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DAIMONS ARE FOREVER


The English naturalist Charles Darwin is best known for his contribution to the science of evolution, most notably as it appears in his most excellent treatise On the Origin of Species, which made natural selection a household name. What many do not know is that it was actually a young British biologist working in obscurity who hashed out much of the theory of how one species can slowly transform into another before sending it to the famous scientist. Wallace wanted help getting his findings published. Darwin, who had been contemplating a similar theory of evolution for many years, feared he would be robbed of his day in the sun, and so he hastily jotted down his version of natural selection. The two papers were read on the same night before an audience of their peers, and Darwin got all the glory. 

Natural selection was not the first world-changing, paradigm-shifting idea which had been developed if not simultaneously at least by separate thinkers working independently of each other. The Greek philosophers endorsed a life of contemplation and viewed life as a dream. Many centuries later the French mathematician Descartes came on the scene and endorsed a similar view. Descartes had likely read Socrates. But long before the Greeks, the Hindus first developed the theory that consciousness is all that exists, and that consciousness is blissful - that our nature is joy and love is joy shared between individuals - and that, moreover, all life is merely an appearance in consciousness. In other words, life is a dream. Yes, this world is a dream world where everything we encounter has the character of reality only as long as the dream lasts. Where the only thing you can be sure of is your own existence, because everywhere you go, there you are, and whatever you seek, you find yourself. The childhood rhyme got it right, it seems, and all you really need to know you learned in kindergarten. 

I found Robert Fulghum's slim paperback on my mother's bookshelf recently and quickly read it cover to cover. It's a amazing how our parents influence us. From my father I derived my love of running - I used to follow him around Holmby Park, watching his calves from a distance of 10 or so feet as he made his way around the 1 kilometer perimeter. At his peak he ran 3 miles as many times a week. I extended this by running as many marathons in as many months, some of them barefoot. I adopted dad's vegetarian diet and took it to the next level by becoming a vegan. And his interest in Eastern spirituality, specifically the Vedas, I have made my own, in part by reading the books he collected when I was hardly old enough to speak, let alone read. As my mother liked to say, "Children are the evolution of their parents' souls. 

From my mother I got more than just catchy one-liners. I also gleaned an interest in astrology. And although the origin of this pseudoscience is mired in obscurity, I cannot tell you how many times people behave exactly according to their Sun signs, or maybe their Moon signs. After watching my mom cut her sons' and her husband's hair, and also hers as well, when I came of age I took the scissors and clippers to my scalp, and after much trial and error (read: many bald-spots) I learned to do a passable job. Yesterday I spent about an hour in several phases giving myself a top-notch trim. It's artistic, and also practical. I also tweaked my mom's culinary genius by making magic with vegetables. She preferred pasta, which I don't eat (it's white death, as Lance Armstrong calls it). And thusly mom's memory lives on through me.

Now the Greeks may or may not have been privy to the sacred scriptures of the East. They certainly were not like me with access to a bulky bookshelf that features a dozen copies of the Bhagavad Gita alone! The fathers of Western civilization lived on an isolated island long before the advent of print, but their fathers had migrated from other parts of the world, likely somewhere in Proto-Indo-Europe, home to a nomadic race that migrated in several waves from Asia in the 3rd millennium BC. And the Greeks also traded with the mainland, Mesopotamia I think it was called. So it is possible that a taste of metaphysics may have accompanied their exposure to new customs and traditions. 

In Greek religion the daimon accompanies each person throughout life, looking over his shoulder as if from behind or above and thus visible only to those he encounters, as consciousness. In the words of one philosopher, the Being is so secretive "that it never appears and still so tremendously powerful that it produces all appearance." How often we don't know ourselves, it's so true! Eudaimnoia is a lasting state of being which is not subject to change, and it means to live well, or be supremely happy. So combining the two concepts, the essence of life is happy awareness. Why does life exist? Why was anything created in the first place? Because Being was lonely. Obviously! Imagine if you had nobody but yourself to occupy your time, all the time. You'd be pulling out your hair, metaphorically, since in the beginning this appendage had not entered existence. Or you'd be like me, cutting it all off!

In utter loneliness, no true communication is possible (hence this blog), and you cannot even know yourself. It is through our interactions with others that we gain greater self-awareness. As George Clooney so convincingly put it in the movie Up in the Air, when you think of your best times, they almost always occur in the presence of another rather than alone. Of course, in the beginning there was One, and so the multitude of personages you find in your midst is merely an illusion. We interact with different aspects of ourselves. 

The Greeks used the dialogical thought process, made famous through the works of Plato, to prepare the soul and lead the mind to a beholding of truth which is ever beyond thought and speech, and, much to the dismay of writers like myself, incapable of being communicated through words.

So I leave you to your own devices. Hint: you must delve into yourself. Be like the ancients, who experimented with their own minds "no less radically and perhaps even more fearlessly than any scientist" who experiments with nature. Socrates himself was observed on more than one occasion to be so spellbound by his revelations that he'd fall into a state of perfect motionless that lasted for several hours. Do this. Be like the great historian Cato who said, "Never is he more active than when he does nothing, never is he less alone than when he is by himself." 

Of course, philosophy is a dying art (and also a science), so don't expect a pat on the back for your efforts. But introspection is by no means lonely, because as you read into yourself you see how similar are the thoughts and passions from one person to the next. And the sooner you realize truth, the less you fear and the more you forgive, and you once again gain that bliss which is the essence of your being and which has existed from time immemorial. Indeed, from before even time existed. You are more than immortal. Immortal merely means to exist for all time. But you existed before there was time. And so you are eternal, I like to say. It's like forever and then some.

I give myself this little pep talk whenever I encounter the metaphorical rocky road, emotionally speaking. I'll miss my mom, who was my friend and fan and staunch supporter through thick and thin. And just when I am in the throes of an almost sickening sadness, I'll pull myself out of it and become once again the daimon, who stands aloof, viewing everything, passive, pacific, impartial, and with perfect equanimity. The personality, with its hopes and fears, is like a pool that you as the witness (which is what the Hindus called this daimon) can jump into whenever you feel like a refreshing dip. But if the water is murky, or too choppy, or not the right temperature, you can always jump out and relax on the deck. Take this imagery and run with it wherever it may take you. Preferably into a meadow or somewhere with a breeze and some pretty flowers, because I'm done for the day. The hammock awaits. And maybe the pool too, if this breeze lets up.

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