Sunday, July 31, 2011
A New Prescription
Ca va, NIP?
Summer is drawing to a close, but I’m sort of excited. After spending last week at USF for the annual Advanced Placement Summer Institute, I can’t wait to meet my new students and implement fresh ideas. This summer in particular has been a tremendous boon in the sense that it has allowed ample time for personal growth and reflection. Erin and I did our best to balance our time with yoga practice, house projects, school preparation, and rest. But it wasn’t until I was at the training that I had the opportunity to recognize something—I need to wear my glasses more often. During the first few days of the training, I noticed that the writing on the board was slightly fuzzy. Even after I brought my glasses with me it still wasn’t perfect, which made me realize that I may have to get a new prescription. It wasn't so bad that I couldn’t get the general picture of what I was seeing, but I certainly couldn’t ascertain the finer details—but it’s often the minute details that are the most complex, the most curious, the most beautiful, and unfortunately, most overlooked.
I think the same can be said for life as well. We all have a tendency to not notice the simple beauty that surrounds us. Some of us do take stock of it once in a while, but for most it is mundane. Perhaps it is from being too enthralled by gadgets in particular and technology in general, but I think something else is afoot. It began nearly 2500 years ago, but really ramped up after the Industrial Revolution. Though it may only be my personal opinion, I think the cultural legacy of the West began on the wrong foot. While Plato may have not foreseen nor intended the consequences of postulating a metaphysical world above and beyond our own, his cleaving of the world in twain laid the foundation of our dualism. Consequently, we view all things in pairs, often elevating or celebrating one half as worthy of our time, attention, and focus while downgrading the importance or relevance of the other half as beneath us. In so doing, Plato unwittingly turned the world that we live in and life in general into the lesser of two ideals. Perfection could only be found “out there,” beyond human conception and comprehension. Several hundred years later as this was extrapolated into a model for paradise in the afterlife, it further reinforced the notion that the life hereafter is better than the one we are currently living.
By the time the Industrial Revolution rolled around, science and technology had improved and were about to begin their meteoric rise. In his famed work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 19th century economist Max Weber spoke of “the disenchantment of the world.” He noted how the advance of science and rational thought seemed only to reinforce this split between the natural world we inhabit and the perfection we dream about in the afterlife (or any imagined life we lead in our minds during the present moment). Human beings in the West had essentially “explained away” the mystery of life. The natural world had long lost its last hold on our hearts. Human beings no longer viewed the external world as a chain of phenomena imbued with the sacred. And once the cosmos lost its sanctity, we did too by default. Perhaps this is why so many people seem lost and without a sense of purpose or direction. Our technological age has left us unmoored, bobbing helplessly on the waves of meaninglessness.
But it doesn’t have to be so, NIP.
All we need is a new prescription. A fresh set of eyes, a willingness to see the world and its wonders. I found my new glasses a couple of years ago and oddly enough they’ve only made me more myopic. The more I focus on the miraculous that surrounds me, the more I screen out the truly trivial. Sure I may get excited over seeing a new bird in my backyard and could care less about the newest innovation, but which is more of an engineering marvel? The once-upon-a-time-dinosaur-that-now-has-hollow-bones-and-can-fly that has survived for millions of years, or the latest iPhone that will be outmoded in six months? All of this really gets back to what I mentioned in an earlier letter about contemplating the odds of existence. Life is incredible if we choose to see it as such. Part of the recognition is simply being mindful of the natural world, of taking stock of the complex beauty that saturates our lives but often goes overlooked. The other part, however, is slightly more difficult because it forces us to let go of dualistic notions. By reintegrating the outside world with our inner world, we can achieve some sense of wholeness within ourselves and a sense of belonging and participation within the macrocosm of life. If we continually set our sights on the miraculous beauty that is all around us, it enriches our own personal worldview. Rather than fostering the isolation that our contemporary technological (i.e. disconnected) world imparts, we begin to feel a profound connection with the pulse of life. In time, a harmony arises. First relationships with those closest to you get better, then the others in your immediate sphere of human experience, whether friends, coworkers, students, or whomever else with which you come into contact. Then it blossoms outward even more and before you know it all life is blanketed with the swaddling of the sacred.
Anyone can do this, NIP. In all honesty, I think it is of the greatest import that we “re-enchant” the world we inhabit and, in a broader sense, all of life. The willingness to acknowledge a needed change in the way we perceive and interact with our world is the first step to discovering hope. And it is on the bedrock of hope that we can lay the foundations of meaning, allowing them to undergird our ever growing awareness of the sacred that surrounds us. It’s all right there. Just take a look out the window or perhaps step outside. It may take time for you to adjust to the new world you see, and it takes the constant cultivation of curiosity and creativity, but with due diligence it will make itself manifest. It took me more than 30 years to realize how badly I needed new glasses, but once I slipped them on I realized that they didn’t show me anything new, they just helped me to focus on what was there all along.
Keep looking, NIP; it’ll show itself sooner or later…