Are you honourable?

Helen’s face may have launched a thousand ships, but honour drew the cream of Greece to man them.

Honour to self, enemies, country, family and society shaped civilizations and literature, but we don’t hear much about it any more, at least not outside a courtroom. And if we’re in one, it’s a good idea to call the judge your honour.

But it wasn’t just Greek hoplites, Japanese samurai and English knights who demanded adherence to a strict code of honour.

Religions and philosophical traditions expected its followers to honour their parents, to keep a holy day, and to live an exemplary life. But as we distance ourselves from our roots, from the source of our being, from the nature that formed us, we forget the wonder in our life.

We don’t have the rituals and myths to remind us of life’s changes and our connection to all things.

While we don’t dance around campfires much any more, or paint our bodies, except when we have a big interview or bigger date, we can still live with honour.

The fourth commandment suggested keeping the Sabbath holy and the fifth recommended honouring our parents. Of course, to Jews — and later to Christians — they were laws not suggestions. They were supposed to be written on hearts and not just on stone.

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord; whosoever does work therein shall be put to death,” is the way the King James Version of the Bible records it.

No matter what our faith or lack thereof, it wouldn’t hurt to stick the other commandments on the fridge door. By practising them, we honour ourselves and everyone we meet.

Even if we lust for a new car or a new house, we know we shouldn’t worship idols, whether they’re money, fame or movie stars.

Not lying, cheating, killing or coveting our neighbour’s wife —or husband — and his new boat make us better people and keep us out of trouble and out of jail.

We should treat every day and each moment as holy because that long string of moments makes a life, our life, the only one we have, or might ever have.

The quality of these moments — even those spent in long lines in banks, government offices, traffic and airports — determines the quality of our life.

Not only should we honour our parents, but our spouse, our children, our boss, our co-workers and the person who cheats us.

We can learn to see the wonder in the person who cuts us off in traffic and appreciate the boss who orders us to stay late to make up for a co-worker who left early.

The beauty we saw in our newborn child still shines in the grown one even when s/he doesn’t bring the car home on time and uses our debit card more liberally than s/he should.

Our goal should be to treat everything with honour especially the moments when we least feel like it; when we’re tired and that three-hour airport layover has turned into four and most people on the flight seem to be under five and tired and cranky.

Even when it’s the last place we want to be, we must have the courage and discipline to be exactly where we are and not where we wish to be.

“Beatrice now understood that whatever crossed her path — each creature, person, even weather conditions — had a unique purpose for existing,” Marlo Morgan wrote in Mutant Message From Forever, her second novel about Australian aborigines.

“Her goal was to honour by acceptance, not necessarily understanding what was taking place.”

Oh, but we have a need to understand, to intellectually rip apart everything that crosses the screen of our mind, no matter how much time it takes and turmoil it creates. We’re afraid not to know because that means we aren’t in control.

Yet, if we let go and honour the moment, we shift from the need to control to acceptance, and break the chains that bind us to a restricting belief system.

“Every day brings gifts that you have ordered and each day you place more orders,” Gary Zukav wrote in Soul Stories.

“You do this by setting your intentions and acting on them. The universe takes your orders and delivers. Everyone gets what she or he ordered. If you order fear, you get it. If you order love, you get it.”

We’re always creating our own reality, but we pretend that life is something that just happens, that thoughts just pop into our heads, that emotions just erupt from nowhere, that we are victims of a cosmic jokester.

 “The only time that matters is now, each moment, each dot,” Morgan wrote. “If we live each day to the best of our ability, doing everything with the highest level of integrity, we will be successful on this journey as a human.”

We all face a variation of the same stress, the same physical and psychic pain, but how we process them shapes who we become. The wise change what they can and accept what they can’t, which reduces the wear and tear on body and mind.

“You are the product of your own thought,” Claude Bristol wrote in The Magic of Believing. “What you believe yourself to be, you are.”

Socrates had a similar thought:

“The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be, in reality, what we would appear to be; all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice and experience of them.”

Where is your mind?

Do you know where your mind is?

We've all heard the question on the late-night TV: Do you know where your child is?

After making sure we do know, we should make up a sticker for our mirror, the fridge and our computer, asking ourselves where our mind is.

Not us, our mind.

Even the most frazzled of us know where we are, although we often wonder how we got there.

We've all started our car and parked it 15 minutes later without any recollection of what happened in between.

We don't remember stopping at red lights — or running the yellow ones — turning corners or crossing the bridge. Fortunately, our subconscious mind is more focused than our so-called conscious mind. It keeps us alive when we're gallivanting into the past or the future and a few dimensions in between.

Our mindlessness starts before we get dressed. While we're in the shower, before we lather up, our mind is running down metaphorical rabbit trails, imagining our own version of Alice in Wonderland.

Before we know it, we've kissed the kids and our spouse goodbye and before we stick the key into the ignition, we're off on another mind trip.

We have to ask ourselves why we go through life on auto-pilot, why it is only pain, disaster, emergencies and being cut off in traffic that yank us back into the now, where the present and our lives intersect.

So where is our mind?

Is it doing what it should or has it been usurped by the voice in our head? Has it taken over our lives, like a program taking over the computer? From deep within in its mechanical entrails a message shoots out, what am I, and the answer comes back, you're a computer, an iMac.

There's a problem if the answer comes back you're Microsoft Windows — Mac version — and the computer accepts it.

Many of us never ask Who am I and some who do are content with the lies, that we're"

  • not good enough
  • not smart enough
  • not worthy enough.

Instead of having the courage to be everything we should be, we believe the programming that was installed when we were little.

But our parents, our friends and our society were merely passing along their conditioning, just as our parents passed along our grandparents' chromosomes.

We can't do anything about our genes, but we can change our conditioning.

We can fight the misconceptions and half-truths we were force fed. We can go beyond the woulds, shoulds and coulds.

We are not who we were, we are who we choose to become.

We have to keep choosing at every moment. It isn't enough to say we will quit; we have to make that choice every time a nicotine fit or chocolate craving hijacks our wishful thinking.

Then we have to make it again after exhaling that final puff or licking the crumbs off our lips.

Practice might not make perfect, but it makes us better than we were. Every loss makes victory certain; every defeat increases knowledge and resolve.

We must, however, remember that our body is constantly eavesdropping on our mind, turning thought into our reality. If we have the sniffles on Monday, and think we'll have a sore throat on Tuesday, followed by a chest cold on Wednesday and a runny nose Thursday, and the flu on Friday, we'll be calling in sick.

Every word that shuffles through the cerebral cortex is a seed and the mind is as fertile as an Okanagan orchard — what's planted bears fruit, or thistles and thorns.

While our image was created, is created, by our conditioning, it's re-inforced by that voice in our head, the judge — whether it is our mother, our priest or third-grade teacher.

What reflects back from the external world depends on whether they told us we were smart or stupid, ugly duckling or black swan — and whether we believed them.

It determines how we deal with a spouse who yells at us because we don't make enough money or forgot to get milk or our boss telling us we are incompetent. If we believed, and still believe, we're not likely to harvest positive self-esteem.

But it's not to late to be what we could have been.

We can cut the conditioning that anchors us to our self-imposed limitations, and disembowel the past. We don't need it. We only need the now, the present, real life, as opposed to the imaginary one in our head.

We deal with now rather than what might have been or what might be and not whether we have the right haircut, whether Joe will like us or whether our children will get good grades or dent the new car.

That's what causes the mounting stress in our lives: being here, but wanting to be there, preferring this, but getting that.

Our thoughts sweep us along like a river in spring, pulling everything into the stream.

Occasionally, we can grasp a branch or a rock before we are washed back into the maelstrom of white foam. Sometimes, we flow along, complacent, almost blissful, sometimes we are battered by boiling currents, but we are always at the mercy of the river.

Every river has its rapids and water falls. One day, it's the Penticton channel, the next, Niagara.

Life is as it is. Our challenge, our choice, is to accept that — or not.

A deadly perspective

No one leaves here alive, but we behave as though we will.

We know people die and one day we, too, will stand at the abyss, but we ignore that fact until it beats us over the head until we can’t pretend any more. But by that time, we’ve spent a good part of our life hiding from it, resisting it and we never have get the chance, as Tennyson wrote, to “live life to the lees.” 

Instead, we go through life with clenched jaw, hunched shoulders and knotted gut, looking over our shoulder, checking for a guy in a hooded robe carrying a scythe. 

We must learn to see death as he really is so we can go willingly into the field of all possibilities when the final dance song plays.

The Sufi poet, Rumi, might have been a tad over-enthusiastic, but he had the right attitude. “My death is my wedding with eternity.”

Or as mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, “We go down into death for refreshment.”

That’s why many people who have gone 10 rounds with a serious disease or peeked into the abyss say it was the best thing that ever happened to them. It taught them how to live. They realize that life and death are entwined, that the white and dark of the tai chi symbol flow into and encompass the other.

It is the arrogance of our time that we think – or choose not to think – about death, that we imagine we can avoid the final tango, that we can forget with whom we must do the final waltz. Remember this song? “You can carry on, go and have our fun … but remember who’s taking you home, in whose arms you’re gonna be, so, darling, save the last dance for me.”

We pretend. We turn on the radio, the TV, stuff music into our ears when we go to the gym, do anything so we won’t hear the siren song of silence and be forced to address the energies of the cosmos or the myths bubbling up from our unconscious that seduce us away from watching Survivor or another repeat of Friends.

We can meet death head on while we’re still alive (if you die before you die, you won't die when you die) or it can sneak up on us. The important thing is not worrying about when death comes, but how we will be when it does. Tibetan philosophy suggests that how we accept death mandates what happens after we die and that it’s better if death finds us welcoming rather than hiding and fearful.

But ready or not, it’s coming. Poet Emily Dickinson put it this way:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

San Diego Zen master Joko Beck likens life to a whirlpool.
“We want to think that this little whirlpool that we are isn’t part of the stream (of the river of life). We want to see ourselves as permanent and stable. Our whole energy goes into trying to protect our supposed separateness….

"The energy of life seeks rapid transformation. If we can see life this way and not cling to anything, life simply comes and goes….Yet we spend most of our energies creating stagnant water. That’s what living in fear will do. The fear exists because the whirlpool doesn’t understand what it is – none other than the stream itself…. What we call our life is but a little detour.”

We’ll find out whether it’s a detour, and if it’s a dead end, it won’t matter, but we will have lived a life of courage rather than one of fear. Otherwise, we’re like the fish searching, seeking, asking every other fish where the Great Ocean is. The fish in the know simply laugh – well, whatever passes for a laugh if you’re a fish.

Our perspective changes if we can pull back from the worm’s eye view and get an eagle’s – or a Zen master’s. Then, we’ll be able to appreciate that we’re a sentient version of  sub-atomic particles that pop in and out of existence; the only difference is that we think and see life in the narrow existence of 80 or so years. 

Let’s play pretend.

Imagine ourselves not born (where were we? And who were we?). 

  • Imagine sperm hitting egg;
  • imagine ourselves in the womb (What were we doing? Were we there from the first second of conception or did we show up in time to make the grand entrance?);
  • imagine being born, growing up, growing old.
  • Now, imagine ourselves dead, disintegrating under the assault of time and worm.

From that perspective, from the view beyond time, imagine how unimportant the trivial things that consume us are, how irrelevant our fear of the Grim Reaper. We are energy which is never destroyed, it simply changes form. In the transition, we might lose a few memories, but we forget anyway. 

Our ego, the operating system that runs our brain, doesn’t like to contemplate death, so maybe we should do as some and ignoring our repetitive thoughts, the ones we’ll think them again tomorrow.

Our lives would be simpler, easier and certainly less painful if we ignored that running commentary about everything that’s is happening around us – Who did her hair? And that shirt… He’s leaving early again – those thousands of repetitive thoughts we have every day, today much the same as yesterday, this ceaseless chatter.

If we were wiser, we would accept what people say — whether it’s take out the garbage, or you’re an idiot — and ignore the emotional context. That way, we wouldn’t spend a good chunk of our lives fabricating problems that don’t exist.

“I’m an old man and I’ve had many troubles most of which have never happened,” said Mark Twain.

Infinite possibilities of you

Some proponents of string theory claim that there are about 10(500) universes.

“The multiverse is like a bubble bath,” said theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. “(There are) multiple universes bubbling, colliding and budding off each other (all the time.)”

According to the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics, every time we make a decision, the universe splits off into more universes for every possible variation of that decision.

If we run a yellow light and narrowly miss a car making a left hand turn, a world is created for every possible variation — we didn’t run the yellow light, we were hit, we were hurt, we were killed, the other person was killed.

“This means that there are an infinite number of universes and that everything that could possibly haven happened in ours (but didn’t) does happen in another,” says the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Difficult as that may be to contemplate, this theory is accepted by many of the greatest scientific minds.

In spite of the mind-boggling numbers, there is one bigger. Possibilities are infinite — and that’s something we can understand and accept more readily than string theory or quantum physics.

If we look up at the night sky or marvel at the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope, we can appreciate the immensity of the universe, from which life comes.

Life is pure potential. A baby has no preconceived ideas. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s only a few. When we stop and smell the roses and the coffee, when we take the time to look at a buttercup or a butterfly, we can see the incredible variety and vastness of life.

We constantly consider our limitations, but how often are we awe struck by our possibilities? Most of us settled on a career in our mid-20s and as we climbed the hierarchical ladder, never looked beyond those possibilities; never wondered if our ladder of success was against the right wall.

Supposedly, baby boomers were going to have a cluster of careers, but most stuck to one. Sure, there were different jobs within the craft, but we didn’t stray far from the well-worn path.

In the process of becoming experts— people who know more and more about less and less — we ignored everything else. Now, it’s time to take the blinders off. (If it’s too scary, we can always put them on again, although, there’s a very real possibility that they won’t fit over a bigger consciousness.)

We, not fate or destiny, determine who we become by what we choose to do and how we choose to do it.

In yoga, standing bow (standing on one leg, pulling the other foot up, behind and over the head while the upper body parallels the floor and the other hand pointing straight ahead) requires strength and flexibility. But equally important are courage and commitment, a willingness to try, and if necessary fall, and faith that it can be done.

Doing a spinning hook kick in karate requires similar attributes. The physical skill only works if the mental courage flows with the body as it spins and the leg sweeps out and around in a circular motion. Many people can do it in practice, but not when sparring because for a moment, our back is to our opponent and we’re vulnerable.

That’s true of all activities, of life, which wasn’t meant to be lived in constriction mode. Yet, we demand guarantees, we want to know it will work, that we will succeed and won’t get hurt.

In spite of our conservative streak, we secretly admire people who live free — who are willing to go beyond the known, who are willing to fail —  even while condemning them. But we condemn them knowing that the ones who gamble all are the ones who win big, whether monetary or mental.

Expansion is the way of the universe; it’s growing at the speed of light – 186,282.2 miles per second, 670 million miles an hour. In the time it took to read that sentence, the universe had expanded almost the distance from here to the moon — and it has been doing that for 13.8 billion years and will continue to do so for many billions more.

Physically, we have two blind spots, which we don’t notice because, well, we’re blind to them. One spot is caused by the optic nerve at the back of the eye and there’s another at the centre of our vision in low light.

“The location of what we see is commonly taken to lie ‘out there’ in front of us,” columnist Bob Berman wrote in Astronomy magazine. “But everything we see, the images themselves, actually occur in the occipital lobes of our brain. In a very real sense, there is no external world.

"You perceive only the inside of your brain, where everything visual takes place.”

Then, there are the blind spots we create. We have our worldview, which we defend as ardently as a mother bear defends her offspring.

But when we refuse to see, we limit our possibilities to the known, to the things we have done, we create blind spots to our potential and possibilities.

“Wisdom and understanding can only become the possession of individual men by travelling the old road of observation, attention, perseverance, and industry,” wrote Samuel Smiles, a 19th century self-help guru and motivational speaker.

“Man cannot aspire if he looked down; if he rise, he must look up.”

More Transitions articles

About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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