15 Jun 2007 01:03 pm

PRETENDERS TO THE THRONE

The title of this chapter may be a little harsh. The list of human ideals we are about to outline contain some of the noblest goals and attitudes man has and ever will imagine. They are treasures worthy of our greatest appreciation and reflection. By calling them pretenders we are not insinuating they are unworthy of being ideals, but that they lack a certain range of application and are open to abuses which limit their universality.

Mankind has long struggled with reconciling the desire for fulfillment with the reality and complexity of mundane life. Fulfillment has not come easy, and every generation has sought short cuts to the good life. One of the most common strategies for instant fulfillment lies in the realm of cathartic experience. Cathartic experiences, though most often a spiritual religious experience, can be equally attained through disciplines such art, music, philosophy, and modern psychology.

The belief that a single experience can profoundly alter one’s life is deeply rooted in the history of man. Often this desire to have a single illuminating experience is created when life is viewed as being painful. Sometimes these awesome experiences are thought to indicate a “true awakening” providing a person with the means to transform their entire existence. The mythology of ancient man is filled with such illuminating experiences in which the sacred emerges out of the dark chaos of profane life.

For many the desire and payoff for having a transforming experience is one of compensation. The catharsis attained through a wonderful emotional or spiritual experience is supposed to compensate for the many years of emptiness preceding it. Movies are notorious for exploiting this type of sentiment with their bittersweet endings. It might be a tear-jerker where a couple are reunited after forty years of loneliness, or the appearance of friendly aliens whose presence immediately transforms a life of desperation into one of joy and cosmic significance. In any case the result is the same. An empty existence is overcome in one glorious moment.

The transforming, cathartic experience cleanses or liberates the initiate. Purged from some unbearable evil, or freed from an oppressive limitation a person’s life is supposed to be transformed from one of suffering to one of joy.

The experience of ecstasy, which literally means getting beyond yourself, was meant to open a person up by having them surpass themselves. In some cults this was accomplished through a trance state induced by exhaustion caused by a torrid night of orgiastic song and dance. Other cults produced the cathartic trance state through bizarre and disorienting rituals or through the consumption of mind altering drugs.

Yet, even in these rituals the exposure to a new world was premised on a need to radically change the mundane (profane) world of every day life. So in essence, the purpose of these ecstatic trance states was once again to free or cleanse a person by radically transforming a boring and oppressive life into a sacred and illuminated one.

The role, therefore, of cathartic experience has and is to cleanse and liberate people from a drab, stifling and empty existence. Purged by a profound experience one is able to heal themselves and create a new and meaningful life. Yet, can one say that a cathartic experience ever creates lasting fulfillment or a state of perpetual enlightenment?

An individual experience, no matter how significant or profound, is useless unless it is accompanied by many other changes. One moment of ecstasy would not in itself fulfill the rest of one’s life. Just as one drink of water, no matter how quenching, would not end thirst for the rest of one’s life.

What than is the role of a transforming experience? Are we to conclude that all profound experiences are illusionary and do nothing more than deceive or temporarily appease us? Are such experiences merely seductions and temptations to avoid?

We will answer the first of these questions last since it’s answer is a little bit more complex. The answer to each of the other questions is a politician’s dream, yes and no. No, all profound experiences are not illusionary or seductions, but yes some of them do deceive and temporarily appease us.

Just as one kiss can often mislead us into feeling loved, so can one sublime moment of inner peace deceive us into feeling transformed. One illuminating insight does not make us all knowing, and one rapturous moment of union does not dissolve all division in life.

What is gained in a profound experience is a new insight into ourselves, a new stance towards life, or a deeper appreciation of a thing perceived. Hearing the starting gun does not have us win the race, but only alerts us to the task ahead. A powerful experience may open our eyes to see life differently, but we still need to nurture skills to actualize this new vision.

The nightmare may have shown Mr. Scrooge the error of his ways, but he still needed to do acts of compassion to transform his vision into personal growth. One day of generosity and penance would not sufficiently transform Scrooge’s life. It would only be a beginning and without ways to daily express and unfold his compassion, Scrooge would most likely revert back into a self-centered old miser.

The lifting of a limitation (evil) no matter how pervasive does not necessarily produce eternal happiness and satisfaction. The benefits of removing a limitation or gaining exposure to a new realm of experience is not to be underestimated. Any such cathartic or profound experience is to be valued because it opens us to new possibilities.

Fixing a broken leg does not make me a great runner, but only makes it possible for me to become one. Curing a disease does not make me a healthy person, but only removes an obstacle preventing me from actually being healthy.

Today, people often have a catharsis, when they relive or work through the birth trauma or some other traumatic event. Body specialists often find that great progress is made in their therapy when a person emotionally works through a traumatic event in their life, or as some claim, their past life.

The benefits of catharsis are now being attested to in many of the sciences dealing with therapy and cure. Psychologists, psychiatrists, physical and massage therapists, chiropractors and even medical doctors are recognizing a relationship between emotional catharsis and cure.

Modern spiritualist have not abandoned their tradition and still view catharsis as an integral aspect of enlightenment and spiritual attainment. Speaking in tongues, being born again and taking Christ into your heart remain essential moments in many religious groups. Witnessing, channeling, cosmic consciousness and even levitation are signs and goals of many mystics and spiritualists.

A life transformed still has to be lived. An ecstatic experience, no matter how profound, is still only one experience. A saved man can still lose his way, and a enlightened man can still find his way back to darkness. Even the most fervent religious zealot will admit a saved man is still capable of sin, and enlightenment is only possible when one lives an enlightened life at every moment.

Let’s say a person through some form of therapy unearths and removes a huge burden they have shouldered for years. Maybe they finally recalled they were raped or sexually abused, or remember some other traumatic event like being locked in a closet for days when they were small. Let’s also say that these events, lying hidden, had provided them with a host of fears and self-doubts.

One can indeed imagine the cleansing and liberating feeling one would experience ridding themselves of this emotional and psychological weight. The moment of such a realization would be intense, and the resolution of such a trauma would truly be cathartic. Doors closed would suddenly rush open amidst a deluge of emotions ranging from gratefulness, to anger, to finality.

Yet, such an event no matter how liberating would not in itself sustain a person’s happiness the rest of their lives. It may indeed be a fond and special moment one recalls to put life in perspective, provide solace, or motivate one to push on, but that is all.

A cleansing or liberating experience does just that and should not be expected to produce eternal happiness. Removing limits to intimacy is an important aspect of achieving intimacy, but it is not the only aspect. Life is a process and no one event constitutes our entire life. Some moments are more significant than others. Some could even transform our entire view of life. Yet, it is always our daily responsibility to turn raw possibility into real joy and happiness.

To repeatedly unfold intimacy takes vigilance and desire. We must constantly follow our desires and strive to remove any obstacles or distortions preventing further growth and increased intimacy. Yet, removing such obstacles and distortions does not necessitate our having a profound or cathartic experience. All that is necessary is that we bravely and vigilantly move closer to that which attracts us providing our life with joy and meaning.

At times our spiritual and psychological fascination with catharsis seems to be nothing more than a desire for a short cut. Many people seek a big event which will free them from the very responsibility of living a fulfilling life moment to moment.

This negative feeling of responsibility is often the very attitude preventing people from enjoying life, and invariably weakens the potential of any cathartic moment they may experience. Instead of using the catharsis as a motivating or guiding event they cheapen the integrity of the experience by trying to make it something it is not (just as some cheapen love when they say the words “I love you”, without ever showing love).

Usually, in disciplines such as yoga and even the martial arts, enlightenment is initially achieved through some form of meditative technique. The actual mechanics of the techniques vary, but the goal is fairly universal. That being through emptying the mind or focusing on an object one is able to attain a state of self-fulfillment.

The experience of enlightenment or cosmic consciousness attained during meditation is one of perfection. A state of total contentment devoid of any of life’s pain or confusion. Once experienced, the goal is for a practitioner to repeat this experience in every meditation until each meditation is filled with inner silence and peace.

Once the state of enlightenment fills meditation, it is the goal of an enlightened one to bring this serenity out of meditation and into daily life. A truly holy man lives in an enlightened state whether they are meditating, working, sleeping or dreaming.

Most gurus describe the progression from meditative to waking state enlightenment as a lengthy process. Yet, some proclaim enlightenment can be attained in one illuminating experience when a holy man’s entire life is transformed in one glorious moment. From that moment on, the holy man lives an enlightened existence at all times.

How can we rectify this belief in instant enlightenment with our view of intimacy? Isn’t the idea of intimacy itself in direct opposition to the idea of unattachment, one of the basic premises of eastern mysticism?

First of all it should be pointed out that many views of eastern enlightenment do involve a process of transferring meditative enlightenment into daily life. This easily fits into our view and experience of intimacy whereby we get closer to our goal each and every day. A person who lives an intimate life, like the enlightened man, finds joy and satisfaction in everything they do and say. This is not because their quest is complete but because the very journey of life unfolds intimacy at every moment.

Since eastern mysticism believes enlightenment completely transforms life, it seldom feels that words can adequately express enlightenment. Words, for the holy man, like all of mundane life are part of the history of pain which constitutes mundane life. Life, say many gurus, does not change, only one’s experience of it does. One still eats and sleeps and talks the same way, but the experience and meaning of each event is transformed.

Though words are inadequate to capture the true essence of enlightened liberation, there are many attributes and qualities characteristic of a holy man. An enlightened one is humble, happy, content and compassionate finding joy in all of life. He sees beauty in everything, while understanding freedom from a reservoir of inner peace. An enlightened being knows everything because he is in union with the universe, and from this viewpoint truth and meaning are visible.

One need not go on any further in describing a holy man to realize the elements and characteristics of eastern enlightenment contain every human ideal of western man. How is it possible that a description of enlightenment contains the same goals as western man? How can the goal of the annihilation of human experience of eastern mysticism be similar to western man’s sensual nature?

An important point to realize is that an enlightened man still experiences life. The only difference is that he is experiencing life from a different perspective, an ego-less perspective. The guru contends that the ego is an illusion, and it is the illusion of the ego which is the source of all pain. Therefore, the holy man has the same experiences as anyone else, but his meaning is transformed by an enlightened perspective.

This, to me, is only a negative way of expressing the definition of intimacy. Instead of saying we are getting closer to things as they really are, eastern mysticism steers us away from illusion while claiming that illusion is pain. Intimacy would agree that pain is caused by the distance and emptiness created by illusion. Illusion in terms of intimacy would include inferior priorities, misidentified desires and a lack of a means of acquiring fulfillment.

When eastern mysticism claims all desire is illusion I feel their definition of desire may be narrower than mine. If they, too, did not have a desire for union, why would they meditate and make universal union the goal of all meditation and the hallmark of enlightenment?

When they state the goal and result of enlightenment is an eternal state of perfection and total union, I once again feel the differences between enlightenment and intimacy are in word only. What is being expressed in the superlatives of total union and perfection is a desired state in which the illusionary pain caused by an individual ego is overcome. There is still experience, but its pain and illusion are gone. Enlightenment, therefore, is a perfect state of existence, the way we all desire to live.

During my latter adolescence I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few months with an enlightened guru. He laughed more often than the average adult and his eyes twinkled with joy. Though enlightened he still had moments searching for words or finding a solution to a problem posed.

He seemed happy with life and did or said nothing which demonstrated he was a charlatan or a fake. What impressed me most about him was his lust for life and his joy of knowledge. Though a calm and patient man he was far from being passive, and derived much pleasure from playing with life and responding to its challenges.

No one could ever convince me he was not experiencing life, or was not continuing to grow in understanding and intimacy. He was always on a path, but the path itself was joyful. His life was different only in its perspective and efficiency at maximizing the moment. When he talked of the importance of unattachment he did not seem to be promoting a distance towards life, but rather he seemed to be advocating a way to remove the distance.

The term ego in his world was terribly different from his sense of self. I, too, on my journey towards intimacy have found a certain sense of detachment beneficial. I guess this experiential perspective could be considered to be ego-less in classical terms.

I really would not define this as unattachment but more as a recognition of the dynamics of experience. At this moment when I’m typing I’m not thinking of each word, rather they flow to me. My fingers glide over the keys relatively effortlessly needing little thought. When I talk to people, I’m even more unconscious and effortless. Even complex skills such as playing basketball take little or no conscious effort on my part.

If one thinks about their life, they begin to see their ego has little to do with experience as it happens. We all talk, move, and respond to our environment quite effortlessly. Our ego is not present in experience but rather is the one who takes pride in what we do, and evaluates and guides our future action in a state of reflection.

The illusion and pain of the ego is when we mistakenly take too much credit and responsibility for everything we say, do and feel. As we become more intimate with ourselves we recognize and appreciate the distance between our self and ego. This frees us from an unrealistic feeling of responsibility. Over attachment is indeed a source of pain because it is an illusion preventing us from becoming more intimate with our lives.

Does the ego ever vanish? No, it is always there to appreciate, guide, reflect and desire. Without an ego there is only experience and no one to live it, and that would truly be emptiness. In a holy man’s eyes is still joy and wonder and a keen sense of appreciation of life. There is still experience and an experiencer, but the role of the experiencer is no longer overestimated.

A basic appreciation of ego-less experience grounds all of our experiences making them even more amazing. Instead of reducing our appreciation of life such a detached attitude sharpens our skills of appreciation.

Getting back to our question regarding instant enlightenment we can now see that it, too, does not conflict with our view of intimacy. If a person is instantly enlightened all it means is that in one illuminating moment he understood the art of living. Through some form of revelation he immediately is able to begin to live life intimately at every moment. His enlightenment does not signal the end of growth, but a beginning.

Enlightened Concerns

I am concerned with the concept of enlightenment on many levels. This concern centers around the fact that the ideal of enlightenment as it is portrayed in eastern mysticism can mislead as many people away from intimacy as it can guide towards it. The unintentional push away from intimacy comes from two major factors. One being the popular interpretation of some key terms, and the other being the negative world view which permeates the ideal from a historical perspective.

The most blatant limitation on the ideal of enlightenment is contained in its negative premises. Life is viewed as pure illusion and fraught with suffering. All human experience is reduced to pain, and thoughts and perceptions are depicted as deceptions and mindless ego talk.

Anesthesia looks good to anyone in pain, and much of the historical baggage of eastern enlightenment is structured in a desire to escape pain. Since life is defined as pain, the stated goal of enlightenment becomes to escape or annihilate experiential life.

Yet, any holy man who has made himself available to us is anything but negative towards life. The escape turns out not to be from experience itself, but from a common stance towards experience. Life redefined through enlightenment is no longer pain. The events in a holy man’s life are no different from the common man, only what he derives from the experience is different. This sounds extremely similar to the oriental philosophy of the superior and inferior man and, therefore, right in step with our definition of intimacy.

Detachment, the cornerstone of the transformed stance of the holy man, is also an extremely misleading term. It is neither ego-less nor perception-less as often touted. The detached holy man still laughs and derives joy from his experiences. What is apparently removed from his experience is not the ego which observes and appreciates life, but the stance of the ego which creates pain. A holy man is not always happy and can even experience great anger, but his ownership of anger is from a universal rather than a personal perspective.

Superlatives like perfection, eternal bliss and immortality are also very misleading. All are goals beyond and opposed to the very possibility of human experience. As we noted earlier, there can be no perfect experience for any experience is a sensual and intellectual fragment and, therefore, limited; and a limited perfection is a conflict in terms.

Likewise, eternal bliss and immortality are also beyond human experience. Every experience to be an experience must have a beginning and an end, therefore, eternal bliss is not a possible experience. Immortality by definition means not mortal and, therefore, not a term applicable to human existence.

These terms demonstrate both the magnitude of transformation inherent in enlightenment and the negative view of normal (profane) existence. What is portrayed in these superlatives is the belief that enlightenment will improve every aspect of a person’s life. Superlatives in religion often serve the same function as they do in advertising, to convince its audience of the benefits of a product. The goal of such spiritual superlatives is not to deceive the congregation, but a sincere attempt to adequately express the dramatic impact of the ideal.

The use of paradox is quite common when people discuss cathartic or transforming experiences. The paradoxes in the ideal of enlightenment are numerous. Many of the superlatives and attributes of enlightenment are filled with paradox.

An enlightened one is detached from life, but his life is filled with joy and eternal bliss. The eternal is the ground and goal of all experience. An unenlightened man is painfully bound to life, but is truly distant from his experience. Knowledge is an illusion, but a holy man is all knowing.

In eastern mysticism words are often used to confuse an audience in an attempt to free them from the illusion of order inherent in the perceptual world. In much of eastern mysticism happiness is not possible unless a person breaks their bonds with the illusionary world around him. Through confusion and paradox an initiate is often able to open himself up to truth by breaking his egoistic bonds with mundane reality. The vocabulary of mysticism is often intended to illuminate through generating confusion. This might be the beauty of eastern mysticism, but it is also its most dangerous aspect.

Intimacy being free from the historical baggage of many of the other human ideals, finds no reason for the road to self-fulfillment to be illogical or opposed to life. During our adventure into intimacy human experience will neither be inherently good or evil, but rather the locus of opportunity which constitutes our lives.

Excitement and Duration

Intimacy, though in agreement with the actual experience of enlightenment, parts company with it on two levels. First, intimacy finds the negative view of life inherent in much of the philosophy of enlightenment to be unnecessarily limiting. Secondly, intimacy does not indulge in the otherworldly language of mysticism. If something is perfect or beyond the realm of human experience then there is no means to become closer or more intimate with it. Though ultimates may provide a person’s life with meaning and ground his experiences, they are complete and, therefore, not a source for increased union.

Catharsis and instant enlightenment are just two examples of profound experience. Yet, many of the momentary events of our life either captivate or exhilarate us. Often inspiring awe or providing exquisite pleasure, such intense events are momentarily fulfilling. This is the realm of excitement.

Since intimacy is the unending process of getting closer, it favors things which endure rather than moments which startle or captivate us. The adventure of life is in its process, is in acquiring intimacy through being intimate.

One should not conclude that excitement is a negative aspect of life, nor should one necessarily look to limit moments of awe and infatuation. Yet, one should be wary of excitement and look to convert intense moments into enduring meaning.

A moment of passion can either elevate our appreciation of life or quickly degenerate into feelings of emptiness and loneliness. When excitement is experienced as an isolated moment untethered to the general progression of life an emotional let down in inevitable.

When having sex with a person you truly care for the passion of the moment is easily converted into a more enduring feeling like love. Yet, have that same experience with a person you are not connected to, and the beauty evaporates as quickly as it was created.

The amount of satisfaction we derive from every action, thought and conversation we have is directly related to the amount of intimacy experienced. Excitement does not insure long term pleasure, intimacy does. Excitement without intimacy is emptiness, and duration without intimacy is futility.

To remain positive, isolated intense experiences must be incorporated into the intimate flow of our lives. An important aspect of properly prioritizing one’s areas of need is in recognizing those experiences which can provide fulfillment from those which will fall short. A moment of intense pleasure which degenerates into emptiness is a learning experience, repeated performances of that empty pleasure is an addiction.

Usually duration is a positive experience, providing our lives with meaning, depth, emotional security and a rewarding sense of history. Through time (duration), all of the activities and skills we cultivate bear fruit filling our lives with fond memories and personal accomplishments.

We have stated numerous times that intimacy is an endless process. The more time spent getting closer to something, the more we are able to understand and appreciate it. Intimacy without duration is inconceivable, and duration without some form of intimacy is impossible.

An addiction is an example of an enduring aspect of one’s life producing little or no intimacy. Harkening back to our earlier discussion, addiction is an improper priority of needs. Addiction is the cultivation of a very inefficient (inferior) form of intimacy. It is a harmful excess which limits a persons ability to experience more fulfilling forms of intimacy.

Intimacy and Excess

Things taken to an extreme can be harmful. With human ideals such as intimacy excesses foster limitations if not all out harm. Sometimes these excesses are blatantly harmful as in the case of addiction, but often they are less obvious.

Placing too much importance on cathartic experience is one form of excess we have explored, and the philosophical emphasis on pain is another. Let’s now move on to discuss some of the more common excesses in stances people take towards the world and goals they strive to achieve.

One excess we have already identified involves a preoccupation with a single moment, a profound and transforming moment we associated with catharsis. Ideals such as rapture, ecstasy, love, joy, happiness, illumination and pleasure are all associated with such powerful individual experiences.

All of these ideals fall into an experiential realm closely related to the emotional. Experiences such as rapture, ecstasy, joy and pleasure are often acquired through sex and spiritual awakening. These are the orgiastic feelings of profound experience. They shake the body to its core and provide some of the most intense experiences life can offer.

Yet, all of these experiences can lead to injurious excesses, and are commonly induced by addictive drugs and substances. We also noted during our discussion regarding excitement how empty euphoric experiences can become. No matter how intense or satisfying a euphoric experience, it is its long term benefit and application which either prevents it or causes it to become an addiction.

Even when not addicting, experiences such as rapture and ecstasy lend themselves to excess and abuse. They are an excess because they focus on the sensual and emotional intensity of profound experience, but do little to improve mundane life.

Life then becomes fulfilling only through the orgiastic experience. The choice is for the transforming experience to be either an ultimate goal seldom experienced but highly treasured, or repeated often as in an addiction. Since all of life can not be experienced at such a fevered pitch, it is not improved in any holistic fashion.

In the realm of human ideals orgiastic experiences are beneficial only to the degree with which they promote intimacy in our lives. The experiences themselves no matter how profound have a limited impact on our daily existence unless they are utilized in an intimate way. Therefore, once again we find intimacy to be the common positive element in the other human ideals.

Orgiastic experience can inspire, enthrall even illuminate a person, but without intimacy it can either degenerate into addiction or emptiness. Euphoric experiences such as rapture or ecstasy whether they be induced through sexual, spiritual or chemical means all have the potential to be abused or become a source of emptiness and dependency.

Does this mean that orgiastic ideals are inferior to the more conservative ideals? Are human ideals such as harmony, balance, unity and symmetry less dangerous and more well rounded?

Though the ideals related to orgiastic experience are able to be abused and lend themselves to excess, they should not be viewed as experiences to avoid. The ecstatic ideals like all human ideals have much to offer and when used appropriately can unfold and open realms of intimacy we never knew existed. Yet, no human ideal (including intimacy) is ever to be unconditionally embraced, but monitored and reflected upon throughout our life.

Before we move on to discuss the conservative ideals posed above I think it would be beneficial to talk a little more about moderate feelings such as joy and happiness. Since one can experience happiness over the most simplest event, some might think it unfair that I lumped them together with the orgiastic experiences. Though it is true that happiness and joy are not necessarily ecstatic in nature, they, too, are limited by their emotional traits.

Happiness and joy are limited by their association with specific emotions. The experience of feeling happy or joyous, though highly desired, are not the only positive emotions we can have. Feelings such as gratitude and contentment, though also desired, can not be reduced to the same origin as joy and happiness. Desired emotional states like calm and equanimity contain elements of satisfaction quite different from joy.

Sadness, often deemed as the emotional opposite of happiness, can be a very fulfilling and rewarding emotion. Sadly, looking back at lost loves and childhood disappointments can often be a source of great warmth, a warmth quite different from joy. Happiness and joy are, therefore, like so many other human ideals a little too specific to encompass the entire range of fulfillment.

The conservative ideals of harmony, balance, symmetry and unity suffer similar limitations as do joy and happiness. Though balance and harmony are desired states and experiences, they, too, are incapable of encompassing the entire realm of personal fulfillment.

Feeling balanced can help us avoid many of the harms of excess while snatching us from the painful jaws of chaos. Yet, a continued state of balance would require total inactivity. Movement in any direction would place us in a state of imbalance in which an opposite movement would have to be immediately taken to re-establish balance. Though a nice respite, a constant state of balance or harmony would be very restricting to ongoing fulfillment. This is why static states such as balance and harmony are so popular in ideals like enlightenment where life is viewed as something evil to be overcome.

The ideal of unity is a concept very similar in structure to intimacy. Unity is different from total union which we have already identified as impossible to experience, for in total union there is only one object, therefore, nothing to look at or appreciate. Unity is the feeling of solidarity between two separate beings. Unity is the full appreciation of similarity while still recognizing individuality.

When comparing intimacy with unity, intimacy once again proves to be more versatile. Intimacy, being our drive to get closer to something, often thrills (like unity) in finding similarities in objects. Yet, intimacy also yearns to understand things as they are, and often dissimilarities are as pronounced as like qualities. Getting closer to something does not always entail a greater union, but often a clear recognition of differences.

The desire for unity often demands a huge leap of faith where an individual ignores differences in order to retain an ideal of union. Intimacy, on the other hand, does not find difference to be a nuisance or an obstacle to it’s goals. One can intimately examine things without feeling a need to erase all differences.

Unity, like total union, is an ideal state in which any movement is disruptive. Intimacy, being a process and not just an ideal state, welcomes change. One does not necessarily lose intimacy through movement, but only changes its direction and focus. All movement contains options and possibilities and, therefore, a potential source of additional intimacy.

Another common source of excess found in many human ideals is concerned with self-sacrifice and denial. Similar to the negative view of life harbored by the other-worldly ideals, self-sacrificing ideals strive to prevent individuals from pain and egocentricity. Ideals of denial attempt to master life through restricting or removing other excesses.

Self-discipline is a very important aspect of fulfillment, it not only guides but also orients one towards success. Without some form of discipline, one’s experiences lack direction. Forming appropriate priorities takes a lot of reflection and self-awareness which are key elements in any form of self-discipline. Denial is often the only thing preventing an individual from becoming an addict or returning to an addiction.

The benefits of denial and moderation are not to be contested, and are important guiding principles on our journey towards intimacy. Yet, denial can be as big an obstacle to fulfillment as any other excess. Through denial, one might be spared the pain of emotional attachment and unsatiated desires, but one also is deprived of many rewarding experiences. Denial, while successfully closing us off from negative experiences, also prohibits us from many immensely rewarding journeys of our mind, heart and body.

Denial, discipline and self-sacrifice are major elements of many noble human ideals. They are the back bone of the isolated alternative lifestyles of holy men and hermits throughout history.

The philosophies behind the lifestyles of such holy men and aesthetes have storied mysterious traditions, bordering on legendary. Through self-discipline and rituals of purification a person is said to be able to transform their mundane existence into one of pure beauty.

A certain elitism is inherent in these traditions since they demand such a sharp break from normal life. Their lives, pushing the realms of human experience and endurance to the limit, cannot help but be shrouded in mystery and legend. Though any form of excess produces experiences unattainable through alternative means, it is also true that any form of excess closes one off to a variety of other experiences.

One can indeed acquire intimacy through spiritual techniques of denial. There is no doubt that the vigilance and discipline inherent in many of these traditions can open oneself up to entire realms of intimacy and fulfillment rarely achieved through any other means. Yet, once again, we need to point out that such views and traditions limit themselves in their elitism. Contrary to the traditions of many mystical traditions, the rituals of self-denial are not the only way to fulfillment, nor are they the best way.

All natural experiences are not evil and are in no need of being denied. A person bent on self-denial will not allow themselves to be distracted by experiences such as enthusiasm, pride or determination. Any such ego oriented experience would be contrary to a philosophy of denial and, therefore, be taboo. Though it is true that any emotion can be abused, it is not true that all mundane experience is worthless. This is just a variation of the “life is evil” theme, and contains the same limitations that any other prejudice contains.

Unlike denial, intimacy sees no need to annihilate or radically transform all our experience to avoid pain and illusion. One need not view experience as evil in order to evaluate it in a beneficial way. If one views every passerby as a potential thief, it may prevent one from being taken advantage of, but it also limits the number of friends one will make. Denial succeeds at preventing one excess, at the expense of creating another.

Servitude, devotion, knowledge, logic and humility are examples of ideals which are limited through elements of denial. Servitude and humility are noble qualities preventing one from becoming self-centered and arrogant. Yet, they open a person up to being taken advantage of or abused. A modest life is filled with kindness and recognition of others, but fairly limited in being able to righteously defend one’s principles.

When one is completely devoted to an object, it limits that individual from appreciating the uniqueness and merit of other objects. Many detrimental biases and prejudices are formed from the limiting aspects of devotion. This is not to declare all spiritualism and religion detrimental to the human spirit, but only to point out that fanatical devotion whether it be to a person, ideology or spiritual being is often divisive and injurious.

Our quick inventory of human ideals has taught us a lot of important things. First of all, it taught us that all of them contain noble qualities for us to use as guiding principles. Secondly, we saw that a great number of ideals can be broken down into a number of groups making the list of ideals less overwhelming. We also recognized that many of the disparities between ideals are rather small, being attributed to cultural and historical differences rather than irreconcilable world views.

In general, we found that most ideals are limited by their specificity, extolling the virtues of either a desired quality or state of being. Where one ideal sought to be transformed by the glorious moment of ecstasy another sought a constant state of unity. Often times we found that ideals counteracted or balanced each other’s excesses, as in the case of catharsis and duration, or in the case of freedom and servitude.

Throughout our investigation into the rainbow of ideals we found our definition of intimacy to be a faithful companion, able to protect the integrity of each ideal without suffering from their limitations.

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