Only lovers left alive: a dialog with someone who has lived for centuries

 

I haven’t seen Only Lovers Left Alive yet, but read enough about it to know that the two main characters have lived for centuries and have amassed a huge amount of experience and perhaps some wisdom in the process.

So I thought it would be fun to try a dialog with someone who has lived for centuries.

When we use Voice Dialog / the Big Mind process, we typically dialog with parts of us that are obviously here like the voice of appreciation, the victim, or Big Mind / Heart.

There is no part of me that had lived for centuries. Or is there? I can easily enough imagine how it would be to have lived for generations, and access that voice or part of me.

And in a quite real sense, I have in me something that had lived for that long. Something that has, through culture, accumulated experience and wisdom over generations.

In another quite real sense, as part of this living Earth, and as part of this universe, I am billions of years old. Everything in me is the product of billions of years evolution of the universe and this living planet, millions of years of evolution of pre-human ancestors, and hundreds of thousands of years thousands of my human ancestors.

So, yes, I can probably dialog with a voice in me that has the experience and wisdom from having lived for generations.


Dialog with one who has lived for generations.

Can I speak with the voice that has lived for generations?

Yes.

How do you see the world?

Not so different from you. Just from more experience. I am much less caught up in the daily fluctuations compared with you and others who have only lived for a short time. I have seen it all. It all comes and goes. Disappointment. Elation. Health. Illness. Birth. Death. It’s all part of life, and I have seen all of it enough to not get caught up in it.

Does it mean you are detached?

For a while, I tried detachment and distance, but that’s deadly boring in the long run. It’s much more juicy to feel and be engaged and play the game, but I am not caught in it. I know it all, including my responses, comes and goes.

It sounds a bit like the wisdom of the Buddha?

Yes, I knew him. Good fella. (That’s a joke, by the way. I was somewhere else back then.)

But yes, it’s pretty similar. I think that anyone who lives for generations will develop that kind of wisdom or view on life. It’s almost inevitable.

Do you have any advice for P.? (This interviewer.)

Well, let’s see. I think he knows it already but hasn’t taken it in fully. He doesn’t completely trust it or allow himself to live from it. So if I can help, here it is.

He allows himself to worry about things that are regular parts of life, it’s the universal ups and downs. And he sometimes takes it more personally than he needs, and get more caught up in it than he would if he had longer experience. Life is not about him. Life just happens, as it does for everyone. Stay engaged, play the game, and know it’s not personal and most of the details are not even that important in the long run. Just do your best.

How do you see the world today?

Most if not all of the problems come from people being short-sighted. They think locally and act short-term, and although that worked in the past when humanity was smaller and had less powerful technology, it doesn’t work anyone. There are too many people, with too powerful tools, for that to work.

Humans need to imagine bigger, or at least enough need to, so they can create new systems that take deep time and global situations (like ecosystems) into consideration.

Human nature won’t change, but humans adapt their behavior to the system they are in.

(I should add: Human nature does change, but not very quickly. Not on the scale of centuries or decades.)

Is there a question you would like to be asked?

Hm. I like that question. Ask me what I enjoy the most.

What do you enjoy the most?

The changing seasons. The seasons of nature, of human life, of generations and human history.

The very small things, the ordinary. A cup of tea. Saying hello to a stranger. Waking a dog. Reading a book. Weathering an illness.

The new. A new dish. A new sunrise. A new here and now.

It’s there anything you are tired of?

Not really. Perhaps the predictable, or at least thinking something is predictable. I have seen enough to know it’s not. I guess that’s something I am still learning.

Is there anything else you are currently learning?

I am not sure. I think it’s mainly noticing how everything is fresh.

The mind sometimes tells me that this is something I have experienced more times than I can count, and although that’s true in a way, it’s not the whole picture. This experience is fresh.

I guess that’s another parallel to what Mr. Buddha and others have talked about. And it is the only way to stay fresh and keep enjoying – and not only enjoying but deeply enjoying — life when you live and live and live as I do.

What music, art, and books do you like?

Anything. Anything from any culture and period. What’s familiar and what’s new. High culture and trash. It’s all juicy.

Is it possible to make a mistake?

Well, it depends on what you mean. Of course, we sometimes make mistakes in a small perspective. We bungle things. Make poor decisions. Or make good decisions that turn out badly.

In a bigger perspective, those are not really mistakes. We do what we can based on who and how we are and the situation we are in. And we get feedback from life and have an opportunity to learn. So in that sense, nothing is really a mistake.

What do you think about conditioning?

That’s something I have a lot of experience with. Conditioning is the operating system of humans or at least a large part of it.

Patterns are passed on through the generations, with some variations. Patterns of what’s seen as good and bad, right and wrong; and patterns of likes and dislikes, cultural and family hangups and traumas; ideas about heaven and hell, gods and demons, how the world works, and just about anything else that’s part of how humans function.

When you take a generational view, you see how it’s not personal. It’s all passed on. And then we make it personal, and we have a chance to not take it as personal if we realize what’s going on.

Even how we function as a body is conditioning, passed on with some variations through all our ancestors back to that first single-celled organism.

And how this universe works is conditioning.

Some talk about conditioning as if it’s bad or something we need to get rid of, but that’s a superficial view. We are made up of conditioning. Our bodies wouldn’t function without it. Our society wouldn’t function without it. We would have no chance to function, or survive, or exist, without it. It’s the fabric of what we are.

The only conditioning we need to be concerned about is the one of wounds and hangups, and even here how we relate to it is more vital than getting rid of it. Of course, we can do some of both.

And a part of this conditioning is the beliefs and ideas passed on through the generations that creates pain for us, and an unnecessarily limited life when we hold them as true.

How do you see non-dual spirituality?

I hoped you wouldn’t ask. Yes, it’s pretty close to reality. And in the modern western version, it’s often taken as a belief, something to hold onto to feel secure and try to stay safe. For many who are into it, it’s a security blanket. They just exchanged traditional religion for neo-Advaita. That’s fine but if they are not honest about it, they are deluding themselves.

If I am honest, and I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, many would do better to heal their emotional issues. They would find more ease and real contentment that way.

That sounds a bit harsh?

Well, yes. It’s just that I have seen versions of it so many times, in so many periods and cultures. People are in pain. And they seek and latch onto a belief – a religion or philosophy or political system – that promises to give them relief. And the real relief is in healing the pain, not getting obsessed about a system or philosophy.

To be continued…

A note: When I wrote this, I imagined dialoguing with a relatively average person who has lived for centuries. My partner dialogued with the version of herself that has lived for eons. And it can be fun to explore even more versions: the mystic, the poet, the wise man/woman, the scientist, the warrior, the one who loves earth, the one who loves humans, the one who loves life, the one who has lived innumerable lives in places around the whole Cosmos.

Is spirituality timeless?

 

The answer is yes, and no, and it depends, and we don’t really know.

Yes, the simple essence is perhaps more or less timeless and universal. It’s all the divine. And the divine, locally as us, can discover that – and live now from it – through sincerity and basic practices and pointers.

No, a lot in spirituality (and especially religion) is not timeless. Religions come and go. Spiritual taurine come and go. Specific practices come and go. The specific context all of it is understood within comes and goes.

It depends on what we are taking about. As said before, some of the basics – in terms of understanding, practices, and pointer – seem more universal and timeless. And a lot is more specific to a time, culture, and tradition.

And more honestly, we don’t know any of this for certain. Even what seems more timeless and universal can and will change. It changes with the time we are in, our culture, and our general worldviews and understanding of really.

Is it likely that spirituality, and even more so religions, will be quite different in a distant future? Yes. Is it likely that if there is life other places in the universe, and interested in these things, they will have a different take on this? Yes. And is it still likely that the essence may be somewhat similar? I would say yes to that too.

What do I see as relatively timeless and universal?

The main is that all is the divine. Existence – including us and all our experience – is the divine exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself.

Spirituality, at least the typical human version, is about helping the divine – locally as us – rediscover this and live more from this in daily life. This too is part of Lila, the play of the divine.

And what about spiritual practices? These are a little more tied to a time, place, and tradition, but there are perhaps some universals here too.

These include:

Guidelines for our life. (For social and community reasons, but also to minimize distractions and help us mimicking view we naturally live when we are more clear and healed).

Devotional practices like song and chants, mantras, prayer, and some forms of meditation. (This includes all forms of mediation and other practices when done with devotion.)

Contemplation, inquiry and pointers.

Basic forms of mediation. For instance, notice and allow whatever is happening within content of experience. (And, with time, what it all happens within and as.)

Training a more stable attention, which helps us in spiritual practice and all areas of life.

Gratitude and forgiveness practices, and working with projections, like some forms of prayer (“thank you”), all-inclusive gratitude practice, Tonglen, and ho’oponopono.

Body-inclusive practices like dance, yoga, tai chi and chigong.

Subtle-energy practices through any form of inner yoga, and as found in traditional Indian yoga, tai chi, and chigong. (I would include Vortex Healing as an example.)

And (emotional) healing practices to remove blocks to noticing what we are and living from it.

Of course, I say these are more universal and timeless, but I am very aware that different traditions emphasize these differently, have different ways of doing each of them, and that this list reflects my own preferences, interests, and what I have found useful and helpful.

What is evil?

 

What is evil? What does it refer to?

As usual, there are many answers – each with some value.

Personally, I don’t find the word very useful and rarely if ever use it, apart from when I explore it in inquiry or as I do here.

So with that caveat, here are some answers to the question: what is evil?

The easy answer is that nothing is inherently evil, and nothing is what we call it. Evil is in the label. The idea of evil is created from a mental overlay.

We could also say that it’s intentionally causing harm to others, whether as a byproduct of getting to another goal or for its own sake. This is tricky since we all cause harm to other living beings in our daily life – especially to non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations.

And that’s a reminder that what’s evil depends on who we are. If we are a human, then evil can be seen as what other humans do to us when they act in ways that systematically harm us. If we are a non-human or an ecosystem, we can say that the current behavior of humans is evil since it systematically harms non-human life. Animals are imprisoned and killed just so they can provide food or other products to humans, and they often suffer immensely in the process. Ecosystems are systematically damaged and destroyed so what’s extracted from them can temporarily support human activity. And if we are any being in the future – any future human or non-human being or ecosystem – then the current human behavior is evil. It’s destructive for all future generations. This means that, in a sense, we are all evil. Each of us is evil to someone. And our current human society, the way it’s organized, functions in an evil way. If we chose to use the word evil, and if we want to be honest with ourselves, we have to include this view.

And, related to “it’s all in the label”, evil – as anything else we see in ourselves or the wider world – is a projection. It’s an idea we put on something in the world. And the idea, as any other idea, is made up by our own mind by a combination of mental images, words, and sensations. We may feel that something is evil, because it’s connected to sensations in our body that makes the idea seem solid, real, and perhaps even true. And that, in turn, is happening because we have learned it from our parents, friends, subcultures, and our culture in general. (That’s probably why I don’t find the word very useful or compelling: I didn’t grow up in a culture where it was used much or was seen as meaningful.)

In a more pragmatic sense, what we conventionally label evil in humans is often their reaction to their own trauma and pain. Hurt people hurt people. When we see someone acting in a way we can call evil, it’s often because they themselves have deep wounds they don’t know how to deal with in a constructive way, so they react to their deep pain by inflicting pain on others. Or, at the very least, by not caring very much if they inflict pain on others. (This gives us some understanding and empathy for people acting in this way but doesn’t in any way condone their actions. It’s still our duty to do what we can to stop harmful actions.)

This lack of caring can also happen if we are very removed from the consequences of our actions. If most humans today can be seen as evil from the perspective of non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations, it’s not because we wish to inflict pain and suffering on these. It’s because the consequences of our actions are often far removed from us. We don’t see the consequences and don’t get immediate feedback. And it’s also because we live and operate within a social system that’s created in a world (in the 1800s) where the resources and garbage-absorption capacity of the natural world seemed infinite and is still – for the most part – considered infinite in our economic system. It’s not, in itself, evil, but the consequences can certainly be experienced and seen as evil.

How can I work with this in my own life?

I can explore my ideas of evil in this way, and through inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries, Big Mind process etc.). I can find in myself the qualities and characteristics I see as evil, and see “out there” in the world and other people. (Even if what I find are perhaps much smaller or even just seeds and potentials.) I can put myself in the place of others – including non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations – and ask myself how they would see my behaviors, and perhaps use that as a correction. I can inform myself about the far-reaching and distant consequences of my actions and use this as a correction and guide for my own life. I can invite in healing for my own traumas and wounds so I am less likely to create and operate from ideologies aimed at protecting me from my own pain (racism, sexism, uncaring anthropocentrism, general dehumanization etc.), or lash out when my pain is triggered and harm myself and others.

Personally, I find my actions are evil from the perspective of nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future generations. It’s not intended to be evil, but I know it can easily be seen that way. After all, I operate within a system that doesn’t take the long term and distant effects of our actions much into consideration. It’s not incorporated, because it didn’t need to be when our system was developed. I also know I my actions have caused suffering for others, especially when I have not been able to be completely honest or in my own integrity because of my own pain and fears. That is something I am working on, both in terms of finding healing for my issues creating this behavior and preventing it by being honest, taking care of my own needs (some of it has happened because I didn’t), and be more in integrity.

Healing on behalf of life

 

When I invite in healing for myself, it’s on behalf of life.

When I heal a part of me, it obviously benefits myself, my future self, and those around me. It may also benefit future generations and all life. And I am doing it on behalf of my ancestors.

So when I do healing for myself and it feels challenging, I can remind myself of this. I am doing it on behalf of life. And, in a sense, I have the support of all of life in my healing process. 

How is this true, more specifically? 

When I find emotional healing for myself, it benefits me and my future self. It’s an act of solidarity with my future self. I’ll be better able to make good decisions and fully enjoy and live life. It may also benefit those around me since I’ll be more free of emotional issues and reactivity, less annoying, and perhaps more understanding. 

In the same way, it may benefit future generations. If I have children, they will benefit from my healing and pass it on, and at the very least not pass on the unhealthy patterns that ended with me. 

And I am doing it on behalf of my ancestors. Many unhealthy emotional patterns are passed on through generations and through our culture.  And even if my ancestors and previous generation were not able to find healing for the patterns passed on to me, I may be able to find healing for what they couldn’t (due to different times, awareness, support, skills). 

My healing can also help the wider living whole. Healing means contentment and less reactivity, and contentment allows for less (harmful) consumption, and reduced reactivity allows for kinder and more informed decisions and way of life. A way of life that takes into account the well-being of all of life. 

In these ways, all of life is an ally in my healing. When I imagine all beings as kind and clear, I know they support my healing. And I can remind myself of this and this implicit support, when my own healing seems challenging.

Beyond just reminding myself, I can call in and ask for support from ancestors, future, generations, and all of life for my own healing process. 

Note: I say “heal myself” which is partly true, but it’s more true that life heals itself. “I” am not doing it and cannot do it. Life does it. Life invites in healing for parts of itself and heals itself.