Hallelujah!

Bowling along a sunny street today, with the hound and my AirPods in – a couple of ribald thoughts came to mind. I smiled inwardly.

And then what should boom out via iTunes shuffle but Handel’s ‘Hallelujah chorus’

…And I smiled some more.

And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings forever and ever

And Lord of lords

hallelujah

hallelujah

And he shall reign forever and ever

Forever and ever and ever and ever

Etc.

Stirring stuff.

And as I sang along in my head, I thought of my poor old ‘inner voice’ who I’ve been giving a hard time of late.

Ignored; in favour of mindfully contemplating my breath and feet and whatnot. Berated; for worrying and dredging up unhappy memories. Muzzled; from saying anything funny, spontaneous or inappropriate. Sidelined; in favour of endlessly listening to others, accepting their points of view (however unreasonable) and looking for common-ground.

My poor old inner voice feels a bit like King George III in the fabulous musical ‘Hamilton’, the under-appreciated autocrat to whom the people of America turn their back.

So, even though my ‘internal King George’ is a right old pain sometimes, I’ve decided to give him a standing ovation today.

Pompous, opinionated, selfish, self-absorbed, self-pitying, sometimes petty and childish and often wrong, my inner voice is thoroughly Hanoverian at times.

And like the Georgian era it can be bawdy and rowdy; but also rational, curious and enlightened.

So here’s to my very own internal King George! A day of appreciation is in order; and an internal reprise of Hallelujah with the obligatory standing ovation to boot.

Hallelujah was written for George II, who set the trend by apparently spontaneously rising to his feet to applaud it on its first performance – although possibly by some accounts more because of pins and needles, gout or the simple desire to stretch his legs.

A bit like the Georgian inner voice – always up to something…

Perspectives

  

The thought that ‘people’ are just a manifestation of different causes, drivers and phenomena is an interesting one. 

We all have a strong sense of ‘self’. And an equally strong sense of other ‘selves’ too – not least when those other selves jostle, oppress and thwart us.

So the Buddhist doctrines of ’emptiness’ and that we have no ‘inherent existence’ challenge the common sense experience of selves, ourselves and selfishness.

Somewhat tired, somewhat hot; and somewhere between bored and irritated – I had a moment of enlightenment reflecting on this, at a work event this week.

This speaker who is mildly irritating me, on many levels simply does not exist at all…

If I looked at them at the molecular level, they’d just be a greyish fuzz of particles – in fact when you think about it, at the molecular level it probably makes no real sense to think in colours or shapes at all, it’s all a probabilistic blur.

At a bacterial level, that person was a teeming mass of microbes; which largely outnumber ‘their’ own cells. And many of those were probably running faster, because of the heat of the room and the anxiety of speaking.

As they were speaking, the speaker was constantly having holes punched through them by cosmic rays – some generating cellular malfunctions and mutations which the person’s immune system was hopefully mopping up.

At a planetary level, the roomful of people I was sat amongst would be about as visible and significant as a handful of microbes on a Petri dish is to the human eye.

And at a room level, lots of mounds, fungi and little creatures were probably gently coming to life thanks to the light, heat, food and prey that sixty odd people were all exhaling, expelling, shedding and radiating. 

And that’s before we get onto scales of time – how does an hour of speeches look on the timeline of a mayfly, an oak tree or a solar system?

With all those things going on, it’s hard to stick with the idea that the only thing happening in that room, was a person with an ego imposing their ego on my ego.

Letting go of the ‘person’ and seeing the myriad causes, effects, scales and timescales in which you could see them, helped me escape irritation; and embrace a sense of wonder. 

Different perspectives helped me get a different perspective.

Great Men

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The Greeks invented tragedy. Shakespeare explored its every facet. Hollywood is more ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. But does greatness invariably end in disaster? It depends on what you think great is.

Most of the ‘great’ men I’ve met have been greatest in either stature, ego or self regard. Far fewer in warmth, kindness or humility.

It’s this simple I reckon: if you’re great on the backs of others – expect one day to fail and fall.

If you’re great for and because of others – great of heart, integrity and kindness – you may stumble, but I believe you will never truly fall.

Why? Because those you have truly cared about and cared for will reach out to catch you in your hour of need, and will gently forgive you your honest mistakes.

The only greatness worth having is that which is earned for, from and freely bestowed by others.

Veni, Vidi, Amici

As I get on in life, I get to spend time with some interesting, clever people. But they can come with sizeable egos. And that can translate into ‘High Status Behaviours’.

That’s not necessarily a problem. ‘Happy High Status’ is feeling good enough about yourself that you can feel relaxed and good about the success and contribution of others. But not everyone manages to keep the ‘Happy’ in High Status.

The alternative is less attractive – being so concerned with your own status that you need everyone else to recognise it. Or worse, to knock down others to assert it. I wonder if there’s a Greek term for that? Narcissism is one.

But whatever you call it, loneliness seems to me to be an inevitable by-product. I think dominant High Status behaviours are completely missing the point of life.

For Aristotle, that central point is to attract and nurture better friends. Friends care for our virtue and excellence, as we care for theirs. The best of friends are the means and end of it all.

But, as Aristotle said:

No one loves the man whom he fears.

He who hath many friends hath none.

No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.

So why do smart, successful, powerful people sometimes behave in ways that seem to get in the way of true friendship?

Seeking power, wealth and acolytes has always been a primal driver. And on the face of it, it helps not to be too sentimental. But an instrumental view of others – that they are means to your end, hammers useful only as long as there is a nail – is missing the point I feel. As Aristotle also said:

My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.

Friendship of this type is earned, nurtured and freely given, not bought, demanded or taken. About the best thing in life, I reckon, is true Aristotelian friendship.

A contented ego is a prerequisite, but a conceited, instrumental or selfish one just gets in the way. Friendship, not conquest, is the purpose of the good life.