Don was born in 1936 at Yarrawonga on the Victorian side of
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This book raises some puzzling questions, enduring mysteries that men have contemplated since time began. Subjects like, is there a God? Do I possess a soul? Is there any possibility of an existence after death? Am I here for a purpose? Being a somewhat sceptical person, I sometimes ask myself why I bother thinking about issues that in all likelihood have no rational answers. It’s partly because I need an overall framework, even if inconclusive, a broad understanding of these matters to help make sense of my own particular day-to-day life adventure. Does everyone need a life-philosophy? Perhaps not, but I do.
It seems to me that the great philosophical beliefs we’re invited to adopt are based either upon ‘fundamentalist faith’, at one end of the spectrum or at the other end, scientific fact. It’s hard to argue with the latter but, inevitably, science goes only so far until it reaches a point where rational answers are wanting. If I want to proceed further, then I must cautiously develop my own brand of spirituality.
I wrote this book for my own pleasure, but arising from it, I’ve come to certain conclusions. I revisit here regularly because it’s my intention to ‘live’ the book. Some of the things that I believe in, like living simply, abandoning pretension, being truthful, and refraining from engaging in malicious gossip are practically impossible to achieve all the time. But I try to practice what I’ve come to accept as basic spirituality.
When I think about what I’ve considered in the following pages, one thing that gives me cause for wonder is the miracle of birth, or more specifically, the miracle of conception that precedes birth. It is the brief union between male and female that brings about the birth of a new generation; be it animal, flora, or whatever, in an oftentimes-physical likeness of its two donors. This relentless re-birth of each new generation with perhaps ever-so-slight modifications has been going on for so long that we have come to think of the result, the newborn as a miracle, whereas perhaps the simple truth is our inability to grasp the incomprehensible timespan over which re-birthing has been going on. Our mind, structured to think in terms of lifetimes, wonders how and when life on earth began, and how and when it will end. But I’m beginning to think there never was a ‘beginning’ nor will there ever be an ‘end’. Not beginnings or ends that we can get our minds around anyway. This procession of re-births has been going on, and might continue to go on, ‘forever’. The new generation inherits its incredible physical likeness from the donor male and female.
The physical rebirth is a miracle, but even more astonishing is what I’ve come to accept is the existence of a discrete energy that accompanies each physical birth. This energy is even more astonishing than the body it accompanies; it too is inherited from the parents and contains consciousness, from which the newborn’s destiny is pre-written, and into which its ongoing life story is indelibly recorded. This energy is indestructible; it’s also the same ‘stuff’ as the ‘Holy Spirit’, or soul that religions talk about.
Why are these two travelling companions reluctantly bonded, one the ‘here-for-this-lifetime’ body destined sooner or later for demise and the other, a soul that perhaps lives on ‘forever’? Why? They don’t particularly like each other. They don’t even talk the same language. Perhaps we’ll never know, but my best guess is that we’re participating in the ongoing clash between opposites. The body and mind, particularly in company with the wilful ego, are intent on carnal pleasures, and give little attention to the refined subtleties of the soul. Soul, meanwhile, is determined to impose its ‘saintliness’ on an ego-driven ‘good-time’ body, the accomplishment of which might save soul from going through a re-birth all over again, or failing that, to at least make some positive progress, some Self improvement in the ratio of soul to body.
I’ve had an interesting life and I can say that, like most people, I’ve experienced some of the pains and pleasures available to us at the physical level. But I’m wondering about the other, the soul, have I paid much attention to that side of my Self? Could I really regard myself as a ‘well-rounded’ individual? When my time comes to hang up my boots, shall I be satisfied that I couldn’t have done more?
Body, mind and ego have no future beyond this life. Soul perhaps, does have a future. This lifetime I’m in presents me with the prospect of securing for my soul a better ‘future’. It occurs to me that this is where I should be concentrating my attention. I need to develop my own natural spirituality.
That is what this book is about.
The problem of the second half of life is to find a new meaning and purpose in living, and this, perhaps strangely enough, is best found in the neglected, inferior, and undeveloped side of the personality. (Fordham)
From birth until we die, we’re each an individual, alone most of the time, especially with our thoughts. As we grow older, our body deteriorates; things start to go wrong, arising from which we’re forced to pay more attention to our physical wellbeing. Added to this, our thought processes are not as sharp as they once were, memory lapses happen regularly, and it gradually occurs to us that the end might be in sight. Oblivion! We have been on this earth for all these years and for what purpose? When we die, will that be the end of it? I begin to wonder, “Have I missed something?”
It leads me to contemplate, “What is the I doing the wondering, and indeed the contemplating? What is my Self?”
I’m wakened in the morning with a mild headache from a dream-filled night and wonder if it’s the dreams causing the headache, or the headache causing the dreams. My throat is dry and in need of that first pot of coffee to get the system going. I visit the bathroom and glance at the mirror and if I were asked to identify the reflection, I’d most likely say, “That’s me.”
What I’m looking at is the mirror image of a three-dimensional body that’s been refined to adapt to this particular physical environment in the wake of a relentless cycle of rebirth of over millions of years. This body lives for a time in the fast lane, misses out on a few scheduled services, switches reluctantly over to the slow lane, then one day, for whatever reason, the heart stops beating and the lungs cease breathing. Its lifetime companion, the soul, is no longer bonded and so it withdraws. The effect on the body is immediate; the soul animation that had provided it’s personality since birth is gone.
The body has a limited lifespan; it returns to the earth and decays, and basically, it’s the end of that story.
Is my physical body that part of me that’s doing the contemplating? I don’t think so. It doesn’t initiate any thinking… it and the senses are simply the facility by which I get to experience the physical world.
For since by being a slave to things of sense you have clothed yourself with a body which you are not master of, you are condemned to a living tomb were that body not to be destroyed… but now through pain and suffering out of this tomb shall you come, and through the experience you have acquired… have built yourself a new and better body… and so on many times, until you spread wings and have all powers diabolic and angelic concentrated in your flesh. (Carpenter)
Senses are physical organs that provide both pleasure and pain experiences that we store in memory. The nose allows us to experience smell, the eyes to see, the taste buds to taste, the skin to feel and the ears to hear. These five senses are all physical body-related, which most normal people are born with in adequate supply. These senses, conceived and developed together with the rest of the body through evolution, allow us to experience the three-dimensional world. They monopolise our attention by way of pleasure, discomfort, pain, hunger, desire, inquisitiveness, and so on. From early childhood, we’re bombarded with messages about how we look or how clever or how unremarkable we might happen to be. It’s little wonder we identify ourselves as the physical, the reflection in the mirror, preoccupied with ‘sensual’ messages.
We’ve been warned, “Don’t let the senses fool you.” Are our senses reliable? Of course, but they’re subject to misinterpretation. Taking hearing as an example, we hear only what we want to hear, or we decide how we want to interpret it. The mischief-maker is not the senses routinely doing their job, but our ego. When the news is not to our liking, we should be cautious about shooting the messenger.
Most of us realise, when we dare to look at it, that we are terribly lonely, isolated human beings; although we try to have intimate relationship with somebody, we are always thinking about ourselves. If we are observant, one can see that our whole activity is self-centred. This eternal preoccupation with oneself is going on all the time; we are devoted to ourselves; this preoccupation brings about isolation. If I have no images about self, then what is there to see? There is nothing to see… and one is frightened of that… we cannot face that one is absolutely nothing and therefore we have images about ourselves. The ‘me’ with all its branches is the cause of violence. (Krishnamurti)
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