Love, trust, humility, and courage: learning and accepting these four qualities into the soul of our being is the first act in learning how to fly. And accepting this proposition within the context of the culture we find ourselves in today is very much like taking the first step off the edge of the nest. But it is true, nevertheless, and what is also true is that you do have wings to catch you.
Happiness is the goal of human endeavor. But what is it? Philosophers have been talking about it since the dawn of thought, but few have tried to define such an elusive apparition.
Happiness is freedom. Pure and simple, in all its forms. And freedom is something we can talk about.
Above all we should recognize that there is an infinite variety of forms and kinds of freedom; we must avoid the temptation to be too literal-minded, and believe that freedom is an idea that we can nail down with a hammer and possess. We must let go of even that, in the end, and recognize freedom, and be able to live it and be it without having to talk about it. But, meanwhile, this is school.
The essence of freedom is this: the limitations you thought you had are not real.
Pain is always related to a sense of limitation, or a belief about limitation. The only reason sea gulls walking around the beach can't fly is because they think they can't.
The struggle is always inward; it is in your own thinking and nowhere else. That is the only place for struggle because of the very nature of struggle.
Whoever heard of two mechanical objects struggling? They look like they do. They feel like they do. They sound like they do. But we know that the only place that physical objects struggle is in our own thinking about them, in our interpretation of what they are doing.
Struggle is always inward and it is always mental and it is always mortal. It is what we seek to overcome in our search for relief.
Reverse it. Suppose that this normal understanding of struggle is wrong, and that the whole vision of ourselves as struggling with something is the result of the wrong point of view that we have of the situation. Suppose that the essence of the struggle, what it turns out to have been all about, is to have forced us to change our point of view, which was narrow and limited in the first place. Then we experience the exhilaration of freedom from what was limiting us.
Suppose that the essence of freedom really is like this. Suppose that the whole ball game really is mental, and what is really going on in our lives is that we are being shown who we really are.
I offer this to you as a possibility to glance at at this point in time.
Suppose, too, that there are rules for being free. These are like the rules for flying or driving a car. You have to understand the wind to really get on top of it. To master it you understand it so well that you don't even think about it.
Suppose, for a minute, that the point of morality is to provide us with rules, which, when we have thoroughly mastered them, give us the key to the freedom of a bird. The understanding of what life is all about, the complete and total freedom from any fear or want, and the knowledge that those stars in that sky are ours in our future destiny--nothing less than this is the prize.
As soon as we stop getting sucked into these stupid marble games in our life on earth, learn to recognize them for what they are, and accept the protection from them that is already ours.
Perhaps the touchstone for happiness is when we are able to be quiet and alone and happy. Not that we can't love and need and deeply enjoy the company of our friends and those we are close to. But when we are ab1e to be alone and quiet and happy, that is the touchstone.
One of the reasons that winter is my favorite season is that it presents moments that are totally quiet, moments where I can assess where I really am. The ocean does this too. So do the woods, for me.
There are voices after us all the time. These are what will be silenced.
There are wellsprings of powerfully currented intuition that are quiet and we can listen to, when we have our thought cleared as to what is worth paying attention to. These springs can be guaranteed to lead us to places, people, experiences that are reliably good. I cannot describe for you what these intuitions are like for you; I can only say that when you get the feel for listening and following you know exactly what I mean. You learn to trust the intuitive direction, and the wind it takes you to is there to help you learn how to fly.
The noise that obscures this quiet directing is composed of fear.
Fear is the basis of every marble game, without exception. But it is much easier to know that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself when we know why, and in no uncertain terms. The study of ethics leads directly to that understanding.
In the academic world ethics is relegated to a strictly third-string position. What is real is what you can buy and sell--prestige, money, and a good argument, in that order. The academic world is a good training center for life's little realities after all.
But idealism turns out to be realism. I don't care how vicious the arguments to the contrary get to be: there is something you can take with you--what you learn while you are here. Nothing and nobody can take that away from you.
I can assure you that if you glimpse what I am talking about, or practice it already, when you use it, considerable force will build up against it. But what looks like people misunderstanding, resenting, and suspecting is just wind for you to sail right across. Trust it. Trust yourself. That is the only way to fly: you have got to let go of your fears.
They come at you from every direction, and the struggle is always internal. One of the biggest is guilt. Let go of guilt and try your wings. You will understand much better what to do from an improved vantage point.
Another is inadequacy. Somewhere, sometime you let somebody persuade you that you were inadequate. To use Montananese: that's not true. We tend to get hooked into the marble game of inadequacy when we are tired from hiking along at some point, we need love and support, and we will join an inadequacy marble game just for the company. When we get tired of it, leave it. We're not married to it.
There are other laws we have to pay attention to and we don't have time for phony, make-believe, boring games.
Hate is another one. If you hate somebody, they've got you. The best way to free yourself from hate is to go do something more interesting. Like get on a plane and fly off to an entirely new ball game. Or the mental equivalent of that, whatever it means in the circumstance at hand.
Lust is an excellent marble game. I don't mean sex; I mean lust. Sex can become lust just like anything else. Lust is that pit you get in the bottom of your stomach when you've got to have something for your very own.
When you get that clutching feeling you can be sure you are going to lose it, just to assure you that, yes indeed, you can fly without it. Unless you think that birds should fly with things dangling from their neck and limbs.
Selfishness is one that most of us check out. The central mistake of selfishness is that when you have your eye on yourself instead of the wind you crash and burn. It's like doing anything well. You have to take your mind off yourself. Then it comes naturally.
If you think you are in this game
for yourself alone you will be led to some unforgettably painful experiences that will
show you that that is not true.
I think it might be well, at this point, to introduce you to the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who takes the opposite point of view from mine, and puts it forth more effectively than anyone else.
Nietzsche asks us to take a long, cold, honest look at life around us. Particularly plant and animal life. He asks a very reasonable question: what slightest scrap of evidence is there that we are anything more than an organized bit of organic life, conscious of itself, and subject to the same laws, needs, and goals of other organic life? And then he proceeds to detail for us a description of an unromanticized view of what nature is really like. It is not very pretty; but it is compellingly, ruthlessly honest. I think he does this best in his work, Beyond Good and Evil.
Think about nature for a minute, and our relation to it.
What we essentially have in the move from inorganic matter to organic matter is an accident--the presence or absence of carbon atoms in a certain arrangement. We are the evolutionary by-product of this accident, subject to the same laws as the rest of the plant and animal kingdoms. The conditions on this planet happened to be right, and here we are. We are stuck with it and we might as well make the best of it since there certainly isn't anything else that is worth doing. Unless you want to go in for one of the various forms of hiding from the realities of life, and dedicating your existence to making things as easy for yourself as you can.
The fact is that we are here. We are self-conscious animals, with, maybe, a couple billion heartbeats to use up if things go well. There is no more point to our being here than not. Of the maybe 250 million sperm that our father spilled into our mother we were the lucky number who made it, and we made it because we were tough and good and lucky.
There is no more rhyme or reason to our being here than there is for this lonely little planet to have had the right conditions for organic life to arise. Why?....Why not? Now if you are scrupulously honest with yourself you will see that anybody who disagrees with this is lying to himself.
These are the facts. Look around. What shred of evidence is there that there is something else going on, that man is more than a part of organic nature that happens to be conscious of himself?
Most people spend their lives hiding from this central fact of existence. In particular they have invented religious systems to make the pain of life easier. So what if the pressure of life is intolerable? Who are we to excuse ourselves from staring at the necessities of life honestly? On what conceivable grounds do we elevate ourselves to the holy position of passing judgment on the nature and life from which we sprang?
Religion spawns morality, and morality spawns things like equality of rights and democracy, which fundamentally violate the demonstrable facts of natural law.
Where do "rights" come from? On what fathomable grounds did the notion that people are "equal" come from? Such an idea is unentertainable without a creator making such rights and equality: and such a view of the universe is made for cowards. Because there is not the slightest trace of the slightest evidence to support any contention that a finger of God is at work in the gloom.
The effect of religions and morality upon man has made him sick. They have leveled man, with their "equal before God," and "sympathy for all that suffers" slogans. They have turned what might have been a race of proud and beautiful specimens of life into something sickly and mediocre. Democracy is the beneficiary of Christianity: what it seeks is green pasture happiness for the herd.
Well, this violates the laws of nature from which we arose and to which we shall always be subject. Look again at nature. Under what conditions do things flourish? Under pressure, competition, under the condition of exploitation, imposition of the ideas and forms of the stronger upon the weaker. Life is essentially appropriation, injury, indifference, cruelty, and waste, mixed in with all the niceties that the Christian tradition emulates that look like they came out of a boy scout manual. To ignore these seamier qualities of life is to ignore life itself.
Life is will to power. That doesn't have to be ugly; ugliness is in the eye of the coward. Power is simply the surge of what is naturally stronger asserting itself over what is naturally weaker. We apply this principle to our own lives, where we allow what is stronger and more noble in our own being to triumph over what is alien, dog-like, and weaker in our own nature. And this we call the triumph of spirit. Why shouldn't we take the same principle and extend it to a law over society? It is a natural law, common to other species, that what is best in a type should rule. Why do we dedicate ourselves to violating this law in our own lives? It is absolutely central to creating and maintaining a healthy, vibrant species.
Instead we look for ease, under so-called moral law that we should help what suffers. Suffering is essential for growth, for the production of what is good and fine in life. You have got to have obstacles; any good athlete knows what goes into perfection and triumph. Pain. Discipline. Dedication.
We are in the middle of a garden--our own. We must apply the same principles and rules to ourselves that we would apply to any other plant. The plant man grows most vigorously not when he is comfortable, but when he is challenged. That is a fact. Are we in the gardening business to raise a whole bunch of puny little roses, each of whom has an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and each of whom is sucking the nutrition from the plant that might be supporting really beautiful flowers? Is that how we garden?
Isn't the natural state of social life a matter of aristocracy? The top dog leads the whole pack, and gets the girls. Why do we make such an exception for ourselves in the matter of breeding? Birds and plants are truer to the laws of nature than are we.
Man is the one animal that is peculiarly in charge of his own destination. This is so precisely because of the phenomenon of consciousness, in particular self-consciousness. Because of his unique mutation, and his consequent ability to make choices, he is still undetermined as a species. He can decide to hide from life or he can conclude to rise to the conditions under which he will turn out best. Consciousness is a mutation, and like all mutations it may very well not work out, particularly if it is used to hide from the realities of life from fear.
There is something noble in man,
and this he should cultivate in opposition to his dog-like tendencies.
He should accept
the existential meaninglessness of existence with courage. He should clench his fist and
defy the darkness, if even just for an instant. He should become the finest expression of
himself he can become, as an expression of this defiance. There is no more and no
less point in doing this on a general basis than there is in the little victories we enjoy
in life. Above all, we will have been true and faithful to ourselves in the lives we have
When I was in the seventh grade there was a lady who lived across the street named Miss Barden. She lived alone. She was a Christian Scientist.
We were just learning how to smoke. It was a law in grade school that if you were caught smoking you would be kicked out of school forever. So it was important to have some places to hide and stash our smokes. I was stealing Pall Malls from my mother, and would dole them out to my friends. When I ran low I would get stingy and they would have to shoplift theirs, or steal from their folks.
We had a garage on the way to school that worked pretty well. Except that you never knew when somebody was about to open the door. Three of us would congregate there during the noon hour and on the way home. The garage was remarkable because of the huge pile of butts that sat on the floor. When you ran out of cigarettes you had to fish through that pyramid of butts to find something worthwhile. I don't know what we would have done if somebody had come in.
But nobody ever did.
The other place was located behind some shrubs in Miss Barden's backyard. That was even more sporting because her next-door neighbor was our seventh grade teacher.
Miss Barden was a remarkable lady because she was a pillar of kindness in the little community of my acquaintances. It was peaceful smoking those cigarettes in the sanctuary of her backyard. And we never played ring-and-run on her doorbell. There would have been no point.
At this point in time too, something had emerged on the American scene that had engulfed our lives--the horror movie. Maybe it was our age and maybe it was the times, but the horror movie was a fascination in sheer terror.
My little brother and I would go to every one of them. We were addicts. When the terror part would start we would faithfully be getting out of our seats and starting to run up the aisle to the lobby. I mean running. We were so scared I remember one time we held hands as we ran up the aisle. This was serious business.
I think I learned to sit on the aisle in movies watching those things. One time my mother took a bunch of us to see King Solomon's Mines. She ended up with five of us in her lap when the scary part came and they went down in the mine.
My brother got so scared from the creaking floors in the bedroom of the second story of our house that he was able to weasel his way down to a bedroom on the main floor. That left me up there alone. I took up things like loading my '22 rifle and learning how to throw my hunting knife from any location in the room. I got so I could lie in bed and stick it in the bedroom door. That's pretty scared.
Horror movies was one of the places I really learned about hypnotic dreams and fear.
There were different concepts in horror movies. There was the Creature from the Black Lagoon kind of nightmare. James Arness starred in one of the movies that began the-man-from-outer space concept, called The Thing From Outer Space. I think he turned out to have been made of carrot tissue. Anyway, it was very hard to kill him. You had the vampire stock and trade. And you had the madman. The madman sneaked into all sorts of movies: it was often the basis for a good mystery. The essence of its genius was the message of unpredictability. You never knew who was going to be behind that door having turned into a maniac with a knife.
Every shadow and every corner held the promise of a nightmarish fear if you didn't keep an eye on things.
One of the masterpieces of this kind of garbage to come out was a movie called The House of Wax. I believe they even made it in 3-D. This featured a guy who had been burned in a fire and was horribly, I mean horribly, disfigured. You could see the scars from the flesh having been burned to the bone. I don't remember what it was about, revenge perhaps; I mainly remember the guy and what happened to him from the fire. He was the model of something for a child to fear.
The reason I mention all this distraction to you is because Miss Barden had a lawn keeper who looked exactly like the guy in The House of Wax. It was remarkable how much they looked alike. He had truly the most hideous face I have ever seen propped up on a human body. It must have been a fire. And he obviously was too poor to do anything about it or he wouldn't have been mowing lawns.
I can remember sitting in our living room across the street and watching him mow her lawn through the window. He seemed peaceful enough. I wasn't sure exactly if he knew what he looked like. But then of course he had to.
One time, I remember, coming home from the park, which was two blocks from our house. I had to walk through her yard on my way to get home....and there he was! I looked at him and more or less by reflex said "Hi." And he said "Hi" back to me, just like a regular human being.