Who Am I; Who Are You?

After resting for 45 minutes motionless, with acupuncture needles in my face, arms, abdomen, and legs, my doctor come into my room.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Peaceful,” I replied.

“Good,” my doctor said.

I thought to myself, “How many people that I know could I tell I’m peaceful?  How many situations that I find myself in would the subject of peacefulness be an appropriate conversation topic?”  And, “How many people would think I’m weird to tell them I feel peaceful?  Or not understand?”  Certainly, not at the Blues Club I frequent.  Or in my casual social occasions at the coffee shop or diner.

But my point is not how out-of-place talk of peace is.  My point is how often our conversation is constrained by our environment.  How often who we are is determined by whom we are talking to.

There are people with whom sports seems to be all I can talk about.  And I’m not that into sports.  There are people I talk about work issues with.  There are people with whom I act as a professional counselor.  There are some I seem to be talking about politics with.  Some are academic colleagues and we talk about philosophy.  Not too many people I can talk about poetry with.  There are some situations in which we complain and gripe.  There are a few people with whom I can bare my soul.  Who am I in each of these different scenarios?

There are degrees of authentic presence with other people.  There are situations in which we are polite and mannerly, which is essentially following a rule book.  There are situations in which we are diplomatic which requires sensitivity, fast and careful thinking and word choice.  There are times when we say what we think other people want to hear.  Then there are the feelings with which we encounter others.  Sometimes we speak in mutual love.  Sometimes we speak in mutual anger.  Sometimes we speak in mutual sincerity.  Sometimes in company with others we feel lonely because there is much of who we are that we cannot express in the environments we find ourselves in.  Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of situations in which one cannot talk because the listening audience is to heterodox to the one talking.    Who are we in these differing ways of dialogue?

I think that there are different degrees of depth in our personality makeup.  When we are alone, some of us are in touch with a depth that we can’t express in public, for various reasons.  We think, do, and feel as we wish when we are alone.  This may be who we really are.  There is also meditation and prayer, which takes us to an altered, deep level of personality above ordinary experience.

So who we are alone is one measure of the self.  Then, on the other hand, there are times when a person gets lost in sociality.  These are times when our environment dictates who we are, how we act.  When I was a Harvard student in Boston, I felt so connected to my social environment that there was no real divide between me and the culture of Harvard.  On the positive side, I was learning social graces and expanding my intellect.  On a negative side, I was all surface, appearance, propriety.  I lost my feeling of peace when alone in Nature.

But we can’t love when we are alone.  Love isn’t a feeling we shine out from our heart.  Love is an action word.  We love when we are involved with others.  We can love, also, when we do something of service to others, even when we are alone.  When I write, or play music, which will eventually get to other people, I love what I am doing.  My love for others comes out in words or melodies.  Sometimes peacefulness comes out.  When I am in company with others, I aim to bring love and the Good to our encounter, my love for humanity, and what I have learned to date that is good.  I may listen empathetically; I may joke around; I may share my personal life, I may inquire about others’ loves, lives, interests.  In all this I strive to be authentic.  I want people to meet who I am, not who I want people to think I am.

Once, a long time ago, I was talking to a stranger in a bar.  She said, “I’ve never met a real person before.”  I hope that wasn’t the whole truth.  But I think that we encounter degrees of reality in the people we meet.  I knew a man who accidentally told me that he is skilled in becoming the kind of person he thinks his social companion wants him to be.  That would be the opposite extreme of who I was back in the bar.  Being an authentic self is knowing self, and bringing self to social interactions.  And self in relationship with others is self expanded, growing through the interaction, acting on and in love and the good.  Being authentic in relationships expands who we are as we come away with an encounter of the other, another reality than our own.  While we may be one kind of real self when we are alone, we are also a real self when we are authentic in our relationships.

 

 

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Adrenaline and other Moods

I just saw the new Tomb Raider movie, and I enjoyed it.  It was excitement from the beginning to the end.  But I’m mildly disturbed that I enjoyed it.  I am disturbed because of the emotions that the film evoked.  There seemed to be one feeling only, excitement.  But it was an excitement born of fear; it wasn’t a happy excitement–it was an excitement derived from fear that Laura Croft might not get out of the predicament she was in.  It was adrenaline from start to finish.

I have wondered why it is hard for me to watch old movies like The Sound of Music, or even The Wizard of Oz.  At first I thought that it was cinematography.  I thought that I was so used to the millions of cuts cuts in contemporary films, which make a 30 second scene seem long. that I can’t watch old films in which the camera lingers on its subject for longer periods of time.  I thought that was what was making me restless when I watch old films.

But I now think that the reason is more distressing.  Maybe the reason I can’t watch old films is because the emotions they evoke are calmer, more peaceful.  If I am used to feeling non-stop adrenaline, how can I watch a film which is based on happy family life, or the still beauty of the Austrian Alps, and pleasant songs sung by Julie Andrews?  It is a distressing thought that contemporary emotional climate is based on excitement and adrenaline.  That culture no longer feels the calm, the still, the peace of Julie Andrews singing in the Alps.

This theory also explains why symphony halls are experiencing difficulty keeping their doors open.  It may be that the emotions evoked by, say, a Beethoven symphony are extinct in contemporary society.  Maybe people don’t listen to Beethoven anymore because the emotions that Beethoven calls up have vanished from society today.  While music that consists of short musical  motifs on top of a pulsating beat matches the pulsating adrenaline driven passions of society today.

So I wonder, has society lost sublime feelings?  Am I right that anxiety and adrenaline are fueling contemporary emotional life?  Is this why symphony halls are losing audiences?  Why mainline churches are dwindling while Evangelical churches which feature praise rock bands are filled?  Why I enjoyed Tomb Raider and have difficulty with The Sound of Music?

Perpetual Spring

As I age, the world ages with me

As it always has

Things I treasure go out of style

Live music, blues, jazz, the symphony

Peace and love

Mozart went out of style

And nobody knows where he is buried

Who performed for princes, kings, queens

High art, technique, form fail

Churches dwindle, consolidate, close

Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus shrugged off

They follow Zeus, Apollo, Heracles

 

There is no perpetual spring

There follows summer, autumn, winter, and spring again

As I autumn, I can’t see spring again

No, I don’t see spring

I will be leaving this world

And I look toward another

And as my world dies, perhaps it is well that I also with it

I think less of my legacy than I do my potential

In my autumn I see perpetual springtime

Geode

I bought a geode at a New Age store

–So like my being’s core

Unbecoming outside

Oh, but beautiful inside

Appearing unresponsive, hard, or harsh at first sight

Oh, I’ll fight

In a world with so much violence

So much negligence

So many who don’t seem to care

I despise the callous shell I feel I need to wear

For I am weak

Unlike Love lived out in a world gone dark and bleak

Inside hide facets of love I long to share

Oh, I care

So much love I have to release

And do in too few places

Those opened spaces

When there is peace

In holy times

In safe, sheltered, placid climes

In sacred spaces, among hearts beloved

Among sacred hearts, peacefully moved

 

When the crusty world breaks open

So often merely broken

Shattered

Wits scattered

When dreams, comfort, complacency quake

Break

Hearts open and lay bare

When comfort and complacency tear

I found my torn open heart and nurtured and cultivated

And prayed and wept and meditated

My soul sublimated

And hard-hearted adamant beatified

Inside

Though whenever fractious forces weep and subside

The beauty shows

Love flows

Received and bestowed

Shining and reflecting like my opened geode