Spinoza was wrong when he said: “Repentance is not a virtue. It does not arise from reason. Rather, he who repents what he did is twice miserable.”
Yes, repentance does not arise from reason, but so what? We’re paying dearly for the Enlightenment’s mistake of giving primacy to reason over insight.
America, the epitome of the failure of reason as an ideal, is a wasteland. It was a wasteland for over a generation before the pandemic revealed its underlying reality by turning everything upside down.
Just as we make a distinction between unhealthy guilt and a healthy conscience, we need to make a distinction between shame and repentance. Jesus taught repentance, not guilt, because repentance, like conscience, flows from a deeper emotional and spiritual source than reason.
To say, as an op-ed writer in the NYT wrote recently, “There’s no reason to add an additional harm to whatever evils have already taken place,” is to completely miss the point, and the necessity of repentance for an individual and a nation.
That self-serving kind of thinking—“there’s no reason to add an additional harm to whatever evils have already taken place”—is what Barack Obama believed, and why America and the world got much worse than Bush-Cheney after Obama, in the form of the malignant, miasmic Donald Trump.
Repentance is, at bottom, a form of “truth and reconciliation.” As ragged as post-apartheid South African socio-economic-political life has been, it has largely worked because blacks and whites had the wisdom to have a reckoning through the “Truth and Reconciliation” process.
The evils perpetrated by Bush-Cheney, starting wars abroad and at home after 9.11, had no reckoning, just as Wall Street financiers and the bankers responsible for the financial collapse of 2007-8 weren’t held to account.
In the same vein, a silly commentator in the NYT opines today, “We use our imaginative grip on the bad to create an inner mirror of outer evils: It is only when the evils penetrate the theater of our mind that we can truly ‘see’ them.”
“Why are we watching apocalypse movies?” the self-deceiving writer asks, “Because we don’t want to escape. We want to be here, now. Even if it hurts.”
That is spiritually, philosophically and psychologically false. Indeed, it is a lie. The reason people read apocalyptic novels is to escape seeing and feeling the reality before them, around them, and within them.
“Pain that you can accept is almost not pain; pain that you cannot accept you call ‘suffering.’”
Nonsense. We suffer because we don’t want to face and feel the truth alone, because it is easier to suffer in the herd than to face and feel the truth alone. We have to stop lying to ourselves, and stop listening to those who are selling and telling us the comforting lies we want to believe.
Changing a culture, even one as dark and dysfunctional as American culture, is the hardest thing. And American culture has, essentially, become the global culture.
Solitude through “social distancing is compelling us to stop escaping through meaningless sociality and busyness, through all the innumerable ways of avoiding ourselves, and simply look at and remain with what is within and around us.
Direct perception of what is cannot occur through reading apocalyptic books or watching apocalyptic movies. Direct perception occurs when the “theatre of the mind” is quiet, when we let go of words, images and associations, allowing insight into what is. That requires solitude.
As Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Stillness and silence are of the essence, but they aren’t, as Eckhart Tolle maintains, the “essence of our identity.” We are social creatures, and identity is a social construct.
Solitude is indispensable to experiencing presence and essence. When thought and self spontaneously yield to passive awareness alone, the infinite regression of the separate observer ends, and the movement of thought itself stops.
Tolle promotes the idea that there is an underlying “essence identity” within us that the “thinking conceptual mind” covers up or blocks out. That’s half true.
Identity has nothing to do with essence, since identity is an expression of the social construction of the self, and society has collapsed around us. Presence and essence flow from solitude, which transforms the individual, who then ineluctably changes society.
Sitting on the patio, watching and listening to the outer and inner movement, the noise of thought stops. One sees the delicate new leaves of the tree next door dancing in the breeze in the late afternoon sunlight, and there is joy.
To the west, through the sunlit branches filling in with spring’s growth, masses of cumulus gently drift by. Suddenly one is enveloped in beauty, and with it, the impersonal love that permeates nature and the cosmos.