I want to note that I am reading/posting this solely because it’s the next chapter in an ongoing series. I did not “pick out” this chapter to read at this time, although it seems remarkably appropriate to the ordeal of this year’s Presidential election.
When is the right time to do the right thing? No one can offer a formula to answer that question, because the rhythm of the phases of action and stillness has an intelligence of its own. If we tune in, we can hear that rhythm, and the organ of perception is the desire, the nudge of excitement or the feeling of flow, of rightness, of alignment. It is a feeling of being alive. To listen to that feeling and to trust it is a profound revolution indeed. What would the world be, if we all listened to that?
This kind of deep self-trust highlights the common habit of separation that is its opposite: the habit of struggle. In the old story, just as humanity as a whole is destined to conquer and rise above nature, so are we as individuals charged to conquer and rise above that bit of nature that we call the body, including pleasure, desire, and every physical limitation. Virtue comes from self-denial, willpower, discipline, self-sacrifice. Mirroring the war against nature, this war against the self can have only one result: you lose.
The futility of the War against the Self mirrors the futility of war in general, which always leaves the deep causes of the provoking situation untouched. The only exception would be if a nation or its leaders were just plain bad. If they are irredeemable, then force is the only solution. Similarly, if your bad behavior comes from an innate badness, an inherent elemental depravity within you, then it would also be true that the only solution would be to subdue it.
That logic leads eventually to despair, because what happens if you try to subdue it and fail? What happens if that depraved part of you is too strong, stronger than any force you can muster to subdue it? What happens when this part of yourself runs your life? What happens when the seemingly bad people run the world? As any addict can tell you, force is insufficient in the face of a much stronger force. The despair of the dieter, trying to overcome the force of desire, and the despair of the activist, trying to overcome the force of the consumptive powers that rule the world, are identical. We all wrestle the same demon in a myriad of different forms. Fortunately, our perception of the origin of the violence, greed, etc., is mistaken, as, therefore, is the remedy of force.
music: Richard Thompson, Beat the Retreat
Bob Teague, “Fall And Falling Leaves”
Richard and Linda Thompson, “A Heart Needs A Home”