Monday, January 16, 2012
Como estas, NIP?
One of my goals this year is to make these letters more accessible by coming straight to the point. I promise to do my best by keeping them under 1,000 words, which will hopefully translate into at least two letters a month. Even though school is back in session I’ve managed to keep up the momentum in my reading, especially in the area of spiritual/wisdom writings. One passage in particular from Merton has been haunting my memory for weeks now, which deals directly with today’s letter:
If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn.
In homage to the chapter of New Seeds of Contemplation from which this brief passage hails, I have decided to break from the standard letter format and instead compose a list, a statement of beliefs, along with a terse explanation of said beliefs. You may or may not agree with them, NIP, but I feel it will help explain me as a person in the fewest words possible.
I believe in myself and my dreams—while this isn’t necessarily the most important belief, it’s the first one. We must learn to believe in ourselves if we ever want to accomplish any dream and/or goal. By believing in yourself with earnestness, NIP, you can foster incredible change in your life. And once you begin to realize these changes, you’ll find it much easier to believe in other aspects of your life/dreams.
I believe in holistic health—to be healthy means not only physically fit, but mentally and spiritually fit as well. For the physical, eat healthfully and get regular exercise (yoga, anyone?); for the mental, engage in an activity that focuses the mind (meditation works wonders and is simpler than most make it out to be); for the spirit, pursue what you’re most passionate about, whether it be creating works of art, making music, rigorous philosophical questioning, or contemplation of religious mysteries. To some degree, once the mind and body become healthy, the spirit expands naturally. This life is the only one you get, NIP; why not do your best to care for it?
I believe in helping others—once we take care of ourselves and our individual lives become ordered and streamlined, the real work begins. The most important thing we can do in this life is help other people. We all struggle from time to time, and I’m sure you can recall a time when that helping hand was not only invaluable but made all the difference in the world. I try my best to always help others in any way I can, whether it’s as a teacher at school, as a neighbor around our home, or as a faceless writer putting words to a screen in the hopes that it helps you, NIP. Helping is the highest calling.
I believe in establishing meaningful human relationships—human beings are social creatures by nature and the best connections we make in this life are genuine, heartfelt relationships we create between one another. Some of them will last forever, others will be ephemeral. Regardless of duration, we must do our best to be authentic in the relationships while they are vital. Life is too short to be disingenuous or, worse yet, duplicitous. We must enter into relationships with other people with love, compassion, gratitude, generosity and patience if we are ever to foster a meaningful relationship between ourselves and others.
I believe God is Life/Life is God—I try not to get wrapped up in labels. I feel that they’re limiting and only muddle intuitive wisdom. I’ve studied enough religion and science to know that to exclude one worldview in preference for the other is foolish. Both are legitimate though limited attempts to make this miraculous gift of life comprehensible to the human mind—which is a massive mistake. To attempt to crystallize the experience of living by putting it into an intelligible string of words cannot come close to experience itself. Moreover, once we’re dealing with words rather than raw experience, we are stuck in the realm of semantics, which is where I’d leave both labels (Life/God) behind. Who knows? Perhaps I am becoming a mystic, seeking a direct encounter with the sacred in each and every moment. I’m certainly not religious in the conventional sense, but I secretly feel that I’m more religious than most conventionally religious people. The false dichotomy fostered by the Western religious paradigm is only a barrier to our spiritual growth. There is so much that we simply don’t know and to stick to conventional explanations—whether religious or scientific—is not only intellectual hubris, but it puts limits on our experiences while living this incredible life as a human being.
Belief is crucial to being human. To not believe in anything is a serious mistake and will only undercut our potential and progress. William James, the American philosopher of whom I spoke a few letters ago, was also America’s first great psychologist. He insisted that the “will to believe” is perhaps the most crucial part of our psychological make-up. In order to be mentally healthy, we must subscribe to beliefs that motivate us to become better people. Your beliefs may not be the same as mine, NIP, but so long as they foster positivity and an authentic life they are worthwhile. As someone who constantly doubted himself for the first 30 years of life, I can attest that the power of belief has the ability to fundamentally alter us for the better. It won’t happen overnight, but with patience and persistence you will start to feel more confident in your thoughts, words and actions. And once you have changed your life for the better, how will you use it to help others do the same?