What I Believe and Why, Part 3

comments 34
Reflections

[Part 1]

[Part 2]

When I went to college I entered a time of considerable personal flux. Psychological pressures I’d held at bay by focusing on specific goals came to the fore as the goals themselves began to dissolve. There was a gnawing uneasiness in me that I felt had to be settled before I could state what kind of person I wanted to be, or determine what I wanted to do with my life. But I was also at the time of life in which we were to be enamored of our own potential, aware of all the possibilities. It was a strange and compelling time.

Things happened quickly in my sophomore year. My first truly serious girlfriend and I broke up, I quit the club soccer team, I shifted from physics to engineering, enrolled in the coop program and got a job at a water heater factory where I would work full time every other academic quarter for the next two years to help pay for my education. I spent considerable time in the water heater test lab, tuning natural gas burners for commercial water heaters while trying to convince my new buddy, the Southern Baptist lab technician—a concerned father, husband and provider who skipped the annual strip club outings his other technicians made once in a while—that God would permit homosexuals into heaven. And do so gladly. We had some great discussions. And while all of that was going on, what I was really trying to do was make sense of things. I wanted to know what was truly true.

I met another man at the water heater plant who was kind, a little timid, always willing to help. He steered clear of our philosophical discussions, and once when we talked he warned me you just can’t really know what’s true. He killed himself a year or two later. He was a father. Divorced. He was a good man, obviously dealing with a clinical depression, and it was a sad day for me.

Meanwhile the receptionist to the Engineering group was suspected of having an affair with the VP. There were two other women in the Engineering group, both assistants of some sort. They each listened to their respective boss bemoan certain aspects of his domestic life, and then they compared notes. Several engineers and designers played role playing games on the server during lunch–it was the advent of 3D-like games that offered perspective and firsthand obliteration of zombies with pump action shotguns. Another person I met thought engineers in general were a paragon of entitlement and virtue, particularly the white male ones; he was very obviously bigoted. He was my boss.

My starting point was the awareness that my life had been fairly insular, and that if I was going to learn what was truly true, I had to take into account the ideas people in other cultures, religions and philosophies held dear. I was certainly no better than they were; my past offered no particular or special insights or vantage points. In fact, perhaps the opposite was true. In addition I felt it was necessary to continue expanding my knowledge of what we’d discovered scientifically as well. Science remained thrilling to me, and weighed strongly in my thinking. It was beautiful and profound.

I needed some way to navigate this stage, to process information and understand what was true for me, and I settled on a few core notions. If what was true was true, and no culture or society had a privileged perspective, then clearly the truth was not on the surface. My hypothesis, if you will, was that something was true–(interestingly I once heard a physicist years later state this as Einstein’s premise, that truth must be true, and therefore there must be a consistent way of reframing observations from one vantage point to another). If something was true, it stood to reason that through the filter of human experience differing aspects of that truth must have risen to the fore in various philosophies and cultures. So to put together a picture of what was truly true, I’d have to consider a variety of words and sources, often in a fresh light. I needed to free myself from dogmatic viewpoints so that interpretations were fluid enough to see how things aligned. I reasoned that what science had discovered was universal, but that there were boundaries on the sorts of questions science could test. Science as I understood it had little to say about the validity of an inner life.

A corollary to my thinking was that people were basically good, and intelligent. People in modern times were not more intelligent than people in past times. People had a bad habit of taking things literally when such conclusions weren’t warranted, of becoming close-minded, of needing others to think and believe the way they did. People had a bad habit of fearing differences, of believing they were right and others wrong. The people I most admired were those who were capable of spontaneous kindness and warmth, who were able to explore ideas without becoming defensive and close-minded, without feeling threatened, and who showed genuine concern for others and the world around them. People with confidence and humility at the same time.

The ones I met were lifelines. They came from all sorts of backgrounds and orientations.

I felt that I needed to call my dearest ideas into question. It was easy and enthralling to accept that life on Earth had evolved; easy and good to discount any notion of a God that would condemn homosexuals, or the entire Eastern world, or a divorced person, or the member of any other tribe or persuasion. Easy to discount any notion of a God that would reward violence with treasures in the afterlife. But it was more difficult for me to understand what was left. I knew that millions of people found meaning in systems of thought that didn’t have any God at all, and I decided I wanted to explore that. How did such people orient themselves?

I went to the Auburn University Library and checked out some introductory books on Buddhism. I read them and began to meditate every day. It was difficult at first, particularly as my closet metamorphosis was occurring in full view of a roommate with whom I shared a one bedroom apartment. I sat on the cheap, scratchy carpeting of our living room early in the morning and breathed. My roommate awoke and sidestepped me to chomp on a bowl of cereal at our kitchen table, five feet away. Police sirens went past and the neighbor’s stereo played through the walls. I wanted to understand what was being discussed—this idea of emptiness, of not wanting, of mindfulness. I was struck in particular by a book that described the world as illusory.

What did that really mean?

I rose from the floor and hurried off to my Thermodynamics II lectures. We learned the universe has a direction to it. It wound down, but it never wound up. I read about those guys who measured the blueshift of gamma rays shot down a stairwell at Harvard University, proving Einstein was right, about the cosmic background radiation and the microwave telescopes and the Big Bang and Weinberg’s First Three Minutes, about the way straight lines always followed curves except in our minds, about particles interfering with themselves in quantum physics experiments. The next morning I sat down quietly again and tried to think of nothing at all.

Was there any way to tie these tendrils together? Any way to make sense of my own being? What was a person? A scattershot of DNA? Did a person have a meaningful relationship to the whole, as I’d been taught? What sort of meaning was it? How could our broken world be repaired, so that people didn’t feel obligated to manipulate or deceive one another? To exert power over others? To feel the need to injure or kill those who were different, or threatened an idea?

34 Comments

    • Thanks, Brad. It was just one of those things. We are who we are. I can’t say it took any effort on my part. Just a natural desire to better understand the world.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reading your essay makes me want to sit down and look at my own development and the inside and outside forces that have shaped me. I suppose I have done that in bits and pieces through various writings. Every once in a while a conversation, or a book, or part of a movie adds an aha to the mix. Keep on writing…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, Annette, I love those aha’s when they come along, when some new piece snaps into place that accentuates the whole. It’s interesting how one thing leads to another, and over time a fuller understanding emerges. It can’t be rushed… Thanks for listening…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Val. I look forward to it also. Ha! It’s also possible they regressed… 🙂

      Hope you’ve had a nice week!
      Blessings
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Michael,
    I read this post last night and a comment didn’t come to mind – except for this one, today.
    I could compare and contrast my own life’s past, or consider how vague or general my own notions are/have been of what I was yearning for, or even consider if my current perspective is fixed enough, right now, to look at my life with a similar backwards gaze and write about it. I don’t think so. My extended family’s dynamic is intense and constantly changing to this day (can’t wrap my mind around it- at all, nor keep up, nor want to be enmeshed), while my own life has finally found a settling and a sense of peace. I remember growing up that “my story” was everyone else’s story, but I often viewed it from the disjointed perspective of everyone else’s viewpoint, and found forming my own viewpoint to be a challenge – let alone to communicate that, especially with the feeling of safety. I can really relate to what you wrote here about the people you met along the way, “The ones I met were lifelines. They came from all sorts of backgrounds and orientations.” I found so much friendship in “strangers,” that after a while, it just became second nature to become friends with all different folks, ages, places…etc. These relationships came and went, many of them, but not all. Some we talk every 10 years or so with pleasant regards: when serendipity has it in store for us to connect again. Looking forward to what YOU write, Michael. I just felt like chiming in 😉
    Peace and Love!
    Ka

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Michael –
      This just popped up in my feed because I met and spoke personally with Gangaji last year. Here’s something she said, “Willingness doesn’t mean you have to get it right, or be immediately silent or enlightened. It means that within you there is a true desire for the truth, a living call from yourself to yourself.” – Gangaji This quote popped up in my email today, and I immediately thought of you and posting it here. What Gangaji said to me when I met her and we spoke on her stage, was something like that it was okay for me to just admit that we are each other. I just watched the video again of us. She said that she is my confirmation of my profound experience – as was another experience of my Nana passing (and holding her hand the entire time)- and it opened up my eyes. That’s what I’m here for, too, Michael. I’m here for you. Your confirmation that you are a living embodiment of the truth.
      Aloha, Ka

      Liked by 1 person

      • Beautiful quote from Gangaji, Ka! And thank you for sharing this space with me. For witnessing, and confirming. It is deeply appreciated.

        Peace
        Michael

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ka! I can relate to being conscious of others’ perceptions, and wondering what we really think on our own. My thoughts can be pretty malleable in some areas, and I think there is a little more inertia in other areas. But at the end of the day, when we get into debates and such, it often comes down to definitions, and particular experiences and how they are interpreted, and if you push on it too hard it kind of slips through your fingers! But there is something whole and vital and resonant that remains, even if we can’t explain it, and we have a relationship with that! It is wonderful… mysterious. Impossible to write about. Ha!

      Thank you for the encouragement and support, my friend!
      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really liked this, Michael, and the way it flowed. ❤ I am not sure how many twenty-year olds ask these questions. I know I did not and was just mostly concerned how to get a passing grade on my exams without attending lectures. Are you sure you are not from some other, more evolved planet? 🙂
    Kristina

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kristina. I don’t know either. Ha! I’m pretty sure I’m from Earth. Who can say where we get our propensities and desires and passions from? Certainly other planets must be in the mix! It’s good when we can appreciate ourselves and one another for the unique beings that we are!

      With Gratitude
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You know Michael, I’m not at all sure I could accurately recollect the various dynamics that shaped my life during my twenties — forty odd years ago. It’s an interesting challenge, but one I’m pretty sure I couldn’t meet with any high degree of insight or veracity. Now, come on, you’re three posts into this series and I’m still waiting to hear what it actually is that you believe in! 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m workin’ on it, H. I realize I’m rambling here. It’s kind of interesting to retrace some of the steps though, and look at what I felt and was considering at various points along the way. Of course in the end most of what I believe is explained in the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who!, which is another childhood memory that burns brightly. I forgot to mention that I guess. Learn your Hail Mary in kindergarten class and then relax in the evening to some Dr. Seuss. Just what a young mind needs!

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha, after just reading this and Hariod’s response above, I was thinking the same thing myself. I love how your words get my mind stretching into the past like an old book being opened, I guess we all kind of like to turn someones perspective about like those chinese balls you roll in your hands, making them chime or not, and measuring up our experiences to anothers. But I get a huge smile when I think of all the unknown people I encounter who must have walked through the door for a reason, for I to help them or in their unwitting way, to help me somehow, if only to make the day more pleasant and bright. I love serendipity and the gift to be able to manifest something so off the wall that it occurs, knowing that like a fine thread, it’s all connected if we just turn our minds and see past the in front of you view. I am giddy just writing this and I think you’ll make some sense of all of this, now I’m hoping for chapter four sir…..I shall scroll and see ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Kim,

      I get a huge smile thinking about the mystery of connection and happenstance myself. So many unexpected encounters that make a different, the collision of thought, desire and sunlight, the kind word of a family member or a stranger. Somehow, from a million directions at once, we are guided. Nudged into being. I’m glad you enjoyed it and felt encouraged to stretch that book open again! It’s fun to try and remember the moments of grace, and to discover… there’s just too many!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve missed the experience of reading M’s words and sinking into the content in a way that leaves me quiet. The inner within me receives a validation sticker from the inner M expressed outwardly, here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve missed you, too, M! Amazing how times come and go, as if it is a needle bringing two pieces of fabric together for a moment, then departing. I like the image of our relationships as the seams of a patchwork universe or something. Lots and lots of sewing going on there! And I love when there is a resonance–that validation of being–that comes from sharing.

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I appreciate how you describe those people you admire most. These are traits I admire also. It’s such a pleasure and even a relief to explore ideas with people who are open minded, willing to listen with the goal to understand and not tell you you’re wrong and going to hell. It amazes me sometimes how different people can be as your experience shows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi JoAnna,

      Yes, being able to be vulnerable in the sharing of our ideas is a great gift/opportunity, depending how you enter that moment. There is such an instinctive tendency to defend the ideas we hold dear, and so little willingness to see the ideas behind the ideas–the real things we are trying to defend–that communication is terribly difficult for us all. If we can get at the root, regardless of these splendid differences that exist, we are the same… One even…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: What I Believe and Why, Part 4 – Embracing Forever

  9. such tender, juicy
    memories of the shaping
    of a life with meaning, Michael!
    i’m looking forward to the exciting
    climactic, happy beginning-less
    ending 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, a beginning-less ending-not. That’s what we all have in store isn’t it. Such an amazing thing, this tapestry of being that spins us all into form. Thanks for reading, David. I appreciate it and always savor your poetic replies!

      Blessings
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    You are truly true….
    but of course you know that now.

    I love these pieces and learning more about you. Such a special, beautiful heart and such a brilliant and curious mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary. it is fun to reflect back. Also, hopefully some value in the sharing for others. But just to know and be known is a beautiful thing. Thank you for that gift. It seems to me we share in the beauty that we recognize… until we discover we are all of us truly true!

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

  11. Pingback: What I Believe and Why, Part 5 – Embracing Forever

  12. Pingback: What I Believe and Why, Part 6 – Embracing Forever

  13. A beautiful piece of writing, thank you for sharing so eloquently from your heart Michael. As you’ve probably seen I’ve been pretty absent from the blogging world – both reading and writing – this year, but this series drew me in and I just had to come back and finish it. Thank you, found many rewarding insights here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Julia. I’ve actually been a little removed from blogging, too. I’ve not been as attentive to it as some years for sure. Like you I’ve been spending more time reading and writing, but I’m also glad you found a few insights here. Always nice to connect.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Likewise and there’s always plenty to tempt me back into the blogging world when I do drop by, but for now want to keep my writing focus on my book. Happy to be able to say it is making progress, if some days more than others! Keep writing. Always a pleasure to read your work.

    Liked by 1 person

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