Everything is fine.

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Everything is fine. I’m fine.

I say as I wander aimlessly from distraction to distraction, trembling and loath to confront it.

But deep within me like a claw scraping at my guts, there is terror. There is despair.

It haunts me, “the end is nigh, you will fade into darkness, dust to the wind.”

“Silence,” I command it as beads pass between my knuckles, “Silence.”

Am I clinging to a hope? Enchanted by the warbling of a nightingale perched upon the twigs of a tree that grows betwixt certainty and emptiness. I grow weary.

This heaving and wrenching, it pains my bowels.

The others pity me and invite me to their games – distractions to occupy my angst and snuff out the soul with spirits, to cheer the spirit with revelry.

They speak of the moment, to seek pleasure in each breath – to pant like a hound seeking sustenance till overcome by frailty, then die like a stray upon the boiling tar.

But I am compelled towards purpose. My heart, as it throbs, gives life to my limbs and empowers my being to advance towards something — ascendence to goodness? And the nightingale intones melodious psalms, revealing truth to my heart; the claw is tamed by its gentle sermons.

The keepers of law summon me to reason. They strangle the nightingale and stem its sweet song, then pluck its iridescent plumes, exposing its flesh. The frailty of its form is revealed. Its power, subdued.

I am disgusted by their violence, unsettled by their irreverence…and I miss the warmth of the nightingale’s song.

But its song grows faint. I can barely feel its warmth.

Curled and quaking in the shadows I yearn for the nightingale that once perched in my heart. I fumble in the dark as the claw rakes at my insides, and wander aimlessly from distraction to distraction.

Everything is fine. I’m fine.

Not my Religion.

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A warning that the following might come across as somewhat inflamed and judgemental. I assure you that it’s not meant to offend. I’m just trying to speak honestly about something very personal. Discussion is welcome. 

Nothing can distance me from my religious convictions quite like a walk in the city. This is not a misanthropic statement. I’m not expressing frustration with humanity’s hopeless amorality or some apparent lack of purpose and common vision in the world. Indeed, such realizations could, in fact, ignite the flame of faith within me if I were so inclined.

No, it is not these things that evoke a sentiment of irreligion within me. It’s the insistence of the street-side missionary who, with shameless certainty, blocks my way to assert their own.

Gone are the days when these folks would brazenly, albeit honestly, stop you on the street to ask if you’ve found “your personal saviour.” Now, they simply look and smile, inviting you to what they would like you to believe is an open and inter-subjective dialogue regarding the essential verities of life. This must be premised on the assumption that i’m an idiot and unaware of the business behind it all. There is no dialogue. The only value I can hope to contribute is to offer cues that will trigger an unsolicited deluge of formulaic assertions and prescriptions for salvation, which I need. Apparently.

I don’t doubt that the necessity of their behaviour is internally justified. They have encountered a truth, a resonant truth, that has in some way triggered an inner transformation. This experience compels them to share their findings with the world. It’s not this part that bothers me. This is fine. If you’ve found a truth and feel compelled to share it, do so by all means. Just be aware that others also have something valuable to contribute – you are not the gatekeeper.

I’m talking to you. Any of you! Stand aside, you were not assigned the job of gate-keeping.

However, there is something more coercive and deceitful about the work of a street-side missionary that goes beyond one’s need to share Truth. It’s the self-assured single-mindedness of it. The mechanical delivery of words and ideas. The commodification of the sacred. The privileging of Truth to adherents, and eternal self-immurement to deniers. In this sense, I don’t really blame the missionaries. They’re the products of a contemptible system of religious zeal that died long before Nietzsche’s God.

Ironically, I’m flustered by all this because I too am an adherent. An adherent to a thing, which can only be described by the modern voice as “religion.” But it can’t be the same thing – so i’m confused.

In my youth I was indoctrinated with beliefs such as “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” Regarding Truth, I was taught that although “the sun is one sun, its dawning points are many. We must not adore the dawning points but worship the sun […] We must seek the fragrance of the rose from whatever bush it is blooming […] Be seekers of light, no matter from which lantern it shines forth. Be not lovers of the lantern.”

I was nurtured to believe that “God has created man in order that he may perceive the verity of existence and endowed him with mind or reason to discover truth,” and that of all the virtues humanity possesses, the power of Scientific inquiry is the “most noble,” and that “the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe” is the way “by which man finds a pathway to God.”

As an adult, I slowly learned to accept the futility of my quest for epistemic certitude. I was reassured to discover that this realization was supported by explicit text from the writings of my Faith:

Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery or to appraise its virtue. Having recognized thy powerlessness to attain to an adequate understanding of that Reality which abideth within thee, thou wilt readily admit the futility of such efforts as may be attempted by thee, or by any of the created things, to fathom the mystery of the Living God, the Day Star of unfading glory, the Ancient of everlasting days. This confession of helplessness which mature contemplation must eventually impel every mind to make is in itself the acme of human understanding, and marketh the culmination of man’s development.

In these same texts I learned that both religion and nature consist in the “essential properties and necessary relations inherent in the realities of things. And though these infinite realities are diverse in their character yet they are in the utmost harmony and closely connected together. As one’s vision is broadened and the matter observed carefully, it will be made certain that every reality is but an essential requisite of other realities.” That nature itself is “God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.”

From this framework, a conception of the Manifestations of the Divine Essence (e.g., Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, Baha’u’llah) emerges as beings who are “fully informed” of the essential properties and necessary relations inherent in the reality of things, and who “establish them as the religion of God.”

This “religion” which collapses the natural and supernatural into a conceptual framework that embraces ambiguity, requires scientific inquiry, and promotes the earnest search for spiritual Truth, can’t be the same thing as what these street-side vendors are pitching at me.

My religion is not my anchor because it does not expect me to be stationary, but to advance and move forward. My religion is my mode of operation, my framework for action and inquiry. It is my motive force impelling me to be unceasingly vigilant of how I ought to be. My religion is a dynamic symphony of magnetic tones, not to be peddled and paraded by a chosen few, but to be experienced and embodied by all without judgement or coercion.

In fact, what I’ve experienced thus far in my religious life is not religion at all. That word is devoid of meaning to me. Today’s “religion” is stripped of its essence as “the principal force impelling the development of consciousness,” and the edifying  and transformative power expanding the scope of our regard.

Thoughts on Parenting and Autonomy

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Despite the calm, collected, and polished image of family life that I flaunt in my digital persona, I can assure you that our reality is entirely ordinary. We are a family: a yelling, fighting, struggling, crying, laughing, failing, winning, striving, totally-unsure-of-what-to-do-next kind of family.

Now that you know how ordinary we are, I want to explore some ideas about autonomy and parenting.

Note: The perspective I offer is strictly my own. It’s full of gaps and unapologetically incoherent. A splattering of random thoughts tossed against a wall like a Jackson Pollock painting, but without all the beauty.

Let’s get to it.

Life before parenthood can perhaps be best distinguished from life during parenthood by the word autonomy. For the purposes of this post, I’m defining autonomy as an individual’s freedom from external control or influence. In a sense, my idea of autonomy here is very similar to the concept of self-determination, i.e., the process by which a person controls their own life. For the sake of simplicity, I have rolled that all up into the term “autonomy.”

Before parenthood, you have a degree of autonomy that you simply cannot and, IMHO, should not have as a parent. I say, “should not” because my experience suggests that parenting, at least in the early years, requires a high degree of benevolent altruism. That is, acting with kindly intent for the well-being of another. Simply, an engaged parent will naturally feel deprived of autonomy, and will come to regard opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth as precious gifts.

This is not to say that the act of forsaking autonomy is a deliberate act for parents. Rather, I think the comfort that we find in autonomy gradually fades as we give ourselves up for the well-being of our children. Of course, this can occur with other relationships such as marriage or friendship. However, with children the intensity of this entangled co-existence is far more difficult to abandon.

This brings me to the thesis of this post: Take advantage of your excessive autonomy before you become entangled with parenthood.

Autonomy is the perfect crucible for reflection and personal growth. It allows you to cast your sails, read the stars, and set your course. Autonomy grants you the privilege of time and mobility to ponder, to seek out, explore, and discover at your own pace – when you want to, how you want to, and where you want to. You are temporally and spatially free to calibrate your worldview and to establish the parameters of your identity.

Take advantage of this autonomy because one day—and it will be a sudden day, an unexpected day, a wonderful and terrifying day—your ship will rendezvous with its consort. Indeed, your hulls will occupy separate spaces and you will set your own sails, but your general course will become aligned. Children might come aboard and they will rely on you, and you will nurture them and raise them up until they are ready to command their own ships, to embark on their own voyage.

Maximize your autonomy before you rendezvous.

My experience suggests that the type of self-determination that occurs through deliberate and systematic self-reflection becomes exceedingly difficult as the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood multiply. The majority of this self-determination occurs before your fledglings are conceived and after they have taken flight. In the interim, you will and should sacrifice your growth and well-being for them.

Parenting is to personal growth as schooling is to academic development: it takes some of the agency of self-determination away from the individual and increases the fallout associated with failure. Perhaps this has made me more deliberate in my use of time, less idle and frivolous, more thankful and blessed for every moment.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that as a parent there will be no opportunities for self-determination and personal growth. Indeed, this blog post is proof that I have found time for personal growth. Still, I used to post every other day; finished a book every other week; wrote in my journal daily; and had inspired conversations with friends, weekly. I now look forward to those one or two precious days, every month, when I can bring order to the swelling cloud of chaos in my mind.

That being said, parenting forced me to use muscles I never knew I had, triggering pains I thought I could never endure. I had never experienced love, concern, worry, patience, awe, wonder, or gratitude to the degree that I experience these things as a parent.

It’s true, I’m nostalgic for those long gone days of excessive autonomy, which I probably won’t experience again until some time in the future when my fledglings have taken flight…and I’m old and senile and grumpy. Yet, being with my children and watching them magically unravel their hidden secrets is pure bliss, and I would not trade it for all the autonomy in the world.

ADDENDUM

After reading some feedback to this piece, I feel I need to clarify something. When I refer to “personal growth” I’m talking about a process that’s deliberate. That is, making a deliberate effort to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually through reflection, reading, various forms of artistic expression, and elevated conversation. Not the type of growth that naturally comes about through parenting. Not sure if this makes sense…but there you go.