Throughout the entire length of recorded history men have been looking for the summum bonum--the highest good in human life. John Stuart Mill, in his book Utilitarianism, characterizes this good as happiness. Mill's book is the best philosophical statement that I am familiar with of the backbone of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Mill's book is wrong, in certain crucial respects, because the founding fathers were aware of things that were unfamiliar to Mill, largely because they possessed that crucial little quality of humility.
Mill defined happiness in terms of pleasure and pain, and that is where he went wrong. There is no argument about that happiness is the end of human life; the argument comes in what things constitute and lead to happiness.
Suppose, for a moment, that we are not people at all. We are sea gulls. But we don't know it till we wake up to it.
We look like people, smell like people, taste, touch, and sound like people. But we are not. We are sea gulls learning how to fly. And everything that happens to us is given to us to help us in that effort.
Anyone who wishes to leave this class may feel free to do so at this point.
Sea gulls are amazing birds. I guess they impress me as being mainly peaceful. They don't have to be. They can fool around in their youth and see how fast they can fly. Which I am quite sure beats going out and getting drunk or stoned. But they seem most at home when they command the wind with such ease. I like the way albatrosses fly so low to the waves you are certain they are not watching and are about to crash and burn. That's class.
Suppose people were sea gulls who were pecking around on the beach and were not aware that they could fly, but thought they were consigned to waddle and peck. In fact they were goddamn certain that that was what they were supposed to do and anyone who thought otherwise was nuts. In fact, one of the ways they defined being nuts for a sea gull was in terms of whether one thought otherwise.
Naturally, there would be a lot of quiet sea gulls around.
But if you are a sea gull what does it take to make you happy? Why, precisely, learning how to fly and flying as well as you can. But you are not going to be happy if you are persuaded that life is walking around the beach trying to scratch out a living with all the other birds, utterly vulnerable to any predator that comes along.
Discovering that you are a sea gull is very much like pecking your way through your own egg. You're going to do it sooner or later because it gets so cramped inside, but you have to do it, and nobody else can do it for you.
I think George Orwell's book 1984 is an expression of the fear that people have precisely because of our ability to fly. It says: look at the terror that is before us.
That is an expression we use in Montana to mean that something is not true.
The most glorious thing in the world is spreading your wings and feeling the wind lift you off the ground.
What I am talking about here is not something that I am trying to push to make happen. I am describing something that is happening and is inevitably going to happen.
Unless you want to spend your entire life cramped up in a shell.
Learning how to fly is very much like learning how to drive a car.
I can remember back home in Missoula, Montana, my folks had a 1951 Studebaker when I came of age. God did I love that car. It was magic. I loved the way it smelled. I loved the color, the steering wheel, the chrome. Everything.
I used to dream about it at night, after I had finished playing with it and shifting the gears after dinner. It was my model of perfection, by which I judged all other cars I encountered, to see how they shaped up.
The only flaw in that car that I even suspected was the front seat. I sat so low that I had to peer out underneath the top of the steering wheel.
My folks were extremely thoughtful and devoted flying teachers. Maybe they didn't have any choice with this loud squawking ruffian in the nest. They both taught me a permanent lesson in the example of patience they set for me.
I enjoyed learning how to drive more with my mother than my father, not because she was more patient than my father, but because she was such a lousy driver herself. It camouflaged my mistakes and made it a lot easier.
The old man would take me out on a lonely road, have me take my foot off the gas, let it idle, put it in third gear, and let the clutch out until it was moving at full speed while idling.
Thought I was gonna die when I'd kill it. But he set the standards.
Then they taught me about trust. I remember the night before my 15th birthday, when I was legally old enough to drive, but hadn't got a license because it was a weekend. I asked if I could borrow the car to go on a date, and they said yes. It was a big deal; they let me have the family stationwagon, a '55 Chevy Nomad.
I got in the car and drove over to my best friend's house. We rounded up all our buddies and went for a spin.
This was February in Montana and the streets were strictly ice. One of the guys in back yelled for me to do a doughnut. I did a triple on the ice.
A doughnut is when you goose the gas and cramp the wheels and make the car spin around in a complete circle. A triple is when you do three of these at one time.
The car ended up a perfectly executed triple, parallel and next to a cop car, manned by an officer who was parked and waiting for speeders.
My dad had to come down to the police station to get me.
I didn't learn the lesson in trust well enough. In the next incident a kid jumped on the back of the Studebaker and then jumped off, or fell off, and got a brain concussion. His old man sued my old man's insurance company and I got my license taken away.
I was a sad bird.
Learning how to be happy is just like learning how to fly. Only with people birds I work on the premise that it is a lot better if you know what is going on. That is why I am a teacher.
Being a people bird is the trickiest kind of flying of all.
The first thing you have to realize is that you are not a person. That is, that this body you are given is precisely what you have to work your way out of and shed.
It doesn't matter how many thousands of people are yelling in your ear that you are your body, or that you are the by-product of your body, or that you even have a body that you interact with.
All these things are false, and the tireder you get of accepting those beliefs and all the implications for your life that they entail, the closer you are to pecking your way through, and discovering that you are a bird and can fly.
It didn't matter how many people were gripped in the hypnotic dream that the earth was flat; Columbus saw those masts coming over the edge of the horizon and he knew it wasn't...
It doesn't matter how certain people were that the earth was the center of the Universe; you can marshal in all the forces of the Church to reinforce that hypnotic dream. It just takes one guy named Galileo looking at the moons around Jupiter with a telescope to expose it for the lie it is.
What we are on the verge of discovering is a greater revolution even than these.
The ideas I am beginning to describe to you first began to dawn in my consciousness in the spring of 1973. At exactly the same time that the revelations of the Watergate incident were coming to light. I marveled at the helpless precision with which the crooks were exposed and the lies revealed.
The gateway whose entrance I am trying to locate for you is very often a ladder which seems to take you down into the depths of a pit instead of up in the sky to play harps with the angels.
So it was with me: but again, I hung onto the one thread that had never broken for me. I pursued what was true unswervingly, and I shared what I found in the most loving way I could implement.
I was smoking a lot of dope at the time. I had grown it the summer before. We called it Walla Walla green. I had four plants I hid down by a creek; they grew to about twelve feet tall. Not bad stuff, if you mix it with something decent.
Dope is interesting stuff, for those of you who are unacquainted with it. It is a close relative of alcohol. It does the same job; in some ways worse, in other ways better. You get used to it, and it does take your mind off the petty concerns of the day. But you can't smoke it forever, like you can drink booze. It's interesting, for a rambunctious youth, but it definitely loses its charm.
For me it both stimulated and confused what was dawning to my consciousness at this time.
I knew I was on to something but I didn't know what. I shared as much as I could with my students: it is my policy never to lie to my students. I kept telling them: now look, either I'm psychotic, I'm possessed, or I'm right. How could I know these things.
I tried everything I could think of to explain the deep flashes of insight and inspiration I was getting in my thought. I knew my mind and my intellectual history well enough to know that I couldn't come up with these ideas. They were glittering and brilliant jewels of thought, and while I'm a reasonably sharp student of ideas, I couldn't know the things I was saying in class. How could I?
I kept saying things like, "It's all in the example!" and "You can't die!" and "What Christ was telling us on the cross was that once you get 100% in the love space you can't be hurt, no matter what they do to you!" Real crackers stuff like that.
At this point in time I seriously began to wonder if this was part of the second coming of Christ. I think that was when my wife first began to get concerned about me.
Obviously this is not what a guy does if he is interested in his job first and truth second. At least not in a small liberal arts college like the one at which I was teaching. But I had talked to so many students from so many troubled backgrounds. I had seen so much curiosity and eager thought get its face stepped on by the muddy trench boots of realism. I simply had to pursue what I was discovering no matter what the cost. I knew that what I was pursuing was so good that I trusted that the people around me would recognize what I was seeing, see its goodness as well, and follow it.
Cest la guerre.
Instead I began to recognize fear in their faces.
Now I don't know what your job situation is, but I was married to mine. I was in exactly the right place, doing exactly what I was best able to do, in an ideal setting. From which there was no moving. The teaching market was a joke, especially for small liberal arts colleges which were folding across the country.
The little path I had set out on in the beginning of my teaching career suddenly got much more clearly defined. What was I going to do? Shut up and hide, or let what was coming continue to unfold and trust that it was going to be good. That kind of decision is not just a one shot thing: it is a moment to moment conscious process of deciding what you are going to reveal to the person you are talking to. What are his needs and burdens and pains? Balance what you say for his sake against its effect on the overall situation. There are many considerations to make.
When you start thinking in a way that is fundamentally, radically different from the accepted convention you find that that question of legitimate paranoia vs. genuine hallucination becomes real.
Am I nuts? Is it the dope? How much longer can this last before I cave in?
I had a B.A. degree in Psychology and Philosophy, from the same school at which I was then teaching. I had researched and written my doctoral dissertation on the philosophical implications of the concept of psychological abnormality. And I was teaching courses every year on the overlap between the two fields. So I was acutely aware of the symptoms I seemed to be manifesting to a dispassionate observer in this business, and that I was a threat to normal ways of looking at the world that had to be handled.
I tried to weasel and agree to let people think I was weird. After all, I was a philosophy professor, and I could claim my rights to strangeness and eccentricity on that count.
The fulcrum of the crunch in earthquakes like this, however, is when half the people think you are great, inspired, good, gentle, and kind, and the other half see the demonic potential for a maniac.
We have ways of handling such irregularities in the free world.
And I knew it. Boy that tightrope over that river was disappearing into thin air right in front of me.
At about this time the notion of professionalism began to haunt me. My responsibility was to the kids, by God, not to the school, not to the job, and not to the career. Or, at least I had to believe things in that order. That took discipline-steady, patient, self-controlled adherence to standards in the crunch, no matter what anyone else was doing.
But I had always taught that the keys to the kingdom in Ethics, Religion, and Philosophy were courage, trust, love, and humility. Now I had the perfect chance to prove it by the example I set.
More things happened, but, finally, the crisis seemed to have passed, or at least plateaued, largely because summer came along, school let out, and the kids went home. I was just finishing up my grades and walking into the building where my office was located when...wham.
There was my wife, The President of the College's wife, the district attorney, my best friend, and three great big cops.
The recognition of what was happening on my part was instantaneous. Three of us spoke simultaneously: I, looking at my beloved wife, said, "So you did it!" a little surprised. She said, having waited there with them for me for several hours, "This is an act of love." And one of the great big cops said, "Would you like to come with us?"
To use a metaphor I have already introduced, I recognized that this was part of the water in my stream that I was supposed to go down. So I immediately went up to each of the officers, introduced myself, shook their hands, and assured them that I was a professional as were they, and that I understood what they had to do, and they would have no trouble from me.
We then went into my office where I had a stack of unread course critiques, which I handed to the President's wife, and asked her to forward to him, so that he could make a better evaluation of the transpiring events.
I spent that night in the solitary confinement cell in the county jail. They gave me a blanket, a 50 milligram hit of thorazine, and the jailer got me a sandwich from the outside.
My wife and my best friend spent most of the night sitting outside the jail waiting.
And then my attorney showed up late in the evening. He wanted to be certain I was all right, and that my rights were secure. But he really wanted to discuss the option of going to court to fight involuntary commitment.
We struggled with that one for quite a while; I was absolutely certain I could win because I had so many people on my side. It seemed plausible because it seemed like pursuing what was true and right.
But I reasoned with my Harvard lawyer about what Socrates and Christ had taught me. Sure, I could go to court and win, but the last thing in the world my beloved college needed was a public court display of this kind of trouble on their faculty. There was something higher going on here than a human sense of justice. Follow your heart and do the most loving thing to all concerned; keep trusting that truth will reveal itself in its own good time.
I kept remembering the last thing Christ said before he died, something that I had kept wondering about in front of my students. He said, "It is finished." What was it, I had asked that was finished? The lesson about how when you get 100% in the love space you can't be hurt, no matter what. So I didn't go to court, and agreed to voluntarily commit myself.
The next morning my best friend, along with a special cop, loaded with guns and handcuffs, and I got on a plane for a psychiatric unit in a hospital in Seattle, where, I had been promised, I could talk with some of their top men and check my sanity out with some experts. We had a pleasant flight and I was eagerly looking forward to something I had always wanted to do.
Then we arrived at the psychiatric ward.
I ended up in a room just filled with doctors, nurses, therapists, and attendants. I was arguing that I had been promised to see their top men, and I still hadn't signed their admitting papers yet. They agreed to let me talk with some people.
More importantly, I was emphatic that I was there to check my ideas out, and I didn't want any drugs or shock treatment. They wouldn't budge. A young resident handed me a little cup of blue-green liquid and instructed me to drink it.
They all just looked at me.
I finally could see no way but to capitulate. So I drank it, and there was a visible relief about the room, and everybody sort of shuffled off to resume his work.
I was taken down the hall and shown my bed. And then the drug began to take effect.
The effects of the little treat in that white cup I described at the time this way. It was like being hung upside down by your feet with a straight jacket on, with a hood over your head, while somebody twirled you. It was the final statement in disorientation. By the end of the day my eyes were filled with tears and I was imploring them to knock me unconscious. This they willingly did with an injection.
For the next week or so it was a major task to find the knife and fork beside my plate when I was eating.