"We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it's all about."
–Joseph Campbell, The Power Of Myth
As human beings living in the modern world, we must sometimes ask ourselves, "How does our being coexist with all our going?" In our everyday lives, we are constantly and simultaneously moving in multiple directions so rapidly that we rarely have the opportunity to connect with the being of our human nature. Being is not always doing, and we live in a culture of non-stop acceleration, of continual, frenzied, anxiety and competition-driven, on the go action. Even many of our foremost pastimes, the movies, television shows and sporting events that we view — things we do to recover from all our work and busyness — exemplify this glorification of non-stop, nerve-riveting action, of violence, crime, sexual exploits and destruction. In this world, there is very little time for rest and relaxation, and when there is time we virtually recoil from it in horror, somehow believing that the moment we cease to act, we also cease to exist. Thus, our most revered and apparent sense of self is identified with anxiety and accomplishment. Many of us tend to resolve this predicament, however temporarily, by sedating ourselves with drugs and/or alcohol. When the work day is done, the only way many people can change gears or get relaxed is to crack open the bottle or load up the pipe. Our use of mind-altering substances also displays our need to return to the being of our human nature.
By losing regular contact with our underlying non-anxiety- driven, non-neurotic, but stable, calm and reflective inner nature, we have ceased to function or find fulfillment as the human beings we are. Indeed, we are becoming increasingly like the programmed devices with which our technological society inundates us, giving the outer impression of vast and dynamic possibilities, but removed from the human heart. Because we lack a true connection with our inner being, we are terrified of being alone, or of being at rest, and paradoxically, through our compulsive obsessions with the frenetic, technology-driven pace of life, we have alienated ourselves from ourselves. The more we aspire to be in touch with each other via technological devices – i.e., cell phone, internet, webcam, etc. – the further we stray from the simple human capacity to share space, to talk in person face to face, to be silent, to listen, to breath the same air, to break bread, to live closely together and to feel the true companionship of those we love, of family, friends and even strangers. Having quantifiably more contacts in our cell phone or myspace page is not the same as having more quality relationships that incorporate depth and richness. Sometimes "less is more," but that's something our capitalistic, money-driven society does not easily grasp.
In the modern Western world, powerful personalities are not usually measured as such by their magnitude of loving-kindness or their propensity to inspire the imagination or the human spirit — although figures such as John Lennon and Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly were — rather, people are measured by their capacity to control others, to manipulate the markets and accumulate wealth. In the world of capitalism, the way powerful people relate to things, such as time, or even other people, is not in any way contemplative, reflective or appreciative; it is almost completely manipulative, aimed at molding things to fit in with their goals and visions of how they want the world to be — for them, "time is money." Many of us, especially powerful people, actually value our manipulations of machines over our human relationships, and over activities or engagements that do not involve machines, like reading a book, taking a walk or watching a sunset. The living spirit inside us was not made by a machine, neither was the sun, nor the sky, nor the earth. But the way we live denotes that machines are more significant than any of these things, and such a way of life neglects our opportunities for truly being human.
Why, in our modern world, is going valued so utterly and completely over being? Why is being not valued whatsoever, even held in high suspicion, looked upon as idleness, and laziness? Because if one is simply being, simply enjoying being alive, being human, being in time and space, being a human being, then one is not contributing to the slavish wheel of commerce, one is not feeding the grand capitalist system with one's time and energy, one's blood, sweat and tears, with one's very life. In the state of being, we cannot be accounted for by the measuring sticks of materialism. Going makes money, being has no need for it. Going needs to be fueled by saleable items like gasoline and coffee and doughnuts and cell phones and CDs and computers; being needs no fuel, it's fuel is the acceptance and appreciation of whatever exists in this moment. Going has many goals and agendas that require much effort and activity to accomplish. Being's only goal is to be. In a state of being, just being is enough.
"What the hell are you talking about!?!" you exclaim, jumping out of your seat. "What is this being of which you speak?!?" In the modern world, there is an unacknowledged social consensus that we always need to be preoccupied with some form of outside stimulation, that we are forever in need of something we don't have — we've become chronic "channel-surfers" of life. That's why we're always going. We can't relax. Most of us can't just sit with ourselves for five seconds. In a state of being, we have the opportunity to notice what we are experiencing, without reactively and automatically pursing our attachments, desires or wants. In a state of being, we notice that our minds are thinking many things, and whether we feel frustrated or anxious or happy. We notice, or sense internally, what we feel like inside our own skin, and we notice what the world around us feels like to us as well. Attuning to our being is like becoming aware of our presence, the spirit, force, energy, or whatever you would call the essence of who and what we are as sentient human beings.
Although being is shared by all humans, of all cultures and all eras — as by all living creatures — in truth, being as an aspect of our human condition and potential is not a reinforced or celebrated capacity in modern Western culture. Because we focus so exclusively on going, and on becoming, you could say that being is not an innately "modern Western phenomenon or faculty." Therefore, it is somewhat strange for us to consider. In fact, being is more well known to non-Western, indigenous and Eastern cultural paradigms in which humans co-exist more directly with the planet, and with one another. Being implies a sense of profound interrelationship, or interconnection, with the world including nature, involving not only one's mental process but also one's body awareness, energies, instincts and intuitions.
It is reported that when European colonialists came to the American continent, they tended to view the Native Americans as lazy and lacking in ambition. In his recent book, Tree Of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon, John Hemming quotes the French scientist La Condamine from 1743 as having described Amazonian natives as "Enemies of work, indifferent to all motives of glory, honour or gratitude; solely concerned with the immediate object…; with no care for the future; and incapable of foresight or reflection …" Obviously, time enlarges perspective, and we know today that during the brutal conquest of the Americas the European mind-set differed so radically from the Native Americans' that gross misjudgements and racial prejudices were made. Commenting on this situation from the other side of the looking glass, the Native American medicine man Lame Deer states in his autobiography, "Because we refuse to step out of our reality into this frog-skin illusion, [his term for capitalism] we are called dumb, lazy, improvident, immature, other-worldy. It makes me happy to be called 'other-worldy,' and it should make you so. It's a good thing our reality is different from theirs."
Both these accounts, the first discriminatory and the second revelatory, imply another way of relating to time within the Native American cultures in which — unlike our modern Western model which is bound to the clock — it appears that being is as equally valued as going. Denoting this other kind of time, the poet Juan Ramon Jimenez wrote, "More time is not more eternity," thus implying that time is experientially a matter of perspective, and closely related to one's particular state of being. Similarly, from The Labyrinth of Solitude, the Mexican poet Octavio Paz states, "…the conception of time as a fixed present and as pure actuality is more ancient than that of chronometric time, which is not an immediate apprehension of the flow of reality but is instead a rationalization of its passing." He goes on to describe "original time," which "coincides with our inner, subjective time," in which one's "subjective life becomes identical with exterior time, because this has ceased to be a spacial measurement and has changed into a source, a spring, in the absolute present, endlessly re-creating itself."
These descriptions of time are certainly different from the ways in which we are conditioned to conceptualize, and thus experience, time in modern Western society. Time as "pure actuality," and as "a source … in the absolute present" connotes time as being, and as presence, as the flowing of life, and as the flow through which we encounter existence. This mode of time relates to the context and process of our lives, as well as the contents. In this mode of reality, time becomes the ocean and ground of our being, and — through having been returned to its a priori or transcendent function — loses exclusive identification with going.
One way to illustrate the experience of being, not in chronological or linear time, but in this other, magical or eternal time, is to recall a time when you were in love. For love has always been an experience that somehow takes us out of mundane time as experienced by mortals, and into the realm of angels who live in mythological time. At such a time, and in such a state of being, the love you shared with the other person felt like the truest, most profound fulfillment of your life, of your entire being. What you did or where you were going didn't matter. Because you were in love, and in that state of being all your pressing concerns with the world faded away … for awhile. It could be that something other than being in love takes you to a state of being, wherein you are completely absorbed and fulfilled without having to enact or accomplish anything. Sometimes people get involved in activities — like painting, dancing, music or writing — that, once engaged, seem to take them over, to transport them effortlessly into another state of being in which their awareness and experience of their human potential and identity is profoundly intensified, expanded and illuminated. They may end up with some kind of a "finished product" or "performance piece," but the essential aspect of the activity is the interior quality of being, which then becomes manifest as an external accomplishment.
The point here is not that modern technology and its advancements are implicitly wrong or bad for us — though that may ultimately prove to be true — but that becoming entranced with them to the exclusion of our true human nature, our inherent humanness, is a problem. It is both ignorant and dangerous to focus only on the outer world we have created and not the inner world that composes who we are. And yet how can we remain connected to the inner world of our essential selves, when our very civilization is based on the domination and manipulation of human beings, as well as nature? Our current thrust of technology and perpetual states of rapid social activity — in the name of "progress" — has a twofold effect: the first is the internal eclipsing of our capacity for being, the second is the external eradication of nature — the native environment in which we feel most human. Through "social engineering" — gradually eliminating both our internal and external reference points for who we are as human beings — society remakes us into creatures who think, feel and behave as it wants us to.
How do we address such insidious problems that are so embedded in the function, structure and foundations of our society that they compose the basis and overall effect of how we live? For most of us, it is nearly impossible to conceive of another perspective or way of living that does not entail the continual subjugation of nature, alongside the never-ending build-up and harnessing of technological forms of human preoccupation that guide us away from our inner selves. How can we live simultaneously in a machine-based world, on a nature-based planet? Isn't such a way of life an inherent contradiction, forecasting an imminent demise? Currently our machines, our industry, and our technology are not only eclipsing our souls, they are killing nature. Because we are not machines, because we are of the earth and because we are also nature, our machine-based way of life is also killing us.
If we are to find solutions other than an unconscious global suicide and apocalypse, we will find them not through a crescendo of our current maniacal mode of reactive action, but through a more reflective attuning of our human being to the being of the world. Perhaps in tending to the world — through our own conscious being as opposed to our unconscious goings — we can effect a healing in which we will discover the reality of the anima mundi, the soul of the world that, like us, is also alive. Through this deeper connection based on spiritual recognition, we can initiate more sensitive, aware and unifying interactions within ourselves, with one another and with the planet, whose being is also part of ours.
Xander Stone is a freelance writer based in San Diego, CA.
Image by bogenfreund, courtesy of Creative Commons license.