So the old saying goes: “life’s a bitch”. In my eighteen (well, ok, seventeen years and eight months) years of experience, I’ve come to know this old saying as truth. It is too easy to get into a habit of living life just for lack of alternatives. We don’t see any means of enjoying life other than material comforts and sensory stimulation. Living life in such a way leads to the end of life. Just as the larger group of individuals in the world today are killing themselves in this sense, so is the global human community, or civilization, as we call it. Modern civilization, dating back to the dawn in Mesopotamia, is hell-bent on destroying itself, just as the individuals are. Another old saying states “ignorance is bliss”. Our civilization is ignorant to its self-destructive tendencies just as we individuals are. We have lost the wisdom of how to live, and in its place we’ve created the art of making a living. What is the difference between knowing “how to live” and “how to make a living”? Knowing how to live involves the promotion of life, in all of its many forms. Choosing to hold the essential aspects of human life, and all life, as sacred. Knowing how to make a living is an understanding how to fulfill our material urges, whether it be food, relationships, sex, physical or psychological desires. Acting only on our desires, in spite of any damage of life involved, whether it is our own or another being, is what making a living is all about. An attempt to satisfy unlimited wants and needs with limited resources, “making a living” almost necessitates the harming of life, including harm to those around us ourselves. In “making a living”, we’ve destroyed much of the life on this planet, and that which has suffered the greatest is human life. It is not common to find an individual, much less a group of people, who knows how to live. Quote the contrary, however, we’ve all become very skilled at making a living. We are taught from day one to fend for ourselves, to use the social structures and natural phenomena to satisfy our desires. Yet we aren’t taught the importance of thoughtfulness, whether it be in regard to life itself or in regard to the people around us. We haven’t been taught that rather than trying to satisfy all of our desires, we should focus on satisfying only our needs. Our needs are all but neglected in this day in age, and we’ve come to deny that most are valid needs, other than the physical needs, which are often recognized yet still neglected. We’re killing each other and ourselves. Our “civilization” is nothing more than a machine of death.
I have arrived at a conception of a “Holy Trinity” that works with my non-Christian belief system. The trinity is traditionally made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In my understanding, the Father would correspond with what Emerson called the “Universal Soul” (or “OverSoul”), the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts—space and time, the Universe. The Son, instead of Jesus, is that individual representation for each of us of our ideal selves, excellence actualized, a potential to which we strive. I believe that Jesus wanted his message to be that we are all children of the Father, we are all parts of the Universe as a whole. Each individual consciousness is that “Son” part of the trinity. Finally, the Holy Spirit is that benevolent force that helps us to realize our full potential, by way of the little coincidences that bring us extra help and growth on the inside that gives us strength to become what we ought to become. When we exercise sincerity in calling the Holy Spirit to our aid, and our goals are in line with God’s will (loving and caring, and greater than ourselves; not simple self-service), then the Holy Spirit will fill us like wind in a sail and carry us until we change course.
I was introduced to a twelve-step program, a spiritual fellowship of men and women living without drugs, in July of 1997. The people involved explained to me that there were easier, more effective, and safer ways to live than the ways I followed at the time. It took some time to get used to that idea. With a little time and understanding, I think I now have a better idea of what recovery is. Putting what I have learned there into practice sometimes presents something of a dilemma, but as they say, “progress, not perfection.” I do believe that I have made progress. There is no doubt in my mind that the environment of loving and caring that I have experienced in recovery has shown me a way to live in which I can accept myself for the way I am, whereas before I was critical and unforgiving with myself. To put it simply, recovery has made it much easier to live in my own skin.
Having divulged my experience with recovery, I would like to share my thoughts on the fellowship. The fellowship has given back to our society what so many of us long for and cannot find, and that is exactly what it is: a fellowship. There are many fellowships among our society, but all too often people find it difficult to feel as though they belong. Recovery has expanded the horizons by creating an environment where people feel as though they belong, and that they are loved. This type of environment tends to promote positive behavior and growth. This, of course, is not to say that there were no good fellowships in our society before, nor is it to say that everyone will be satisfied with recovery as a place to grow. Recovery simply provides a place where people who previously felt no sense of belonging can belong, while promoting a set of positive behaviors to replace the negative behaviors that were killing the members before they found each other. I think that a set of fundamental truths and principles regarding human bonding—compassion, which seems to be lacking in many of our society’s organizations and fellowships—is the heart that beats in recovery. It seems as if everything in our society revolves around “money, property, and prestige,” a cycle that is specifically warned about in the program of recovery. Although it is not possible to always dealing with those matters because they are so rampant, recovery provides a place to build a foundation on a firmer principle, that of mutual support. This is not something new that has been discovered uniquely by those in recovery. However, society tends to teach us, among other things, to “look out for number one,” or focus on taking care of ourselves, without letting anyone or anything stand in our way. In places like recovery, people can learn otherwise. Life takes on whole new meaning when it is lived in a supporting, loving environment. These are things that our society has taken out of our lives, but they can be regained. Recovery has brought back to life something that society has taken from us. The problems treated by recovery are not characteristic of humanity, but characteristic of our society. That is the primary focus of the message I hope to carry. Our society fails to teach us how to live, but there is still hope. We can be taught, and we can restore things to the way they ought to be.
When I say that our society seems to revolve around “money, property, and prestige,” I speak of our very fundamental structure. We are, as a society, good for business and bad for people. This is the message that I got from Daniel Quinn and the message I intend to bring to you. Our society is based on creating products, which are exchanged for other products, which are exchanged for labor and service, and so on and so forth. Having lived all of our lives in such a society, it often seems first nature to us. “How else would we do things?” one might ask. We would live the way humans lived for millions of years before our society sprang up, and the way humans will live long after our society collapses. We would live through subsistence. Why live any other way? That is my question for you. Why do we need to create a business out of life and everything that life involves? Why do we need to create business out of anything whatsoever?
There are reasons, of course, for why we choose this way of life, but nothing to suggest that we need to live this way. I believe that the primary reason for living this way is the drive to control our circumstances, and the illusion of power that follows. The fulfillment of this drive is made much easier through money, property, industry, and technology. Our way of life would have never been possible if not for the establishment of totalitarian agriculture. The people of the “Fertile Crescent” began to realize that if they took the food and forced people to work for it, they could force people to do just about anything for food. It all began innocently, for totalitarian agriculture required work. People had to spend long hours working the fields, tending to the crops, because otherwise they wouldn’t get what they planned on when harvest time came around. This was no problem, because this was when people were still living in the garden. They had the entire world to pick at. They had all the food they could get their hands on, as long as they just went out and got it. So why work in the fields? They set up agriculture in order to have control over what they ate. Rather than having to live on what was available, they could make things available and feast on them. Some people preferred to simply eat from the garden, rather than trying to control what grew. Those who preferred trying to control the garden soon learned a new tactic for getting these people to work in the garden. If they stockpiled their harvests, then they would have plenty of food, even during times of famine. By limiting the food to those who did their share of the work, they had soon established power. People had a choice between working and eating or not working and starving. It didn’t take too long for this way of doing things to become automatic, self-perpetuating, and self-propagating.
Now there was no person or group that had to work to keep this system going, because it perpetuated itself. Those in control had a taste of power, and wouldn’t let this system fail. If they let this system fail, they would be back with the masses, hunting and gathering, rather than pointing a finger and telling who to work and what work to do. I can imagine how it is more comfortable sitting on a throne of one form or another than walking around in the woods, looking for a berry bush or wild boar. On the other end of the spectrum, however, people had to work to eat. They had no choice to do otherwise, because this system spread like wildfire. The system quickly spread as far as a person could go in those early days. The system was set up in such a way that it made it nearly impossible for people to find a way out of it. This was the very beginning of the concept of genocide. Cultural pluralism was all but destroyed. In its place, we had a new system of stratification of our people. The division of the haves and the have-nots set up an ongoing struggle to keep this system in check. People grow weary of the status quo, and those who have no power or control frequently challenge those who have the money, property, and prestige. It gives life purpose, you could say. I am compelled to point out that the purpose we had before this system emerged was far superior.
There have been many attempts at forming the “perfect” way to run this system and make it work, but any attempt had to include this system of haves and have-nots. This is why capitalism beat out communism. Communism is a fine idea, but cannot work in a system of power and property because it goes against the very root principles of that system. Communism had no chance of survival in a world of property and power, because property demands buyers and sellers, owners and users. In any system that puts one set of people in control of another, exploitation is inevitable. Communism was a bold att
empt to try to subvert these systems in the midst of a world so entrenched, but it didn’t go far. Those who stood to benefit from inequity stamped it out quickly, and are still stamping it out wherever it might spring up. Again we see how our system of doing things will not stand for change.
The system of property and work soon overtook the entire world, and in order to do so, it had to form lies to keep people from seeing the truth. The system demonstrated that we were, in fact, meant to conquer the planet. It was the destiny of humanity, the divine mission, to rule over all of the planet. This was how the system showed itself to humanity. People of our society were soon led to believe that we as humans are the rulers of this great planet. It was not only our destiny to conquer the earth, but it was our responsibility and obligation. This laid the groundwork for all of the components of our modern society. A set of fundamental principles on which to build an empire was the end result. The rest of the story can be learned in any history book. That history book will tell you all about how life came to be, and how our current empire grew out of a seemingly unsubstantial development in the Fertile Crescent. Those history books will fail to point out, because they fail to consider, the possibility that humanity was much richer when we owned nothing.
Two major aspects of this system disturb me more than anything else: a serious negative impact on the quality of life for all creatures big and small, and the potential destruction of life for the same creatures. I am much more disturbed by the fact that we are so inhumane toward each other and toward our cohabitants than the fact that we have inadvertently threatened the viability of Earth as a long-term home for humanity. It is quite shameful that we have gotten this far in the destruction of our very home without putting an end to the madness. It is blatantly inexcusable, however, that we continue to hurt and destroy our own people the way we do. Saving the world is a great cause, but I am much more interested in seeing that we learn to live with each other, so that saving the world will become not just a worthwhile cause, but also one we are capable of accomplishing. I once heard it said that if we continue hurting the Earth the way we do, she will merely shake us off and continue on, life and all, for another few billion years. If it were merely a case of us doing injustice to the earth, I would probably have different views on the situation. We cannot destroy our home; we will simply make it impossible to continue living here. By letting this system continue to run our lives and our societies, we have neglected the essentials that we need to survive. The task of moving on is two-fold: we must help to spread the awareness of how we hurt ourselves and each other, and we must learn a new way to live so that we can live on and take full advantage of the beauty and joy in life.