—J.G. Bennett, from a lecture
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
“I love gum,” my two-year-old commented as we traveled together in the car. “Do you love gum, Dad?”
“Yes,” I answered, realizing the correct answer must be in the spirit of the question. “I love gum.”
“We both love gum,” he concluded.
We drove on in silence. `Nuff said.
It was only a couple of months ago that the little boy in question first uttered the personal pronoun, the symbol of a human biped standing upright and alone—“I”. That letter has an incisive look, and an even more cutting effect. It shears the inchoate sense of identity away from everything existing. It is the emblem of alienation. It stands for Adam’s removal from Paradise.
That first moment of estrangement from the totality marks the beginning of the striving to return. Such is the character of the period called the Terrible Twos. It describes a state of duality in which a child becomes separate from every other object he can name, and in which he is torn from all aspects of himself which don’t fit within the ever-morphing phantasm of “I”. It is fraught with Sturm und Drang and persists for the balance of his life or until the innate perception of unity is inhabited anew.
All but the most natively enlightened, i.e., saints and prophets, attempt a repatriation to that dimly remembered Paradise through the conventional sources of solace the objectified world offers. We look to the artifices of unity to supplant the missed perception of an inherent connection with all. We join clubs, and take up causes, and hang out with people who like what we like, and dislike what we dislike. We console ourselves with money and sex and food and religion. We become patriots, partisans, believers, and activists and as with my son who discovered that we both love gum, there is a feeling of commonality in attachment to things that allow us to feel connected.
Unfortunately the need for establishing interconnectedness is usually only felt in moments of emergency. Those who intentionally use fear to foment a unified front against an enemy often capitalize upon this instinctive response. The so-called War on Terror is a prime example. This one is particularly absurd given the vague definition of the foe. But it is the same in every war. The threat of a distant, often manufactured, and always propagandized enemy brings people together, and the result is not only blind destruction, but a shallow and fleeting experience of unity.
The fact is that there is a present emergency that might drive humanity to recognize our inherent oneness, if we can feel it. It is not terrorists or the scary economy, global warming or global war, or even our personal plights. These are only symptoms and results of the real emergency, which is our alienation from that which matters. What matters is the consciousness of inherent unity, and the strength of being to make that consciousness real in our world. And there is the emergency that we are, each of us, going to die. But there is the potential for each of us to, as one street philosopher put it, “not die like a dirty dog.”
The Sufi tradition says that 200 conscious people could change the whole of life on earth. These are beings that have attained a level of development in which their ideas and their actions, words, and deeds express the same understanding. And because that understanding arises from a common perception of reality, they cannot disagree. As such, their activity is informed by an identical aim and is fully cooperative. They are agents of one Truth.
Paradise is not a Hawaiian vacation or even in a utopian society, nor is it sometime in a possible future. We cannot get there by any amount of spiritual practice or striving, though effort itself may be the Paradisiacal circumstance. Paradise is always here and now where the boundaries of openness are being tested. Paradise is the feeling that arises when we underscore what is; when we emphasize the positive; Paradise is when I look into the eyes of another and recognize myself.