Natural Consequence

It began an ominous day. A flock of ravens descended upon the market, which did not escape the notice of vendors who shook their heads, saying: "trouble." And that's how it feels, with the clouds descended so low that sounds of dogs barking, horns honking, and wings flapping seem to reverberate.
I often imagine such scenes as the daily life of a small mind. Some people fail to open the windows to let the air and sun in. Or, when we see the ravens flock together in or outside the mind, humility may become exaggerated as a promise of refuge. I think this may cause a poet to write lines like, "Be careful ... Don't wear bright colours that make the jealous man gnash his teeth." The poem ends, "Laughter produces wrinkles as well as tears./ Never say 'More': instead say 'Enough'.../ Happiness is a God who walks empty-handed/ And looks at life with downcast eyes." (Henri de Régnier, "Le Bonheur", via)
While I agree with the empty hands, I also think that sometimes, we are given hands that are full of bounty. Are we not supposed to eat and share that fruit, carefully removing the seeds to plant even more, for ourselves and others? I agree with 'enough' but think that to laugh is to accept our fallibility. It was G.K. Chesterton who wrote that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Laughter is the balsam for the ache between who we are and who we strive to be.
A recent Something Understood programme addressed humility (rather, how crucial humility is to respect). It ended with the late Ravi Shankar's comment that the young today take their success to mean that they are experts, though success can only last if one acknowledges humility - which may be said to be the posture that brings growth. Growth questions the illusion of safety. The humble programme also included an excerpt by Gary Snyder, who urged for a definition of democracy that would include a wilderness, otherwise the consequently excluded will be making "non-negotiable demands about our stay on earth" (pp. 17 and 19). This kind of humility works not just for preservation of self, but of something larger.
The desire to learn is also an arrow pointing to something larger, though such large scale can magnify what one does not know or even all of the factors one has not had full control over. So for those who ask how to find balance in learning, I found advice in a book by the Athonite fathers: "Don't force yourself beyond your strength, out of egotism, and create stress ... struggle with philotimo." Philotimo has been defined as "responsive gratefulness" - "everything else is a natural consequence". Philotimo is what inspired Lao Tzu; in other words, it may also be "the way". Philotimo can exist despite imperfection.
And imperfection with philotimo may also be serendipitous, in the way that the diversions from work that so much youth experience might lead to unexpected fields of discovery. Honourable ambition. To hide in colourless clothes is to shun the honourable thing in favour of raven safety. At least in this age, for some of us.



1 comment:

  1. Philotimo--I will not forget that word. Thank you always for the invaluable wisdom that you share in your blog.

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