Jack wrote this in 1999 or 2000:
I think it would be a timely thing for you to cease the self-recriminations about things- the past is past, now is now, future is future.
The past is sealed, dated, and notarized- filed away. The future is little more than a ghost of the imagination, of potential potential. Any focus or energy we direct to either of those is wasted energy if it goes beyond idle reflection. Both drain the significance of the moment- all this to say the gift of hindsight is truly a gift only if we tame it and don’t allow it to become anything more than the elevator music of our lives.
Despite appearances, you own the past- it doesn’t own you. You have the power to force it into the back room closet or allow it into the dining room to eat at the table with you or into the living room to sleep on the couch and get into the way of your life and the lives of others.
The concept of deserving kindness is another one that’s destructive to the growth of the soul. We don’t go through life on some roller-coaster of worth or value based on our behavior of today, of last week.
I don’t know whether the physical manifestation of each of us in this reality is of equal value or not, but I think I can say with certainty the issue isn’t whether a person deserves kindness or not. Certainly each does. Sometimes we fail to remember this- some of us never learn it. You aren’t a paragon of virtue in this regard, and neither am I. Few people are. In the coming times some people might demand to be killed, by their behavior. Probably in those circumstances even, the real challenge isn’t in the avoidance of our responsibility to slaughter another human – the challenge will be to do it with kindness in our hearts, without malice, hatred, rancor. With the same respect for another human who demands the cessation of his life through his choices as we have for the chicken-killing hawk, the rabbit, doe, a fawn that steps into our sights at a time when our bodies demand a meal- the mouse which by its nature chews its way into our corn.
All this to say that unless we purge ourselves of the concept of whether we deserve kindness or respect for our own choices and behavior we’ll be unlikely to overcome the far more difficult challenge of giving respect and kindness to others when they make choices which are so contrary to our own interests or values. Not to say our responsibility doesn’t extend to looking out for our own interests forcibly if needed- just that when we do we dassen’t ever fail to do so in the recognition that this is a fellow soul on the long path- that where he is we’ve probably been or will be in some other life.
Despite our ego-driven beliefs to the contrary, most of the things we do or say, kind or unkind, have little importance in the lives of others. In those rare instances where this isn’t true the reason isn’t in us, but rather in the person who chooses to make it important. We have little influence on that choice in another person—rightfully so—the business of our lives is our own choices, which are plenty challenges enough.
So, when we choose to be kind and show genuine respect to others it has little to do with the other person or that person’s behavior- it’s a kindness to ourselves, mainly. A recognition of our own thorny path- our own failures, and therefore a willingness to accept that other person and the thorny path that person walks.
I need a transition here to something else I want to say and the transition is awkward in this thought flow, almost trite.
One of the thornier paths we can choose to avoid self-damage is forgiveness. The only virtue in that path is that it avoids the even more destructive route of the state of unforgiveness (self- destructive- our unforgiveness rarely harms anyone but ourselves).
But genuine forgiveness by its nature has to be an act of self-forgiveness- a recognition that we are flawed- full of warts- that those flaws and warts are the water and fertilizer to our growth—with that recognition we can then recognize and forgive flaws in others without setting ourselves up on a superior moral plane and thereby stumbling into one of the multitude of tiger-traps hidden in the path of forgiveness.
When the path of forgiveness is allowed to lead into the more worthy path of self-forgiveness along with a recognition of the true nature of our flaws and warts, our failures– all the instruments of growth—we’ve found a true path… along that path are the flowers of gratitude for the otherwise most devastating circumstances of the human condition.
The ultimate recognition that your life is about YOU- not about anyone else, is one of the phantoms we chase through life after life- until we recognize that simple, obvious fact we cycle through our lives blaming others, praising others, emulating others, seeking praise, seeking approval, seeking recognition in the eyes of others by doing for other and so on ad infinitum.
I’m not suggesting that doing for others is a bad thing- I am saying that the almost inevitable next step of elevating ourselves as a result of our having done so (in our own eyes- and always one eye on the approving glances of others) and especially when we make a fetish of it, is contrary to growth.
This is an ingeniously contrived reality we’ve chosen for ourselves here—it’s easy enough to understand how during the course of human history so many conflicting explanations as to the nature and purpose of life have emerged.
However, with all that, the reality hung two absolutes before us and lit them in neon—it was always there for every human to see, insistent, inarguable.
The first is the fundamental nature of the reality: every creature or life form must kill at least one other life form to live. ( Lichens and certain other plant forms are the exception, however, even most plants depend on the decomposition of the remains of living creatures for life).
This is an incredibly predatory reality- a fact which we’ve mostly forgotten through the eon, or failed to recognize the significance of it.
In order for us to achieve growth in this reality or any reality the way to growth must be to somehow act contrary to our own nature. However, we can’t possibly live without killing- even at a cellular level our bodies are engaged in warfare with other species.
And yet, given that fundamental truth, somehow the purpose of our lives here must be partially contained in the nature of the reality we chose- it’s too overwhelming otherwise.
Based on that, I’d say the ultimate goal we have here, the golden ring we are reaching for must be to spiritually transcend our predatory requirements for survival- not defeat them, but transcend them spiritually.
I believe that probably translates to recognition and respect for the oneness between ourselves and that which we consume at a profound spiritual level- I think this is what St. Francis was getting at.
We didn’t come here to voluntarily starve- we didn’t come here to kill ourselves with guilt or grief for the creature we kill- we didn’t come here to submerge ourselves in killing – to become the best killers in the entire reality- we didn’t come here to sanitize our killing and hide from it by wrapping it up in clear plastic so it’s unrecognizable as a part of the creature that died to provide it as food—
What’s left? What’s hardest?
We continue to kill- experience recognition, gratitude, respect for that creature, each creature that was forfeit for our survival. I think we probably had lost the battle for this as a species, not as individuals, long before the words “ And God gave dominion over…” ever were written on some clay tablet.
Finding the reason we’re here was probably never intended to be easy. Almost as soon as the words were said they begin to mist, to cloud. “Brother Hawk”- “Brother Raven”- “Brother Rabbit”- somehow assume a meaning other than the fundamental and obvious.
Hmm… I’ve digressed. I’ll save the other absolute for another time.