Archive for July, 2013

There are a number of ‘consensus decision-making’ models available to any searcher-seeker who is interested in finding one.  Many years ago, I was introduced to what I have come to call ‘The Quaker Way.’  It is rooted in the Quaker Way they use for conducting ‘business’ meetings.  For more than 300 years their ‘way’ has been of central importance to the very existence of the Society of Friends. Although I have introduced this ‘way’ to a variety of organizations — particularly to boards of directors — those who are faith-rooted find this ‘way’ to be particularly fruitful [the reason for this will become clearer as we go along].  I have had the privilege of introducing this ‘way’ to Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist traditions and to the AA Board of Directors and these ‘faith-rooted’ groups have been highly receptive to this ‘way.’

For most of their history the Society of Friends tended to ‘live out’ this ‘way’ rather than try to explain it.  During the past 50+ years some Quakers have helped us who are not of their tradition understand their ‘way.’  Simply stated, their method is as follows:

A Quaker business meeting is conducted in the same expectant ‘waiting for the guidance of the Holy Spirit’ as their worship service does.  It is presided over by a ‘clerk’ — on a board of directors this would not necessarily be the Board Chair [the ‘qualifications’ of the role of ‘clerk’ will be delineated later].  After an initial period of quiet and prayer, the clerk brings before the meeting the business that is to be considered.  Time is permitted for ‘careful’ and ‘deliberate’ consideration.  Each person present [being ‘present’ is crucial], who is moved to speak is listened to and is heard.  When, after some time, the clerk discerns that the ‘meeting’ has reached a decision, he or she states clearly and conscisely what seems to be the ‘sense’ of the meeting.  If the members then affirm the ‘sense’ of the meeting that the clerk iterates a note is written capturing this sense and is then read to those present [this reading occurs prior to the conclusion of the session].  No vote is taken.  Furthermore, there is no decision that is made by a majority to the detriment of the minority.  Action is taken only when it is determined that the session members can proceed as one.  Sometimes the clerk will sense unproductive argumentation and then he or she will call for a period of quiet, prayer and waiting for the Spirit to move or in certain circumstances the clerk will call for a setting aside [postponing] of the issue.

Since this way of being with one another is different from what is ‘common practice’ in secular life let us now shift a bit so we can look more deeply at ‘Consensus – The Quaker Way.’

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Aldous Huxley wrote, “There comes a time when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, is this all?”  It’s difficult for me to think of a sentence that puts its finger more precisely on the Ancient Wisdom Figures attitude toward the world.  The stuff of this world is not bad; by and large the stuff of this world is good.  Eventually, for many however, folks come to the realization that this world is finite, limited and ‘wears out.’  When folks come to this awareness then the question, “Is this all there is?” emerges into their consciousness.

This is the moment the Ancients have been waiting for.  As long as a person is content with pleasure, success or a life of duty the Sages will leave them alone [Oh, they might well offer some suggestions but they will probably not “disturb” the person(s)].  The critical point comes when one decides that these are not enough.  Does not life offer more?  Now, whether life does or does not offer more seems to be the question which divides us more sharply than any other.  The Ancient Wisdom Figures tell us, unequivocally, that life does hold more than these.  So we come back to our initial question: “What do we want?”

Pleasure, success and duty are not our ultimate goals — at best, they might help direct us toward what we really want.  Consider, gentle reader, that what we really want are things that reside in a deeper level.  The Ancient Wisdom Figures believe that, first, we want “being.”  Each of us wants to “be” rather than “not be.”  Normally, none of us want to die.  Ernie Pyle, the great World War II correspondent, once described the atmosphere in a room where thirty-five flyers had gathered prior to a bombing raid over Germany.  On an average, seventy-five percent of them would not return from the mission.  What Pyle described was not that these men were afraid but it was, as he wrote, “a profound reluctance to give up the future.”  Few of us take happily the thought of the future proceeding without us [I know I do].

Second, we want “to know, to be aware.”  We are endlessly curious; curiosity is inherent in our nature.  Thirdly, we want “contentment.”  Contentment is the filp side of feelings like frustration, futility, and boredom.  For some, contentment becomes beyond their reach because they become caught up in pleasure, success and/or duty and these, we know, do not in the long-term bring contentment.  The Ancients also said that not only do we humans want these three but that we want them “infinitely.”  We might say that what we really want is “infinite being,” “infinite knowledge and awareness,” and “infinite contentment” [some Ancients call this “Joy” rather than “Contentment”].  Perhaps what we really want is “freedom from limitations.”

The Ancient Wisdom Figures now tell us that not only can we have these infinitely but that we already have them infinitely — they are within reach if we choose to reach out for them [or rather, if we wish to reach-in for them for they reside within us].  There lies deep within us, an abiding spirit that never dies, that is without limit when it comes to being aware and to being content.  Why am I not able to easily access this abiding spirit?  The answer, the Ancients tell us, lies in the extent to which the “infinite,” or the “eternal,” is buried under a mountain of distractions, false ideas, self-regarding impulses, deep assumptions, prejudices, stereotypes, and false-truths.  These are what we present to ourselves and to our world.  Our challenge is to “cleanse ourselves” so that our abiding spirit will manifest itself.  Many of us have had glimpses of our abiding spirit and when we do we feel truly alive, aware and content.  We also know how difficult it is to hold onto this abiding spirit.

This is what the Ancient Wisdom Figures tell us that we want.  For me, the challenge is to hold the question for myself: “What do you want, Richard?”  Gentle Reader: “What do you want?”

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Now we know that given, say, two men both 55 years old that even though they are chronologically the same age psychologically one may still be a child and the other a mature adult.  It seems we will continue to find men and women who play the game of desire with all the zest of a ten-year-old; even though they know nothing else they will die with the sense of having lived to the full and will leave proclaiming that ‘life was good.’  And, there will also be others who ‘play’ similar games, and play them just as well, yet find the rewards inadequate.  Let’s take a brief look at the second type.

The world’s visible rewards are still strong attracters.  They throw themselves into enjoyment while building up their holdings and advancing their status and power.  They also come to realize that the pursuit and the attainment of these things bring them no ‘true’ happiness.  In addition, some of the things they want they fail to get and this brings on misery.  Other things they get hold of for a time and then lose them and again misery enters.  Still others obtain and keep the ‘things’ only to find the experience much like the famous golf pro who won his first ‘major’ remarked to the person standing next to him as he received the coveted trophy “Is this all there is?”  In all cases, each success seems to fan the desire for more and none are truly satisfying nor are any enduring.  At this point, some cry out in anguish, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!”

A few will come to the realization that their troubles lie in the fact that their satisfactions are limited to the smallness of ‘self’ that is being served.  Then a question emerges into their consciousness: “Might not becoming a part of a larger, more significant whole relieve my life of its obsessive and oppressive triviality?”  This question can lead one to the beginnings of ‘religion’ [religion from ‘religio’ — to re-bind, to make whole].  This ‘true religion’ begins with the quest for meaning and value beyond the self.  As one searches and seeks one discerns that the human community is a good candidate [which is one reason many professional golfers become consistently good, if not great, golfers once they marry and have children].  In supporting at once one’s own life and the lives of others, the community has an importance that no single life can command.  This shift of focus results in the person the first call of religion which is ‘duty.’

In response to this new sense of ‘duty’ to the community, one passes beyond the ‘wish to win’ and embraces the ‘wish to serve.’  There are ‘rewards’ for serving and there is a dark side to serving, which is to make others dependent on the one who serves.  Thus, serving requires one to be ‘mature’ and to seek the ‘best for those served’ [as Greenleaf asks: “Do those served grow?”].  But even this serving others proves to be inadequate for it remains finite and tragic; tragic not only in the sense that it must eventually come to an end, but tragic also in the sense that it will never be perfect.  The ‘want’ of we humans still seems to lie elsewhere.  But where?

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As I had mentioned in my last posting, the Ancient Wisdom Figures believed that we humans can have what we want.  The question was, and continues to be, ‘What do we want?’  The Ancients said that we want ‘pleasure’ (see my last posting).  They also said that we want to be worldly successful.  For them this entailed three aspects: wealth, fame, and power.  This ‘want’ seems to be fully embraced by us English speaking folks.  We want our pleasures but we are in such a hurry (we suffer from ‘hurry-sickness’) that we really don’t enjoy life.  For one thing, the roots of Calvinism and Puritanism run deep.  We are committed to the gospel of success, not pleasure.  However, like ‘pleasure,’ success has its limitations (we have never been able to live by bread alone); the question of ‘What is he worth?’ is deeper and more powerful than simply ‘How much has he got?’

The Ancients believed — and we seem to be confirming it today — that our drive for possessions, status and power are deeply rooted in our psyches.  Now, some form of worldly success is indispensable if one is going to have a dwelling, raise a family, and have time for civic endeavors.  For some, worldly achievement brings a sense of dignity and self-respect.  In the end, ‘wealth, fame, and power’ are, like ‘pleasure’ found to be wanting.  Beneath each of these resides ‘limitations.’

Consider, for example, that wealth, fame and power are exclusive (not all can have an equal share), hence they are competitive (there are real winners and losers and ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’) and hence they are precarious (one is always at risk of losing some or all of their wealth, fame and/or power).  In addition, they do not multiply when shared; they cannot, in reality, be shared without one’s own portion being diminished.  If I have a dollar I cannot share it with you and still have a dollar.  The idea of a nation where everyone is famous is a contradiction.  If power were shared equally, then the term would become meaningless (as we use the term anyway).  The result: security is not truly possible for those who ‘want’ wealth, fame and power.

Plato observed that ‘poverty consists, not in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.’  Gregory Nazianzen observed that ‘could you from all the world all wealth procure, more would remain, whose lack would leave you poor.’  Then there is the parable from the East about the donkey before which the driver dangled a beautiful carrot and the more the donkey ran to get the carrot the more the carrot remained out of reach.

Worldly success cannot completely satisfy us for its achievements are ephemeral.  We know — don’t we — that wealth, fame and power will not follow us to our grave.  We can’t take them with us.  Yet, it does us no good to deny or repress that we are pleasure seekers and that we want wealth, fame and power.  The Ancients believed that part of our journey is to seek to fulfill these ‘wants’ AND then to grow beyond them.  If we ‘mature’ we will grow beyond these in order to seek ‘what we really want.’  If we get stuck, we will remain caught in our desires for one or more of these four: pleasure, wealth, fame and/or power.  The result is the feeling — at times just a niggling and at other times a nagging — that there is never enough to satisfy us (and so, there is never enough).  If one sees no futility in pleasure, wealth, fame and/or power one can spend a life-time seeking them.  But if, as Tolstoy notes ‘he can no longer have faith in the value of the finite, he will believe in the infinite or die.’


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The great wisdom traditions hold a central affirmation for us human beings: ‘We can have what we want!’

OK, this sounds pretty good AND it throws the challenge back into our court.  For ‘what do we want?’  I find it easy to provide a simple answer to this question and quite challenging to provide a good one.  The ancients held this question thousands of years ago and many cultures and traditions hold it even today.  The ancient wisdom figures do provide us an answer.  They tell us that we want a number of things [this number varies from 2-6 as far as I can determine].  I am quite familiar with these and I have a sense that you, gentle reader, will also be familiar with them.

We begin they tell us by wanting PLEASURE.  This appears to be inborn in us; it is part of our nature.  The corollary, of course, is that we want to avoid pain.  If we did not want pleasure and if we did not want to avoid pain we would go out of existence.  What would make more sense, then, is that pleasure would be a major guiding principle for us humans; perhaps it would be our ultimate goal.  To the person who wants pleasure, the ancient wisdom figures would say in effect: ‘Go, seek it — there is nothing wrong with pleasure for it is one of the major ‘wants’ of life.’  Of course, seeking pleasure also calls for good sense — not every impulse can be followed.  For example, small, immediate pleasure goals are often set aside for greater or future ones.  In addition, pleasure impulses that would injure others need to be checked if for no other reason that to avoid the pain of antagonisms or retribution; the higher purpose would be to have a ‘clear conscience.’  Some of us, we know, will lie, steal or cheat in order to obtain pleasure.  Some will engage in addictive behaviors while hoping they won’t have to pay the piper.  So, it seems that as long as we observe the basic rules of morality that we are free to seek the pleasures of life.

If it is pleasure that you want, don’t suppress the desire.  Seek instead to fulfill this ‘want’ as richly and as esthetically as possible.

Now the ancients were wise for a reason.  They also knew that for us pleasure seekers that at some time we would come to a realization: Pleasure isn’t all that we want!  For many, the reason they come to this insight is not because pleasure is wicked but because it is, ultimately, not fulfilling — it is too narrow and too trivial for who are are as human beings; pleasure will not satisfy our natures.

The great philosopher Kierkegaard attempted for some time to live a life which made pleasure/enjoyment its principle.  Then he experienced it radical failure which he so clearly described in his powerful work, ‘Sickness Unto Death.’  He writes: ‘In the bottomless ocean of pleasure, I have sounded in vain for a spot to cast an anchor.  I have felt the almost irresistible power with which one pleasure drags another after it, the kind of adulterated enthusiasm which it is capable of producing, the boredom, the torment which follow.’

The ancient wise ones tell us that sooner or later we want to be more than a collective of momentary pleasures — however, wonderful, stimulating, powerful and grand they are or were.  Pleasure, we all know, is fleeting at best.  How many of us have said, after we have experienced pleasure, uttered these words: ‘Is that all there is?’

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