frustrations.
- We should seek to understand their expression of love.
- We should discover qualities to learn from.
- We should not care too much about squabbles.
- Remember that both of you are a collective community.
All in all, we should seek to understand another, with patience and an open heart.
“As we suffered with a friend his deep moments of loneliness and grief, that awful renunciation of life itself, we each of us acquired, almost instinctually, a deeper and richer capacity for joy, for humour, for laughter. When you have so little you find joy in insignificant things.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling
It is common for us to tell ourselves, “I can’t do math.”, “I can’t write poetry.”, “I can’t etc…” and it is only so because we are limited by our environment.
I refer to environment strictly from the viewpoint of an average middle-class citizen of a first world country, as it is not the purpose of this post to consider those limited by poor circumstance.
For most average middle-class citizens, our lives flow in general monotony: work – home – work – home. We live in a structured economy and society that enables us to have regular incomes, regular spending and regular lives. This is why we have become quite regular too. We are predictable, functional and exceedingly normal. Our environment has shaped us so.
Hence we shudder to consider acquiring new skills or knowledge that demand commitment or a leap of faith. How many of us will start learning piano in our 40s or even in our 20s? We have work to do and money to churn. How many of us take up a new sport in our 30s? We have enough exercise running after our kids.
To take this inertia further, I propose that we have an inability to create new skills and knowledge.
Consider this: You are locked in a cell, and have absolutely nothing to entertain yourself with. Day after day, you edge on the madness of boredom. In order to occupy your mind, would you turn over what you have learnt and create something, anything?
Such was the experience of Brian Keenan, an Irish teacher who was unfortunately kidnapped in Lebanon. Together with journalist, John McCarthy, they devised elaborate hand signals to communicate with two Americans in an opposite cell. How many of us consider it possible to devise a method of communication? (and without Google’s help)
In our safe and comfortable lives, we deny ourselves the possibility of learning, creating, of becoming so much more than we can. Yet, what is there to complain of, when we are not imprisoned; or are we?