That's an appeal for a promise, isn't it? I'm reminded of another song 'Sentimental X's' by Broken Social Scene. One part of the song goes: 'Sentimental all of you/Sentimenal/All of you/I love you.' I was reminded of the song when reading Facebook updates on Christmas. I was musing on how people who--though reflecting glimpses of their lives in mirror fragments from different nodes of the social network nevertheless share the same persona of 'friend'--were unabashedly sentimental in their posts, wishing others well, sharing friendliness, good will, and kindness, and so forth. Different personalities leading different lives and aspiring towards different goals each affirming, individually and communally, that care, concern, hope, contentment, ease, respect, love, and joy can be enacted, embodied, and lived--not later, but right now. I'd like to think of this as a microcosm of an actual lifeworld, albeit one amidst what could possibly be infinite constellations of lifeworlds stretching, oscillating, and bending through indeterminate (and maybe indeterminable?) space.
Though indeterminable in depths and dimensions, the potentials and possibilities of this clear, open space are actualised by energies and forces of varying magnitudes, speeds, and frequencies--these, to speak figuratively, spark and ignite the creative choreographies and melodies of the creating cosmos, through which chaos and order elegantly dance, play, commune, and rest in partnership and harmony, with delicate balance and equipoise. To my awareness, knowledge, and imagination, the cosmos is characterised by undulating forces, patterns, and relations which, based on what I've felt, I'd hypothesise as the conditions of possibility for life, for consciousness, for vitality. To stretch this 'cosmic' metaphor a little further, the relay points, transmissions, and feedback circuitries of the social network--what I'd also liken to the synapses of bodies-minds communicating communally, cooperatively with one another--giving out and receiving signals from one technico-neuro-chemical junction to another, effecting movement, navigation, and reconnections which together form a jewelled net that glitters with living affirmations of goodness, beauty, and truthfulness. This porous, open net collects, protects, and preserves the ever-changing collection of symbols, words, snapshots, freeze-frames, and afterimages that irradiate from our memories, imprinting on our bodies what we have become, may become, and hopefully, continue to become.
Writing the previous post got me thinking about what it means to celebrate Christmas with a few of my closest and much loved friends. We had all decided, as early as a year ago I think, that we'd spend this Christmas together, something we hadn't done before. These are the oldest friends I've known since moving to Australia in 2002, friends who, I believe, have somehow been able to respect, appreciate and even love not only our commonality, our shared passions, our shared hates (we do grumble about the world occasionally :-) but also our irreducible differences, the strange, curious little quirks, habits, likes, and dislikes of the other that tickle and puzzle us. I would call the relationship we've nurtured and share a kind of 'spiritual friendship', or if the idea of 'the spiritual' doesn't resonate with you, we could call it 'admirable friendship.' For me, I take the word 'spiritual' to involve the enacting and sharing of such admirable qualities as loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. These virtues are nurtured, cultivated, enlivened by thoughts-speech-acts like ethical behaviour and reflection, non-grasping attentiveness, and creative inquiry-expression-performance-vocation. These virtuous qualities--nourished and cradled by fidelity, trust, dedication, and responsibility--allows us to embody goodness, to honour truthfulness, and to resonate harmoniously with beauty.
My understanding of spiritual or admirable friendship is informed by the Buddhist notion of kalyana-mittata. It is said that the Buddha impressed upon his disciples the importance of admirable friendship, for it is the 'the first prerequisite for the development of the wings to self-awakening.' The advice was given to laypeople too: to nurture companionship with and to emulate those who share goodness, beauty, and truthfulness; those whom we can trust and turn to for a sympathetic ear, for wise counsel, for patience, for support, for understanding--however, I think it is also necessary to accompany these with sustained effort at caring for, exploring, honouring and understanding ourselves without expecting justifications nor attempting to conceal what we have done, have become, or hope to become. (NOTE: This is my paraphrasing of the advice given in Buddhist discourses on admirable friendship; see link above.)
In the context of monasticism, the support of admirable friendship provides the conditions conducive for their spiritual path. To put it in very generalised terms, one of the goals of the Buddhist spiritual path involves the cultivation of a full, deep, felt, an embodied acceptance (in my experience, this somehow also allows for a greater appreciation) of the reality of impermanence: things change. And to my understanding, the inevitable fact of change is like the not too distant horizon of our lives, a future to come that we can only await. For however much we move towards the horizon--which orientates us, guides us, give us faith, hope, and reason to continue, to explore, to seek--the horizon, being a horizon, will invariably recede. This very nature of the horizon represents the futility of resisting change, and the impossibility of controlling the incoming of a future; the horizon reminds us that there will always be more to come--whatever may be. This absolute future asks that we await and embrace change with faith and hope, an appeal for affirmation.
Maybe this is why people get all sentimental about moments of communion. I don't know about you but I'm usually quite self-conscious about displaying sentimental behaviour. This is partly because I have a reserved personality, and partly because of the oversaturation of sentimentality in the mediasphere, where it is peddled in TV ads, soapies, movies, lifestyle magazines, self-help books, for instance, like some cheap snake oil, carelessly exploited, sensationalised, glamorised, and venerated as a panacea for the burdens and uncertainties of life. But despite these reasons, I cannot deny that I'm very sentimental about many things. I certainly have deep sentimental feelings towards you and for all the moments of communion we've shared. So, my reservations about overt sentimentality notwithstanding, perhaps sentimentality is the pulsating of the heart (to be sentimental is to be heartfelt, don't you think?) from which goodness, beauty, and truthfulness reverberate and resonate.
Sentimentality, then, following my ruminations here, is what allows us to feel hope, contentment, and joy; it is the ability to embody beauty, goodness, and truthfulness--RIGHT NOW, however long it lasts, before it phases into and metamorphises the next: a future to come, the reality of change.
Change. In fighting against it and crying over it, I've felt disappointment, loss, doubt, fear, sadness, loneliness, emptiness. Have you felt the same? Yet, with change I have also felt respect, compassion, understanding, support, patience, trust, love, friendship. I'm glad to say that many of the moments where I felt the fullness of life have been in the presence of your companionship, in shared moments of goodness, beauty, and truthfulness.
Thanks to a dear friend whose wonder, curiosity, and amazement for the astronomic sciences have inspired in me a curiosity too about the marvels of what is unknown, and possibly unknowable, about the depths and dimensions and the beginnings and ends of space and time. By accepting and being aware of the unknowingness of the cosmos which, although I can't master or describe with absolute certainty, I have intuited, felt, and known a humbling presence of awe and peace difficult to elaborate in words. I can at best describe it as a sense sublime, the grace of immense (dare I say infinite?) compassion that sometime irrupts unexpectedly through the experiences of contentment, ease, joy, and also the experiences of dissatisfaction, uncertainty, and sadness stringing together birth and death, this fleeting moment we call THIS VERY LIFE. From a galactic or 'cosmic' (I like the expansiveness and mystery of this term) optic, our shared moments are really but the faintest and briefest of sparks ignited by the pulsating reverberations of space and time, where expansions and contractions, collisions and explosions herald the births, deaths, and rebirths of suns and stars; of galaxies and constellations; of molecules and elements; of systems and ecologies; of worlds and realities; of life and consciousness; of love and awakening.
As we cherish the moments that have passed, celebrate what is present now, and await a future to come: we each have decisions to make, journeys to travel, responsibilities to meet, relationships to nurture, questions to ask, answers to question--not to mention dragons, monsters, ghosts, and demons to chase, and of course, dreams to fulfil, stars to discover, love to give, worlds to create, promises to keep. But to fulfil dreams, to discover stars, to give love, to create worlds, to keep promises--what else can we do but await a future to come? What else can we do but embrace change? Without the horizon of change which, although ever-receding, nevertheless orientates us, guides us, and gives us reasons for faith and hope--how are we to honour the truthfulness of the goodness we've felt or embody the beauty of the truthfulness we've shared?
Given that there's no way of fully knowing or anticipating the absolute future, maybe we could--to honour the goodness, beauty, and truthfulness we've felt in life--accept what we do not or cannot know and do what we can to further develop those admirable qualities we have felt and learnt, so that our decisions and actions may allow the unexpected incoming of the utterly other. But given how expectations can NOT give us certainty in the full sense of the word (if you observe it clearly, expectations are really just projections, don't you think?), UNCERTAINTY is always already here, today, not tomorrow. It is this unknowingness of tomorrow here today that demands of us to repeatedly choose and act on a decision. For me, given the absence of certainty that is always shadowing the present, I think a prudent course of action to take would be to affirm this moment, today, and then the next, then the next, until a future comes.
But this takes considerable effort, and I must say that I've not always been mindful of my decision. From time to time, I forget about my decision to honour those admirable qualities that have brought me joy, contentment, and ease, and being absentminded I sometimes carelessly act in ways contrary to those admirable qualities I've felt, learnt and shared with you. Sometimes (and I ask for your graciousness and understanding) I lose sight of the horizon, forget the call of fidelity, trust, dedication, and responsibility. Nevertheless, each time I am reminded of the call to honour my decision--a call of, from, and beyond the absoute future: the impossible horizon--I start again and exert what effort I have now. This, I ACCEPT, is all I can do to INCITE a future to come. But my efforts notwithstanding, I still have to AWAIT the absolute future, to ALLOW it to come. The decision to affirm goodness, beauty and truthfulness as we phase through one moment to the next: isn't this movement that of faith? The decision to steer our intentions towards the gravitational pull of what is admirable, wholesome, or virtuous: isn't this navigation that of hope? Accept. Incite. Await. Allow. Starting again and again: here, now, faith and hope, for tomorrow.
I'm sorry I can't yet promise that as we each face what is to come, I will not change or that we will always find reconnections as the movement and navigation of life take us further into, perhaps closer to, the horizon. The truth is I cannot anticipate change nor can I yet promise that you and I would not one day become as the song puts it, 'a friend of a friend you used to call.' But I'm more than a little hopeful and have more than a little faith, which, btw is not a fervent, clinging belief that all my wishes and expectations will come to be as how I've desired them to be, because this only incites fear. Rather, faith, as I choose to affirm it, is a confidence or trust in the goodness, beauty, and truthfulness felt, learnt, and shared by us--between you and I. I therefore choose to affirm goodness, beauty, and truthfulness with the faith and hope that the reality of these truths will, if they have brought me such joy, contentment, love, and ease, usher what is to come and with grace fulfil a promise for tomorrow. I promise I will do what I can to embrace change, to await a future to come, where we may, hopefully, reconnect again (and again) in cosmic outbursts of dazzling rapture and joy, igniting together sparks of goodness, beauty, and truthfulness.
Given the 'cosmic', luminous but ephemeral moments we've shared and created--dearly cherished and fondly remembered, of course--will you kindly accept my gesture of good faith: Shall we keep it as a promise? You and I, friends?