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Loving The Unloveable

December 9, 2008

Dear Littlejohn,

Do not worry about not having time to answer the last letter I sent you.  I understand your time is limited.  It almost goes without saying that if a man is valuable, so is his time.  There’s no need to apologize.  This makes me think of something Einstein said in his book, “The World As I See It”.  Quoting from the text (speaking of “cosmic religious feeling”):

“The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.”

I think time, and having to manage it into priorities is one such prison.  A huge part of making decisions is deciding what we’re going to leave behind.  That has always been what I’ve hated most in life.  Giving the time we have to various enterprises is one of those double edged swords.  You can experience one thing, but only at the cost of losing something else.  Many view life as a great series of evils, yet there’s one “correct” way of life for them, which destiny ordained before time began.  There’s a place they’re “meant” to be.  The closer they get to this single ordained path, the happier they will be, and the farther, the more miserable.  The mindset has its advantages, but I think it has more cons than pros.  I myself don’t believe in such things, and have found many walks of life appealing and fulfilling.  Yet my mindset isn’t without its cons either.

For example, you can spend your evening with a charming woman, but then you miss out on the studies you could have made that afternoon.  You can choose your career, but what if you are interested in multiple fields and disciplines?  I love economics, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, physics, literature, politics, law, and the list goes on.  There’s so many things I could do, and would love the work, yet at the same time, I cannot do them all.  I love life, but time seems to bind me to some post, and set limitations on me.  Spread myself too thin, and I really don’t experience any of them; focus myself too much in one area and I miss the big picture.

Those who believe there’s a destined path for them, normally also believe in a “love of their life”, who they’ll marry, and live happily with their entire life.  Though with a cursory glance it sounds kind of nice, with closer inspection I find it depressing.  I doubt there’s only one girl in the world worth marrying.  I wouldn’t doubt there’s tens of thousands, or possibly more, women out there who I could spend an entire lifetime with, and be very happy in all of them.  It’s a sad thing having to choose one of them, and the thought creeping in that ten thousand more women are out there, each with their own unique contributions and life, and I miss out on all those experiences.

What a complaint huh?  Dang it, I’m only married to one amazing woman, in a single satisfying and fulfilling career.  I want ten thousand different wives, and to exist in ten thousand parallel dimensions at once, or I’m going to be unhappy.  I’m sure God’s shaking his head at me now, with his arm’s crossed.  Then I tell him, “Just to clarify one thing God, I also want to be able to see the consequences of each major decision I’ve had before me, for all ten thousand lives, and see how things could have gone differently in each of them.  Oh, and while I’m at it, I also want access to anyone else’s life as well, for each person, past, present, and future.  Hmm, why not throw in some aliens, and other life-forms.  Cya later God.”  *puts note in ‘afterlife requests’ box*.

See Littlejohn, this is what you have to look forward to studying more philosophy.  Mix sex drive, love of science, and philosophy, and you end up with ten thousand wives, can work every career, and even live life as a grey alien.  As they say, if you can see it in your mind, you can have it!  I’m going to put this mental ninjitsu to work.

This reminds me of one of Grimm’s fairy tales.  Two factions are about to go to war.  A young man goes up to one of the factions and they ask him, “Join our side!”, but the young man refuses as he doesn’t wish to take sides.  Then the other faction finds him and says, “Join our side!”, and once again he refuses.  Not long afterwards a truce is negotiated and both sides celebrate.  The young man finds the first group holding a large party, and he asks if he can join in, but they tell him, “Leave, you are not one of us.”  Then the young man visits the other group, and they too are having a large party.  He asks to join but they also tell him, “Leave, you are not one of us.”  I suppose the moral of the story is that you have to make a decision to do something, even if that decision means leaving certain things behind.  If you don’t make any decision, you end up with nothing.

One of my favorite things about philosophical discussions is they are not time specific.  They move at a nice leisurely pace.  You could wait several years to respond, and the response would be just as relevant as if you responded the next day.  So no rush, debates about free-will and the nature of life have been around for thousands of years, and will probably be around a long time after we’re both gone.

I’m sorry to hear about your health problems.  I hope your surgery goes well.  Though I was sad to hear about your recent health experiences, I enjoyed the soundbite admonition, “Celebrate Competence”.  When it comes to experiences like your brother had with the pharmacist, I’ve always wondered how to mentally deal with it.  You can pay special attention to those who do a good job, as you have done, or you can search for ways of mind where troubles do not bother you.  I’ve spent most of my time developing mindsets of the latter type, though I’ve found both to be effective, and for different reasons.  That’s why the subject of this letter is, “Loving The Unloveable”.

As you know, I was raised in a very religious environment, and was pounded with the teachings of Jesus.  They’ve been crammed into my mind for so many years, that I do not think they will ever be removed.  One of Jesus’ core teachings was to love others as you do yourself.  As people are so apt to tell us, this is easier said than done.  Under a religious guise I liked to think I had achieved such a state, but really, I knew deep down I hated many people.  Later, as I became less religious, I was more honest with myself, and saw the nasty thoughts that ran through my mind.

When I studied philosophy for many years, I began to ask myself, “Is it possible to love that which is disgusting?”  I also questioned why such a thing would ever be valuable.  As with most philosophy, the answer becomes clear when you push it to extremes, so I devised several extreme thought experiments.  My first thought experiment entailed an angry mob surrounding me.  They are hurling insults of every kind on me, telling me I’ll amount to nothing in a thousand different ways, and throwing garbage on me.  I soon find myself buried in garbage and only my head pops out, like a man buried under the sand.  Flies are buzzing around, sour milk is splattered all in my hair, and the smell is unbearable.  I then asked myself what sort of value could be found in such an ordeal.

I then thought, “Hmm, this is certainly the main message behind Jesus’ parable of the house built on the rock, versus the house built on the sand.  The house built on a rock withstood the great tempest that blew against it, yet remained unscathed, while the house built on the sand crumbled.”  I then imagined myself sitting inside the home built on the rock, while the tempest was blowing.  Outside the storm was raging, but inside I pictured a fireplace, beside which was a rocking chair. I was rocking back and forth, smoking a pipe, reading one of my favorite works in literature.  I could not hear the wind, nor the rain.  I then thought, “Yes, this is the same as in engineering.  A well constructed building or bridge can withstand great forces and not tumble. Ideally it’d be left completely unaffected.  Jesus must be speaking of psychological engineering.”

As for the angry mob, Jesus must be recommending an invisible shield.  Somehow I surround my mind with an invisible aura, which deflects all attacks which could irritate me.  However much of the world’s garbage I can handle, without it bothering me, indicates the strength of my psychological shield, and directly measures how well my mind is constructed.  The problem however, came when I searched the Bible for detailed blueprints.  I found none.  I seemed to know the goal I was striving for, but I had no idea how to construct such a shield.

My own solution to this problem came after years of research, and it was not easy to find.  Strangely, it came to me after a combination of studying Buddhism, at the same time I was reading the works of Sigmund Freud.  I came across this:

“If ye realize the Emptiness of All Things, Compassion will arise within your hearts;
If ye lose all differentiation between yourselves and others, fit to serve others ye will be;
And when in serving others ye shall win success, then shall ye meet with me;
And finding me, ye shall attain to Buddhahood.”
– The Hymn of the Yogic Precepts of Milarepa

When I first read the part, “If you lose all differentiation between yourself and others, fit to serve others you will be”, I sat back puzzled.  I thought, “We’re all different, and diverse.  Why would all of us being the same make any difference?”  I couldn’t figure out what it meant.

At the same time I was thinking about this, I was getting a grasp on all the detailed psychoanalytical processes which happen within our mind.  Then two events happened to me.

My uncle was admitted into the hospital.  He was an alcoholic, and addicted to drugs.  He had been to the emergency room many times before, overdosing on various medications and such.  Eventually his body wore out, and during one of these times, my uncle died, and we (the family) noticed the doctor didn’t do much to save him.  This particular doctor had been known to give up on patients early, especially if he deemed them unvaluable to society.  Unfortunately for my uncle, he too was deemed unvaluable.

As I sat in the waiting room, I pondered the Yogic precepts and then it came to me, “The doctor feels himself different than his patients, and if the differentiation becomes too great, he no longer feels them worthy of his time, or society’s medical resources.  Once this differentiation sets in, he is unable to serve others, and ceases to be a physician.”

That’s a rather nasty conclusion.  The more valuable he becomes the greater the distinction between himself, and those he works with and on.  If we were to imagine that men had very long lifespans, the longer this went on, the larger the distinction, and the more difficult it would be for him to work on patients.  Ironically, the more gifted he is, the more capable he is to serve.  Such a backward system.

Then I pondered, “What does it mean to be, ‘the same'”.  When the Yogic precepts talked of similiarity, they must not have been talking about similar in terms of physical matter.  So what is it that we’re all supposed to find in common with one another?  A common humanity?  Common goals?  Common affiliations?

Then the second event happened.  I was spending some time with a girl, and she blew up on me for no reason.  I had been studying psychoanalysis, so instead of getting angry with her, I asked her why she was angry. Later this led to me finding out she had suffered verbal abuse from her father.  Then I remember thinking, “I’ve had painful events happen to me, and I’ve became angry before.  I can see why she’s angry.”  Then it dawned on me, “Of course, this is it!”  The exact opposite thing had happened with me and this girl, then what happened with the physcian and my uncle.  I found things in common with the girl, and because I love myself, and always show myself mercy, I easily showed her mercy as well.  It was effortless.  The physician however, could not find common ground between himself, and my drunkard uncle, so he was unsympathetic.

Later this developed into a complex mindset where I search for the reasons why people do what they do, instead of looking at the events in isolation.  Once I developed the mindset out quite a bit, I found it to be nearly the same as what happened with Jesus, as they were crucifying him, and he said, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”  I had found my shield.

Unfortunately though, my shield tends to work on and off.  I don’t think it’s because the ideas behind the shield’s generation are wrong, it’s simply because I spend most of my time in isolation these days, and have not developed its skillful use.  It’s like solving a complex mathematical relationship, then going and doing other things.  A few years later you’re asked to use that relationship, and you’re unable to use it off the top of your head without brushing up on your notes.  The key to the shield is to find common grounds between yourself and others, and if you find that common ground, your shield will work.  If this particular shield is to work effectively, it must become almost habitual.  I’ve found that the shield does work, though it’s not elegantly simple to use, which is why it doesn’t always work for me.  But hey, better than nothing.

I think such a shield is moving in the right direction, because it’s similar to Einstein’s view on things, and views the world as a single significant whole.  The shield’s strength works on finding common factors between yourself and others, and the more it’s developed, the more alike people, and yourself, become.

To go back to my angry mob example, I remembered a time when I was young, and I had strange conceptions of what it meant to be spiritual.  One time I said some nasty things to someone when they missed church.  Then I saw a younger version of myself in that crowd, throwing garbage on the pile.  It’s not easy to grab the trash and throw it back at yourself, or even at someone who reminds you of yourself.

Then I realized that Jesus had it figured out as well, yet I was unable to comprehend the scripture’s complete meaning.  “Why do you find the speck in your brother’s eye, when you yourself have a log in yours?  Examine yourself, and you’ll see clearly how to remove your brother’s spec.”  Unfortunately, when you’re blind you can’t see anything, including your own faults.  So dumb that you don’t even know you’re dumb.  The first step to humility and kindness: gaining knowledge of your own stupidity.  I have a quote, but I cannot remember who it is from, “A breakthrough is a sudden cessation of stupidity.”

I’ve wondered for a long time what forgiveness actually means.  Prior to this, I had never found a satisfactory definition.  I think forgiveness is when you’ve once again established unity between yourself, and the person you were once angry with.

I mentioned that I found both the “celebration of compotence”, and “loving the unloveable” to be effective.  To be truthful, I think they both must be used in unison for maximum psychological happiness and strength.  Loving the unloveable, and finding common factors alleviates weights and hatred, which can consume a person.  This leaves you more nimble.  But what value is being nimble if you don’t have anywhere worthwhile to go?  That’s where the celebration of compotence takes place, as we search for beauty.

The strength of both systems seem to rely on the other.  If you start to feel too distanced from the world, feeling you have nothing in common with anyone, hatred will fill your heart and cloud you from seeing the beauty around you.  The garbage of the world will weigh you down, and bury you like the man in the sand pile, until you drown in filth.  The mind seems to have a psychological mechanism that if it gives forth a certain amount of effort, and there is no reward, it writes it off and does not want to spend any more time with it.  If your shield is functioning, the filth will be deflected, leaving you free to pursue beauty.  On the other hand, beauty and truth are what give us the strength to go on.  Without that, you’ll gladly let yourself get buried, and pray for death.

I guess in conclusion, you do not love that which is disgusting, you build a psychological shield that leaves you unaffected by the filth around you.  When it comes to people, when I see them coming short of how I think the world should be, I have several steps.  One, I give them excuses for what they do, rooted in complex psychoanalytical reasoning based on my best approximations of why I think they did what they did, always giving them the benefit of the doubt.  I assume there’s something I don’t know about them, such as some painful event in their past, bad reinforcement, their childhood raising, etc., which is causing them to be the way they are at the moment.  Other times I seek reasons from human nature and the inner workings of our constitution.  I don’t neccessarily say what they do is “right”, I simply try to find reasons, and when I find probable reasons, my anger tends to dwindle down, and I grow from evil, becoming stronger and more aware of the world around me.  Two, I try to remember the invisible potential which exists within every man.  Hydrogen may be a simple element, found everywhere including water, but if you know how to set it off you can have unimaginable power.  I think people have such potential, and I assume they can change.  Three, I search for things in common between me and the other person, and when I do so, compassion steps in to replace hatred.

This is a system I’m continually trying to refine.  Any input is welcome.  I think a lot of it is very crude and rudimentary, but I can honestly say it works pretty well for me.

I’m happy to join you in your celebration of competence, and hopefully this information will help us keep up our shields, so we’re not weighted down with the world’s garbage, and can more easily find beauty in the world around us.

Topics: Philosophy, Psychology | No Comments »

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