Thoreau is even more correct today: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” What is freedom of the spirit in this brave new world matrix? Our lives are micromanaged routines, and there is no way out.
Habit. Habits of thought. Habits of action. Habitual strength and habitual prison. What have we done to ourselves? Morning routine. Getting to the City on time was a subroutine almost as intricate as working itself. Time and action so finely tuned that it wasn’t a surprise to see the same people in the same places and at the same times doing the same things day after day, year after year. Bus, coffee, conversations, ferry, train, up the stairs, down the stairs. Same car, same seats. The day continues and rolls on in a somnambulist dream. Thought and action tightly woven. Habit.
Habit. All too human. My friend William James, in his classic Principles of Psychology writes that “habit simplifies our movements, makes them accurate, and diminishes fatigue.” BUT, he goes on to make a second point, “habit diminishes the conscious attention with which acts are performed.” When someone says to you, “you’ve been doing this so long you could do it in your sleep”, they are uttering a universally acknowledged truth. Our civilization is operated by sleepwalkers. What we gain in accuracy, productivity, and less fatigue, we lose in consciousness, the very thing that makes our lives human. Having said that, it is understandable that for most jobs, the less consciousness the better. Still.
A week or so ago, I finished Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven . I think we know, if we are honest with ourselves, that we will never die. I remember, perhaps 40 years ago, reading a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and feeling certain that something like that really happens. There are worlds upon worlds. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” said the Master (John 14:2 KJV). Mansions, not rooms. These worlds seem joyous, intense, and free. Dr. Alexander had this to say, when his consciousness was returning to his body after about a week in coma, with his neocortex having been eaten by bacteria: “my mind- my real self-was squeezing its way into the all too tight and limiting suit of physical existence, with its spatio-temporal bounds, its linear thought, and its limitations to verbal communication. Physical life is characterized by defensiveness, whereas spiritual life is just the opposite.” (Proof of Heaven, p. 117)
All the esoteric spiritual traditions have maps and trainings designed to bust us out of our somnambulistic trances and bring us back to life again, while on earth. But takes total commitment and periods of withdrawal from our world of work, family, friends, commerce and community. The eternal puzzle has always been to bring these heavens to the earth for everyone, not just reserved for the spiritual athletes who have left us behind, and to figure out why we always create one hellish civilization after another. Throughout history the individual has never had much of a chance to reach their potential. We have always been servants of one system or another.
I have no answers.