Tuesday, July 10, 2018

To Have or To Be?

It has now been sixty years since I sat in my high school algebra class. I remember very little of that classroom except for one thing that has stayed with me and been a guiding force throughout my life. That one thing was a banner my teacher hung above the blackboard that read, “He who perseveres attains the expansion.” I imagine she meant it as an encouragement to stay the course and learn algebra. I understood it in a much broader sense: as a way of living—to stay the course through adversity and never give up, particularly during times of extreme suffering. At the time I knew nothing about psychology, religion or spirituality but those words of encouragement took me into the realm of all three.

My childhood was a mixed bag of both suffering and fun. The fun part was an escape from the suffering, but I never really escaped until decades later, when due to a crisis of major proportions, I entered the realm of self-understanding. And that led me to psychology, religion, and spirituality. I suffered, and I got to a point of readiness when I was desperate to fathom why.

In the beginning, I first became aware of Zen because rumor had it that the practice was all about understanding suffering and finding release. It did both. But I was unclear how and why, and that took me to psychologyErich Fromm and Carl Jung. Fromm’s ideas were as nearly identical to those of The Buddha as possible, and I came to realize something very important: people have a tendency to regard spirituality and psychology as two different matters, and this is not true. Both spirituality and psychology are concerned with a single matter: the human mind.

My life has been regulated by that basic principle of perseverance. I never understood the compelling force until I began my study of the mystics and enlightened psychologists. It is that force of self-determination, that struggles to be free of bondage to things; so dominating today. Perseverance through thick and thin, good times and bad, never wavering from the desire to be free, (as it did for me) that compels us all who don’t settle for things, but demands for themselves something beyond things as the basis for self-actualization.

There’s a Youtube video of an interview with Erich Fromm. I encourage you to take the time and watch it and as you do appreciate this interview happened sixty years ago, yet the social and cultural conditions he described then are as real now than in 1958 (even more so).

 Many people are off-put with mystical matters, thinking, “oh, that’s not for me,” but most everyone wants to understand themselves. Note in particular Fromm’s comments concerning people’s ideas concerning means becoming endsA haunting premonition of the attitudes today. We have created a vacuous society that relies more and more on things and less and less on what matters.

As always, Erich Fromm speaks with wisdom, compassion, learning, and insight into the problems of individuals trapped in a social world that is needlessly cruel and hostile.”Noam Chomsky.

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