The following essay is the prologue to the upcoming book ‘Of Paradise Despised… and lives that bought into a lie’ by Roy Alexander Graham.
‘Of Paradise Despised… and lives that bought into a lie’
There is a compelling case to be made that our lives are in many respects, not all that we would like them to be. Evidence of this is found in the fact that we spend so much psychic and physical energy reaching for a better us. Manuals on self-improvement abound, and there is no shortage of self-help gurus. We may not always believe that we have the means to realize our ideal selves, but that does not subdue the innate desire that we have to be more than we are.
Why, we might ask, are we generally so dissatisfied with the status quo in our existence? What are the social and psychological barriers that stand in the way of the realization of our best selves? The socio-psychological influences driving the consciousness of this prevailing sense of dissatisfaction are myriad, and should not be discounted. But just as powerful, and maybe more so, is an acute awareness of a certain spiritual deficit which we must account for in our individual lives and in our relationships. This dissatisfaction is a function of what I have called a spiritual hunger.
We live what we believe
Our lives are largely predicated on our belief systems. These belief systems are the amalgamation of those “truths” that we have come to accept based on our own life experiences, and the life experiences of those who share or have shared our personal and collective histories. They factor into our lives both consciously and subconsciously, and are with us in both visible and invisible ways. They are a function of hereditary and environmental influences, and they are both experienced and inculcated. Some of these influences are real and some are imagined; and they are impressed on us via our literary, oral, and social traditions.
Our belief systems express themselves through various cultural mechanisms, and in ways that are mostly insidious. We are not always conscious of the fact that most of the circumstances of our lives are predetermined both by what we believe and by what others believe about us; but they are. More profoundly, our lives are in many instances predicated on falsehoods that others want us to believe about ourselves, which will work to their advantage.
To be… or not?
The task of sorting through the many and varied processes that inform our values is one that must be assumed with conviction. This has to be the case if we are to operate with the clarity that we need to lead truly functional lives. Indeed, it is necessary if we are to realize our full human potential. As inconvenient as it may be, it is work that we are each required to do if we are to effectively reclaim our lives to our advantage.
Tragically, the existence that many of us end up leading does not express our own spiritual initiatives. In the maze of expectations that exercise us daily, we ignore that little voice which prods us to find our true selves, and cultivate the courage to chart our own course though this journey we call our life. In the end we find ourselves expressing the essential frustrations that ensue from the realization that we have been the proverbial puppets on a string.
It is never a good thing to be dancing to tunes that essentially herald our demise, but many of us have been, and continue to do so. We engage in the chorus of our disenfranchisement with an amazing constancy because we have not critically evaluated the circumstances of our lives. Eventually, we end up as spiritually disjointed persons because we have not cultivated the courage to be the title characters on the stage which is our world. The time has come when we must take responsibility for the songs that we sing and dance to. We are being called to step away from that line dance that has us going along with someone else’s choice steps. The challenge to us is to become the choreographers in the production which is our life.
I want to state with emphasis here, the truth that our words and our thoughts become flesh and live among us. They materialize as the symbols and structures that occupy the landscape of our lives. It is out of the body of the ideas that we inculcate, that the culture of our lives is formed. Our culture, simply stated, is what we have done with what we believe. Some things we are given, others we co-create. The most important questions that we face are usually addressed in the choices that we make about some of the most basic issues of our lives. I will offer here, for communal reflection, some of these questions.
Who are you? Oh, that can be a confusing one! What does it mean to be male or female? Where do you live? Where do you want to live? What does family mean to you? What does fatherhood and motherhood mean? What does it mean to love someone? What do you think is meant when someone says they love you? What do concepts like community and nation mean to you? What do you think about justice? Are all persons really created equal? What is your religion? Do you believe in a god? What do you mean when you say god? Do you think this is a crazy question? Do you believe you are here for a reason? What is that reason?
The answers to these and other such questions are expressed in choices that we make daily. We may not always be aware of the questions, but answer them we do. We need to become aware then, that the relative quality of our lives is largely predictable based on the quality of the answers we contrive. It is in response to these questions that we create our social existence and establish our sense of self. Out of our sense of self we set out to create the kind of space we want to inhabit. As a function of the ontological necessities implicit in our answers, we form relationships that facilitate the propagation of our presence in time and space.
In the interest of our survival, we associate with others to establish the social contracts out of which we develop communities, and then nations. As a part of this process we sometimes establish religion and the various expressions of morality. The development of our civilization is a function of the evolution of this process. It is to be noted here that our answers are all works in progress, since they will necessarily reflect our individual and collective evolution in the scheme of things.
Our personal and collective imperfections will therefore invariably be reflected in that evolution. Change thus becomes an essential dynamic in the process of our civilization. As disconcerting as it may be for many, change is the one constant in our progression to the establishment of a more viable individual and social existence. The inevitability of change is the prime remedial agent in our socio-cultural evolution. It is the uncomfortable but necessary purge that facilitates the removal of the cancer of status- quoism. It is, without doubt, an ontological necessity.
The oldest literary traditions in our cultures record the many and varied ways in which we have sought to creatively address the many questions that we face in our strivings to be more civilized. These ancient traditions address the questions about how the world came into being, and how we came to be in the world. There are numerous and expansive narratives in our various cultures seeking to answer the questions about our origins and subsequent development as communities. The ones that I am most familiar with reflect on a time in the” beginning” when, essentially, everything was “without form and void … and darkness covered the face of the deep”. The verbal construct is such wonderful poetry because it is true on every level. They describe a process through which, by the power of super-natural forces, order is created out of this chaos. Through references that are universally identifiable, they seek to explain the apparently dichotomous propensities of natural and social phenomena.
Of Adam and Eve and the Serpent
Some of these ancient traditions ascribe to us a partnership role in the ongoing drama of the creation of our world. They take great pains to impress on us the wisdom of being good stewards of all the resources around us. Inherent to the discourse are views about what a perfect world would be like, and they explore the consequences that would follow our unfortunate violations of the norms of this idyllic state of being. Paradise is the popular reference to such a state, and it is typified by the account of the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis, the Book of Beginnings, Adam (Mankind) and Eve (Womankind) are placed in Eden (the idyllic environment) and told/instructed/commanded to be “fruitful” and “multiply” and “replenish” the Earth. As the story unfolds they are both distracted by the Devil/Satan who is the archetype of divisive influences, and end up acting against the Will of the Creator who told them specifically not to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil”. As a consequence of their disobedience they are both expelled from their place in the Idyllic state, and are cursed with a life that is more difficult than was intended by their Creator.
The fundamental lesson here is that when we ignore or violate the laws of Paradise we end up in relationships that are out of sync with our best interests, and ultimately, our destinies. As a consequence we jeopardize our own futures, and the future of our descendants. The dilemma that we face is characterized as a choice between good and evil. We are faced essentially with either living according to the Truth of our Creator, or being cast out of Paradise for living according to the Lie of deceptive/divisive influences.
The dilemma of freedom
The reality that we are constantly faced with the responsibility to determine our destinies by the choices we make in the various circumstances that we face is startling. It may even be burdensome to many, but that is the dilemma of being free. This, my friends, is the price of our freedom. If we insist on having it, then we must be ready to collateralize it with the currency of responsibility. Simply stated, the predicament of free persons lies in the fact that we are then responsible for the choices we make. No more scapegoats! We cannot have it both ways.
Of Paradise Despised … and Lives that bought into a lie seeks to reflect on, and address the existential peril inherent in making false choices. This book explores through poetry and other reflective essays, the kinds of conversations we might have with ourselves and with each other, as we dig ourselves out of the hell that threatens us as individuals and communities.
Integral to the idea that there are dire consequences to the decisions we make which are out of step with our divine destinies, is the compensating view that we can repent of our miss-steps. We come to learn that if we would change our destinies we must change the direction of our walk through this life.
Like the gods, we realize that we hold within us the very power of life and death. With this knowledge, we are able to act with wisdom in the determination of where we go in our lives, and how we get there. My grand-mother, Agnes, impressed a certain admonition on my consciousness through constant repetition. Whenever we left her presence to venture somewhere she would say to us “walk good children”. The implicit warning in this parting statement is that if you do not “walk good”, you might hurt yourself … break a leg … or some other vital part. This is still great advice for our journey.
Redemption… taking responsibility
As in the case of Adam and Eve, the excuse that “the devil made me do it” does not vindicate us. We must cease from conducting our lives as if we have a right to be wrong. From the very beginning we have been instructed to: refrain from evil and live righteously. We ignore this admonition to our detriment.
By turning away from behaviors that lead to lives out of balance we are able to once again experience the joy and fulfillment that comes from lives righteously lived. This, I believe, is the joy and fulfillment that so many desperately seek. The challenge for us is to identify the ways in which we have departed from the path that is Right, and return again to a life of balance.
To realize true fulfillment we need to call out the falsehoods that have prevented us from living our best lives, and abandon them. Number one among these falsehoods is the belief that others are to be blamed for the life we have. We will never change as long as we foster this lie. So let us begin by taking responsibility for the circumstances of our lives. If you don’t like them, get about the business of changing them. Don’t wait for change to come. Be about the business of bringing about the change you need. The greatest spiritual influences always lead us to recognize the seeds of our own redemption within. Jesus said to the man lying on his bed for years waiting to be healed: take up your bed and walk. He knew the potential that lay dormant in this person and called it out.
The turn-around we need in our lives, and thus our relationships, continues when we re-assert that idealism which is founded on the reality that we will reap what we sow in the field which is our life. When we sow dis-unity we will reap alienation. When we sow fear we will reap torment. When we live according to the flesh, that is when we behave as if everything that feels good is therefore good for us, we will destroy ourselves. When we live according to the Spirit, when we walk away from that self-serving dogma that has us believing that “it’s all about us”; we will reap the abundant life.
Let us therefore be conscientious about the seeds we sow, because they will most certainly have their harvest in our lives. We are called to engage in an idealism that is fully founded on cornerstones of justice. The balanced scale must be the new measure of our relationships. We must live in constant mindfulness of the fact that the justice that we seek must begin with us. Let us do unto others as we would have them do to us; because the table spread with the bread of sorrow and the wine of violence is not the feast our creator intended. It is definitely not the banquet to which we should be inviting each other.
Recognize the Lie
The media around us are saturated with the tragedies that are the results of our despising of Paradise and buying into the lies of corrupt influences. When sons and fathers murder each other, they are living out that lie. When fathers sexually abuse their daughters, they are living out that lie. When priests rape and otherwise abuse those who need spiritual guidance, they are acting as agents of Satan. When we contribute to each other’s demise by peddling poisons for profit through our various enterprises, licit and illicit, we are acting as corruptors of Eden.
When corporations despise their responsibility to be builders of communities they are sowing the seeds of their own decline, and are thus expressing the will of the devil. When governments ignore their responsibility to help build a more equitable society, they are acting as co-workers of the Serpent. Although our senses are saturated with the evidence of spiritual decay all around us, becoming insensitive to the need for change is not an option.
A new radicalism
The time is now when we must turn away from our misdeeds, and return to the divine responsibilities that have been placed before us. Let us commit ourselves to rediscovering and asserting that Truth which sets us free to be our ultimate selves, our most fulfilled selves. Our viability as individuals and as corporate entities demands that we renounce and stamp out the corrupting influence of satanic forces before they destroy us.
That Truth I am talking about is embedded in the very heart of the Creation story. It is a truth more radical than any that is implied in our materialistic interpretations of history. Scientific inquiry is necessary. The advances that we are witnesses to in our time are wonderful; and there can be no denying the fact that our world view has been changed in marvelous ways by scientific knowledge. However, the ultimate dilemma of our civilization has always been, and remains, a moral dilemma.
The discovery of nuclear energy for example, brings with it amazing possibilities for how we live. But we have become scientific giants while remaining moral infants. The perils of that aspect of our underdevelopment are self- evident; babies should not be playing with dynamite around a fire. The moral challenge confronting us has to do with whether we will use the resources now available to us to improve life on earth, or to destroy each other. Scientific advance must take place with moral clarity. The two must walk hand in hand as an existential imperative.
Affirm the Truth!
The radical implication of the idea that we have a common Creator blows up our “law of the jungle” approach to life. Talk about an inconvenient truth! Instead of asserting a “survival of the fittest” mentality, we are called to community by the most sacred of responsibilities: we are our brothers’ keepers. Yes Cain, you are!
The idea of a brotherhood of mankind supersedes all our nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, and dare I say … religious definitions of ourselves. It removes all our excuses for mistreating each other. Enough of the self-serving rationalizations that we use as an excuse to abuse others! Prophetically speaking; until we rid our lives… our minds… our spirits… of the need to deny true kinship to each other, our destiny is in a place called DOOM.
Our ultimate identity is expressed when we commit our lives to being responsible for the creation of a world in which we are righteously fruitful. Yes, righteously fruitful. Lives built around the foundational commandment that we adhere wholeheartedly to the expressed principle of Love; and that we love each other as we love ourselves cannot go wrong. The continued reproduction of ourselves in our current misguided state is a redundancy we can ill afford. Our new imperative is to become true nurturers of each other… not just breeders.
Our new birth is long overdue, and what we can look forward to is the kind of new life that comes from the renewal of our minds in a revolution of Love. We have a responsibility to call each other into a brotherhood of Mankind. Knowing this, let us go forth and replenish the earth; just the way our Creator intended.
R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham
President/CEO, FIGTREE ENTERPRISES, INC.
Copyright 2012 Figtree Enterprises, Inc.
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