The Self is everywhere, without a body, without a shape, whole, pure, wise, all knowing, far shining, self-depending, all transcending, in the eternal procession assigning to every period its proper duty.
—Eesha Upanishad, translated by W. B. Yeats
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
As we stood on line at the supermarket, my son, who's nine, looked at the front of the New York Times. Above the fold was a color picture of Mr. Trump standing at a podium, addressing an audience. The caption said he was delivering a prepared speech at a party convention. "He's lying," my son said. Surprised, I looked up from the paper to his face, curious to know from where in him the statement was arising.
"How can you tell?" I asked.
"I can just tell."
"But what in the picture tells you he's lying?"
"I can just tell. Plus, have you ever heard him talk? His voice is empty."
I chose the words of my response carefully. "It may be that he lies," I said. "If you can hear it, it is so. I have never listened to him speak, so I don't know."
The boy was quickly on to other things, but the conversation lingered in my mind as I pondered the exchange.
Engaging with the theater of politics and its characters is a slippery slope. How much can we say we know about the parties, policies, and politicians? In particular, how much can we know from our own perception? For me this is the guiding principle: I can only formulate a description of an impression I have experienced, in myself, directly—no more, no less.
Though I do not seek out the "news of the world" as it is portrayed on the screens and airwaves and papers of the media, contact with it is unavoidable. A scan with peripheral vision of the newspaper headlines, a glance at the social media feed, or simply overhearing conversations is enough to know what is being churned out of the media machine, and to stay up to date on "current events."
In virtually all channels the world is described within a narrow scope. News is what's of interest to the large organizations—governments and businesses—the very ones responsible for creating the news feed. These do not describe the real lives of the billions of people and millions of communities that live together on the planet. The trivia, boons, and crimes the media describe represent only a tiny, even infinitesimal, part of the life of humanity at any moment.
Where does the virtual world of the media, with its hyperfocus on crimes, violence, and meaningless ephemera leave off, and engagement with real, human life begin? And what would we have left to say if we only spoke about what we have come to know directly in the arena of experience?
Perhaps not much, for a while, but I think the conversation would quickly become more interesting. It would be quite a discipline, wouldn't it, to speak only of what one has come to know directly, without opinions, collections of data about things, positions for and against people, situations, or policies about which there is no knowledge directly gained?
I had this in mind as I answered my son. There was a great temptation to engage the liberal to radical political viewpoints that characterize my habitual view. I felt a great pull to indoctrinate the boy with my opinions, to tell him that, yeah, the candidate is clearly a monster of vanity without a conscience, and yes, clearly a liar. But instead, I could only say what I knew, which is that I don't know.
As the rhetoric and imagery about "the world" in the media becomes steadily more horrific, banal, and lacking in any connection to genuine intelligence and conscience, I feel myself drawn to occupy my inner life with impressions that are closer to reality, and I see that inasmuch as we are invited to engage with mass psychosis and hysteria, we are also invited to be present with what and who is immediately here.
Here and now are the tasks and relationships that make up an infinitely more real world. Here is the arena in which we can transform the future with the consciousness and kindness we bring to each exchange. Every even small deed has an impact that ripples outward; our deeds are where intelligence and warmth are broadcast out to the whole universe.
Engaging wholly with the real events and people and needs in life requires that we make room for the greater reality of this direct contact. It means leaving off imbibing the excess that overflows the sewers of politics, business, and media, and instead filling ourselves with ideas and impressions that are full of substance. These are the impressions of life, here and now, in nature, and with one another.
It may well be that once we disengage from the channels our view of the state and future of humanity begins to shift toward the positive. Once we stop reciting the vitriolic, negative litany of reasons the world is in a sorry, hopeless state, we might just begin to see that the state and future of humanity is bright.
As the teacher J. G. Bennett proposed in one of his last talks, "We must replace all negative attitudes toward the existing world with a feeling of confidence and love towards the new world that is being born, towards the still unborn child that is the future humanity."