Thursday, March 26, 2009


How best to picture or imagine growing wiser?

Is wisdom a ladder to scale from lower to higher rings?

Is wisdom a spectrum to expand along from narrower to wider ranges?

Is wisdom an enlarging scope, a circle or sphere encompassing more and more?

Is wisdom the slow illumination of midnight to dawn to the high noon of day, or the dissipation of dense fog to the clarity of a desert sun?

Is it a mood or mode that graduates from depression to elation, from gravity to levity, from matter to vapor? Is it a state of being that proceeds from malady to salubrity: from illness to health, to wellness, to optimal wellbeing?

Is it a skill that first puts block on block in a playpen, then fits Tinkertoy to Tinkertoy and ultimately oversees constructing the Hover Dam or launching a space-probing rocket? Or is that merely intelligence developing, and not wisdom?

Or is wisdom the final flourishing of intelligence, the blossoming of the ultimate beauty of intellect expanded beyond the control and domination of nature toward the full comprehension and appreciation of the universe we call Nature—far still beyond our fathoming?



By chance, I’ve been revisiting in this same week Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and William Shakespeare’s King Lear, which prompts me to compare these chief tragic masterpieces of each playwright.

Faustus and Lear, I would say, are two different kinds of fools: one of the head, one of the heart. Marlowe’s play meditates on the Baconian proposition that knowledge is power, whereas Shakespeare seems to canvass the ancient insight that wisdom is compassion.

Doctor Faustus explores the passion of egoism, since Faustus personifies acquisitive lust for prideful power and intellectual supremacy over all rivals.

King Lear explores the compassion of altruism, probing the phenomenon of cruelty. “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” the “foolish, fond” old king opines, not yet acknowledging his own stoniness; though at the last the blasted Lear fathoms the compassionate heart of wisdom—seeing it feelingly.


Saturday, March 21, 2009


It’s one thing to come so far in your moral and ethical development that you acknowledge the inherent dignity in all other people, i.e., that you recognize and value the idea that, like your life, their lives are precious and deserve to be protected and sustained, and that this assumption of individual dignity is a basic human right. To do this much is the fundamental principle of ethics.

But it’s another thing to feel the truth of this right with respect not merely to your own family and friends and community at large—but to all people on Earth. To feel the “brotherhood and sisterhood” of all humankind, to feel universal kinship and kindliness, seems to ordinary mortals something that only the compassionate Buddha or the Divine Jesus could feel—to feel at one with the suffering of all others, which is what compassion means literally: feeling or suffering with.

Compassion, then, is the idea that we can care for others as we care for ourselves, and that to do so is our primary moral duty, as pronounced by the Golden Rule: “Do unto all others as you would have them to do unto you.”

What gets in the way of feeling compassion and acting kindly is, of course, selfishness, self-centeredness, egotism, ego. Instead of feeling with another, as if he or she were the same as yourself, you separate yourself from the other and give priority to your own needs and wants: “Me first”; “I’m looking out for Number One.” Generosity gives way to supremacy of self. In elementary examples, we see such behaviors in a dog that growls away another dog that’s coveting the first dog’s bone, and we see it when toddlers tussle over a toy. We all know the Me First feeling and often act on it. Yet we also know and enjoy the “No, no, after you" feeling of giving way voluntarily to another’s desire or need.

Competition and aggression versus cooperation and acquiescence: there are strong cases to be made for each attitude, and times when one or the other is arguably preferable. But the core teachings of the world’s traditions of spiritual wisdom agree on the essential priority of compassion in human relations: each must see the other in oneself, treating the other accordingly.

Probably the better way to phrase the Golden Rule is in the negative: “Do not do to others what you would not like them do to you”—because we all know what it feels like to be hurt or disrespected—and we don’t like that feeling. We can then empathize more easily with someone else who has likewise been injured or insulted. As our Mommies probably admonished us: “How would you like it if Sally did that to you? Huh, young man, young lady? How would you like that?

Confrontational moments like that might have first provoked compassion in our consciousness, might have given birth to our consciences. It was then we learned to draw an analogy between someone else’s suffering and our own, between someone else and ourselves. And that would be the birth of kinship and the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, of seeing another person not as an object, as an it, but as a Thou to whom one is intrinsically related. “Thou and I are one” is the shattering of egoism and the emergence of altruism, of caring for others as you care for yourself, which is golden.

(Knowing this and doing this are not, regrettably, the same. It takes practice.)


Sunday, March 15, 2009


“Science is humanity’s map and myth is its compass,” somebody said*. What could that mean?

Is it that our ever-growing, ever more inclusive science, our only 400-year-old method of knowing the phenomenal world so thoroughly and extensively, both in fact and in principle, has mapped out a model of reality that is increasingly accurate and reliable—but that this kind of knowledge is not enough for us?

And is it also that in order to know how to orient ourselves on this map, how to go about in this world of our scientific comprehension, requires another kind of device? We need not only knowledge but meaning.

Though we can make rational sense of what our senses and instruments perceive, we need another way of knowing in order to know our way, and that way is wisdom, the way of value and worth, the compass to tell us more than what is, but also what is good—and this is the business of myth.

The myths we live by orient and direct us through the sensible reality of our worldly experience by making sense of our senses, giving purpose and direction to our choices.

Now, the pragmythic question: which myths work best?

*Arthur M. Young, The Reflexive Universe (New York: Delacourte, 1976)


Friday, March 13, 2009


Once you have learned basic knowledge and skills in primary and secondary schooling, and you then choose to attend college, you ought to expect more than just more of the same.

Of course, you should expect to grow more expert in an academic discipline of your inclining, whether literature or physics or philosophy or some other established “field of learning.”

And, yes, you should expect to widen your “general education” by sampling at a higher level the wares of other scholarly studies.

But, most essentially, you should be guided, encouraged, and exhorted to think discerningly about the future, about the question of where our human race is headed, about the frontiers of human inquiry and endeavor—more so now than ever before.

Since our race has very recently grown so powerful and dangerous that we now threaten the viability of our planetary ecosystem, we must therefore wise up. We’re now too smart not to be wise.

The prudence or foresight of wisdom must now guide humankind to preserve and enhance what sustains life on Earth at the highest levels of thriving and flourishing, which implies that we must learn to quell those reckless human tendencies now urging us toward chaos—the lusts and rages of heedless egoism and self-service, personified most recently in Bernie Madoff, who has just driven himself and a herd of hapless lemmings off a cliff.

That same madness, expressed in numerous other guises, infects much of humanity and must be cured. Thus the search for sanity stands foremost among the frontiers we confront as a race: learning how to be healthy, well and whole (all words from one root—as well as holy)—the essence of wisdom.

For these reasons, Rollins College is now considering a general education program oriented to explore the “human frontiers,” the leading edges of learning and research where breakthroughs into new perspectives and paradigms can lead to new behaviors and institutions helping us to grow, worldwide, in wellness and wisdom.

For more information about the Rollins Plan/Human Frontiers program, please contact its coordinator, Prof. Alan Nordstrom



Thursday, March 12, 2009


The reason I like to arise when it’s still dark, whether in the middle of the night or somewhat before dawn, then go to my study and sit in silence, is to see what appears to my inner lights.

As I sit curled in my easy chair with a writing board and a yellow pad on my lap, still in the dark, sipping from a mug of chai tea, I wait quietly for images and ideas to spark in my mind like fireflies. Sometimes the pen in my right hand starts tapping rhythmically on the wooden chair arm, which seems to induce a semi-trance that amps up my inner light flow and urges me closer to writing.

By this time I’m relaxed and serene in my body, while something in my mind revs up to speak as “I” stand by to take down what words emerge from wherever it is that words arise.

When that urge at last arrives, I turn on a low-watt bulb beside me, making a dim pool of illumination, light enough to write by without distracting me with sights on the periphery.

This process doesn’t seem to me as mystical or spooky as channeling or automatic writing. Rather, it’s just a mood of fluency and lucidity, of readiness to receive into my consciousness language that turns nebulous thought solid, distills words from the ether of amorphous mentality, and fixes them in ink on a page.

Something vague grows sharp. Something insubstantial takes shape. Something dim shines clear.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


How is it that each of us is so different from each other, and seems to be so from the get go?

I think back on my youth to recognize the many instances when I individuated myself by deciding to do or be something according to some inner inclination, rather than go along with what others wished of me. Where did that come from? How did I come by my singular agenda that said Do This, not That?

Why (a crucial decision) did I not go to College X as my Dad deeply wished I would, but angled instead for College Y? That decision was probably symbolic of the many ways during my childhood that I demonstrated my essential differences from my father, who had many plans for me that I was indisposed to follow, choosing rather to grope my way elsewhere on my own, as if instinctively feeling “That’s not me, and I’m searching for who I truly am, who I’m cut out for and meant to become.”

More of the same self-identifying went on during college and afterward. I chose to be an English major, not an engineering major like Dad. I wanted to teach, not to go to law school and then join Dad in his real estate appraisal business—those were my key life-inclining decisions putting me on the path I have followed since: a life in literature, writing and teaching; also a life of thinking about ultimate issues, questions of philosophy and spirituality and the meaning and purpose of things, and even of myself—The Good Life, According to Me.

Just now my disposition opens me wider to wondering about theories of reincarnation, past lives and karma—a way to explain our determined dispositions by seeing ourselves as undying souls who choose again and again to return, life after life, to advance the growth of our souls into greater accord with the High Self—or God—whom we are, essentially.

Is there indeed a stratum of Reality I have only vaguely apprehended, more visible to others who are more open and attuned than I? Many say so, and I think I have glimpsed and tasted such a realm in epiphanic moments of mystical opening to the Beyond. The truth of this I hope in time to discover: Reality—the Final Frontier!


Monday, March 9, 2009


The premise of pragmythic beliefcraft is that it makes all the difference what you choose to believe about what you can’t know to be so.

There are many “things” we don’t know to be so and will never know about for sure because they lie beyond the scope of knowing per se. They lie beyond science and the natural world, and fall into the category of the supernatural or the metaphysical. Perhaps they are not “things” in any literal way, and yet they are ideas with very real effects on our thinking and our lives.

Somehow our human kind of intelligence opens us to thinking and speculating and imagining beyond the factuality of the immediate material world we apprehend by our senses. We are constituted to wonder about what is unseen or otherwise unapprehended, and then to suppose various answers to our wonderings, and so it is we make our myths to explain the invisible superstructure of what we call Ultimate Reality, beyond the physical scrim of our senses.

But some of the myths we conceive or are taught by others to believe serve us better than others. While science works to describe the material world and thereby makes it more useful to us as we learn better to manipulate all things physical, likewise our beliefs about Ultimate Reality can prove more or less practical in our lives, depending on their efficacy—on their power to guide us to live well and wisely. Bad beliefs will steer us to self-destruction and the harm of others; whereas good, efficacious beliefs will bring us better being and make us and others happier.

Are such metaphysical myths true or false? No—only better or worse pragmythically, as they prove in practice to affect the quality of our lives and the lives of others we influence.

Therefore, our belief in God or gods or spirits or devils makes a difference in the material world, as does belief or disbelief in reincarnation, past lives, karma, heaven, hell, purgatory, angels, spirit guides, akashic records, astrology, palmistry, telepathy, synchronicity, out-of-body travel, and the law of attraction.

True and false do not apply to such undetectable, immeasurable paraphenomena; only effectual and ineffectual apply: Does it work well for you? Does it make life better for you and yours and all whom you influence? Is it positvely pragmythic? If so, then it is a belief well crafted for your belief system.



Many religions, with all their conflicts, within themselves and against others, are doing themselves in. War over religion seems so insane that many people can no longer see the appeal of dogmatic belief systems leading to such atrocity. Consequently, they are leaving the sheepfolds of churches and temples and pastors to seek solace and wisdom elsewhere, mainly from within, not dogmatically but mystically, not second hand, but directly from the source: the God within.

Direct access to inner spiritual wisdom is the promise of contemporary Gnostics who seek knowledge of things divine by looking inward via meditation and other contemplative practices intended to tune out ego and attune to one’s Higher Self, the “voice” of God resident in one’s own soul, an inner comforter and guide to righteous living.

Pragmythically speaking, I find this attitude promising, providing we can tune in sharply to the divine frequency, rather than to various delusive frequencies emanating from our egos and our ids (in Freudian terms) or from our shadows (as Jung would say), transmitting spiritual endarkenment rather than enlightenment.


Saturday, March 7, 2009


(as a Spenserian stanza)

When we investigate our earthly stages,
For all the progress of our human kind,
Despite the rare exception of our sages,
We see it’s conflict toward which we’re inclined.
Yet may it be we might be redesigned?
That either with improvement of our schooling
We can enhance our qualities of mind,
Or else through science achieve our brain’s retooling?
All conflicts must resolve in true accord,
For given our perilous powers, more wars we can’t afford.

(as a sonnet)

When we investigate our earthly stages,
For all the progress of our human kind,
Despite the rare exception of our sages,
We see it’s conflict toward which we’re inclined.

Yet may it be we might be redesigned?
That either with improvement of our schooling
We can enhance our qualities of mind,
Or else through science achieve our brain’s retooling?

For somehow we must quell our lust for dueling
And turn our conflicts to cooperation;
The way of strife is graceless, gruesome, grueling,
And only harmony can bring elation.

All conflicts must resolve in true accord,
For given our powers, more wars we can’t afford.


Friday, March 6, 2009


What is more important for a human being to devote his or her life to than growing more humane?

To become humane is to realize and fulfill one’s essence and destiny as a human being; it is the full actualization of that innate potential we are born to develop but sadly, in most lifetimes, fail to unfold or bring to light.

Our humaneness stands opposed, at worst, to our monstrosity. To be a monster is to live far from those qualities that identify us at our best, but rather show us at our most bestial—though in ways that would insult most beasts: more savage, wild and atrocious than most animals are to their own kind.

Kindness, kinship, generosity—these are the cognate words we use to indicate the essence of humanity: respect, affection, love that recognizes and honors the intrinsic dignity, worth, value of each, of every, human being.



—Why, primarily, should people go to college?
—For an education, a higher education.
—And what is the mark of educated people?
—They’re thinkers.
—How do you know if they’re thinkers?
—They wield words well.
—Thinkers, then, are word-wielders?
—Yes. They have learned the arts of formulating their thoughts accurately, cogently, and persuasively in languages that inform and move others. Ideally, they are equally proficient at speaking and writing their well-expressed thoughts. Such dual facility, anyway, is the ideal. However, writing well is more important and enduring than speaking well, for writing can contain more thought and present it more copiously and subtly than can conversation or extemporaneous speech. And those who are well-versed in producing varieties of effective written communication have trained their minds more thoroughly and precisely than spontaneous speakers can speak or listeners can attend to and absorb. Writing well rocks the world.
—But couldn’t you be accused of narrow-minded “verbalism”?
—Well, to avoid that, let me include all the languages by which thought is communicated—not only by words but by mathematical, musical, and visual languages, and even physical and emotional languages, such as dancing, hugging, and empathizing.


Thursday, March 5, 2009


As Hamlet said, “The readiness is all”:
Until you need to learn and heed the call
Of something beyond ignorance summoning
Your curiosity, your heart won’t sing,

As sing it must if you would be a scholar
Who thinks to work for more than just the dollar
But labor for the love of finding out
Some hidden truths that leave you less in doubt.

Don’t waste your time and money in a college
For merely a diploma and not knowledge
That quenches your authentic need to know
And helps your brain and character to grow.

The time’s not right until your mind is ripe:
“Inquisitive” is the true scholar’s type.