Tuesday, March 18, 2008

 

Traherne--Chapter Two--Think Well

Traherne--Think Well

The next many meditations will be choppy in the sense that they will be broken into several pieces over many days. I was over-ambitious to think that I could “do” a chapter every 3 to 4 days. We silly humans…

“Think Well.” That struck me rather powerfully all by itself, for we so very rarely think at all, let alone well. When Traherne asks, in the second paragraph, “What is more easy and sweet than meditation?” he is coming from a background where meditation could be accomplished without distraction by many people. This is simply not the case in the modern world, however, and we have to deliberately school ourselves into a meditative state. The world today is crammed full of distractions, and finding the time to meditate is exquisitely difficult, as it has been for me the past several days. We are constantly on the go, constantly focusing our energies on the hustle and bustle of the world around us.

In Traherne’s first paragraph, “Two Worlds,” he makes a brilliant observation. We are meant to love and enjoy the physical world, made by God to do just that, yet we get swept up so easily in the frills and the pomp and the money and the car-pool, and the 8-minute lunch break at Mickey D’s, and the price of gas and the downward-spiraling world/domestic economy. This is precisely the world we must condemn, and we must learn to focus our thoughts and our energies on the natural beauty surrounding us, on family, on humanitarian causes, on keeping this planet livable for the next seven generations (if I may borrow an analogy from my own Native American heritage).

Centuries ago, a group of people known as the Cathars became followers of what was known as the Albigensian heresy. They believed that all matter was inherently evil and that the God of the Old Testament was, in fact, the bad guy. The serpent, they argued, was the one telling the truth. This heresy was an extreme one, and resulted in a great deal of bloodshed, wherein the Cathars were exterminated (an Archbishop famously said to his crusaders of the Cathars: “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.”) but the heresy itself still exists in the modern neo-gnostic movement and among followers of the fiction of Dan Brown.

I use the Cathars here as a lesson, one I think Traherne would very much agree with. The world around us isn’t the problem; the world around us was given to us by God as a place of beauty and love and hope and peace. It is we who make it otherwise. It is we, not God, who make the planet unbearable. And it is we who then fall on our knees and worship the unbearableness we ourselves have created.

I disagree with Traherne that it is easier to think good thoughts than evil ones, because the history of Earth has proven beyond doubt that it is very, very easy indeed to be evil. It’s far simpler to toss the Mickey D’s wrapper on the ground than to walk the extra (and backbreaking, I would assume) ten steps to the trash receptacle. It’s easier to slaughter twelve million people in concentration camps (yes, twelve million. People do not remember any longer that Hitler killed twelve million, not six. Six million were Jewish, the other six million were a mixed bag of gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, lesbians, and anyone else who disagreed with the Third Reich.) than it is to save them. It’s easier to slap a child who is misbehaving than it is to sit the child down and listen to them, to discipline them with a time-out or take away a privilege. It’s easier to begin a war than to end one (isn’t it, Mr. Bush?) Far easier to trash the planet than to clean it up (just ask China, which has five months to clean their air before the Olympics. Not gonna happen, is my guess, and we’re going to see athletes in gas masks).

I like very much the way Traherne says that we should try to retain the beauty of the planet in our minds, to reflect on the glory around us. Again, I think back to Terry Pratchett and his character Death, who is utterly gob smacked by the human ability to be bored when the entire universe is there for us to gaze upon with astonishment.

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