There is a wonderful story about Louis Armstrong, the famous jazz musician who was named a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ by the United States. Along with his band The All Stars he visited 52 countries, winning people over with his music, his joyous smile and his infectious good nature. In 1956, while touring the newly independent nation of Ghana, 100,000 people showed up to hear him play at an open air concert. The police chief — concerned that his fast-paced jazz would overexcite the crowd — asked him if he could slow down. “OK, Daddy,” said Louis, “I’ll give ‘em a little slow beat.” And with that, The All Stars launched into the most soporific song in their repertoire, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” quelling any concerns the chief had about safety. After the performance, people lined the street and, in a mile-long procession, followed Armstrong back to his hotel. It’s easy to understand why he was considered to be a national treasure — he expressed the qualities of his culture in a uniquely accomplished way, so much so that other people could obviously admire and feel the music he loved.
I think Prem Rawat is a global treasure. He expresses the highest ideals of mankind — like hope and compassion. He inspires and renews the highest aspirations in the people who hear him. Like me, for example. I've felt my life change many times because of his words. I have felt understanding come to me. I have felt profound gratitude. I have recognized, or remembered, how amazing it is to be alive. I credit him for those realizations.
One spring day in May, when I was about 10 years old, I discovered that the mayfly lives for just one day.
“How can something live for just one day?” I asked myself.
It terrified me. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because I was still so young and felt that I still had so much more life ahead of me to be lived, experienced, and enjoyed. The fact that a life could end after just one day — just one day — scared the hell out of me.
Somehow, I talked myself out of the horror that had gripped me.
“You’re young,” I told myself. “You’ve got a long life ahead of you. You could live for another 70 years.”
I relaxed, and I soon forgot about the mayfly.
Time jets. I’m now 59.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) — famous French Philosopher — shut himself up in an oven for 3 days to seek true knowledge. He believed that by removing himself from any sensory distractions he would arrive at certainty. Using skeptical doubt, he reduced each belief to a previous belief, and then to another belief and so on, until he came to the conclusion that the only thing that was certain was the awareness of his thought: cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I exist. By solitary thinking, Descartes believed that he could know his own nature as a conscious being better than that of any external objects. He thought thinking was too complex to be reduced to mere matter, and thus he conceived of the mind as a spiritual entity that is “entirely distinct from the body, and would not fail to be what it is even if the body did not exist”. This theory of mind has become known as the ‘ghost in the machine’.
For Descartes mind equates with soul and for classical Western Philosophy the words mind, soul and consciousness are interchangeable. I suspect confusion arose when the English language borrowed the Greek word Psyche as a root denoting anything mental (e.g. psych-ology, psych-iatric etc.). However, Psyche (after the name of a goddess) means soul, life and breath.
There are various interpretations to cogito ergo sum but primacy is given to the mind as the site of a privileged subjectivity. Many who came after Descartes thought that, simply by thinking, they could know the essential nature of beings and things. Jean Paul Sartre — the author of existentialism — followed Descartes by insisting that free subjectivity, as consciousness, was the ontological essence of being human. But modern and postmodern philosophers, such as Wittgenstein, Foucault and Derrida, reject notions of subjectivity, arguing that it is a construction of culture, politics and language. For them, there is no privileged subjectivity or locus of meaning — all knowledge is relativistic and the self and/or mind is a semiotic fiction, not a metaphysical reality. The latter, I think, rightly view the mind as an internalized mirror of the external world — but in denying subjectivity and the self, might they not be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
A friend recently invited me to a symposium about “altered states of consciousness” where different specialists — sociologists, philosophers, historians, doctors of religious studies, etc. — would present an appraisal of our current understandings. I was unsure how to tactfully decline the invitation and the only excuse that sprang to mind was to tell her the truth: “I am already experiencing an altered state of consciousness.” Musing to myself, I realized I had never spoken about Knowledge in these terms before.
The notion of “states of consciousness being altered” remained with me for a while. I asked myself why consciousness needed to be altered. Did it have a fault that needed correcting? We sometimes have strange ways of expressing things in language and curiously everyone just makes do with it.
The first piece I ever published was on this very site and was called “Normal Life.” It was about how, through an extreme experience, I became aware of the warped view I had of my own life in its "normal state.” I pondered upon this notion of “normality” in which we are so ensconced that we seem unable to go beyond it.
For some reason this phrase has had an abiding presence in my life lately. I don’t remember where I heard it but it keeps speaking to me. It has such a kindness. It has dignity, it has forgiveness. It’s a great reminder to myself but it’s also all of humanity speaking with one voice, saying ‘we’re only human’.
It let’s me off the hook when I’ve done something dumb but it also reminds me that life is about learning and of course, I will make mistakes. It’s because I’m human that I can make mistakes, otherwise everything would be perfect and that would be no fun at all. To feel something inside that is in harmony and calm and then to be in a world that is very complex and loud is such a contrast. I think it’s designed for adventures, so of course you’ll step in a hole, get a flat tire and bang your head on the ladder. This is considered humorous when it happens to someone else. Movies are made about it.