Ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I did, several years ago. There was something about Phaedrus’ ever deepening search for the essence of meaning that resonated with me. Being in the grip of self-destructive addiction, knowing the damage that was being incurred but driven by compulsion to return time and again. Like a gambler chasing the big win, to hazard greater and greater stakes, risking more with each attempt, striving to attain that beautiful truth. The feeling that next time all the pieces would fall into place and the perfect light of understanding would illuminate the dazzling simplicity of the universe. All it needs is just one more step; it is so close now.
It is a chimera, an illusion. Instead of gaining understanding the very act of chasing that goal results in a narrowing of focus, the exclusion of everything except the desire. Monomania. Yet the idea of reducing all of life’s complexity to its simplest essence is so seductive that it continues to exert a hold. I can fully understand what lured Phaedrus to abandon all the trappings of his “normal” life and devote his energies to the pursuit of knowledge.
I have been similarly tempted to step off the regular path and lose myself in the search for meaning. For understanding. Believing that if only I could fathom the principles underpinning the universe then I would achieve an enlightened serenity. I just had to find that one last piece of the puzzle. Call it nirvana if you like.
Looking back now it seems to be a form of religious belief. I searched for meaning, feeling that there must be an underlying reason behind everything.
I no longer believe that. Life just happens. I have gone from an all-encompassing cause-and-effect view to one where individual choices and actions have little consequence beyond the immediate. And in adopting that view the immediate assumes paramount importance – all that matters in life is to remain true to one’s principles, to act correctly in accordance with one’s sense of what is right.
Unfortunately this leads to conflict. I end up torn between courses of action where I have to decide between evils. To choose the least bad option. But because even the option I feel is the best has negative consequences I feel guilty that I have caused harm.
That is the essence of my belief. As in the Hippocratic Oath I believe that I first should do no harm. You may call me naive but I do not even feel that it is right to hurt those who have hurt me. I am not a Christian but the Christians among my audience might recognize the concept of turning the other cheek. Of forgiveness. Many people I know, encompassing several religions, see this as a weakness. But I do not. I see the ability to forgive as a great strength. As a healing force in the world. Because the alternative is an unceasing cycle of retribution. To break these circles of destruction it is necessary for somebody to stand up for the principle that two wrongs do not make a right.