Many of you have been asking how I've been coping with the recent tragedy of Sarah's death, and one thing I've loved about being at Eastern Mennonite University is the way that we can use the classes for personal reflection. We were asked to write a "manifesto of life", and that was the perfect opportunity to take stock of where I'm at with everything and it forced me to look at what exactly were my sources of strength; the things that have kept me sane. Well, here's a partial glimpse.
This is a perpetually evolving manifesto of life as this specific context of writing will be different tomorrow, and might not even be remotely similar within the next few minutes. At any time something climatic could happen; something which has once been described as a “rift in time”. These are the periods of life where everything seems to stand still; where massive changes in direction occur. These changes can be positive, negative, or a unity of the two. Much of this depends on perspective, and therefore definitions; the terms with which we use to describe our world. In fact, much of what we consider to be climatic or consequential is dependent upon definitions. All of these definitions, upon closer examination of our perspective, incorporate some form of the conflict of opposites, the conflict that is basic to the universe and the meaning we ascribe to it. There are choices to be made because of this conflict. The idea that some choice is good and another bad is apparent, but why is that the case? By whose standards do we govern our lives and by what view do we see the conflict? Through the conflict of opposites, is there a universal thread that can be found?
These are the kinds of questions that occur when life is stripped down to the basic. For most, it comes at a time of crisis, even if that crisis is simply an existential anguish as to the meaning of it all. This kind of crisis is basic to human existence and will occur to you, or at the very least must be acknowledged in every human being if happiness is to be found. This crisis is the conflict of opposites. You must face it, unless you want it to make itself known at a time not of your choosing. The crisis itself is comprised of opposites; an example being the fear yet potential for liberation of the unknown. It is the point where one may feel like all that is left is their breath, and even that may be slipping away. But there is still something, even if it’s ugly, even if it has no map, even if no one cares. What happens next is a choice. You can choose to take the basics of life that are left and build around them. What you make becomes something on your terms. Why else does adversity create some of the best art? Adversity sheds that which has arrived from the outside; from the structural aspects of society, family, culture, religion, nation, ethnicity and any unquestioned belief system.
It is only when all externals are devalued completely that freedom can be found. This is the freedom to seek, to discover truth, to recognize the universal; the love that pervades the universal; the love that most refer to as God. This is the love that we recognize in each other. It is the same love that prohibits us from valuing ourselves no more but no less than the other; the love that finds the non-dualistic balance in the conflict of opposites that is so crucial to a meaningful existence. But this is also the love that demands risks; that has its opposite in loss or even hate.
When we love, we are on the path to knowledge of the divine, because we begin to discover ourselves, and through ourselves we see the other and validate the other’s voice and purpose as inseparable from our own. We learn that truth is inside, not outside, that society is a set of assumptions; of agreements that we have made between our various individual egos. We learn that much of life is absurd; that the meaning which we ascribe to externals is utterly senseless at base. Ultimately, we learn that we really don’t know that much at all, because most of what we do know has been handed to us by a non-rational environment.
We have choices, real choices; choices which incorporate the questioning of everything, absolutely everything in life. Outside of basic subsistence, question why you work, who you’re hoping to please, and why you’re hoping to please them. Question whether it is more important to work towards an external or internal goal. Question what working towards the external or the internal involves. Make the choice that breathes life into you, not the choice that drains you of life. Question all that you hold dear, but do that questioning using the light of love. Question with the love that is justice; with the love that is compassion; with the love that is selflessness; with that love that practices the Christian Anarchism of Tolstoy; the nonviolent resistance of Gandhi and MLK, and with the love that would choose death rather than see harm come to the other.
Choose to disobey in love, rather than conform to hatred. Question why you pay taxes when your government uses it to kill and destroy others with a force greater than the world has ever known. Ask yourself what is the absolute minimum you need to do to survive. Then spend the rest of your time in discovery, both of yourself and the other.
Choose to share that ultimate human love with a life partner. Through that love, give of yourself fully and completely, and you’ll find that you’re ultimately giving to yourself. To give that completely, you must know what you’re giving, so know yourself. Find the greatest joy in the realization that the giving of yourself to the other is a sharing of the universal that comprises the both of you. Realize that though death or temporal events may separate you, there will always be an element of your individual souls in the other. Realize further that this intimate partnership is a micro example of the macro universal love. It is but one element of the universal that comprises the very essence of who you are.
As you move through life, the questioning and the choices you make determine your story, your individuality, your narrative, your approach to the conflict of opposites. Living the kind of life that takes on the challenge of tough questioning is a process, not a static event, so may this manifesto and your life be forever evolving and moving forward, and may you constantly realize the rewards of an ever increasing awareness of self, others, ultimate reality, and the unity that brings it all together.