Aristomenes X

Seize the initiative and claim yourself. Be determined to grow and thrive. Choose to choose no matter what, and embrace all meaning vibrantly alive. To create, to redeem, to be free as was meant.

Category: Reader Questions

Balance and the Utility of Absolutes: Part III

This post continues the examination of the issue of maintaining balance in the context of absolute notions. Is that really what we want? Be that as it may, we are engaging in grounded and pragmatic exploration and not pie in the sky speculation. That is because the cultivation of understanding where the aforementioned issues are concerned is a valuable resource in an information age where deception, conditioning and deliberate stress induction appear more and more to be definitive factors in our world.

In this final installment, we extend the exploration of the relationship between balance and concepts that appear- and may well be- universal and absolute. The previous installment referred to concepts occupying the poles of a spectrum, and offered that they do not necessarily guarantee a pivot-point or fulcrum between them where one might sustain functional balance.

If the balance, or any other state we seek, enhances the experience of existential value fulfillment, if it is sustainable and if it reinforces the power to live according to one’s truth, for me it is functional. If one’s idea of balance is remaining safe and secure in one place, set of circumstances or ideological stance, I would strongly hesitate to call it functional. That kind of state would be a candidate for stagnation, if not corruption.

It is not difficult to come up with an example of absolute poles tempting us with a dysfunctional or nonfunctioning midpoint passing off as an idealized state of balance. The most prominent one involves the duality of life and death. Imagine life as the extreme end of a continuum and death at the other extreme. Ponder what the midpoint of that continuum would be. We can see therein a state between life and death, not quite one, yet not quite the other either. Can this be anything other than a state of disease or something out of a horror movie?

The conceptual pairing of compassion and cruelty as extreme ends of a continuum offers a more convincing promise of balance at the midpoint. Ironically, the somewhat relative nature of the terms increases the likelihood of a misconception that compassion is at the midpoint of its extreme expression (martyrdom for example), and its extreme lack, which would appear to be cruelty. The continuum might otherwise have sadism on one end and masochism on the other, with the middle being love.

This is where I disagree with a prevalent idea that admittedly appears to make sense at first: that our ideals are points of presence on a continuum of unacceptable or compromising options, the worst or most unhealthy of which lie at the extremes of the continuum. According to this view, if we somehow tune our awareness like a radio dial along a band of stations that are not in our best interests, we can find “the one” that is. This state is different than the others of the continuum because it lies at the sweet spot where opposing extremes are in balance.

There is a similar view, identical in fact, but with a twist. Here the continuum holds the desirable trait at one end and the most undesirable one at the other. The idea of balance is idealized throughout, and we are led- by the nose as far as I’m concerned- to the logical conclusion that we need to compromise our idea to maintain balance. This is where the example of Life vs. Death comes in. Nobody sane, at least as far as I understand sanity, would choose to be a zombie. If told, however, that this is what it means to be in balance- and our logic convinces us that balance is always the best of all options- then zombie or not, that is where we must go.

The view expressed prior to the one immediately above, which I believe is known as the Virtue Continuum, would express things a bit differently. There Life would be at the mid-point of a continuum whose extremes are Death and Overpopulation- from that of multi-celled organisms like rabbits and people down to cells where the issue of cancer arises. My contention with the continuum view is that it promotes idolization of static or compromised balance, where we end up locked and bound in and by the linear frame the continuum represents. We become effectively imprisoned by a metaphor.

The way I see the example of the previous paragraph, the issue is one of reproduction, which is one of quantized life, not its qualitative sense. Then the balance is a reduced population, but not because we kill half of all who are born, or insure a limited life span. So long as we ensure a proportioned- need I say balanced–  relationship between bodies and their resources, there is leeway for life extension and the perpetual maintenance of youthful vitality. Reproduction can diminish or even cease so that the choice is between the immortality of one’s gene pool or one’s own embodiment of it. In any case, it is the qualitative dynamic that is in our best interest to maximize.

The so-called Virtue Continuum is nothing new. The idea is even found in Cabala Philosophy, expressed through the notion of the three pillars of the Tree of Life. The middle pillar represents balance and the pillars on either end, the divine absolutes of judgment and mercy. Too much judgment (or blind justice) and suffering increases because we are all flawed and judgment of this sort tolerates no leeway. Too much mercy and everyone gets away with murder so to speak. In both cases order breaks down. This order is maintained by the balance of the middle pillar.

The continuum in this case is that of divine justice. Divine judgement lies on one end and divine mercy on the other. The same continuum can be seen as one of divine love, where we are judged for our own good (though love) and forgiven (nurturing love) in good measure as well. Ideally we tune our radio dial so that we are treated justly, with enough toughness to be tempered properly and enough soft love to avoid becoming brittle and bitter.

I don’t know about you, but to me this continuum notion smacks of behavioral conditioning. The implication of abiding by such a continuum is accepting the necessity of the extremes because without them the center we are prompted to honor is meaningless. Just as in the other example, cruelty is touted as necessary because it lies at the other end of the love continuum. If the watered down balance isn’t touted then a fulcrum at the center tells us that compassion must be up some times, and cruelty gain the upper hand at others. That’s the way the seesaw wobbles.

I imagine to dare not only moving outside the box, but throwing out the whole box concept. It’s the damn box, after all, that convinces us there is a pie and there is the eating of the pie and that we can only have one or the other if anything at all.

The virtue continuum simplifies things, but that is the allure of boxed-in awareness. There will always be example that make life outside the box appear risky if not outright deadly. If we let everyone have the pie and eat it too, then all hell is going to break loose. I agree! But only when we are still under the spell of the matrix or engineered and trauma directed thinking.

No matter how this may occur collectively, one can envision a horse that needs to go before the cart if one is to get anywhere. In other words, there are priorities. Before we go around trying to change the world and everyone in it, let us reach the point where we have become free of the box. That freedom is the balance we rightly covet, independent of continua, unshackled from extremes and their mid-point pivots.

One of its most promising attributes, furthermore, is that it is unbound from concepts of absolute vs relative- so much for that utility. We don’t need to argue when we are free. In freedom our minds seek creative solutions, and our hearts are nourished in wellbeing. The body is respected and loved, and even if we must engage in challenging activity, our options increase exponentially.

Logic may not see this clearly, but perhaps we can consider it. Better yet, if anything is taken from this long diatribe then I pray it is the sincere willingness to imagine a state where the box or the line or the rule of law and dictate does not enslave us into the compromises we are prone- more than we may think- to obey. That state is the balance I cherish to experience; a dance of life, harmony and meaning. In a paradoxical way, the only “absolute” I’ll ever need.

Part I

Part II

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Balance and the Utility of Absolutes: Part II

It’s a bit more than obvious that that the examples of Part I do not resolve the issue of balance amidst polar conceptions. This is the part where the answer precipitates closer to pragmatic sense. Fortunately, the question itself- as I understand it- considers two things a given, or close enough: a) that balance is a desired and beneficial state and b) that relativism and the wishy-washy, arbitrary interpretation of basic memes is not where we want to go.

The aim of this essay is to affirm and show that we can cultivate natural states of balance. These are beneficial in the midst of solid conceptions that form two ends of a spectrum of options. In balance we are in an embodied psycho-spiritual state free of denial or repression. Balance allows an efficient distribution of forces so that we are free to be who we are, and unstrained in all our relations.

We are, therefore, most ourselves when balance is the status quo between body and mind (and/or any other quality and attribute of healthy human nature one wishes to pose in the works). To understand balance, however, it behooves us to note that polarization can be either creative or destructive, and that balance is meaningless when we are dealing with the latter.

We see proof of creative polarization in the form of a battery whose poles generate a current of electricity that is a valuable resource, and hence benefits lives as we see fit. Destructive polarization, on the other hand, is conflict: a clash of rivals and competing foes. This is not to be confused with themes such as sportsmanship. That involves ritualized competition meant to diffuse otherwise destructive social energy and channel it into constructive resolution. Therein we have the positive attributes of athletic competition or any situation involving pitting one’s self against an obstacle to be transcended or overcome.

If our poles are creative, therefore, it is in our best interest that they are absolute. In the case of electrical poles, science proves that they are a universally natural phenomenon we can technologically reproduce under specific conditions. You cannot really fake electricity in a convincing manner, unless you use electricity to do it.

This is not the case for the more abstract conceptions of understanding. Therein there is danger of deception. Destructive polarization sold as creative, and creative polarization used as a scapegoat for what is destructive. Both are common today, so that up is promoted as down, good as bad and the innocent are victimized for the acts of the guilty.

Given that the above is often due to deliberately conspired, criminal manipulation, navigating the sea of lies and misconception in our complicated information age is more than challenging. It is designed to wear us down unless we can engage in a state of balance.

Part I offered examples of natural body/mind balance, where body and mind were in complementary states. When mind was sharp, body was relaxed. When body was strained, mind was relaxed. In this form of balance one side charges with energy to feed the other side. Body and mind are not the polarizing concepts. Together they actually represent the wholeness of body/mind (keeping it simple and free of complicating concepts such as soul and spirit etc.). Body and mind in opposing states encouraged creative balance between them and that enhanced the wholeness of body/mind in its chosen pursuit, be it philosophical revelation or climbing a mountain.

Even though relaxation and strain are not objectively absolute, they are still very human states. I have no doubts when I am relaxed and no doubts when I am stressed. There is no arguing this because my subjective sense is definite. If someone were able to cast doubt in my sense of stress vs. relaxation and convince me I was relaxed when I was not, my psychological integrity could be in jeopardy. It is significant, therefore, that strain and relaxation represent a prominent dynamic continuum of our being whenever we deal with psychological and ideological polarization.

Instead of looking at the correctness or lack thereof of ideas and concepts, it is probably more constructive to focus on being sensitive to our stress/relaxation response when thrust in an arena of destructive polarization. It is irrelevant if the concepts are posed in absolute or relative terms (as my/your/their truth or as the truth).

If we consider mind and body as two expressions of a single entity, the key to getting the most out of polarized absolutes and sustaining creative balance is to practice maintaining said state when free of conflict. So many today we are stressed, scheduled, threatened, moralized, demoralized, terrorized and enraged in a manner two systematic for it to simply be happenstance. Instead of diving headstrong into the issues themselves like philosophers, mountain climbers, warriors or negotiators, we can consider that we are being set up for being victimized by chronic stress.

When mind and body via creative and complementary polarization support each other, balance is natural, and we build immunity to the engineered effects of chronic destructive polarization. When extremes co-exist in a single medium the result is either conflict or mutual dilution and co-operant weakening. In other words, if the mind cannot balance with body, and both are strained, then both can break. If both are relaxed perpetually, both can get dull and weak.

The idea is to indeed engage in the stream of polarized concepts, even if they appear destructive. How else will peace come if there is nothing to stand between conflicting factions, or destructive extremes? But if such a thing is to be done dynamically, with power and strength and wisdom, then we must sustain intrinsic balance first. The mind especially is challenged to find its balance within a balanced body/mind experience so that it can engage in heroic relationship with polarized absolutes in a peace-making, harmonizing, and even transforming function.

Concepts can will either be in conflict or in complementation. They dilute each other or one dominates. They mate and establish a synthesis for better or worse or remain mutually alienated or in conflict. When we reinforce creative poles, however, we strengthen the current between them, or the synthesis they generate. In doing so we may experience the dawning realization that the sought-for balance manifest through the experience of the ‘energy’ that flows between the poles, or it can be the very synthesis of their mating.

To conclude this installment, I want to note that the conception of absolutes can be problematic, and when oversimplified the poles can manifest destructively. The next installment of this essay will attempt to address the issue. I encourage the reader to think on this: Just because concepts, memes (truths) are polarized doesn’t mean that balance between them has any meaning, especially when our idea of balance is remaining safe and secure in one place, state or ideological stance.

Part I

Part III

Balance and The Utility of Absolutes: Part I

I have pondered the utility of absolutes, i.e., good/bad; right/wrong; true/false. In a sort of visual description these absolutes reflect polar opposites. It seems that the adoption of either results in imbalance. Would you care to address this observation?

The above was a question posed to me, and not one easy to answer in a straightforward manner. Let me go for it anyway. I just hope readers don’t abandon me to blather alone in the mental wilderness of my own meandering complications. As challenging as that is, in other words, I am making a note to keep it simple.

I imagine this is one of those questions one expects to hear in a circle of stuffy old men stroking long white beards as they recline amidst the marble columns of Plato’s Academy. Just imagine that for a moment. The hurumphing of old farts dominates the scene- a figure of speech by the way. It is not conducive to the current discourse to expend mental energy imagining an aging puff of gas thoughtfully say: “hurumph!”.

Suffice it to say that the revered lovers of wisdom in our imagined circle of accomplished argumentation are certain they have all the bases covered. They will possess their certainty with a straight face even as they quote Socrates- their reluctant idol- in proclaiming “the only certainty is that we know nothing”.

A few of the more insightful in their midst must surely comprehend the paradox: sharp intellects contrasting soft rears endlessly shifting on hard marble recliners for the ever-elusive comfort zone. If they are especially mindful, our wise men might notice the seed of revelation concealed in the conundrum of discomfort that a well-placed pillow could appease with ease.

Still with me? Let’s blow the exaggerated caricature of that imaginary Academy. Let’s put our mind’s eye to better use and find ourselves relaxing on a nice sandy beach. We are reclining comfortably with our favorite drink, sitting back to listen to the soothing sound of the tropical surf for a spell. Not a care in the world.

Those wizened philosophers of yesteryear made it a point to recline in comfort when pondering the mysteries of nebulous mentation. That soft and supple pillow under the rump was an absolute necessity for the demands of higher discourse. It virtually- no pun intended- guaranteed the finely honed blade-like intellect these philosophers brandished with the expert grace of hardened veterans of legendary battles.

Facing questions like this can create a cold and brittle mood when the acuity of the intellect is emphasized more than what makes relaxing and comfortable sense. I want to point out, however, that where the body is comfortable and relaxed, ideas can balance on the razor’s edge of a vibrant mind. This is balance, and it is not a given.

Sustaining a sharp intellect without rest is stressful and can cause fatigue and burnout. Sustaining perpetual relaxation, on the other hand, can dull both mind and body leaving the spirit flaccid and the heart as slothful as the physical frame.

Balance is, therefore, a treasure that is not just cultivated between opposing absolutes. It is a valued state earned by the act of confronting forces engaged in a struggle with us. In this case our balance lies in the integration of a relaxed body with a sharp mind. Part of the value of this state lies in the high stakes of the struggles we face with it. If we submit to the will of what opposes us the core of our experience of self and world is thrust into a corner of conception, backed into it to be bound by the programmed conclusions resulting from our alleged “defeat”.

In other words, we can become victims of possession by various forms of the meme: “unless I am a winner, I am a loser”. One version is the variant: “unless I am right, I am wrong”. We may think our struggle is with something tangible, like a force of nature or a human oppressor, but we are physically relaxed in the world of ideas. Therein what is challenged is our sense of self and what is meaningful to it.

In that sense balance means throwing out the either/or and choosing to learn from the engagement. Experience is the coin of purchase in this process, and balance involves its best investment. In my book that is worth pondering.

The metaphor that led to all this pontificating, however, is two-fold. Balance comes from understanding both aspects of it. The second aspect contrasts the image of the sharp-minded philosopher with flaccid body with the reverse arrangement. This time, we can imagine finding ourselves among a group of athletes climbing a mountain, struggling against the elements to gain the victory of standing at a pinnacle of nature’s majesty.

As we climb, we realize that the warrior stance of a mental blade-wielder is the last thing we need.  Instead, circumstance asks that the mind relax, and its intellectual blade stand aside for a deeper visceral intuition to enter to scene.

In doing so the mind may find itself “in the zone” where the body is one with the nature it seeks to pit against its own limitations. This mind-zone is zen-like in its mystery and paradoxical luminous silence. It is also part of the appeal of extreme physical struggles that to the average plodder seem more like examples of human lunacy than achievements.

Make no mistake, the mind is not dull. It is not dead, nor is it vacuous. It is infinitely deep, yawning into its own mystery of pre-conceptual calm. It is the ocean without waves to distract from sensing its true depths. And when the body is challenged, and forced to plumb its own potentials of resourcefulness, the mind steps back and falls over the precipice of residual assumption into the fathomless expanse of its own nature. Paradoxically, when that happens, the body becomes stronger and more capable. This is balance as well.

Part II

Part III

Learning from Time Obsession-Free

This is the first post of the Q&A category. Namely, a reader asked the following interesting question:

“How do we learn from possible futures without becoming obsessed with the future?”

Those who seek to awaken their potentials of awareness, are often challenged to confront their relationship with time. They are challenged to experience permanent residence in the present moment. In parallel, they are challenged to understand the past, and to navigate the future. This may sound counterintuitive, but from the perspective of grounded and applicable esoteric wisdom, the future is the least important of the three standard temporal references.

In some of the more marketed versions of metaphysical thought there is the notion that the higher dimensions of time refer to everything occurring at once. There is, in other words, only the present and future and past coexist in it. Another perspective associated with the previous is the notion that everything has already occurred in all its variations, and we are just running a thread through one version or probability of happenings.

Our common reason gets to stretch beyond comfort zones with these notions, and especially where their logical implications or conclusions are concerned. Yet all too often we are prone to paint ourselves into a corner and end up arguing against our free will, all in the name of objective reason. So let me say that I will only pursue models of reality that don’t turn me into an automaton of fate, or even some stale form of Divine Will.

This is not my own wishful thinking talking. We obsess because we stress, and we stress because we’re trapped and insecure by the way our mind interprets things. It is not the fault of our response. That is to say, trying to simply not be stressed, or not be obsessed, is not the solution. It isn’t even healthy. I would instead suggest altering the model of perception and evaluation toward a form that allows natural response to lead to empowerment.

Even so the more ‘realistic objectivists’ among us might call this approach wishful thinking. I disagree. Choosing unhealthy world-views in the name of Murphy’s Law (basically the “Life Sucks” model) posing as realism is the less rational attitude in my opinion. It isn’t only dysfunctional, but it happens to help those who would want us weakened by despair and confused in the labyrinth of our own callous reasoning so they could manipulate us against our own interests.

My point is that trafficking in the future is like drinking a good wine with one’s meal. It helps digestion and makes for a good mood when imbibed in moderation. But it can make you sick if you indulge in large doses. You certainly cannot live on it for very long.

Instead of looking at the future as something set, let’s look at it as a void of potential, a field of any-thing and no-thing. Any-thing is possible, but no-thing is what the future is. In addition, the more probable or likely to occur outcomes can be traced to the past via our here and now.

Our positioning in the present moment- our presence- with respect to this void determines how the past looks to us. How the past looks to us determines how we can best use our experience to chart our course. This, in turn, alters what is more and less probable to unfold out of the field of no-thing that is the future.

The most important consideration in this is that the present moment is our position of empowerment. The present is the only real temporal frame. It is where we always are. Orientation in this frame, however, is still a choice. We can face the future or face the past. In modern western culture “living in the past” is discouraged, while looking ahead is praised.

On the contrary most every source of wisdom from our collective past advices to remain in the present. Where do we look? What is more real, the past or the future? I say it’s the past because we have experienced it. We don’t have to live in it, because it is already in us. We can look and evaluate all it has taught us.

The future cannot teach us anything. It doesn’t exist until it becomes the present. If we look for it all we do is project our preconceptions onto a blank screen. Because there will always be uncertainty with the future, our preconceptions will most likely be weaved with fear, or at the very least with degrees of insecurity. We will be challenged to compensate with faith or calculations of the most ‘objectified’ reasoning ‘just to be sure’.

Intuition might be delusional because we are not in the present moment where it naturally operates. Anxiety is the prime sign of disconnecting with the present in our temporal assessments. Anxiety begets obsession. We gnaw at something to make sure we leave no stone unturned. We hold on in fear it will bite us or worse if we let go; or we fear we will lose it somehow and cause things to derail out of control.

My recommendation, in a nutshell, is to practice being present first. The simplest way is to feel one’s own body in space. Time is connected to space and the body is always in the present. The mind then grounds, and in a relaxed state one can open to intuition via the great record banks of experience, one’s own and via all the information at one’s disposal. It is that which then calculates the probabilities that appear to be the “possible futures” facing us.

Let me confess that I practice methods of divination. I use Tarot cards, a pendulum and sometimes the I Ching to help assess the flow of probability. It is easy to obsess and even get somewhat addicted when using divination. Experience and determination, however, are great teachers in inhibiting projection beyond the present moment.

Whether using a method of divination or one’s intuition and inner guidance, one can see, sense, feel and/or cogitate the patterns of probability that flow through the present. The past teaches, the future is acceptable when we associate the lessons with the probabilities extending from them and work to making them happen. How that can happen is beyond the scope of this presentation, and any single answer. Just turn your back on the future, remain in the present and learn from the past. Then obsession should be kept at bay.