Monday, December 29, 2014

Through The Eyes Of A Fish

A simple fish is a living creature, a form of life that likely predates humankind.  Consider what existence on Earth looks like through the eyes of a fish.  It is born, grows to maturity, and ultimately dies, either from old age or a fatal event.  During that lifetime, there is food to be gathered and eaten, chores to attend to, and a responsibility to reproduce and sustain the fish community.  Not unlike our human existence.

There are many kinds of fish.  Little ones, big ones, huge ones.  Fish of a variety of colors and shapes.  Surrounded by other fish – different in specific form, but nonetheless still “fish.”  They live in water, the only home they know.  The only home they can survive in.  The water of streams, rivers, lakes, or the great oceans.  Water that comes in various flavors: with or without salt, with varying levels of needed oxygen, with similarly varying levels of unwanted pollution.  Some fish are unique to particular kinds or locations of water; others are found across many parts of the globe.  Most fish stay pretty close to one place in their watery home; others are more nomadic and travel great distances in fulfilling their life.

In water, light is a variable, stratified in layers from the top of the water to the bottom.  But what is “top” or “bottom” to a fish, versus simply “water”?  There is a portion of its home that is less dark.  And at some point it can discover a difference kind of substance that is unlike the usual watery home, a dense material that cannot be swum through.  It is what we call “the bottoms,” filled with mud, rock, and perhaps some kind of plant life.  No swimming through that, just a barrier to avoid.  And, in fact, a fixed boundary to the watery home.

This is the Life that a fish knows, the images a fish sees.  Living perpetually in this liquid substance encompassed by strata of light and a stratum of non-liquid.  Such is the definition of what “life on earth” means – to a fish.  It is a much more limited understanding than we human beings have.  We know of land, of mountains, of trees, of sky, of clouds.  We live in air, not water, though we can experience water for short periods.  We know a fish, but a fish does not know of us.  But do we truly know “us”?

The fish believes that he knows all of Creation based upon its own personal vision and experience.  We know of a bigger Creation based upon our personal vision and experience.  But are we just as blind as the fish, trapped in our own confused Lake of Existence?

We so often fall into the trap of thinking that we are human beings, so we know what “being human” means.  We live somewhere, so we understand all the other “somewheres.”  But while we share some commonalities among ourselves to being human, we share just as many differences which we often neither understand nor acknowledge.

The spiritual challenge is whether we continue to live the limited myopia of the fish, that “what I see is what I know which is all there is.”  Or whether we use our extra human capabilities to not think “I understand it all,” but to acknowledge “how little I truly know of the vastness of what there is to know.”  And then leave our comfortable pond to explore the richness of contrasting worlds, different than our own.

The true spiritualist knows that every door of insight is simply an opening to the next door of insight.  Never truly fully knowing, but always learning.  Like the fish, we are perpetually swimming in the confined waters of our life.  Unlike the fish, we have the potential to see a fuller bigness of Life.  But only if we first admit our true ignorance of it.  It is only when we do not know that we can then know the full majesty of Life.

© 2014   Randy Bell     

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pride And Arrogance

Most religions teach us that pride is bad for us, one of the great moral sins.  With good reason, because unwarranted pride leads us away from humility.  And humility is one of the fundamental requirements for finding our way with and to God, as well as a primary building-block for interpersonal relationships in this more earthly realm.

Nevertheless, in small doses, applied sparingly, within a proper framework, perhaps a little bit of pride on occasion can be a good thing.  We slog our way through life, moving constantly from one challenge to the next in seemingly endless sequence.  Stopping to recognize what has been achieved, where we have come to, the differences we have made, can be an important step in helping to keep us on spiritual track.  When we have done well in our pursuits, a little breath of pride in our mental lungs can create a refreshing pause in our labors, a reserve of fresh air to energize us for the next inevitable pursuit.  It gives us a moment to reflect on what has been done, a reflection we need to make.  If such a pride better motivates and directs us to our next spiritual sequence, then we can be forgiven for such a moment of self-satisfaction.

But what is that “proper framework” we spoke of for our prideful indulgence?  First, we understand that such pride is very short-lived; we do not seek to unduly extend that moment beyond its natural expiration.  Second, we recognize that whatever it is in which we take pride, whatever outcomes we think we caused, they are only temporary phenomena.  These too will pass away in their own natural time, regardless of whatever we may try to do to prevent it.  The monuments we build to our self-importance are rarely forever-lasting.

Third, we acknowledge all those who helped make possible our outcomes, those who provided the opportunities, education, resources, funding, and encouragement that enable what we do.  However much we may try to believe that “I” did these things, in truth it is all the “we’s” who achieved it together through me.  Fourth, we accept that our accomplishment does not make us better than any other being.  Being “better” causes us to separate our self from others, based upon an external measure of us, thereby forgetting the equal spiritual worth of all humankind.  So we do our work quietly, forgoing bragging.  True pride lives inside of us; it does not require the praise of others.

And fifth, we accept how easily our successful outcome could have been just the opposite.  Fate turns not on a wide curve of circumstances, but on the slightest fissure in the road.  When we study the history of any great endeavor, any large project or military campaign, any great biography, the margin of “error” for any undertaking is miniscule.  Is it luck, is it karma, is it fate, is it Providential handiwork that sends us left instead of right at some precisely critical moment?

It is when we lose sight of these qualifiers that simple human pride becomes arrogance.  When we believe that our current accomplishment was due solely to our own effort, our own solitary achievement, and our road is the only road to be followed, our life begins to be built on a foundation of sand.  A foundation just waiting to be washed away by a future storm of Life.  Will we then blame others for the failure we experience, while we credit ourselves only for our successes and accomplishments?

As we look at our large new house, our current-year automobile, our large paycheck, our college diploma on the wall, our “perfect children” in school, we need to remember where in fact these all came from.  We may have been fortunate enough to be the willing channel for the gifts of many that resulted in a benefit for our self.  We can take some limited pride in being a part of that result.  But when we believe that the result started and ended with our self, then we begin to live in arrogance.  And when we choose to live on that dangerous precipice, sooner or later Life will always find a way to teach arrogance the necessary humility it needs to learn.

© 2014  Randy Bell