I’m copying below, verbatim, an essay I posted 3 May 2012. I’ve added a few introductory words and an embedded song.
“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds”
~ Thomas Merton
I’ve become even more convinced, since writing this essay, about the relevance of a whole, integrated life. Not because such a life will bring happiness. Certainly not because it will lead to success, as measured in this money-first culture. Rather, because of enlightenment, or awareness. I’ll quote Adyashanti on the topic:
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
The overdeveloped left hemisphere of my brain tells me one thing. My emerging artistic side tells me another. But before we get to the core of the issue, a little personal history is warranted.
During my final decade in the classroom, I pushed an integrative agenda. Attempting to bridge C. P. Snow’s eponymous “Two Cultures” in a manner consistent with Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience, I required every student in each of my science courses to complete a significant piece of art or literature as a major part of the final grade. Naturally, the students hated the exercise and despised me, until the projects were complete and shared with the entire class, at which point the students unanimously agreed it was the most important activity they’d ever conducted in college. University administrators uniformly detested the exercise and just about everything else that happened in my classrooms. And this was even before universities had become widely recognized as money-making scams reflective of this entire culture. From a personal perspective, as I’ve pointed out before, the process of classroom-based integration caused me to lose my reason-driven way and venture deep into the emotional abyss of feeling and understanding.
Therein lies the dilemma I face. Perhaps you face it, too. I know nary a scientist who actually understands and takes meaningful action on any of the following primary issues, much less all of them: human-population overshoot, destruction of non-industrial cultures, extinction of non-human species, peak oil, global climate change. I know plenty of scientists who teach some of these topics, I just don’t know any who understand and act on them.
Conversely, I know several artists who understand the whole enchilada. Most of these people are marginalized by society because they are mere artists, so they have no voice. I’m not suggesting scientists have sufficient power to alter policy, or that any of these topics have politically viable solutions, but scientists can and have used reasonable argumentation to alter the views of a few thoughtful citizens. In general, and with a few notable, high-profile exceptions, artists have been less effective.
But back to me — my favorite subject, after all — and my internal struggle. My heart keeps informing me, with its never-ending screams into my inner ears, that we must terminate this set of living arrangements before it kills us all. My brain, on the other hand, tells me it’s too late: Near-term extinction is locked in because of Fukushima (times 400 and change) and the climate-change result of exponential methane release in the Arctic. Both paths of horror indicate our species has a few decades at most, and they represent merely two of three paths to human extinction within a single human generation. Well, three I know about. There are doubtless others, including the deepening extinction crisis, but I’m trying to maintain my trademark optimism. And I’m certainly not depending on the people who claim to be in charge because I know they lost control years ago, even though they keep juggling chickens and chain saws in an effort to distract the masses.
In light of this overwhelming onslaught of horrifying information, my heart tells me to seize the day, go with the flow, and a few other tattered cliches. It tells me to breathe deeply and laugh often, to throw off the shackles of transitioning in place to more fully immerse myself in nature and humanity, even if it means going down with the ship of empire. Or maybe that’s the limbic part of my brain rising to the fore, not my heart. My obnoxiously contrarian brain — the cognitive part to which I’m particularly well tuned — chimes in with unwelcome advice aimed at convincing people of our dire straits, as if I’ve made even a minor difference, while of course trying to destroy this irredeemably corrupt system.
In addition to my overdeveloped science side, I’ve no doubt there are other contributors to my inability to lean toward heartfelt intuition. Five decades of cultural programming come immediately to mind.
Integrating these two disparate approaches seems impossible, although I didn’t see it that way when I was asking students to do it. On the other hand, I didn’t realize they were running around like blue arsed flies, an approach I’ve subsequently adopted (thanks to Sue from the U.K. for information about the blue arsed fly). Perhaps that’s why I can’t answer this question: How does does one simultaneously follow his heart and his brain when they point in opposite directions?
This internal struggle feels like a battle for my non-existent soul. That reason rules, for now, leaves my heart in shards. The inability to integrate myself, to become fully human, leaves me with heartache that is irreconcilable and perhaps even lethal. After all, human survival requires a heart and a brain.