Michelangelo Buonarroti – The Dream of Human Life
Writing about “Life,” or rendering artistically the everyday scenes of our temporal existence goes on all the time in every culture and it has become commonplace in our time to read about or to see the results of those efforts everywhere we go. Actually “living our lives” and answering the important questions about life are a whole other matter. As artists of every variety know all too well, it’s far easier to look at the world and express your art than it is to undue the tragedy and mayhem that we see in it. As a writer and a reasonably well-traveled fellow, I am far more adept at describing and expressing my thoughts about the world, than I will ever be at unraveling the tangled web we are all weaving as modern humans.
Recently, I was asked by a visitor here if I had come to any conclusions about what purpose there might be to our existence, and by inference, to life itself. Modern Homo sapiens are currently the only known species capable of asking such a question, and since this now familiar variety of human life has only been in existence for about the last 100,000 years or so, the path of life that led to creatures who can think well enough and be sufficiently self-aware to ask such a question obviously existed well before modern human beings showed up.
Since Life is at the top of the list I posted recently, and since all of the research and study I have conducted over the years frequently suggested this question for myself as well, I thought I might introduce the subject with some general thoughts which might serve as both an opening to talking about life and as an initial response to the question.
The Life of the body is problematic, right from the start. In the womb, we are fragile, unable to survive outside of our mother, and so tiny at first that we cannot even be seen except with a powerful microscope. In spite of all the advances in medicine through the centuries, there are still no guarantees that every child conceived will flourish. There are still many different ways in which a new life might not succeed. Our beginning in the womb is tenuous at best. If we are fortunate enough to be constructed of healthy genes and to develop in a healthy womb, even after we emerge into the world and take our first breath, life continues to remain uncertain.
But the Life of the spirit is not bound by any such limitations. Its health is unaffected by any physical malady. When we describe the life of the spirit, we speak of an inner life-the spirit within-sometimes referred to as “the Soul.” The Catholic Monk, Thomas Merton, who wrote one of the most profound books on spiritual life, entitled, “The Seven Story Mountain” called it “the inner experience.” It is in this realm, where we experience the most exquisite joys, and the depths of sorrow, and everything in between.
There are many different viewpoints regarding which relationship might be considered most important in life, but few familial relationships can claim the centrality and significance of the one between a mother and her children. Sometimes children grow up without their mother for one reason or another, or are born into a family in which the mother is unable to be a proper mother for one reason or another, but I think it’s fair to say that the role of the mother is, by far, the most personal relationship we can have with another person. With its many facets, from carrying us inside of her body before birth, through the care and feeding of us as infants, to teaching us the many lessons we need to learn and grow as young children, and through the many stages of our lives for as long as we have her with us, there are many contributions that only a mother can make. The mother who gives birth enjoys a level of intimacy with that child that cannot be duplicated or reconstructed after they arrive in the world.
No matter what kind relationship we have with those we love, we often don’t realize just how much the spirit of life figures in our experience of the world and our temporary existence as human beings, until we are faced with the end of life. But if we take the time to examine these important considerations while those we love are amongst us, it makes it a bit easier to celebrate their lives when the body can no longer sustain itself. It might seem strange to say that we celebrate someone’s life when they finally reach the end of it. The end of life and celebration seem, on the surface, to be contradictory. And yet, what greater reason to celebrate than the fulfillment of life; the arrival at the goal to which all life has pointed, and the place at last for which the soul has always longed.
But we are so human, and the end of life feels like such a loss, that we can easily forget the other side of the coin, which is the transition into a life of the spirit. We often see the end of temporal life only as a door closing on life, not as an opening to a much greater one. We feel the emptiness within ourselves, making it so much harder to remember, through our tears and grief, that as St. Paul said, “We know that when the earthly tent in which we dwell is destroyed, we have a dwelling provided for us by God, a dwelling in the heavens, not made by hands, but to last forever.” Many of the world’s mythologies and religious traditions suggest some variety of transcendent existence which supports our lives as human beings, and which can mitigate our sense of loss. We cling to life in a completely understandable human way most of our lives, suffering terribly when we see that it is lost too soon, and sometimes we despair even when it dwindles slowly at the latter part of a long and fruitful life.
Each of us abandons our grief and arrives at joy once again in our own time, but it is always there waiting, and we must, at some point, attempt to locate it. Of joy and sorrow, the great poet and philosopher, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. When you are sorrowful, look again into your heart, and you shall see, that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
All the work I had done to come to terms with and to put into words, the core matter of the spiritual nature of human consciousness, had never been so vital to me, as it was when facing the loss of the connection to my dear brother. Contained within my experience of his last days was the perception and recognition of the very essence of the life of the spirit, and tending to his spirit during those days was the fulfillment of the essence of the spiritual awakening that had been percolating in me for years. The character of this connection of two spirits was experienced with a profound recognition of the significance of that connection, so full of life and love, right to the last.
The realities of the temporal world, have not escaped me. I am not running blindly into the sun. I nearly lost my footing many times when enduring the grief which followed the loss, because I did not fully understand and could not have known, the extraordinary circumstances that would lead to the recognition of what it means to exist as both a physical and spiritual being.
Every aspect of the spirit within me is invigorated by the potential of the spiritual connections possible in this life. The revelation of the Jonas material, now thirty years ago, was a prelude to the release of the spirit about to come. After the journey began, I realized that I could no longer trip and slip through the important learning and work necessary to come to terms with the experience. While I remain uncertain about how I will share what I have learned, or even if expressing what I have found in a comprehensive way will be possible, I view the work I have done these many years as my first tentative steps to encourage others to seek the path to the fortress of life, and to pursue the ultimate fulfillment of their own unique purpose.