The goal while playing the human game is to be fully human and to, necessarily implied in that, discover what it is to be fully human. Likewise, the goal while playing the game of being a squirrel is to be fully squirrel, and to, necessarily implied in that, discover what it is to be fully squirrel. Human beings, if they confuse themselves with a squirrel, will surely not achieve their full potential, nor will a squirrel succeed in his life if by some quirk of fate he comes to imagine himself as a human being.
All things that experience themselves as an entity, a being, an identity of some sort, shape, style or pattern, must discover the extent and the limitations, the conditions and the freedoms of their form, and only through this will it be possible to achieve their optimal state of being in the cosmos.
It is then therefore fruitless to conceive of human beings as solely determined by processes and phenomena outside of themselves; as machines, collections of genes, rational economic actors and so on. All ideas that human beings are not first and foremost human beings, but instead only the emergent functions of some other process, are limiting ideas for the reason that they confuse the goal of life expressed above with another goal entirely: to condition human beings to become something they are not.
As a result of this, mankind has set out on countless ideological pursuits of this kind to no end, each time believing he has come across a true Utopian strategy, a saving grace, and that this can only come about through the reshaping of human beings away from their nature.
The ideas of the free market, the worship of technology, the majority of our religions, our state systems, and the sociological, anthropological, psychological and indeed, even the physical aspects of our sciences have, in a multiplicity of ways, succumbed to and produced images of the world that carry within them this basic assumption.
It is perhaps hinted at by William Blake in his poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”:
“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:—
1. That Man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; and that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.”
We see the futility of these images of our universe and our place in it, as shown through the many unintended failures and the sometimes catastrophic consequences of their manifestations, in the great economic depressions, in the development of ever increasingly complex and deadly weapons, in the social isolation and mental illness, the paranoia and surveillance, the expansion of private power, racial, sexual and interpersonal tension of all kinds. If we can bear witness to this and not retreat into an abstract rationalization of it, another image, we will see implied in these events and phenomena the possibility of their being another way, that necessarily must avoid the same failures and consequences and instead raise humanity to its natural and optimal position in the harmony of things.
It is perhaps, as I suggested at the beginning, that human beings simply discover what it is to be human, as humans. William Blake expands on this in rare poetic beauty, following on from his previous statements:
But the following Contraries to these are True:—
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.
And further on:
“This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosive, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
What I am trying perhaps to say is that our liberation cannot lie in systems, methods of understanding the human being as anything but human. These are all caverns, through whose narrow chinks we squint at reality, their certainty and rigidity obscuring our doors of perception. Our liberation, then, lies in the transcendence of all these systems and images, worldviews and ideologies, not just in theory and understanding but in fact, and the only way it seems we could accomplish such a feat is to be truly human in the process.
And what might it mean to be human? I have always found the following passage from philosopher and scholar of religion Alan W. Watts to awake in me a felt sense of what that might be, of who I am and, I feel, we are at the most fundamental level.
“Listen, there’s something I must tell. I’ve never, never seen it so clearly. But it doesn’t matter a bit if you don’t understand, because each one of you is quite perfect as you are, even if you don’t know it. Life is basically a gesture, but no one, nothing, is making it. There is no necessity for it to happen, and none for it to go on happening. For it isn’t being driven by anything; it just happens freely of itself. It’s a gesture of motion, of sound, of color, and just as no one is making it, it isn’t happening to anyone. There is simply no problem of life; it is completely purposeless play – exuberance which is its own end. Basically there is the gesture. Time, space, and multiplicity are complications of it. There is no reason whatsoever to explain it, for explanations are just another form of complexity, a new manifestation of life on top of life, of gestures gesturing. Pain and suffering are simply extreme forms of play, and there isn’t anything in the whole universe to be afraid of because it doesn’t happen to anyone! There isn’t any substantial ego at all. The ego is a kind of flip, a knowing of knowing, a fearing of fearing. It’s a curlicue, an extra jazz to experience, a sort of double-take or reverberation, a dithering of consciousness which is the same as anxiety.”
When we go deeply into ourselves and look with awake attention, when we go further and further inside, asking the question, “Who am I?”, we find that all the classifications, all the many worldviews and forms of identification dissolve into an unspeakable sense of being. Our gesture, unspeakable as it is, can only be discovered through direct contact. And, when we come into this, our natural state of being, we throw off these limited ways of being and taste the possibility of what it might be to be truly human.
It is, I feel, this process, this self-knowing on the behalf of all of us, that will turn the gestures of war, of hatred, of partisan politics, of control and punishment, of imprisonment and paranoia; into gestures of compassion, loving kindness, respect, awareness, and true delight in our energies as human beings, here and now at the moment, alive in and with and of the universe.
“The question “what shall we do about it” is only asked by those who do not understand the problem. If a problem can be solved at all, to understand it and to know what to do about it are the same thing. On the other hand, doing something about a problem which you do not understand is like trying to clear away darkness by thrusting it aside with your hands. When light is brought, the darkness vanishes at once.”