Peace and harmony from what? Why do we need them? I refer not only to peace within ourselves, but also harmony with the world around us. Maybe you already have them. Maybe they are not an issue for you, and perhaps I’m speaking to the wrong audience. But, I doubt it. Peace and harmony are basic goals for our lives. They are aspirational values offered by many thinkers who remind us we need to tune into ourselves to find them. We are seldom mistaken about whether we have them or not. We all die. The vast majority of our forbearers born just 100 years ago are long gone. We are temporary, impermanent; we come and we go. This is likely to fill us with denial, pretense and minimizing. When I was about 10 years old, my Dad pointed out some of these more awkward “facts of life.” I was a bit shocked at that time, but over the decades I have found inspiration and comfort in his forthrightness about these critical matters.
Think of this as a conversational essay in which I hope to pose a few more questions to serve as a starting point on our path to peace and harmony.
How do we deal with the other facts of life we did not learn in our teenage years? There is, of course, no simple answer and one size does not fit all. It is a basic tenet that we must all find our own path. However, if peace and harmony, including desensitizing and reducing the effect the fear of dying, are on your path, it will take grit to get there. We will use the word “grit” as a way of referring to tenacity, perseverance, persistence, stick-to-it-iveness, intellectual integrity and above all, common sense. But grit is less than half the problem.
Magic is unlikely to work as a way of knowing or a way of discovering, because it constitutes the same kind of illogical and wishful thinking described by theologian Soren Kierkegaard. He argued the Judeo-Christian tradition provides a variety of complicated explanations and many theological inconsistencies. He pointed out, in order to be a Christian believer, a leap of faith is necessary. The leap he describes is not supported by anything we can understand, and we must reject it. It will take grit and an active rejection of the notions of faith or magic to get to real peace and harmony, if we are to have any basis for believing our worldview is accurate. Albert Ellis, a psychologist and framer of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, would say that we need to “counter propagandize” ourselves to get rid of irrational thinking. Perhaps it’s more easily rendered as de-bunking our own magical ideas.
If we could really embrace the notion of living in a natural world with its enormous complexities and if we could dismiss magic, theological explanations requiring a leap of faith, and really muster grit, tenacity and perseverance, we would have a good start.
The Devil’s Dictionary (Bierce, 1993) defines prayer as, “To ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.” It’s pretty clear that Bierce was talking about magic. But there’s a larger problem. To pray is to externalize, pursue some outer and magical power separate from ourselves. This is an exercise in “burden-shifting,” moving the responsibility, accountability or onus, elsewhere. We have all probably heard the admonition, “Let go and let God.’’ There is a big problem with this. Who would get the benefit of the actions of some supernatural power? Are we back to magic, again?
We need to seek not only peace within ourselves, but also harmony with the natural world around us. Is there a remedy, or are we stuck with a craving for what we do not have or with spiritual angst, as described by the Buddha or Kierkegaard?
How about focusing on ourselves within our natural world? How could we do that? By taking time out to be still and quiet ourselves, to be thoughtful and reflective, we could find our way to:
Savor our stillness?
In our times of quieting, reflecting, and stillness, could we enjoy the peace and harmony that is ours to experience and allow it to help us to let go of our fears?
Wash out our fears and anxieties?
Allow our fears and anxieties to “dissipate” in our stillness (and they do), as we contemplate in quiet?
Become who we need to be?
Make the changes and adjustments that are needed to grow and change to emerge to our best self?
Avoid just filling a role prescribed by family heritage or religious tradition?
Look at ourselves in our own natural world?
See ourselves as natural beings, living in a natural world without a need to reach to external supernatural powers?
Among other things, I’m saying we need to be and to become. Perhaps not anywhere else, but in psychology the words “being” and “becoming” have historical meanings. Gordon W. Allport, in Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality (1955), develops a line of thought that focuses on growing, changing, and becoming. Another line of thought emerging from the work of Abraham Maslow, in Toward a Psychology of Being (1968), focuses on experiencing, savoring, living in the present and in being who we are. It might be easy to think of them as opposing worldviews. On the contrary, I believe both becoming and being are important foci of our lives. We need to grow, develop and change, while at same time savoring the moment and enjoying who we are.
Hard to do? So hard we better skip it? After all, couldn’t we just pray? Not likely. Consider the object of prayer. So far as I can tell, there is only: us, earth, a solar system, the larger universe. Think about leverage, the efficient use of our energy and maximizing our reach, grasp and growth. Is it really worth externalizing, trying to be an exception to the way the natural world works, relying on some God or supernatural force to protect us?
You may still want to know more and have lingering concerns that:
More background about Western thought is required.
An even more compelling rationale is needed.
Implications of making such a dramatic change in worldview needs to be explored.
Methods and procedures are needed identifying just what a seeker might actually do.
I agree with these concerns and am developing notions of how to address these challenges.
“A Basic Buddhism Guide: 5 Minute Introduction.” Retrieved March 19, 2012 from: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.html
Allport, G.W. (1955). Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology of personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bierce, A. (1993) The devil’s dictionary. Mineola, New York: Dover.
Ellis, A. & Dryden W. (2007) The practice of rational emotive behavior therapy. Oxford, England: Springer.
Kierkegaard, Soren. (1844 / 1980). The Concept of Anxiety. Reidar Thomte (Ed.) Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Maslow, Abraham (1968) Toward a psychology of being. New York: Van Nostrand.
Richard E. Jensen, PhD, ABPP is a psychologist, now retired, focusing on writing prose and poetry. Clinical training and practice and a long-standing interest in ultimate questions come to a realization in my current projects.
Oh, did I forget to say, the book comes out in April — Life, Death and Spirituality: Peace and Harmony Without Religion. ISBN: 978-14944802. Amazon and other fine retailers will have it.