How to Be at Home in the World
The art and literature of our narrative traditions have for millennia depicted life as a spiritual struggle that none can escape. Resistance is futile. Hurt and pain and loss mark the journey.
That life is a struggle is obvious. For beasts and birds and fish alike, it’s a do-or-die, take-no-prisoners situation from day one. But the rest — the struggle to elevate ourselves — is a human creation. It is human beings who give life lofty purpose, who deem it a heartful quest, who honor the struggle to survive, who make it matter that we cope, adapt, learn, understand and master.
Without the concerted effort of humans to elevate their lives and to bring forth the sentiments of existence, what would our lives be? Yoked to nature’s rhythmic, unceasing (and basically indifferent) demands, our lives would be one long, dimly conscious, toil-filled slog. Pain? Certainly. Joy? Not so much.
We human beings are also inextricably connected to the force field of nature, a circumscribed range of stimulus/response genetic programming and are systemically influenced by the hierarchical social structures in which we find ourselves. What else could it be — as we react to the natural, practical and social realities, and ordeals, that elevate or burden our circumstances. We must cope with its demands every day of our lives. It’s a piece of our systemic intelligence and accounts for our genetically encoded, socially poked and prodded perspective on the world.
However, humans have access to a wider horizon and reach of perception than other animals do. And, as I said, the combination of factors found in the force field from which we come is uniquely human. At the very heart of reaching the elevated life is our drive to express humanity’s most expansive sentiments. With gratitude for the possibilities to which we are heir (and author), along with a willingness to learn to embody the opportunity in word and deed, we are able to muster the executive capacity to arrange our life as we see fit.
How you and I come to this (poetically described) conscious heart or (scientifically described) cognitive ability is more than interesting. That we came to it is one of life’s privileges and splendors.
These structured forces combined with the emergent factors of history and language give human beings access to the propelling and authoring possibilities of mind. Yes, like other animals, we are programmed to acquire “knowledge” through the senses and experience. But we also acquire it (and the privilege and splendor of conscious understanding) through our distinctive cognitive abilities. We, alone, among animals, can master the cognitive ability to see ourselves, to think for ourselves and to be in command of our purpose. With this added force of life — this extraordinary human cognitive capacity — we can turn our attention (our receptivity and our creativity) in many directions.
Cognition is the process by which sensory input is transformed, elaborated upon, stored, recovered and used. You and I have an executive ability with regard to this processing. By deliberatively (and incrementally) coming to grips with the matters we bring to our mind, we can be responsible in the matter of how our lives are arranged.
But such responsibility is not readily mastered because most of us are initially caught up in another arrangement, one decreed by the prevailing conceptual reality. This reality is the coercive, sometimes punitive, pressure to conform almost single-mindedly to the acquisition of competitive standing, or to what I refer to as the lower range of normative ideals. (I say lower range because they are the ideals that make possible — in a “don’t rock the boat” sense — the mass scramble for rank and status.) Even if the focus of such an arrangement is not a good fit for our own sensibilities, many of us can’t help but join the struggle for competitive recognition.
Still and fortunately, as Ralph Waldo Emerson says in his essay titled, Circles, “The heart [ultimately] refuses to be imprisoned; in its first and narrowest pulses, it already tends outward with a vast force, and to immense and innumerable expansions.”
When we are consciously attuned to the humane potential of our mindful gifts:
- we branch out our focus to include that which remains unconsidered and undone;
- we expand our creative efforts to all of life’s challenges, to its mysteries, its rhythms, its heart-shattering losses, its disappointment and to recovery, endurance and invention;
- we’re more open to expand our horizons, take responsibility for how we behave and to contribute to the wellbeing of others;
- we broaden our horizons with respect to what is at stake in the matters that come before us;
- we extend the reaches of our comfort zone;
- we amplify the tenor of our days with compassion, patience and tolerance;
- we embrace every moment, dignify every day and celebrate every opportunity with generosity, gratitude and humility;
- we commit to the compassion and reciprocity that are ours to create and share, and;
- we find ourselves at home in the world and at peace with ourselves and with others.
As such, we have the energy and power of choice to see a bigger picture, be a bigger person, have a bigger life and make a bigger contribution. We can use the force field to which we are subject to propel us into accessing a higher (and often more joyful) range of potential responses or actions.
I’ve been teaching classes on autonomy and life for over 30 years. These classes offer a unique and powerful governing philosophy for practical living. They stand firmly on America’s promise of freedom, justice and equality and the opportunity to create a life of our own design. More information is available on my website: autonomyandlife.com.