It is bitterly cold here in the Adirondack Mountains this morning, which reminds me of the quote of moral philosopher Mr. Thomas Hobbes:
“….and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
But I ask, is this truly the natural state of man? Or is it just one of the many part-time conditions of anyone who takes life in the form of a human body? Yes, sometimes life really does suck and all we want is for the pain to end, and that’s the thing – it does end. All things of the flesh eventually end. And perhaps that too is where the beauty resides in all the “10,000 things” that the Taoists talk about. It is all temporary and then passes away. It matters and then it doesn’t.
But I don’t think this makes Mr. Hobbes correct all the time. He is right only at the point of desperation. He is right only part of the time. The natural state of man is as varied as the multitude of sunrises and sunsets. Some are simply breathtaking and some you can’t even see because it’s too damn cloudy. And so it goes with the daily reality of taking flesh – we wonder, we smile, we sometimes cry and wince in pain and then there is all the worry and long, boring, brutish suffering. Perhaps the worst of it all is when we feel utterly alone – this is perhaps the solitary part that Hobbes is referring to. Those moments when we are being suffocated by a paralyzing sense of meaningless dread. In these times we don’t fear death as much as the feeling of total obliteration of purpose and an existential anxiety of being in an endless, no exit situation. This is the pit of hell, a state of complete darkness – more bleak than nasty. It is a state of a complete, total absence of light.
But this too doesn’t last. The light does return – very slowly at first, but just enough to provide relief from the feeling of being desperately alone.
Because the life of man is not solitary. Everywhere we look we are surrounded by others and directly connected in a web of life. Our literal breath comes from the trees and plants, which grow in symbiosis with the fungi and the fairies. I won’t belabor the point; it just goes on and on and on – each affects the other in a great, complicated multi-layered orchestra of interactions. We belong to the earth and remain connected to everything that has ever happened or will happen. The life of man as being solitary is an illusion.
You know me too well to write a letter of platitudes that only celebrates the light without the dark. It’s called being real. You know, I’ve always been one to just point something out – a reminder of sorts to shed a little light on the full picture. Physical death is an event of great sadness. So I want to recognize this and be sad for all - the entire family and web of relations. I’m sorry that I am not physically there for you, but at the same time I am spiritually here for you. We’ve all gone through so many physical trials that one could be convinced that Mr. Hobbes was right about the brutish part. But again, he was right only part of the time.
I’m not going to go all preachy on you, talking about the pearly gates and that we will all be together in some distant future, free of illness and joyful like children who are innocent of the great suffering of the human condition. Maybe this is also part of the natural condition of man. We grow up. And maybe some of the pain of this life just comes with the growing up – growing pains if you will. I just don’t know. But I also have to acknowledge that part of me knows that along with the physicality of our condition, also comes an indestructible part. That part for me is consciousness. Like the nature of life, consciousness is always changing and yet forever constant. It just is. I don’t think you can ever put out its light. Sure, you can make brain changes and consciousness will in turn be affected, but that’s just a filter. Beneath it all, it is deathless and eternal. Sure, you could say this is just a belief, but coming to this belief is like re-discovering something that you always knew. An underlying reality of what is.
So there you are. You have a Hobbesian view and a Hobbit view – the way of seeing clear through the consideration of a small, but omniscient idea. Everything ripe wants to die, but everything hidden wants to be found and reawakened. It is a very old idea and I hope it does provide some measure of comfort for you in the season of your grieving.