Dear ex-friends, -colleagues, -coworkers, -family, and -students,
This letter attempts closure. Our incomplete relationship is comprised of ragged edges. I’d like to smooth some of the edges before we die.
I know I’m not the same person I used to be. I killed the Buddha years ago. The Guy McPherson you claim to know disappeared long ago. To kill the Buddha is to destroy one’s identity.
The fully indoctrinated agent of imperialism who formerly promoted civilization became fully aware of the horrors of the “normal” set of living arrangements. The resulting, personal changes were rapid and dramatic. Too many of the changes turned out badly.
Change is the only universal constant. McPherson’s changes, for better and worse, leave him a profoundly different man than he was a decade ago. Among these changes are the shattered core of his identity and a plethora of confused people in the wake. McPherson’s quest for redemption began after the shattering was complete, too late to ameliorate the resultant confusion.
McPherson’s personal pursuit of excellence had for years focused on freedom of expression, as exemplified during every session of each course he administered. Early in his career, he came to understand the words of Aeschylus, albeit from his perspective as an anti-theist: “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” And yet, through the agony, Guy McPherson taught. Miraculously, a few learned as a result of his caring efforts.
Among the results of McPherson’s teaching were receipt of the highest awards endowed by the only two transdisciplinary colleges at the University of Arizona (Graduate College in 2002, Honors College in 2009). That he was a great educator is indisputable. Years later, he admitted he could no longer achieve the same level of greatness in the academy, even were he given the opportunity, largely because his idealism had given way to cynicism. He no longer expected every person to exceed his high expectations. He’d been set up and knocked down too many times for his faith in each individual to persist. Still he refused to lower the bar for himself or others. No longer able to continue down the road of expectations into which he was born, he tried to escape.
McPherson’s failure to change society’s horrific course haunts him even today. His inner teacher continues to override his Buddhist tendencies.
After abandoning the academy, McPherson rarely heard from the people who formerly dominated his life. The infrequent interactions were filled with tales of his insanity based upon a rare brain disease. Paradoxically, former students occasionally told him that, when encountering difficult decisions in their careers, they asked themselves, “What would Guy do?” It’s difficult to imagine a higher form of flattery.
The official response to McPherson’s increasing radicalism was harsh. He was disparaged, marginalized, and ultimately cast aside by a society that worships money over life, power over beauty, and war over love. He sought a new life, free from the shackles of empire. Filled with hope, he tried to lead the way out of omnicide and extinction.
A line from Mad Max: Fury Road comes to mind. Near the end of the film, Max, played by Tom Hardy, speaks from personal experience: “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”
McPherson couldn’t fix what was broken. He lost hope, and deemed the loss good. He lost his way, with mixed results. He lost his “civilized” mind. The cost, so far: everything. Essentially every material possession. Every relationship he held dear.
Recognizing that the culture monetizes and therefore trivializes everything — including every single thing and every being — offered no consolation for his losses. Rather, it was a reminder about the haunting words from Aeschylus. Suffering and despair had become constant companions, intertwined with the wisdom he’d acquired.
This undesirable outcome explains why so many prefer willful ignorance. As Adyashanti pointed out: “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 pretence. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
Soon after McPherson’s attempted escape, he discovered the only escape is the final one, as elucidated by Homer in the Illiad: “The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
McPherson came to welcome the moment the gods envied. Ceasing to exist became preferable to being fully present in the current moment. Picking through the remaining shards in search of meaning brought heartache. Lacking other options in the face of our near-term demise, he pursued the same goals toward which he encouraged others: excellence and love.
This message is not goodbye, although McPherson’s weak will to live combines with his location to insure he’ll be among the first humans to join the myriad other beings we drive to extinction each day. You’ll not be far behind, contrary to his wishes. He sends you hus sincere good wishes during these fine, final days.
Guy (version 2.0)
P.S. The postscript to my error-riddled past comes from American poet Charles Bukowski: “The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn’t understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go.”