Monday, March 2, 2015

Making the Impersonal, personal, and, the Personal, impersonal!

In the great drama of human life we see played out a "tug-a-war" between personal and impersonal. We encounter this in the impact governments and its laws have upon our lives. We encounter this tug in the ways male and female view one another. We stumble on this in religion, in science, in metaphysics and psychology. Let me give some simple examples, making the object of the subject, well, 'er, more personal!

In the so-called rule of law (to which we salute as bringing peace, security and order to the chaos of self-interested human behavior), we might find that our obligation to pay our taxes conflicts with our conscientious objection to how those taxes are used.

In a relationship, one partner may object to his partner's friendship with another person on the grounds of it being too personal, too familiar; the other will presumably affirm her right and valuable need to have other friendships and may insist that such friendships are not of the romantic or committed nature of their own with one another. The one intuits trouble, or is suspicious, jealous or fearful; the other denies it, whether being merely naive, subconsciously dishonest, or in fact completely innocent.

Most religious sects insist theirs is the best and most likely to bestow salvation. Others insist that all religions are based on and offer more or less the same virtues and rewards. A religionist insists on the existence of God while the atheist demands proof. Nondualists say God is without form; devotees ("bhaktis") worship God in the form they hold dear.

Some scientists, like Albert Einstein was, are bent upon finding universal natural laws that apply throughout the universe. Others are content to find what works under prescribed conditions, perhaps solely with the object of discovering new and useful (perhaps profitable) products.

Meta-physicians see in human conduct and motivation the interplay of universal states of consciousness guided by a unifying motivation: our souls seeking eternal happiness. By contrast, a psychologist might seek a specific cause and effect such as how your parents treated you.

I find myself in that category of persons (there being, of course, "two kinds of people in this world") who, when coming upon someone's personal account, am likely to say something that will generalize that person's experience into the context of a universal response. I hope, thereby, to help that person see that his predicament is shared with many. Indeed, is there any human emotion or reaction that isn't shared by millions under similar circumstances?

Yet in doing so, I might be intentionally or inadvertently seeming to dismiss the opportunity to be helpful or at least sympathetic. As if by saying, "Yeah, that happens to everyone." (So, therefore, let it go.)

It is true, however that seeing my own problems in a larger context can help me to step back from the emotional intensity of my reaction. An astrology reading, for example, gives one the benefit of seeing larger forces and tendencies at play in one's life. One person might be tempted to shirk responsibility (blaming the impersonal forces of the stars), another might find the longer rhythm perspective calming and insightful.

That other category of persons (the more personal) will undoubtedly respond to a friend's woes with moral outrage. In so doing, however, she might find herself as upset as her friend and lead them both nowhere but into a pit of emotion. Or, maybe instead, having responded sympathetically, she might come up with practical suggestions on how to resolve or improve the situation.

So, you see, there is a place for both approaches. It IS helpful to view our lives more impersonally. "Thoughts are universally, not individually, rooted," Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") is frequently quoted as saying. Having lived In Los Angeles during the heyday of Hollywood (1925-1952), Yogananda was apt to compare life to the movies. He encouraged students to step back from the drama of life and look to the "beam of light" being projected from the booth of eternity. In that light we are all one and the drama of life is seen as but moving shadows of light and dark projected on screen of life. We then can see the alternating currents of sadness and happiness, tragedy and comedy, and birth, life, and death. The impersonal point of view is potentially helpful for everyone (BOTH kinds of people, that is) to contemplate.

I've been watching the series, Cosmos. It's quite fun and interesting, though I bristle from time to time with its narrow view of human history: it's unending characterization of ancient man as little more than hairy cave dwellers and with its only slightly hidden message that science will make us not only more intelligent but happier.

The joy, indeed the smirk, that astrophysicists and astronomers seem to perpetually wear is the equivalent to the smugness exhibited by nondualistic philosophers (like me). It reminds me of that expression: "The operation was a success, but the patient died peacefully on the table."

This attitude is all too often sterile: dead on arrival. It can be an excuse for aloofness, lack of feeling, and unwillingness to lift a finger to help another person in his grief or time of need. Sure, God is all there is; God is One & Eternal; God has manifested Himself in the creation.....etc. etc. Wonderful, but how does that help me along with my wife or my co-workers? What about the grief, sorrow and suffering of so many people around me? Yes, indeed, the scientific or metaphysical views of the cosmos and creation may be factually true or intellectually satisfying but too strict a view is apt to shrivel my heart and apt to belittle the significance of anyone's personal life!

Indeed, as a nondualist and Vedantin, I find the impersonal view inspiring but, at the same time, I would do well to be as impersonal towards my own feelings as to those of others!

Any true scripture (try the Book of Genesis, e.g.) will address both the "Why God made this creation" and the "Why that's important to me" questions. (Contrast Chapter 1 of Genesis with Chapter 2, wherein the impersonal descends with breath-taking speed to the very personal.) Both the impersonal and the personal are needed. Our minds want to know "why," our hearts want to know what we can do about it. Truth must blend, or reconcile, the impersonal with the personal. Reason and feeling.

Life treats armchair philosophers rather rudely. "Your religion (life philosophy) is tested in the cold light of day" a wise person once wrote. Take life personally if you are to act responsibly and have any hope of finding true happiness in this roiling, ever-insecure cauldron we call life. Take life TOO personally, and you are apt to augur downward towards anger, resentment, paranoia, or depression.

"Think globally; act locally." This neatly sums up the integration of your philosophy with your emotions. I say emotions because our feelings are the engine that quick-starts us into action. Philosophy is dry; emotions are wet! We need both, lest we die either of thirst or by drowning.

Introspect, therefore, as to you own temperament: do you take the dry, intellectual or impersonal point of view, or do you tend to get down and personal? Learn to refine your responses and to balance them with the other. See the big picture but act to improve the little picture of here and now. The latter is a microcosm of the former. Life is a hologram!

So, when the stars come out at night, go outside with a friend and hold hands while gazing heavenward!

Blessings to all,