For many of my friends, this is an especially difficult period of time in which to find or maintain happiness. They feel anxiety on a political and even philosophical level, coupled with genuine and often urgent survival insecurity.
I may seem rude in the directness and strength of my message on matters like the environment, or our woefully unmet responsibilities to the foreign poor, exploited for so long, to advantage our mass consumerism, that many have come to believe this their right – and I do sincerely apologize for any hurt or affront experienced – but not for those messages. It simply isn’t morally healthy for us to excuse harm to others.
The thing is, this facing of the truth of the state of the world – clear mind – as it were, is only one part of the necessary mix for perception balance. It can be both frightening and painful to look at undiluted truth, we need to build and maintain our strength in other areas, in order for our minds to be and remain bold.
For more than fifteen years now, I’ve been writing a great deal about love and friendship (perhaps more in my stories, essays and poems, than my more topical posts, here) – for me, the importance of profound human connection cannot ever be overstated.
We are all, for one another, all of the wealth that there is, and every time we let some shiny trinket or pursuit of standing distract us from a friend, or turn us away from self-respect and honour, we have lost in the bargain.
All of which is about – Heart – of course. Balance point two. Absolutely crucial for ‘being botheredness’ – one of the few universal key ingredients for all accomplished goods in the world.
And now we come to the point where I get into trouble with some of my more cynical and self-woundingly dogmatically limited materialist friends, for the particular shape of my own lifelong atheism.
Unlike many atheists I know, I do not reject gratitude as a first principle – rather, I absolutely REQUIRE it – as THE first principle.
This isn’t a matter of a specific vision, or a particular tradition’s reasons or path toward that point – it is instead a recognition of the functional irreplaceability of – Spirit – as an anchor when all else fails us, and also for a precious beacon of principle. when we doubt our way.
There are times when our minds will expose us to things that will make us wish we hadn’t looked at all, and hurt our hearts deeply, also.
Spirit is the third pillar – at minimum (for functional purposes) robust and abiding essential gratitude, despite all reverses and challenges. Again on a purely functional note – begging personal advantage and fortune are NOT the point of prayer (as it is too commonly ridiculed), rehearsing and refreshing this essential state of gratitude, IS.
I like to remind my hard-scientific friends that we can get there (if need be) with no narrative whatsoever required. We definitely all come from universe, and all return to it – and nothing that we ever do in our whole lives can be done, except through and with it.
The fact that there is a bit more matter than anti-matter, is why things in the universe can exist at all. The fact that the initial expansion of the big-bang wasn’t completely smooth, but got interestingly ‘lumpy’ quite early on, is why matter and energy became distinct and resolved, and can now have such complex and wonderful relationships.
These strike me as empirical bases for gratitude, even for the most rigorous materialist alive. Just try enjoying an ice-cream on a sunny day, or a great band and a drink, without coherent molecules!
(Don’t really – and CERN is kind of busy lately, anyhow). ;o)
Lastly, I have, this century in particular, found gratitude to be a force of especially great saving power. Reminding me toward modesty when I grow frustrated with my feelings of uselessness – and helping me also to learn, even in those areas where my pride least wants to be overturned (which I have found is almost always where our most important path to growth is hiding).
One of the ideas from my book Structural Happiness is that we are music, not sculpture – dynamic happenings over time – not static objects.
We live by playing our music as richly as we possibly can – and feel best about the whole, when we invite more good players inside of our warm circle, where they can easily contribute and enrich us.
Which means that despite the demonstrable and increasing shittyness of a great many aspects of the world right now (clear Mind), free treasure yet lies out there behind other curious and not yet surrendered eyes. (Spirit, through Heart)
Won only by reaching with clear mind, open heart, and grateful spirit.
But of course that makes sense. Isn’t that just the way a loving friend would reach?