About fifteen years ago, I noticed myself using the following phrase frequently: It’s never wrong to do the right thing. I am no longer sure how it came to be in my mind. Perhaps I read it somewhere, but I have tried several times to “google” it to no avail. It is possible that it came to me as a result of the many different books I have read in my life. In addition, my mind seems to do a lot of work while I sleep or appear to be occupied with other matters. Regardless of its source, this idea has helped me countless times when I had to make decisions involving others or for myself alone.
The Universe as I See It.
My overview of the universe and how it works is based upon five key understandings: first, that evolution is a fact and that understanding how evolution works can provide insights into how humanity acts and how one might expect it to act in the future; second, that beliefs, ideas, apparent truths, and highly respected principles are simply memes created by human minds over the centuries of human existence, they are just ideas and not essential or self-evident truths; third, the trinity of ideas – god, the soul, and the afterlife are merely ideas which do not exist in any other form; fourth, the idea of truth is most often subjective and thus entirely relative to time, space, and whomever is interpreting at any given time; it does not exist in and of itself; fifth, the path to truth is not preordained. “Truth is a pathless land,” (Jiddu Krishnamurti).
What Is Needed at this Time?
No matter what we believe or do not believe about why we exist or how we got to this place in time, we must face certain immutable facts. First, we live in a different world than has ever existed before. There are many more of us, and we are much more integrated across the world. Old ideas about nationalism and boundaries are becoming outdated. Cultures are mixing, and people are sharing across races and nationalities in ways no one could have anticipated even one hundred years ago. DNA testing is becoming popular, and across the world, people are discovering lost cousins, grandparents, shared histories, and origins that surprise and excite. We are much more inter-related than anyone ever suspected. Indeed, it has been suggested that it is possible that we are all descended from one ancient mother. Think of the implications if we are all cousins.
We need to find a way or ways to get along and to break down the barriers we have created to protect ourselves. If the ideal community size according to our ability to live comfortably is about two hundred and fifty, we clearly have some work to do since that kind of community is no longer feasible. We must learn to live together, or we will eventually destroy what we have.
Nationalistic, religious, and culturally based ideas do not hold the answer. In most cases, they lead to animosity, hatred, and even war and death. We must find some way to co-exist and even be friendly about it. It is with this need in mind, that I wish to suggest some principles that could be helpful in developing the mindset we require from here on.
My Four Guiding Principles
The following principles are ideas I have gleaned from my reading and studying over the past fifty plus years. I do not consider them to be universal truths; they are observations about how the universe seems to work. Maybe they are true and maybe not, but in my mind, they offer some hope for the future.
First Principle: The universe seems to require balance. This idea is best expressed in the eastern concepts of Yang and Yin, sometimes interpreted as male and female, positive and negative, or light and dark. It seems logical; the world could not endure all day or all night – both are required. Likewise, it appears that both male and female are necessary. Positive and negative forces exist in the world of physics.
What this means for individuals is that we cannot expect everything to go our way. Sometimes bad stuff happens and sometimes good. We would love to have a world where only good things occurred, but it likely would not work very well. We might die of boredom caused by being happy all the time. Moreover, we must consider that balance is not just about individual lives; it is about all lives and all things. How we deal with this balancing will determine whether human life can continue to exist.
Second Principle: In the past, I have always considered these two concepts as separate, but now, I think putting them together would be more useful. They are as follows: we reap what we sow, and we seem to get what we need at any given time. The first idea is clear. Our actions cause reactions, and good generally brings good back or vice versa. The second may be harder to grasp or accept. Sometimes bad stuff happens, and we cannot imagine that it is what we need. I suggest that we look very carefully at our lives. I have done this and, almost without exception, I can see how negatives in my life have led me to make positive changes and enjoy positive results. Yes, I could have done without them, but the final judgement arises with this question; are you happy with who you are today? You might as well be because that is who you are, and who you are is the sum of all you have been and have experienced, both the good and the bad. In fact, who you are is your end of the universe’s balancing act.
Third Principle: How do we learn to accept and be comfortable with the above two ideas? My third principle joins two seemingly divergent and incompatible concepts. The first is that we are all connected in a unity of being. The second is that we are all alone. How could this be? First, we know that the universe is made up of a finite amount of material. Everything gets used and then stops being and then gets reused again and again. We are born, we die, we decompose, and the atoms find their way into something else. We are not separate but a part of everything. Second, for a time, every plant, animal, rock, cloud, or mountain appears to be an individual thing. During this existence, especially for humans, who have developed the ability to see themselves as individuals, there exists a sense of aloneness where one must make decisions for and by oneself, even though in the big picture, these decisions can have far-reaching effects on others. So how do these two concepts help? It is important to understand aloneness so that one can become responsible for one’s actions. Blaming others never helps. Once one accepts responsibility, it is important to realize that there is this connection. This helps us to keep from becoming too selfish and destructive in our environment.
Fourth Principle: Life is complicated with all the connectedness, the aloneness, the reaping, and the sowing let alone just trying to get by day in and day out. How can one do it? I offer principle four, pay attention. I have spent large swathes of my life in a seeming fog of ignorance about what was going on. I was on automatic pilot but did not know that it had not been invented yet. Living requires attention if we want it to run smoothly and to the advantage of everyone, not just ourselves. Without attention, opportunities go flying by; chances to make changes, help others, or improve some aspect of our lives all are gone without notice. We must pay attention, not tomorrow or next year but RIGHT NOW, ALWAYS!
The above are the four principles that I believe could help us live better, more fruitful, and less destructive lives. They do not require a god or a soul or an afterlife. They are all about now. Throw away the automatic pilot or at least just use it when you are parking your car. Life is about being connected, responsible, and in the moment.
Deciding What Is the Right Thing
The key question is how does one establish what is right at any given moment? That is not easily answered, so when trying to establish what is right, I suggest considering the four principles above. Remember that balance seems to be necessary, so we cannot have everything our way, but maybe there are times when apparent selfishness is what is required. Remember that our actions have consequences that are often far-reaching and that what seems not good can prove to be a great teacher down the road. Remember that we are connected and that we must be responsible for our decisions. And above all, pay attention at all times. Do not miss the obvious because you are playing four moves ahead or behind.
In this short essay, I have tried to explain what I believe about life and living. I am not bound by any strong beliefs or apparent universal truths. Instead, my ideas have grown from my observations. I do not accept the existence of a god, a soul, or an afterlife. Everything of significance is now, in this life. I do not believe what others tell me to believe. Instead, I watch what is going on around me, I remember my experiences, and I formulate hypotheses about meaning. Nothing is sacred or immutable though some things appear to make sense while others do not. However, I am not ready to give up hope for a world where difference is a reason to celebrate and not a cause for hatred, war, or killing. Thus, I accept the possibility that humans can learn to be better if they just pay attention and do the right thing.
The simple truth of evolution is this: if a living thing is not capable of surviving and reproducing, it will cease to exist, and if it is capable, it will thrive. This is the truth of how our world works and quite likely how the universe works as well. It is the truth of how each of us has come to be here and the truth of how our world has come to the place that it has in its history. The purpose of this short essay is to show how the Covid Pandemic is an excellent example of this process.
We are now dealing with the fifth variant of Covid. How did that happen? Did the Covid Board of Directors have a meeting at which they decided to bring on the heavier artillery since the other side was playing dirty with new anti-virus weapons? The simple answer is no. Covid did what viruses and other living things have done throughout time. It evolved.
How do living things evolve? The simple answer is this. They mutate, not by design but by our old friend, chance. Throughout history, living things have reproduced. If they have not, they have ceased to exist. When living things reproduce, the result is typically a combination of the genes of the parental lifeforms. But that is not all it is. Sometimes there are unexplained differences or oddities. These are called mutations, and it is the mutations that carry the potential seed of change. If the mutated lifeform is weaker than its parents, it will likely die out, but if it is better than its parents, it may well flourish and become the new future. This is how life evolves over time. The key to the speed of evolution is how long the life form takes to reproduce.
The evolution of humans is very slow. The human brain has changed very little in the last 10,000 years. Most humans still have wisdom teeth, remnants of a time when chewing raw food was common which was even longer ago. David Suzuki, one of Canada’s national treasures, earned his early reputation as a geneticist by studying fruit flies. When I first heard that, I thought “Yuck! Why study fruit flies?” But I was quite ignorant about the ways of evolution at that time. Now I understand why. Check out the following:
“An adult female fruit fly can lay up to 2,000 eggs on the surface of anything that's moist and rotting. Within 30 hours, tiny maggots hatch and start to eat the decayed food. Within 2 days, they're all grown up and ready to mate, too. While that transition may seem quick, a fruit fly only lives 8 to 15 days.”
One female can provide 2000 babies which can reproduce again within two days. That is potentially four million “grand-flylets” (I take responsibility for coining this word). In other words, a massive potential data base.
So, what is my point you may ask? My point is that some life forms take a long time to reproduce and thus a very long time to evolve. It might take several generations for some exceptional mutation with the potential to change the game plan to come along. But with fruit flies this process is condensed into hours and days. It becomes easier to study the process and to understand what is happening.
The covid virus also reproduces over a shorter period. If it reproduces more quickly, then it must mutate more quickly. If it mutates more quickly, it will likely create variants that are smarter/stronger than previous generations and are better able to overcome the medicinal opponents more quickly. Thus, it offers us the experience of seeing how evolution really works, much more quickly. Just to clarify, mutants are not created purposefully; they are created by chance.
I guess my main reason for writing this short piece is that the Corona virus shows us how evolution works. It is not a theory. It is a fact. Some preoccupied god is not responsible. This is an example, or proof if you will, of how it all has been happening since the first life forms occurred. They survive, they reproduce, and they mutate. If they are strong enough to reproduce, they can produce similar offspring. If they are not, they will disappear never to be heard of or from again. Their effect on the future will cease to exist. If by chance their offspring carry a mutation that gives them an advantage, then the parents might also disappear eventually, but the new generation will thrive.
In Canada, it appears that our main interest in freedom is so that we can complain bitterly about the incompetence of our governments, be they left or right wing. The governments, for their part, abet this need by following specific guidelines for governing: first, choose corruption as a governing philosophy; second, act incompetently; third, pretend to care about the general population but continue to govern with self-gratification being the driving force. By self gratification, I do not mean the actual physical act of masturbation, but the more circumspect one involving filling one’s pockets as our economic, social, and cultural worlds fall into disrepair; finally, never ever keep promises – it is a sign of weakness just as signalling that you intend to change lanes on a highway is – a sign of caring too much about what others may think or caring about their welfare.
You might ask, why is he posting this pseudo-philosophy on a form of social media? First, it’s what they are for and the dumber or more “pseudo” the better. Second, and my real reason is eating leftover General Tso’s chicken for lunch a few minutes ago. Perhaps it was the chopsticks, but I was carried back to my days of living in the northern Chinese city of Harbin. From there, my mind wandered to how much I liked it there, and do you know what the best thing was at the beginning? I was alone and no one could make demands upon me. By and large, I had become almost invisible.
Okay, I see that your patience is dwindling. What does this have to do with freedom? As you know, complete freedom is not a thing in China; most people do not care about it. And I learned from them what really is important – having a job - regardless of how mundane, having food to eat, and having a roof over one’s head. The people I met and hung out with understood this, and they had had managed to find a level of satisfaction one rarely sees here.
Then I began to ask myself what are those ideas subsumed by the catchall called freedom really about compared to what really matters in life? In China, I saw a government that did not allow the freedom to protest and complain that we have in North America, but I also saw a government that made it possible for almost everyone to have this thing called employment. I also saw a government that made things happen. Why? Because it had money and the discretion to do what the country needed.
While in China I lived under the proverbial radar, and guess what? That was what I saw all around me. People going about their business doing what was important – working, eating well, and having a roof over their heads. If they felt rebellious, they jay-walked, and they were masters. I was once told by a professor that every Chinese person has an emperor inside him or herself. This sense of the truth of freedom is what we lack. We follow the rules, we vote for incompetent politicians who still fill their pockets, and we complain. What do we end up with - exorbitant food costs and homes no one can afford?
God, how I love my North American freedom!
I was told recently that thirty or so years ago while I was dealing with the version of my life that I fondly recall as the “train-wreck” period, a.k.a. what happens when you delay your mid-life crisis in order to finish your doctorate, thereby putting off the real problems which will eventually sink your ship, a dear friend once said to my son, “Your father is looking for something.”
Would that I had known that then, because from where I sat, lay, stood on my head, and even grovelled, it was not all that clear. In fact, he was exactly right and today I can even tell you what it was that I was looking for – my truth!
Perhaps that sounds a bit pretentious. After all who can claim to know the truth. Well, I do not, but I do know my truth, and I have fought long and hard to find it. If you are up to it, come along on a short journey through the pathless land, and we’ll see what comes up.
So, what is truth? Is there a truth? Are there universal truths? Good questions and not easily answered, nor is it easy to arrive at an agreement among even a handful of people. But frankly, I do not care a lot about what others think. Around twenty-five years ago, as I was beginning to see light at the end of trainwreck tunnel, I was given a small, used book for Christmas. The book was Krishnamurti’s Journal. I did not get around to reading it for a year or two, but when I did, it was the beginning of the real search for my truth. If you want to know more about Jiddu Krishnamurti, I suggest you look him up. He was an interesting man. You wouldn’t go amiss if you read one or two of his works, but I think that, by far, his greatest teaching was this simple phrase, “Truth is a pathless land.” That says all one really needs to know about how one finds truth. There is no set path; you just keep looking until you find it.
How will you know when your have found it? You just will. It won’t be some other person’s definition. It is unlikely that it will be found etched on the side of a building, on a coin, or in a book entitled All the Truths Under the Sun. It will not likely be something that was passed on to you by your parents or teachers. It will take hard work. You will have to make a lot of mistakes, and you might even have to start over a couple of times. But you can find it if it really matters to you.
About twenty or so years ago, I realized that what I was looking for was “my truth”, and that is what I have spent the intervening years looking for, and I have found it, but I am not telling. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Remember, it’s my truth. Krishnamurti said something else, and I paraphrase, “there are no teachers, there are no gurus, there are no experts”. You are on your own essentially. You can seek advice, read books, spend thousands on fake prophets, but in the end, you have to make sense of it yourself.
Although I am selfishly not going to share my discoveries, I will give you a few hints about where to look and how to go about it, but even that advice you must take with a grain of salt because, ultimately, it’s your journey, and they will be your decisions.
I used to have a quotation up on the bulletin board of my grade seven and eight classroom. It was attributed to A. N. Onymous and it said, “the person who cannot make a mistake cannot make anything.” That appealed to me because, although I was still in my thirties, I had already made lots of mistakes; it gave me hope. Over the years, I have come to accept the truth of this statement even more. If you cannot risk screwing up, it is unlikely that you will ever move far from that comfortable place where you are rooted. The first qualification for truth seeking is do not be afraid of being wrong or making a mistake and do not pre-judge your decisions.
Beware of the dreaded near-sighted monster known as - Confirmation Bias. Basically, this is when you judge the right or wrong or good or bad of something by how it seems to you. It’s a form of prejudice – that means prejudging and it’s not useful for finding truth, especially yours since you are likely making that judgement from an uninformed state of mind.
Yes, I know I did say it was your truth, but let’s face it, by the time you hit your thirties, you are so full of ideas that have been thrown at you over the years that you are in no fit state to judge anything. It is not easy. It took me till my early seventies to finally rid my mind of the bias that had been holding me back for most of my life, and I was shocked to finally find out what it was. It was something that had been drilled into my head from childhood. How did I do that? I read a lot including self-help, philosophy, spirituality, science, and a ton of fiction. Fiction is loaded with truth if you pay attention. I wrote a lot of poems and essays and a few books and eventually It began to be come clearer. Ultimately, you must find what is holding you back and you must deal with it. I was able to let it go and it felt so good.
Another barrier to finding your truth is getting caught up in other’s truths. I think of them as false truths. Just because another person believes something or even if a whole lot of others believe something doesn’t make it true. I hate to say it, but that includes your parents, the government, the church, or any other institution. Of course, they might be right, but you must decide. Blindly accepting is never a positive way to grow.
Finally, you have to break your dependencies. These may not be drug dependencies, but they act like drugs and they hold you back. I discovered quite late in life that I had always been afraid of striking out on my own. I always wanted someone to accompany me. I am not sure why, but I do know that my decision to go off to China at age fifty-eight was the best thing I ever did for finding my truth. I was alone without even one word of Mandarin, but I was not afraid, and it was liberating.
I hope some of these thoughts have connected with you. I cannot tell you exactly how to find your truth, but I can assure you it exists. How do I know? Because it is the only thing that makes sense for me and that is my truth - sorry you have to find your own.
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.