In Your Own Backyard

 

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by cheri sabraw

Most of us  have read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, the prototypical tale of a traveler’s search for meaning, who  discovers what he had been looking for in his own backyard. He accomplished this revelation by the hard work of wrestling with himself.

This journey–that of searching for meaning–is not one every person is prepared to embark upon. Those who go through life living theirs largely unexamined do so for a number of reasons: the Self’s protection, stubbornness, genetics, and laziness.

Great novelists and playwrights have told the stories of heart-breaking, agonizing, yet stimulating searches for meaning. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter,  a young woman pays a life-time penance for her adulterous indiscretion, a sentence exacted by community members  who shun her and her illegitimate daughter Pearl, for whom she paid “a great price.” Through solitude and aloneness (she lives at the edge of town) and charity (she sews and embroiders for community members), she grows stronger and the reader senses that by the novel’s conclusion, the woman’s suffering has contributed to her depth of character.

And then there is Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s tragic figure in Death of A Salesman. To search for meaning and examine his life would not be possible for him. Wholly unenlightened–a big-talking adulterer, selfish father, and braggadocio, Willy Loman is the conductor of his own family’s train-wreck. We find ourselves intellectually unsurprised by his suicide, brought on by the little bubbles of profound regret and anger trying to work their way to his consciousness, but that are unable to break the surface. He dies unenlightened.

I’d like to think that as death approaches, all of us ask the big questions about our lives, about those whom we have touched and not touched, about our deepest relationships, about what mark we had hoped to stamp upon our loved ones, our friends, our associates.

Strangely, many people go to their graves having done zero introspection, more concerned about the placement of their bedpan than the quality of their legacy.

Then again, how does the outsider, the family member, or the caring observer know whether or not someone is self-reflective?

We are all travelers.

We are all on a journey. It’s just that some journeys labor to go forward despite the tonnage of past generations, shackles that some people stubbornly refuse to uncouple from their present lives.

In what type of conversation with yourself and with others do you engage?

If such conversation explores your motivations, shortcomings, and deepest fears, then you are on your way to enlightenment, no matter what your age may be.

 

 

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Education, Life, People and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to In Your Own Backyard

  1. Christopher says:

    Are we evanescent corporeal beings having a spiritual experience, or eternal spiritual beings having a corporeal experience?

    That is the question.

  2. Richard says:

    I have not read The Alchemist.

    Journeys through the mind are demanding and enriching. Self-observation is painful but without it there can be no original thought, for all novelty and creativity comes from beyond the self. The pain can sometimes be almost unendurable.

    There is no need to leave a mark. Many of the world’s ills come from those whose object is to leave a mark. Whenever I try to impress, which is far too often, I cause either trouble or infinite boredom.

    Beautiful picture. Enlightenment is always partially concealed, or it would not be enlightenment.

    • Ladybugg says:

      I have some questions of my own after reading your comment:
      How does creativity come from “beyond the self” and what do you mean by that statement?
      How does “trying to impress” cause boredom?

      I love your last sentence. It is true.

      • Richard says:

        Novelty and creativity are everyday things. I do not necessarily refer to the creative artist or scientist, who seeks to increase the sum of human knowledge. Conversations, correspondence, meal preparation, formation of political opinion, repair or maintenance and countless other ordinary activities involve a greater or lesser proportion of novelty or creativity. The fact that those qualities, or the arrangement of them, is not, by definition, pre-existing, means that they do not originate within the self. When next you write an email, consider where your original thoughts might come from.

        One of the benefits of social media is that I have a captive electronic audience that seeks to be impressed and so I try to satisfy that need. It may be bored to tears by what I say, but is too polite to say so. An audience of flesh and blood, however polite it may be, will ultimately reveal its true feelings.

        • Ladybugg says:

          Correct. An audience of flesh and blood sometimes throws tomatoes!

          • Richard says:

            … Lila said, “what about being saved? … If you can’t change, there don’t seem much point in it. That’s not really what I meant.”

            … “Mrs Ames has made an excellent point,” Boughton said, his voice statesmanlike. He sensed a wistfulness in Ames as often as he was reminded of all the unknowable life his wife had lived and would live without him. “Yes, I worried a long time about how the mystery of predestination could be reconciled with the mystery of salvation.”

            “No conclusions?”

            “None that I can recall just now.” He said, “it seems as though the conclusions are never as interesting as the questions. I mean, they’re not what you remember.” He closed his eyes.”

            [Marilynne Robinson, Home.]

            XLI. How the freedom of our will may be reconciled with Divine pre-ordination.

            But, in place of this [endeavouring to comprehend both truths at once], we will be free from these embarrassments if we recollect that our mind is limited, while the power of God, by which he not only knew from all eternity what is or can be, but also willed and pre-ordained it, is infinite. It thus happens that we possess sufficient intelligence to know clearly and distinctly that this power is in God, but not enough to comprehend how he leaves the free actions of men indeterminate, and, on the other hand, we have consciousness of the liberty and indifference which exists in ourselves, that there is nothing we see more clearly or comprehend: so the omnipotence of God ought not to keep us from believing it. For it would be absurd to doubt of that of which we are fully conscious, and which we experience as existing in ourselves, because we do not comprehend another matter which, from its very nature, we know to be incomprehensible.

            [Descartes, Principles of Philosophy]

      • Richard says:

        There are those, of course, who contend that all is predestined and there is no novelty or creativity, so it boils down to a matter of subjective opinion.

  3. Richard says:

    The black cloud looks like a killer with a Kalashnikov. He cannot prevail, for he is in the shadow.

  4. T E Stazyk says:

    So true! Some lights are on, some have never turned themselves on.

    • Ladybugg says:

      Are we devolving?

      • T E Stazyk says:

        At a terrifying pace!

        • Richard says:

          Tell me you are joking, Thomas.

          • T E Stazyk says:

            No, deadly serious, I’m afraid. Evidence to the contrary is always welcomed!

            • Richard says:

              In view of the fact that it is your proposition, Thomas, may we first have evidence in favour?

              • T E Stazyk says:

                I would start by pointing you to Niall Ferguson’s War of the World which seeks to explain why the 20th century was the most violent in human history (don’t worry, he accounts for things like population growth and improvements in weapons technology). All of the underlying reasons, which are preventable, that he comes up with are becoming more prevalent in the 21st century. So that doesn’t bode well and the headlines support that.
                That is the macro level answer. On the micro level, have a look at any form of mainstream entertainment and all of the social discourse that takes place on any news subject. I think you will find that all of it takes the form of merely reacting to stimuli, rather like a single celled organism, as opposed to reasoned, thoughtful attempts at understanding and improving things that evolving beings, spiritual or otherwise, should be striving for.

              • Richard says:

                I can offer no advance on the first half of your comment, it seems, without reading Niall Ferguson’s book, unless your are able to provide a brief summary of those aspects most pertinent to this discussion.

                That those activities you mention in the second paragraph do not accord with your tastes (nor mine, as it happens) does not necessarily mean they are degenerate, nor does it mean that they are incapable of evolving. Perhaps we are simply averse to novelty and are the degenerates, incapable of adaptation.

              • T E Stazyk says:

                As so often happens in these discussions, we are talking about different things. I’m not passing judgement on anyone’s behaviour or equating “degenerate” behaviour with de-evolution. I’m talking about a way of viewing the world and assimilating new experiences and information.

              • Richard says:

                I have clearly mistaken the theme of your proposition. Is it not those trends in modern life that threaten the progress of humanity, specifically those which do not subscribe to the culture you prefer?

                I am keen to know what the true theme is. Please enlighten me.

              • Ladybugg says:

                Self-reflection by anyone will improve the quality of life for us all. That is the point I was trying to make. I think I did make it.

              • Richard says:

                … and that, according to Thomas, failure to self-reflect by some brings us all to destruction, or to devolve, at a terrifying pace.

                I know people not given to constant deep reflection or self-analysis, who can be far less of a danger and more a positive benefit to the rest of humanity.

              • T E Stazyk says:

                It’s that but very much more. A lot of what we might view as evidence of devolving is really people anaesthetising themselves against the ills of their world and their complete lack of empowerment to do anything about it. One contention is that if instead of that, we thought about the world, our role in it and how to make it a better place we could arrest the micro and possibly the macro de-evolution.

              • Richard says:

                I begin, slowly, to understand, perhaps.

                Let us suppose that I have anaesthetised myself against the ills of my world resulting in my complete lack of empowerment to do anything about it. Having read your comment, instead of that, I think about the world, my role in it and how to make it a better place and arrest the micro and possibly the macro de-evolution.

                I conclude that I may make the world a better place by becoming a politician, joining a particular party and obtaining the power to change my world according to what I genuinely conceive will be a better place. Alas, my neighbour has the same genuine intent but joins a different party resulting in interminable conflict between us.

                Or I may decide to adopt a particular religion, become a missionary and set about persuading those of a different faith to change to mine, they lose their sense of identity and anaesthetise themselves against the ills of the world.

                Or I may qualify to practise a particular profession and through incompetence or mistaken purpose cause more ills in the world than I cure.

                In each of the above cases I have formed my own private morality, changed my world and set it further along the road to regression. It would have been better if I had remained anaesthetised and led a simple, humble, unremarkable life.

                Would it have been better to invite me to conduct my anaesthetised life in such a way as to limit the damage I might cause rather than to change the world? Is it not better to teach me there are things that I should not do rather than encourage me to go out and pursue my own flawed ambitions?

              • T E Stazyk says:

                Not necessarily. You are right if you fall back on the “ought to/ought not to” ethics of Western religions. But–and this ties into how we view the spiritual component of our being– I’m talking about adopting a philosophy which says you can pursue your own interests but do it in an intelligent way involves an ethics of self-discipline and moderation in your own life in terms of your consumption and expectations of people and systems and overall a sense of justice towards others.

  5. Brighid says:

    Sadly, not many I know want to have such a conversation with themselves or others. It is a journey I take alone more often than not. There is joy in the journey, a journey without end.

    • Ladybugg says:

      Hi Brighid,
      Oh, I think what you share is true for many of us. When it gets right down to it, we are all alone anyway. You are correct in that a journey is a joy. It’s all how we look at it.

    • Richard says:

      If it is shared, Cheri, how can we be alone?

      The joy, Brigid, though it may be taken alone, is, more often than not, brought to us by others at the expense of their pain and suffering.

      • Brighid says:

        Richard, I see not that joy would be bought at the price of others pain and suffering, that you would think it so is telling indeed.

      • Richard says:

        Were pain and suffering inflicted deliberately for joy, that would be telling.

        I mean that joy involves sacrifice somewhere. The joy of life depends upon the throes of childbirth. Milton’s blindness a vision of Paradise Regained. Beethoven’s deafness an Ode to Joy. …. Or, if you are a Christian, Christ’s suffering on the cross the redemption of the world.

      • Ladybugg says:

        Are you inferring that by being alone we cannot share?

      • Richard says:

        Another probing question in answer to my question, Cheri!

        Are we to assume that there is such a thing as being alone? If so, please provide a definition and I shall tackle your question.

      • Ladybugg says:

        Being alone is being in intellectual or emotional or spiritual isolation. This isolation can be chosen or inflicted. When people argue and one party gives the other “the silent treatment” consider it inflicted. When one leaves a room (or not) and boards a small plane that flies into the recesses of the brain, visiting thoughts and memories at will, that is chosen.

        Sometimes, the person who is alone (chosen or inflicted) is sharing in a number of visual cues: body language, energy fields, and other non-auditory cues.

      • Richard says:

        I question whether it is ever possible to be in intellectual or emotional or spiritual isolation while we exist. The influence of others is, perhaps, at its most intense at those times, particularly if we are victims of that silent treatment, so acutely observed by you.

        We are just that amalgam of impressions, visited by your small plane, at will, that prevents separation from others. It is by a further exercise of will – and that is the painful part – in the company of those impressions that enables us to disclose that novelty which lies beyond the self and which it is our privilege to share.

        In short, we are never alone.

  6. Cyberquill says:

    Enlightenment don’t pay no bills.

  7. shoreacres says:

    Of course, the other side of the coin here is solipsism, and the dangers of reflecting on reflection. Reflecting on life is one thing. Reflection only on ourselves — constantly taking our mental and emotional temperatures, if you will — is something else.

    I suspect it’s one reason the Benedictines chose ora et labora for their motto, and why Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her book “Gift From the Sea”, so clearly espoused days which include both concrete activity and reflection. A life without reflection can be brutish and dull, as you rightly point out. But a life of nothing but reflection can be vacuous and empty.

    • Ladybugg says:

      True enough. In my view, and what I was trying to communicate in this short piece, is that those who do not reflect have no idea what they are not doing. It’s those who engage in the agonizing efforts to make themselves better people, achieved through reflection and personal examination, and who work assiduously to bring light to so many aspects of life–business, intimate relationships, academia–it is those who move culture along. And this belief that I hold supports Mr. Stazyk’s contention that at this time in the world’s history, we are devolving. I agree with him.

      • Richard says:

        Are you and Mr Stazyck suggesting, Cheri, that humanity is undergoing an organic degeneration or that we approach a new dark age as a result of the failure of some to use the inborn capacity to self-reflect? If so, it is a most pessimistic outlook.

        I await Mr Stazyck’s evidence in support of such a contention, but you, or either of you, will first need to answer your own question:

        “…. Then again, how does the outsider, the family member, or the caring observer know whether or not someone is self-reflective?…..”

        • Ladybugg says:

          To begin, a self-reflective person changes his/her negative behavior into positive behavior. Taking advice, being willing to change, growing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually all point to self-reflection. Listening is a good start.

          Behaviors in people who tend not to be self-reflective might include the following: revisiting the same upsets over and over and over, blaming, living out their lives as victims, watching many hours of television (provided one is not ill or unable to do much else), over-eating to the point of obesity…the list goes on.

        • Richard says:

          If we are thus able to recognise a non-self-reflective person, why does he/she threaten the whole of humanity with evolutionary regression or extinction or a new dark age? Are such individuals a new phenomenon? Is culture so fragile, despite having advanced so far and provided us with all those advantages we take for granted, even in supposed isolation?

          The only serious threats are those to freedom, which, indeed is fragile and at the mercy even of supposed culture and civilisation. And freedom involves a toleration of those who do not share our background or taste for a certain kind of cerebral stimulation, and a strict avoidance of attaching to them all the ills of humanity.

          • Ladybugg says:

            Self-reflection is not only for those with the intellectual horsepower to participate in “cerebral stimulation.” All human beings are capable of examining the self–their behavior, their going in the world. We have created such distraction post WWII (think from television to the 3-D printer), that it takes work to untether from all the wires that we have determined connect us to a new reality. And, I posit, this turning away from deep contemplation–the kind that some people engage in temporarily when they lose a loved one or a friend to cancer–this type of contemplation has been replaced with massage therapy, pornography, television, and mindless movies that are not films. I am passing judgement.

            • Richard says:

              You focus on the negative aspects of a culture you reject. One might equally find aspects that detract from the culture we prefer. Self-examination might well justify the persecution of minorities, a so-called advanced culture may still treat freedoms in a cavalier fashion. These are the perils of contemplation in isolation, unless one acknowledges that the source of all wisdom is beyond the self and that the individual is always vulnerable to error.

  8. Christopher says:

    ”…….Those who go through life living theirs largely unexamined do so for a number of reasons: the Self’s protection, stubbornness, genetics, and laziness……..”

    You imply that the examined life, in the sense of knowing yourself, is a good thing. Only by knowing yourself can you know others, since, at the deepest level, you and everyone else are pretty much alike.

    But, if you do get to know yourself, you would likely find that the “yourself” is merely the product of the beliefs and values inculcated into you by the family you grew up in, and by the culture and land you grew up in. Hence you would discover that you are anything but the autonomous and unique and rugged individualist you may have thought you were.

    Any self-esteem you had, along with the illusions about yourself that had given your life meaning, would be irrevocably shattered.

    The unexamined life, in the sense of not knowing yourself, is therefore better, don’t you think?

    • Richard says:

      You say all I have been trying to say and much more, with greater eloquence, more succinctly and less contentiously. Thank you, Christopher. I can now remain silent.

    • Ladybugg says:

      The unexamined life, as a wise person once said, is not worth living.
      It appears that this topic has struck a raw nerve.
      In that spirit, I will post a photo of a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly that visited my garden yesterday.
      In viewing its entrance, one that I have not seen in three to four years on my patio, I began to think: its life is so short. So are ours. Is there anything that I could be doing for others to make their lives as beautiful as this butterfly?

      Then, I looked at my iPhone and while I was photographing the butterfly, I thought, “Gee, I’ll take a selfie, post it on my Twitter account, and then forward it to everyone I know because, gee, people are really interested in what other people look like.”

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