From Pleasure, Pain

This is the first in a series of blog posts about what I see as the paradox of love. This essay is my answer to the prompt, what has brought you to your knees? I’m not sure where I’ll go with this. Maybe you can help. Ask me questions, or prompt me in some direction. Please keep in mind, this is merely my take. Feel free to provide yours.

Nothing begins, nothing ends,
that is not paid for with moan;
for we are born in other’s pain,
and perish in our own.
~ Francis Thompson

Twenty years ago, I started using the phrase it’s all about how we feel. Normally, I’d caveat such a mantra by claiming it only applied to people without mental health issues. In this case, I think the words apply universally. How do you feel?

Love is the highest standard we have for caring about others. In literature, movies, music, religion, and in our daily lives; our obsession with love is obvious. It’s poorly defined, extensively written about, and grammatically misused; but love is everywhere in the English language. We want to love and to be loved. It’s our ultimate pleasure. How sweet love is.

I embrace love, but I fear pain. Pain can take over my body. Excruciating physical pain has brought me to my knees. It’s absurd that such pain may be helpful as it travels my nervous system from its source to my brain. Pain is abnormal. Even though we all experience pain, it’s not supposed to be there unless something is wrong. Pain is a symptom more useful to doctors than to me.

As bad as physical pain is, emotional pain is more devastating. In extreme cases, mental grief often leads to thoughts of suicide. In physical pain I might say, I want to die; but, I never intended that. I only wanted the pain to stop. On the other hand, people in emotional agony can be dangerous.

Our vulnerability to emotional pain is greatest when we love someone. When we love another person, we grant that person more power over us than any god or demon. Still, we choose to love. Not just willingly, but aggressively with passion and desire. Why? It’s like we can’t live without it. If anyone does live without love, we consider that sad and dysfunctional.

Love has brought me to my knees in two ways. First, the wondrous and joyful pleasure of experiencing love has led me to my knees with happiness. Be it romantic love, love of parents, love of children, grandchildren, or friends; the wonderful state of love takes away the dark and gives light.

Second, love has dropped me in pain, in fear, in a depressingly dark, hateful passion. Love betrayed leaves behind lifelong scars too deep to ever completely heal. The end of a romance, the betrayal of a friendship, the dismissal of a parent we love, the suffering or death of a child; each of these may, and perhaps should, put me on my knees. Such pain and agony from the dark side of love makes me question the value of life.

There may be recovery or even pleasure at the end of the tunnel. Time may mend love betrayed. Still, our human nature forces us to look back into that dark tunnel, into that abyss of pain and suffering. We remember. Do we dare to ever again risk pain by making ourselves vulnerable? Do we face the agony of finding ourselves desperately miserable because we loved?

Why do we do it? Would you, could you, live without love?

That’s a paradox of love. We know the risks, the vulnerability, and the potential to suffer. And yet, we still seek out love and take the risk. How do you feel now?

Even when we look both ways and mind each gap, we will experience pain in life.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you.
You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
― Bob Marley (20 years after his death, which means he never said it. True, nonetheless.)

The youtube poem below is worth hearing/reading, and I think the Love Hurts song by Nazareth is worth a listen.

 

T – Tercet: In Real Time (NoPoWriMo #24)

The tercet is a poetic stanza of three lines with a rhyme. While there is no specific rhyme scheme necessary and some even venture into free verse, I prefer to not to dig in unplowed turf. However, I did play with this and came up with rhyming lines one and two in each stanza, and using mid and end line rhymes in line three: aab2, bbc2, etc.

***

In Real Time
By Bill Reynolds

Not to be seen, heard, or specifically smelt.
We know it’s there, cuz experiences felt,
No gods can stop it, no power to quit.

Some sew it wisely, while others just wait.
The outcome’s the same, we share the same fate.
Fight back as we may; that is only delay.

Wind we can feel, the rain we may taste.
But the passage of time, we have little to waste.
Let’s consider the past; make choices that last.

Perpetually running, it passes in silence;
Everything changes, nothing is timeless.
Reality speaks loudly, but time passes proudly.

***

Thinking of time, be looking both ways.
While minding the gaps, watch only today’s.

Q – The Quiet Man’s Poem (NaPoWriMo #20)

I get it.

Quiet Man’s Poem
by Bill Reynolds

First as a child, then as a boy
No shy child as many would ploy.
Silence in me is part of my nature.
Spoken words etch not my portraiture.

My teen years of silence, not taken a joke,
Was the indication of a challenge to bear.

More words to share, growing older I spoke.
Mostly not words they wanted to hear.

Others wanted to know why ‘twas I
Who made less noise than they did cry.
My smile never inquired just why,
“Of all talkin’, ya never was tired?”

Small talk they called it, noise without brains.
Not shy, in silence, I’m quietly plotting
Demise and disposal of whatever remains.

Now older, and less quiet I’ll be,
I listens and sez the damnedest of things.
Have it your way, but please try to see,
I can make stop those annoying rings.

Contemplate me
as you pass through yer day.
Most of the time,
I simply have nothing to say.

 

Listen quietly when you can,
mind unheard gaps,
and look both ways.

Click on the photo to watch a funny scene from a the movie, The Quiet Man.

Scene from movie, The Quiet Man, staring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara

Morality Series: Sloth

Intentions Count

Intentions Count

Other than writing about it, does anyone ever use this word except for the animal or when referring to the sin? Do we know what sloth means? Is it laziness?

Sloth is the most difficult of the seven biggies to define precisely. An old-fashioned definition might sound like defiant sorrow turning away from God’s good intentions.

Is it really a bad thing? Is the problem its tendency to lead to other problems? I knew it fit with laziness, but it also goes with apathy and a list of other goof-off words.

Thomas Pynchon wrote a great piece about how sloth is tied to writers. Read it all here. I like this paragraph:

“Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. They are approached all the time on the subject, not only for free advice, but also to speak at Sloth Symposia, head up Sloth Task Forces, testify as expert witnesses at Sloth Hearings. The stereotype arises in part from our conspicuous presence in jobs where pay is by the word, and deadlines are tight and final — we are presumed to know from piecework and the convertibility of time and money. In addition, there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, “The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee”, by Thomas Pynchon

sloth-4

If this is a sin, it’s not one we commit. In fact, it seems we commit nothing, we do nothing, and we don’t much give a shit about anything. As I understand it, sloth refers to our mental, physical, spiritual, and pathological states, usually with a strong religious twist. Even the Buddhists have their five hindrances, of which Sloth-torpor is one defined as a heaviness of the body and dullness of the mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. That sounds like it needs a DSM IV diagnosis.

With greed, I wrote that we know it when we see it. I’m not sure sloth is as easy to identify. I don’t take the word sin seriously, but sloth is one item that may not get enough attention. Like the others, it is not healthy if it’s a person’s choice for a way of life. I can accept go with the flow, but like many of the big seven, it can be unhealthy when taken to a wrong extreme. And, it can lead to other behavior that is even more damaging. I think that much of what we might perceive as sloth, in others or ourselves, is either a medical problem like depression, or an existential crisis. Here is another example from Mr. Pynchon:

“Any discussion of Sloth in the present day is of course incomplete without considering television, with its gifts of paralysis, along with its creature and symbiont, the notorious Couch Potato. Tales spun in idleness find us Tubeside, supine, chiropractic fodder, sucking it all in, re-enacting in reverse the transaction between dream and revenue that brought these colored shadows here to begin with so that we might feed, uncritically, committing the six other deadly sins in parallel, eating too much, envying the celebrated, coveting merchandise, lusting after images, angry at the news, perversely proud of whatever distance we may enjoy between our couches and what appears on the screen.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee, by Thomas Pynchon

I like saying that I’m lazy, or that it’s a lazy day. I should say relaxed or comfortable, but lazy adds a pinch of ironic guilt. That troubles some folks, but I think it natural. On my calling card, the leading skill is Leisure Aficionado; a reference to many of my goals in retirement. It got less attention than Pleasure Seeker did.

Sure. Sometimes.

Sure. Sometimes.

The opposite of sloth is said to be diligence: careful and persistent work or effort. I have always liked persistence, and for a long time, I liked some work. Maybe it was the doing that I liked – my ability to make something happen; or maybe it was the fruit of my labor that was my reward. My writing is kind of both, but mostly my reward is the result. That is also my motivation to do it again. For about five years, I ran – anything from five kilometers to marathons. For marathons, diligent training and persistence are keys to success without much injury. I’ve met no slothy runners. To endurance runners, any day with less than five miles is slacking off.

Is it sloth or depression?

Is it sloth or depression?

One more issue regarding sloth: this whole concept that people who choose to be lazy or sloth are deliberately committing sins is nonsense. People want to feel good, to contribute, to have purpose and success. That is what is normal for humans. We’re unaware of other’s mental, physical, or spiritual health. So, we should focus on ourselves and what’s best for us. If anything is a sin, it’s judgment.

 

 

The song Alphie by Lily Allen is a hoot, and refers to the pot induced lethargy of her younger brother. Yes, the Game of Thrones actor – same guy. But it could be sloth. This Youtube version is a bit edited, but worth a look, nonetheless.

We should look upon our own sloth with a critical eye.
Too little or too much may be unhealthy.
Live life to the fullest as long as possible; always look both ways and mind the gaps.

Series on Morality: Greed

Just another desire?

Just another desire?

How much is enough? When do our simple desires or wants rise to the level of immoral greed?

Steal to feed your hungry family, and you may go to jail. An investment banker, who makes millions, steals from the public, nearly destroys the economy, and causes financial crises to millions of people; we talk about the banker’s greed and move on – no consequences.

So some of us firmly believe.

So some of us firmly believe.

Here’s how I see my own greed: my wants become immoral greed when my having too much causes others to go without or suffer. That view is mostly due to culture and my beliefs about human nature. If I lived the aesthetic life of a Trappist, I’d restrict myself so there would be more for others. I want to have enough without taking away from anyone, especially those in need. But not everyone feels that way.

If there are 10 things we both want, and we each take five, that might seem fair. But what if we need only two each, and will never need more? Do we hoard the other six? Collectors spend fortunes adding items to their collections. Is that greed? If so, is it immoral? If they also donate fortunes to philanthropic causes, does that change anything? Am I discussing greed, or is this an issue of caring about others.

Is greediness a normal part of our nature? Is it instinctive to be greedy to survive, but also part of a darker human condition to be immorally greedy? If the answer to both questions is yes, why? From whence does our greedy nature come? Why are some of us incredibly selfish, while others are altruistic to the point of self-denial? If we feel greedy, but don’t act on that feeling, is it ok? If it’s normal, as I contend it is, then we should feel no guilt. If our actions cause unnecessary harm to others, that’s different.

One of life's balancing acts

One of life’s balancing acts

Why do some people think greed is immoral, yet they blindly practice it routinely? Is it really the opposite of liberality, which is defined as the behavior of someone who gives things or money in a generous way? I think these are both normal. We are greedy and generous.

Bill Gates is very wealthy and continues to make a lot of money. He lives a good life that doubtless has some excesses. But, Gates is also very generous and kind. He is both an American capitalist and a kind and generous person. Many wealthy people seem to be. Some are not.

Is greed a form of self-preservation that has gone too far? When humans find themselves in extremely stressful situations, they become not only selfish and greedy, but dangerously so. Starvation changes us. When basic needs are not met, we don’t consider it greed when people take extreme actions to meet those needs.

Behavior in WWII concentration camps and American prisoners in Bataan and other places provide ample evidence to support this. Oddly, there are remarkable altruistic exceptions. Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, discusses why one camp prisoner will give away his last morsel of food to another who is dying. Yet, another prisoner will harm others, steal from them, or commit murder or suicide. While this was an observational basis for Frankl’s therapies and personal outlook, these very real human experiences testify to major differences in people.

Can greed be satisfied?

Can greed be satisfied?

If it has always been that way with people, will it continue? Is greed normal in other animals? Is survival of the fittest a basic instinct of our animal inheritance that now masquerades as greed?

Greed, like quality, is difficult to precisely define. Yet, also like quality, most of us know it when we see it; particularly when we see it in other people. However, we must admit that greed is something we seem to share, want it or not. We need to feel safe and that may mean not trusting that we will manage with enough. More is safer and better.

Our human nature has many facets and sides. Our morality is a big part of our nature, good or bad.
Keep in mind that if we take only what we need, we care for more than ourselves.
May we live our lives in concert with humanity and all of nature.
Let us look both ways and mind the gaps.

Don't even think about it

Don’t even think about it

Series on Morality: Introduction

“…people have inside them something that could bring them to ruin…This basic truth of life has been denied by both believers and unbelievers in every age. Yet anyone who has tried to help others with their problems knows that we all share a common struggle against self-destructive tendencies. Hidden in the human heart are marvelous capacities for good and dreadful possibilities of evil.” ~ Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones, Benedict J. Groeschel

7-sins-intro-3Steven stirred the pot when he responded to my previous post on the basic nature of humans with, “One word: Greed.” Reader comments followed with discussions about greed in terms of human nature. Sue V. weighed-in by suggesting that I compose a series of posts on the seven deadly sins alongside their antitheses, the seven virtues. I like that idea. I plan to write a series within the human nature theme reflecting on the human condition, using Sue’s suggestion as a method to breakout specific topics into manageable sized chunks.

I want my posts to be thought-provoking (we think about it), simple (easy to read and understand), and brief (1,000 words or less). If we can read it in five-to-ten minutes, comprehend it, and have an opinion; I’ve achieved those goals. I’m pleased when readers enjoy my dribble. I’m not trying to persuade or educate anyone, but only to explain my take on the topics.

7-sins-intro-4After reading them, maybe you’ll ponder your opinion vis–à–vis either mine or someone’s comment, and share your views. I also want my posts to have a free-thinker flavor; secular, but with an inclusive bent, if that’s possible. I’m not opposed to religious comments. I think secular.

Morality (or immorality) is the series theme. It’s a better word than sin, vice, virtue, or others that I see as rooted in religious belief. Sin is a theist concept; morality seems more secular, at least to the degree that it’s subjective. I’ll borrow from the topics commonly known as sins. Words like vice and virtue are okay, but they add value judgment before discussion.

7-sins-introMoral and immoral may do the same thing, but I see them as opinions that are formed after discussion. Topics are natural, but often seen as immoral under certain conditions. For example, lust seems normal and humans could be extinct without it, but it’s on the list of sins. I’m not sure how or why chastity applies to anything other than medieval devices of questionable utility. How we see our basic nature and religion both affect how we’ll see the seven sins or vices.

I’ll follow Sue’s suggestion to include both sides of the moral coin. Like Pride and Humility (the yin and yang). I’ll begin with Greed on Friday. We can ride that pony until one of us falters. Then, I’ll choose another pair. I plan two posts per week.

I’m open to your suggestions for topics. After I get all boned up on each topic, I’ll post my remarks. Then, I’ll hang them out for your target practice.

The seven sins I found (with their opposites) are: pride (humility), greed (liberality), lust (chastity), envy (kindness), gluttony (abstinence), wrath (patience), and sloth (diligence). The Catholic Catechism lists virtues as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and charity. The Bushido Code has seven or eight virtues of a Samurai warrior, four of which are generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and altruism.

7-sins-intro-2

While we’re not all the same, we each have our bright and dark sides.
They are difficult to explain in our personal nature,
but they’re there. Mind those gaps and look both ways.

What Don’t We Know?

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Since the early 1970s, I’ve held to the opinion that basic human nature is good. I’m not sure why I think so. My conclusion is partly evidence-based for the good, but since so much in human history is to the contrary, many people disagree with me. We seem quite set on damaging ourselves and the world around us in ways that are evil.

I’m also unclear about why it should matter. No one knows the answer to our basic nature. It’s too complicated. But when I consider my personal basic nature, the one I was born with; is it good or evil? Or should I ask, was it? When did it start to change – before or after birth? What do you think your nature is? How do we see the basic nature of others? Good or bad? Are there bad seeds among us?

what-we-dont-know-3It is what it is. However, I wonder if our opinion on this matters more than the real answer. It’s like believing in a god – it either exists or it doesn’t. Our believing or doubting anything changes nothing about reality (placeboes or magic notwithstanding). Our opinion on this affects how we see the world, other people – and most importantly, how we see ourselves. Me, is the one thing in the universe that I have some control over—maybe.

To the point, I just finished reading Straw Dogs by John Gray. It’s unrelated to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name, or to the 2011 remake; both of which are, ironically, based on a novel with a different name (The Siege of Trencher’s Farm).

Note to self: book titles and author’s names matter.

what-we-dont-know-4The premise of Straw Dogs is that humans are animals like any other animal. Both Christianity and Humanism see humans as capable of controlling things much more than Gray and others seem to think we do. This is a philosophical book that challenges many basic assumptions about what it means to be human. While I don’t agree with some of what Gray presents, I admit that he makes astonishing points that lead me to question which of us is correct. Regarding several of his positions, I think he’s nuts. But I find many of his other arguments compelling. Reading John Gray made me think, wonder, and contemplate – not the meaning of life, but its nature.

Are we animals? For an excellent article on this, click here.

Is our nature much different than it has been for centuries? Have we changed significantly in the thousands of years since our first existence as homo sapiens? Are we any different from other animals in terms of what happens to us?

Humans have been in existence much as we are now for about 200,000 years. For about the last 6,000 years, we have been the social creatures we know ourselves to be. How do we fit into our environment? Do we belong here? How long will we survive as a species? Are we masters of our own destiny any more than any other animal? Are we doomed to destruction by our own actions?

I’ve seldom thought about it, but Professor Gray makes this point right off. His position seems to be that the last time we had it right, we were hunter-gatherers. I tend to agree. Gray begins with this basic assumption regarding evolution and religious culture.

“If Darwin’s discovery had been made in a Taoist or Shinto, Hindu or animist, culture it would very likely have become just one more strand in its intertwining mythologies. In these faiths humans and other animals are kin. By contrast, arising among Christians who set humans beyond all other living things, it triggered a bitter controversy that rages on to this day.” ~ John Gray, Straw Dogs

Accordingly, Gray says that Humanist’s believe that through progress, humans can be free of the limits that burden other animals. That by using our knowledge, we can control our environment and flourish as we never have before. Gray also has an interesting take on history; he seems to say it has little or no meaning.

what-we-dont-know-5

I like this book because it deals with some aspects of the dark side of human nature. Interestingly, most of us know about the Holocaust, the WWII effort by Nazis to commit genocide and eradicate Jews. How many other genocides (or politicides) in human history can you name? Gray proposes, with evidence, that genocide is “as human as art or prayer.” Apparently, we are not very nice to each other, to other living creatures, or to nature in general. Along with others of similar philosophies, John Gray is talking about humans in a general sense.

The question for me is: how does all this square with my position that our basic nature is good? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter because he undermines so many of my humanist leanings, thus shattering my position that humans are special. I’ll retreat to my favorite elusion from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

There is much we don’t know. But this Zen Proverb meme says it for me.

what-we-dont-know-2

Whatever our nature is, we share that truth with each other.
Let’s live our lives in awe of nature by embracing both sun and rain,
all flora and fauna,
and our fairies — Fenix and Furie.

Life is good and so are we, but mind the gaps and look both ways.