Were we to operate with a requisite and healthy amount of pride in who we are while acknowledging others right to their pride in who they are under the umbrella of a universal, shared compassionate concern for the whole, our political, economic and social systems would look a whole lot different than they do now.
There is this problem. It is one that has perplexed me for years and one I continue to struggle with although far more spiritual people than myself have wrestled with it than I. Still, it remains. This problem is the resolution of the two issues I brought out earlier here and their resolution is definitely not an easy one. Who am I, both transitionally and, on the broader sense, cosmically? If I am a man, a Puertorican born in New York City, born to my parents who brought with them their own cultural, social, economic and other aspects of identity to the table of my being, then how do I reconcile that with that deeper sense of Being, that of a more philosophical nature and “its” relationship to Being Itself, however one conceives of this? And then the hard part (as if pondering those 2 questions isn´t hard enough!) of finding which one of those aspects of “me” is most important, reveals a “who I really am” and thus the one I should (exclusively) rely upon?
Sages and mystics chose the impersonal one, the broader one, the one most aligned with the greater concepts outside the realms of empirical verifiability. I like them. I wanted to retreat into some cave and ponder such questions night and live a life where that is all I did. I imagined myself cavorting with this age´s Ramana Maharshi or others like him or, more communally, living my life in some monastic setting where the collective efforts were to pursue such questions along the single-track of Higher truth. I even spent long periods of my life, in Japan and in the US at monastic retreats pursuing just that. I loved it.
I was also unsatisfied.
For I felt another “calling” within, to move arising from that smaller me towards activities which worked at making life for all people fairer, more just, more Truth-full, but narrowly settled within the confines of rent and kids, jobs and “regular” life. I loved people, felt for their sufferings, knew the deleterious effects of poverty and colonial mindsets on the self-esteem of people and I intuited that this was done to inculcate helplessness so that someone else could benefit. That people didn´t have to live in poverty, of mind or spirit, that there were those who pushed and kept them there and thus a great evil surrounded me which needed resistance. And given as I am to wanting to go out and help, I saw the greatest calling as rectifying the world´s “smaller” ills. So I have pursued that too with gravity and energy.
I still do.
And I am still wavering between these poles. Between the daily necessity to access the timeless quiet within me which I feel is connected to that higher sense of Being, and the less elevated attempt to alleviate pain and suffering among all around me, in this little life of barely a century, in this container of my smaller identity.
It is not just balance I seek. It is Wisdom. For without wisdom, how will I know what to do? How can I chose without knowing which direction should take the most of the little time remaining for me?
I am and have always been inspired by Thomas Merton. His life of seclusion (more physical and social than political or spiritual) was not spent running away from that deeper pursuit nor was he oblivious to the rapidity of the world´s changing nature around him. He threw himself into both. But he did so from his spiritual side. Can we emulate his example from the “domestic” side? How do we affirm who we are in the small sense while maintaining connection to a greater Truth which sees all of us from a “higher” perspective? This is no easy task.
Recently, Tao Ruspoli was featured in CounterPunch as a documentary he made of a great flamenco master tackled this idea of identity with gusto. I saw this man, a singer and grizzled bon vivant who I identified with, at least in terms of dreaming one day I might end up so purely involved in Life from this side, reciting poetry to friends (instead of songs in my case) and drinking heartily at all hours, making love to Life and reveling in the process with comrades who appreciated the same.
But what, then would happen to that me who longs for Eternity and its contemplation here and now? Where would he fit? I don´t know.
The author asks this question and hopes that it is possible:
The question is, can we affirm a unique cultural identity, celebrate “mastery” in particular domains (and embrace other hierarchies that skillfulness necessitates,) fighting against the forces of technology and globalization, all of which, according to Heidegger, level meaningful differences between people, places and things; can we do this without resorting to reactionary or backward-looking ideologies?
I would agree. Meaning, I don´t know. But the task as I see it, is to acknowledge the convenient fictions that make up this “me” while all the while striving to do things here, at this level, which pull me ever upwards in my ascent to…well, to live, in my case, is to wrestle in this manner. That we do the best we can down here, living as authentically as we can in the process, while looking to the Great Horizon with wonder and, dare I say, aspiration. Something like that…