Saturday, January 19, 2019

Pilgrimage Diary Entry, January 5th 2019 Tamil Nadu, India, Somewhere on the Bus

On pilgrimage is about my favorite thing in the world, it's an indulgence I cannot help but want more of no matter how much I get. What I understand about that feeling is that life's journey is never far from the imperatives of culture: culture makes for differences that demand, invite, and challenge every bit of shared humanity.

Some of us are so fortunate---that strikes me as not earned whatever we have earned---that our journeying places us _together_ in the strange, shared circumstances of sharing our differences. Whatever we agree upon to be or to do, how we act and what we offer, it is nearly always difference that we share. What else makes us human than that we are not all, not one of us the same? How could we be doing this were we not the same? That is as much an opening as it is a meeting, like the journey itself, it gives us no reason to believe that we are somehow here for the same reasons or for much of the same anything. But here we are and we journey to meet the next and the next.

What we believe or believe we are doing doesn't require agreement. We may depend on agreements in every moment just to carry on but nothing about belief makes an agreement true. What's true is more than belief, likely less too. What's true is that we all want something from the journey.

India doesn't so much invite us to believe as it does offer up the idea that believing is something we do along with other things that are done and to be done. How you believe here is what you are doing and what you believe is rarely queried; it's not beyond language or gesture or observation no matter how it is convicted or heartfelt. What we are on the outside obviously doesn't tell us about what is concealed within. We never bring that to conclusion, we tell us ourselves to "integrate" but our inconclusion must persist if there is any hope of further self-discovery.

People vest in belief because the anxiety we must feel to be alive is but few moments from desperation or catastrophe. We all live _as if_ we know what is next because the alternatives are even more untenable. It is how we tell themselves what to do, how to survive, and what makes them us think we can flourish, are happy, have meaning.

What we know with even modest reflection is that this isn't always true even when things work out well. By that I mean we do more than survive, we may be consoled and even flourish, we are living the better for the beliefs we count on to be true. And it is just as often the case that we are not the better for any belief, particularly those we cherish. Our most honored beliefs may not be true, they may have never been true. They may simply do a job we need done even when we admit the same beliefs may also fail us.

Belief may be testable but we humans extol faith, which somehow rises to another level of asservation. What might just be possible or resilient we insist must be more or cut more deeply into us. It's less what we believe or in what we place our faith than the ways we feel. We may prefer being saved by faith or something more like "taking refuge" (as the Buddhists would have it) but none of us are immune to the idea that what we can count we want to count on. We all learn that the tests of belief involve matters so everyday that we don't count them at all, we merely act accordingly. However we take matters into our own hands, the facts persist whether we conjure them or not.

It's interesting to believe we need this "faith" but not because we must but because it may merely be evolutionary. The faithful are not merely selecting as humans do to live faithfully but are being selected because the consequence of denying some or another faith can get you killed, or worse. We have had centuries of traditions not only telling us what to believe but to believe.  It doesn't matter if the faithful refuse reason or attempt to embrace it: truth wants nothing to do with faith.  Truth subverts, it never just believes and faith is by definition a problem, never a solution or conclusion.

Religion does this with especial fervor, often to our positive detriment. But life at its best is difficult and even more difficult to understand because what we want is not the same as what turns out. And it is in those spaces and in those incongruities that we place belief, that which we call upon as the fictional light of faith usually for the purpose of ignoring its well-tested shadow.

Of course, we will be tested by the shadow even when we do not see it. It's the ones we test that take us to others and, if we're lucky, back to some more burning light. Be prepared to be burnt even when you are illumined.  Don't stop looking into the darkness even when you can't see.  The darkness isn't there to be revealed, it's to be included because it comes with the light.

Faith's shadow is neither doubt nor the disappointments that follow after belief; faith's shadow begins when we take up the hard work, often frustrating and arduous tasks that demands we remain stalwart in our incompleteness and ineptness; that we come to terms with truths to live with and to live by that are unfinished and will remain open to further inquiry. We now live in a world of so many facts and so many beliefs that we can not possibly pretend that anyone could grasp it all, not even a fraction of all that what we actually know. That's not a matter of belief. That's as true as any day spent learning.

It is difficult to ask any question when those around you would prefer you did not. We are so tender, so easily insulted, we take truth as personally as we take its discomforting pursuits. It is challenging to follow the evidence wherever it might take us because we might discover things we wish we had not, we might be compelled to change our mind or admit mistakes.

We might never see our mistakes even if we go looking honestly. We might never be able to remedy, fix, or address our failures even when we want to enough to suffer the consequences. What is unintended is just as powerful as any intention. It is exhausting to pursue possibilities that may be unknown or mere speculation because we must refuse mere belief in order to continue to learn. Faith in not believing is likely a positive virtue until it becomes a disadvantage to living with the real differences that separate us.

No one wants to feel separation and there is a good argument that separation does not exist in a world of connectivities. Shall we tell ourselves again that difference is real but separation is not? How worthy or valuable is that contemplation? That strikes me as the question while the point, the content is secondary. What's it worth to us to take up the question? I prefer my truths to be questions. Answers are interesting only when the questions insist on never being erased just because we prefer some, any answer---even those that are true.

But the fact that we are all connected does not mean that our connections are available to our feelings or understandings. Let's admit too that being connected doesn't necessarily make us good or happy either. Those are matters just as ambivalent as any matter of belief or deep felt desire or hope.

Truth is not doubt anymore than it is certainty. Truth is not one process nor does it demand but one, singular method of inquiry. We can feel and know, we can reason and know, we can intuit and gain empowered understanding just as we can experiment with evidence both material and imaginary. What makes truth possible is not that it is somehow there to be found. What makes things true is not merely that we have done our due diligence or reached consensus. What makes things true is not that we believe things or even act in certain ways because of truths.

What makes things true is that we can learn and change, that we can be sure and doubt at the same time. What makes things true is that we can embrace truth as a paradox even as we use it to solve problems, raise serious concerns, or feel deeply about something.

The nature of the paradox of truth is human nature. We are here but we are unfinished and will never be finished; for not even death finishes us off as it casts us into both nothing and the collective memory. We are made of bodies and are nothing more than the powers of cognition but we are also minds and souls who also want all things beautiful possible and impossible because somehow we want or need or just do that.

Truth is not mere preference or belief but neither could it be (and it is) without some willingness to admit our needs or desires be they pleasant or painful. Truth may be blind, pitiless, and indifferent to our wants but we aren't or at least we should hope we are not. Truth doesn't care but we can. The paradoxes don't end, do they?

Our human nature is not a fixed fact however it may have emerged to be, to exist as it does in a shared process, one of nearly unimaginable complexity of its own self-making, little by little, from things so simple now so complex. We invent ourselves but have been invented by facts that we did not invent, that we do not control, that nothing and no one invented or controls. Our shared humanity is true but is not necessary and the universe has no plan, no reasons for our existence, and no purpose to our being. Still we are truly here for this brief, warm respite that is life, burning, howling, weeping, bleeding, and loving, all of us, no what kind of break we got.

Nature is kinder to some than others though nature itself possesses no kindness. Nature doesn't need to think or feel or have cause because it can carry on without any of them and still create life. Culture, history has brought privileges that create deep and painfully real inequities that have nothing to do with goodness or merit, rights or our shared humanity; we social humans can't live without society and society both provides our possibility and invariably brings us to limits, boundaries, and end games that advantage some and cruelly disadvantage others.

We humans are all human but not two of us are really the same, not even those identical twins. We aren't equal nor endowed by a creator even as creation endows us and we pursue in good faith the meanings of equality. We can invent our humanity by dedicating to noble proposition but none of us is beyond the tinctures of hypocrisy, prejudice, or cruelty that we inflict upon one another. None of us is ever just kind even when some of us make too fine a point of being cruel. We can all do that too. We must not only embrace paradox to use it to help us be true, we must succumb to paradox as part of our incomplete nature.

Belief rarely helps but we can't live without it. Faith is often an excuse not to think or change or learn but where would we be without it? How would faithlessness be better? Or maybe when is it better? Better is something we can imagine, perhaps something we must continually reinvent. Maybe that's enough. Maybe being human is less a pursuit of happiness and more an invitation to more, to more better, to whatever that might be given what we can do, each of us.