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Monday, October 29, 2007

Peace, a meditation in 4 parts: Three, Self and Society

The pursuit of Peace has an inner-outer duality that can prove quite challenging. Chicken/egg questions of priority arise, and each of us usually commits to one extreme more than the other. I know I've always erred too much on the side of the social at the expense of the self.

Can we achieve lasting peace in our social interactions if we haven't mastered our personal demons?

Is it possible to be inwardly tranquil when the world around us is falling apart?

The Medieval pseudo-science of Alchemy embodied a very artful metaphor in its quest to discover the philosopher's stone. This magical object represented the ideal of inner purity that just by touch could elevate baser metals such as lead to a higher, golden form. By an extending leap of logic, the person who achieved the wisdom of the ages could also transform all those contacted, allowing them to reach their full potential.

In practice, however, many of the men who pursued this Holy Grail grew so enrapt in their books and experiments that they shut themselves off from the outside world and were of no use to it. Retreating into themselves in the vain pursuit of perfection, their means became master to the end. Not wanting to act until confident of their abilities, they completely abandoned the stage.

There are stories as well at the other pole of experience, where persons devoted themselves entirely to a social cause at the expense of their self and sanity. Rushing out into the world, hoping to do good without a full understanding of how, it's easy to crash on the wave of misdirected good intentions; and there are plenty of organizations willing to misguide those youthful energies.

When our ideals fail us, it's tempting to seek out the solace of escape. The losing of one's religion often proves pretext to gaining the bad habit of withdrawal. There is a cautionary tale buried in our country's movement from the society-changing fervor of the 1960s to the drug-fueled excesses of the 1970s.

It's a quest in itself to find that fine balance between the needs of self and society; maintaining a sense of who we are as individuals while contributing to a cause greater than ourselves. American society has grown out of tune on both fronts. There's a schizophrenic disconnect between the things we believe and the things we do. Bridging that widening chasm is going to prove very difficult, but we can't shy away from the task.

As we collectively try to reconcile the slipping away of our ideals, we may find ourselves tempted to seek the peace of amnesia. As described in the song lyrics below, it's a false path that will lead us to oblivion rather than serenity.

To be continued ...

Drinker's Peace
by Guided by Voices

At times I wish I were dead
Busy people dancing all over my head
This I value with every move they make
Real bad headache with every step they take

I get a contact buzz
Can't remember what the problem was
I find it hard to even care
Life was too real until you got there

My life is dirt but you seem to make it cleaner
Reduce my felony to a misdemeanor
When I feel sick you're an antibiotic
Organize my world that was pointless and chaotic

I get a contact buzz
Can't remember what the problem was
I find it hard to even care
Life was too real until you got there
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