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Human Endeavour

Once Upon a Time: The human Story Told

Time is journey into eternity. Every creature lives in and is a part of this vitality of nature. Time actually stands still in the cosmic sense, while we move inwardly into time and, in the process, experience the outward chronicle of change. Time becomes a threat if we are not in inner harmony with this cosmic law of movement. This gives rise to a misplaced belief in time passing us by; we lose the experience of living in the present, and may become preoccupied with the fantasy of solace in a past with its memories.

We live life in the fast lane, unable to escape the inroads made upon our time and intrusions on our privacy by modern electronic communications. Nowhere are we safe from the ring of the smartphone or the beep of incoming text messages, emails and social-media feeds. Even if we switch these devices or the notifications off for a short time, a voicemail message compels us to call back. Not so long ago, once we walked out of the office, we were free to do as we please, but today many of us are effectively ‘on call’ day and night by varying degrees and are thus never able to switch off completely from ‘work mode’. Hence, the hour is unnoticeably gone; the day hurries to an end; the week flies by too quickly; another month has passed; another year has gone by, and then another. It is as if we have never truly lived; the blurred images of the ‘daily grind’ pass us by like fleeting shadows observed from the window of a fast-moving train, unable to make any lasting impressions upon our souls.

By Jide Adefope

(This is the first part of this essay; the next instalment appears in the next issue.)

I

Wanderers

The fragile human psyche is dragged irresistibly along on a treadmill which is quickening under the pressure of events – standardised disasters natural and man-made – to an uncertain end, and finding it difficult to strike for safety. The modern era’s breakneck technology-driven innovation has enabled a volatile contemporary culture to develop; a generation which is no longer prepared to work diligently and patiently towards its goals, step by step, savouring each little victory along the way, but rather one that wants it all now, even to the point where the things to want and wish for, in collusion with an overbearing and intrusive advertising industry, are prescribed and determined by others, who are often motivated more by money-making than by genuine service to their fellow-man. Thus, in the pursuit of pleasure, elusive as it is, even in an age of excess, we are forever snapping at pleasures derived from sight, sound and taste, grabbing at any and every consumer brand, so that we should not miss out on the tiniest morsel and live more, be it culinary delights, fad diets, music, love, messaging and personal communication, on-demand entertainment, or a never-ending stream of news-feed updates propagating a tidal surge of unnecessary information on a daily basis. The predilection to get distracted by these cravings leaves us with little time to read, play a musical instrument, explore nature, bake, contemplate and wonder, or delve in such life-enriching homespun activities that our heart desires.

At the same time, however, there remains an inner longing that does not go away. This first emerges as a general intuitive feeling at some stage in our consciousness of being – not yet articulated in definite thoughts – that may develop into a character-defining urge. It simmers as a vague perception without understanding in the minds of many people and intensifies ever more strongly throughout one’s life. It may weigh us down with weariness as we struggle to form the right conception of what it means, or it may be dulled or overshadowed at times by the everyday cares and pleasures, retreating before the attention paid to navigating through the complexities of our everyday lives. But, try as we might, this simmering source of quiet yearning cannot be repressed by a sense of complacency or self-satisfaction for very long, and it affirms its resilience once again, often rebounding into our awareness on the current of human reflection, for it is a human trait to ponder about the world. It re-asserts its strength like a spring, which, when forced underground by impervious rock, will bubble up at the first opportunity.

This is the yearning to discover the meaning of life on earth, to deepen our perceptual range and awaken to a recognition of why things are as they are, to reconcile existence with its highs and lows, its pervasive suffering as well as its moments of pure joy with something more than the arbitrary consequences of pure chance and statistical randomness, and relieve the pressure of lingering doubts about whether anything will follow after physical death. It is an earnest volition and an earnest quest for a complete knowledge of the working of the Cosmos together with all its natural weaving, so as to be able to stand firmly in our earthly existence and understand all that the world offers us, the good and the bad, the entirety of experience, which comprises what the mind sees and what it does not, in order thereby to be able to unfold and assert oneself in thought, word and action in full value and effectiveness on earth.

The impulse of persistent thought and arising doubt about many questions and beliefs is a natural intuitive function that is almost impossible to shift. Indeed, it should be welcomed – it quickens a healthy urge for truth that is inwardly liberating. This inexplicable deep inner longing for truth and knowledge defines our personal identity and outlook on life; it stirs the liberating effect of self-expression. We struggle to understand why this restless desire is embedded within us and where it comes from, and, when it feels like the answers are finally within our grasp, they seem to slip away at the last moment like a chameleon, only to re-emerge and re-awaken within us once again.

For some, the impulse to clear a path through the choked undergrowth of distorted concepts and rigid dogma, be it religious or otherwise – which tend to make us hopeless prisoners of the untruths and erroneous views we are told or choose to believe and embrace – and optimise the capacity for conviction over doubt is mingled with uplifting moments of pure joy and a sense of liberation which is soothing to contemplate. But this is certainly not the case for everyone, especially for those who subscribe to notions of utopian materialism that reduce human beings to physical entities merely obedient to verifiable physical laws and, as such, that our mental life, our inner soul, does not transcend the physical plenitude of atoms and their associated sub-atomic particles, thus matter itself. And yet even for these, this longing emerges from time to time as a painful nostalgia, a coerced introspection, which is then hurriedly suppressed as a flaw or weakness which must be overcome.

In order to navigate our way through a world of confused thoughts and its resulting dreary uncertainties without compromising our individuality and freedom but, instead, developing a deeper consciousness of these, we must possess or acquire certain qualities. These include, in the first place, an awakened sense of one’s individuality and personal responsibility, self-respect, self-reliance, humbleness, respect, goodwill and empathy for others. Alongside these, the ability to live in a heightened harmony with nature, community-mindedness, a sense of shame and the ability to be reasonable without compromising our integrity are equally important.

At the heart of what makes us human stands the freedom to think and act, to make choices by accepting, rejecting or perhaps modifying what is offered to us and what else may be vying for our attention at any given time, together with the personal responsibility that this entails. Here we stand as humans, interconnected with the non-human realm of countless other species inhabiting the natural world. Yet, despite our humble beginnings as a species on this planet and the comparatively brief span of our presence here, we have managed to achieve dominance over other species, which eventually degenerated into their exploitation and subjugation to serve our needs alone. We must bear in mind, however, that we contributed nothing to the coming into being of the earth, and that the natural world was animated and had been formed and optimised over countless generations long before the first human beings appeared on the earth a few million years ago, cradled in lands of pristine, tropical-like beauty on primeval continents. Harmony reigned in the slow rhythm of life at that time but we would go on to sow only disharmony and eventually throw the world into confusion by our actions, which became more and more out of sync with the normal and natural order of things, which we refused to acknowledge or even recognise, instead living by rules which we devised ourselves.

At work in bringing humans and every other species into existence, and driving their development, are the ever-existing natural forces and the cosmic laws governing them; forces which have taken on form and work steadfastly in the laws to effect constant movement and development. Change and eternal transformation in the world through the work of the propelling creative forces of life cannot be halted through stagnating inertia or by pig-headed opposition. Attempts to hold up this natural forward movement either through inner inactivity or by intellectual obstinacy by man will inevitably end in catastrophe.

Humans have neither claim nor jurisdiction over the unalterable cosmic laws of nature which work with irrevocable consistency and forward-driving logic, and nor do they have immunity from their effects. Like every other creature, the human being is subject to the activity of these laws, which he can neither evade, circumvent nor disregard any more than he can really dispose of his life. The mortality of the physical body does not bring conscious being and life to an end but is simply the natural exit from the visible gross material world, similar to how a tree discharges the ripe fruit.

Any person deliberately ending his earth-life will soon realise to his horror that the path of suffering now awaiting him in the ethereal world that is the afterlife will be far worse than anything he tried to escape from by taking his own life, not to speak of the lost opportunities for development that only a life on earth can provide. The all-pervading energy of life is uninterruptible and comes from a source far greater than man; it is not like the electricity powering a robot that can be switched on or off at will.

In their creative perfection, the never-changing cosmic laws do nothing more than maintain undimmed and unrestrained all possibilities of development in a harmonious rhythm of life. That is, unless flawed human volition interferes with this rhythm, causing disharmony and distortion all over as a result of man’s egregious spiritual ignorance, intellectual self-will and belief in his abilities. In the maze of misunderstanding around his self-awareness, his actions and attitudes he acts like an ignoramus masquerading as a know-it-all. The distortion wrought by human will sweeps through the shadow world of caricatures we have created for ourselves, one that in its impact is extremely insulated from the simplicity and naturalness of the world that nurtured our early development. In time, these same laws will sweep out these false caricatures and edifices we have created and ourselves along with them – unless, even at the last moment, but before everything starts crashing down, we step down from our high horse, humbly acknowledge these laws and adjust our lives accordingly.

The cosmic laws manifest the authority to human moral sense and duty, to our culture of rights, as we pursue our deep-seated desire to mature in personal consciousness – and the same laws signal the logic of self-contemplating humility needed across the spectrum of human experience. Human behaviour changes through progress along the path of our choosing. If we really are a superior species, we should be capable of elevating ourselves in nobility by furthering what already exists, rather than leaving a trail of devastation leading to our destruction by obstinately choosing paths other than those already provided by the existing cosmic laws.

We are a creative species, but our creativity is limited to combining and adapting what already exists – thereby building on what has already been created. Thus, we cannot invent anything that does not exist beforehand in the Cosmos, even though we can combine existing basic substances from the natural world in various universally structured ways. From the flint arrowhead to laser technology, our technical know-how advances by acts of will, by understanding how the power of our inner mobility can work in moulding material forms. Let us consider a journey that, for the sake of simplicity, takes us to that proverbial ‘desert island’, a pristine locale in which no imprint of human civilisation can be found; perhaps where no human has set foot before. It is a sad fact nowadays that nature retains its pristine, wondrous and exuberant beauty only where no human foot has trodden. Everything we discover is already there. If we gather and stack stones to build a camp-fire site, we add a fireplace to the island. This is an action of technology, an adaptation of the forces of nature.

We have come up with scholarship and the sciences to logically fathom facts discovered about the world, we have explored the continents, organised a globalised economy, have electricity at our beck and call at the flick of a switch to exercise prerogative over daylight at any time of day and especially banish the dark after sunset, and are sheltered in our means of transport – be it motor-car, bus or train – from wind and weather. Over time we have come to revel in a sense of mastery over nature such that our dominion seems assured in our self-regard as separate and superior beings. Such hubris makes manifest the fatal conceit of human reason. We act like vandals, behaving as malicious, crude and barbarous administrators trifling with the immense treasures nature entrusted to us, unaware of the immense self-harm we reap in reciprocal action in accordance with the cosmic law; not, as we ought to be, guests who respect and appreciate the benevolence and hospitality shown to them in the immense household of Creation, who also try to ‘give something back’. The paradox of fear and anxiety that our dominion breeds is now not only too painful to ponder but has become so threatening that man has to protect nature and himself from the consequences of his own actions. We make valuable use of various natural gifts but bring distortions by experimenting with material unions not found in nature, without knowing the essential nature or the purposes for which things exist, and conceive abstract intellectual constructs that intensely alienate us from the logic of natural evolutionary rhythms. For instance, the manufacture of plutonium as well as the widespread use of non-degradable plastics, both ‘unnatural’ substances, are sufficient to either cause widespread devastation or to slowly ‘drown’ us along with the natural environment on land and sea in our own garbage! Whenever the human being concerns himself with the natural world it is only a pastime; for the most part the warm inner glow from the feeling of a righteous deed that is one with nature is transient, a postured virtue that soon yields to harmful behaviour again.

(The second part of this essay appears in the next issue)

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