learning

The Human Condition

human condition

Always remember that sometimes it is your expectations that are the problem, they can hold you back.  This sounds counterintuitive, but think about it: it is old philosophical news that we act upon our emotional rather than rational motivations.  Our expectations are often our long and hard sought rational musings over possible situations, and when we finally act those musings often do not coincide with how we feel.

But should we, as rational beings , act upon our emotions?  Our intellect informs us that we are acting emotionally and tries to override how we feel with what we think. Do we act or do we think?  We are capable of both, but eventually we will act upon our emotions.

This is problematic for rational-capable beings such as humans.  We think knowing all along that we will act emotionally: we have no choice.  We know that we will act emotionally and that knowledge is not enough: this is the secret.

Our expectations will always be squandered, they will never be met because they are the product of our understanding.  My friend, Chris Ransick, and I have often debated (over scotch of course) terminology (he is a poet and I a philosopher/farmer).  I think that we are arguing this exact point: the intellect is our ticket to freewill, but we will consistently act emotionally knowing that we give up our freewill.

This is not a new discussion, it is centuries old in philosophy, and it will continue even given the knowledge that how we feel will determine the outcomes of what we think.  This, I believe, is the human condition: we must continue to think seriously about what we feel and why we feel that way.

Heart and Mind

heart and mind

Decisions need to be made; action needs to be taken.  But, what to do, and why?  This is a common dilemma, one which most of us face at least a time or two in our lives.  These decisions, the “big” ones, often change the course of our lives, leading us to exulted happiness or dark bouts of regret.

At the one end, the decisions we are faced with are dilemmas of Grand Canyon dimensions, and on the other end they are but a fragment of dust in a vast universe.  It is our perspective that makes them greater or lesser important, and respectively more easily or harder to make.

We are told to follow our heart, but there is a price to be paid for doing such impractical things.  We are told to think things through, but then the rewards seem to be much less bright.  Our hearts and minds seem to be in a constant battle, but this is not necessary.

We can follow our hearts while being practical, in fact our hearts are much more fulfilled when the practicality of our decisions is clear.  The practicality of our lives becomes much more bright when we add splashes of color to our dreary necessities.

This is all to say that decisions will be the same, but the road we take to come to them may differ.  Sometimes we follow our heart and it leads us to the necessary practicality to fulfill the hearts desires.  Sometimes we lead with our minds and soon find that life is too dreary without dreams.

The Enemy of the Good

permaculture poster

It is difficult to wake up every morning and face the day, knowing that something that you will do will…fail.  But, this is inevitable; no matter what we do: we will fail.  Failure is a source of stress and frustration, anger and sadness; failure builds like a bomb inside of us and weighs down upon our shoulders.  Failure is physical.

But fail we will.  Some call failure an opportunity and others call failure a learning adventure, but when we lay our heads down at night to fall into a fitful sleep it is failure that we feel, it is that deep feeling that we did not quite make the grade.  This feeling of failure starts early and is experienced often.

This much is true; this much is the case and it must be the case.  But why do we fail?  This was a question that has been posed for eons and answers are many.  We fail because we do not try; we fail because we do not believe in ourselves; we fail because we have been told we will fail; we fail because we tell ourselves we will fail; we fail because to many anything less than perfection is failure.

Anything less than perfection is failure?  I have been a full time farmer for approximately a year and if I did not know that perfection is an illusion, then farming has taught me the hard lesson that it is, in fact, illusory.  We can gnash our teeth and pull our hair out; we can cry and obsess; we can wail and scream at the gods or we can remember that we should never let the perfect…be the enemy of the good.*

*Sam Harris: Waking up

 

The Last Screw

screw

I just recently finished building a “chicken tractor” as I am expecting ten young birds this Thursday.  For those that may not know the term, a “chicken tractor” is a wooden frame that is wrapped in chicken wire (or some such wire), and is accessible from the top.  The birds are put inside the structure and the whole shebang is put out on grass allowing the birds to eat grass and bugs.

I’d never built one before and it wasn’t difficult.  No plans were needed and managed to build two doors on top: one for the food and the other for the waterer.  Such projects are typically done without a plan, by the seat of your pants and this one was no different.  There is always an idea in the head that sparks it all off and then the work begins.

A few days later (or sometimes a few hours, depending on other chores) projects such as my chicken tractor are done and another takes its place.  This particular project started with a few 2×4’s and some chicken wire.  I had some tin roofing left over from the pig house I’d built the weekend before in the same manner.

The drawings in your head change as the project progresses.  Plans change; pictures are repainted.  The door is moved, the structure is reinforced diagonally instead of just in the corners; the door is smaller and in the opposite corner. These changes are typical and ongoing and like a house or painting or a piece of music, projects are rarely finished but simply left after the last screw is screwed in.  There are no finish lines, but only last screws.

Change

change-fish

Change is inevitable.  It does not come secretly into the night, but glaringly through our lives, if we only notice it.  Perhaps we turn our backs on it in hopes that it will go away.  But change will never go away; it is the reality in which we live.

Change is neither good nor bad.  It has no moral code, but a clear path which is all and everything.  It is the certainty that morality will never be.  It is reasonable to accept it, as it is reasonable to accept the moral codes which make sense.

Change cannot be ignored.  To ignore change is to ignore the water on the planet upon which we live; it is to ignore the infinite space above us to wonder at a small ditch beside the road.  To live life looking at the ground makes no difference to the change in our lives.

Change is fundamental.  It is both sufficient and necessary.  The fideism in which we lose ourselves blinds us to the ineffable, to the sublime, to the practical, to the rational, to the happiness in our lives, and to the sorrows that we must all face.

Change is the only consistent; the only inexorable constant, the philosophical truth, the scientific fact, the universal of the universe, the one god which is not love, but change itself.

We can change if only accept the change that is our lives.

Ten Things to Make you Feel Better

expectations

 

In this age of Trump, fake news, insanity and stupidity everyone needs something to make them feel better.  Here are ten suggestions guaranteed to help:

  1. Plant something and take care of it; start a garden.
  2. Go for a bicycle ride.
  3. Cook something completely from scratch (and drink wine while you’re doing it).
  4. Do something to help someone, but do it anonymously.
  5. Do #3 and take it to a neighbor.
  6. Take a long weekend and spend it in an expensive hotel.
  7. Go for a hike on a quiet trail, early in the morning (and I mean early!)
  8. Write a letter (on paper with a pen) to a friend.
  9. Close all the windows, all the curtains, and the doors and spend a day doing nothing.  Note: be sure to stock up with your favorite food for this one.
  10. Take a first step towards a long put-off dream.

Do not expect these suggestions to have the expected consequences, but if you delve into them in full guaranteed fulfillment is a certain consequent.

It Could Be Worse

Denmark has been rated as one of the happiest countries in the world for some years running (I think that Norway won this year’s test).  But, when reporters asked a prominent university professor in Copenhagen why his answer was, well…very Danish.

“We simply lower our expectations.”

Having lived in Denmark for some years and being fluent in Danish, I had to chuckle.  That answer sums up the attitude of the Danish culture as I have experienced it.  This seems very un-American and at the very least unattractive to Americans.  But, I believe that it is true, at least in a sense.

Recently in a conversation another somewhat “Danish” attitude towards happiness cropped up.  The interviewer asked how to be happy and the answer appropriated was:

“Always remember that it could be worse.”

This, too, has a ring of truth in it.  Lowering our expectations and remembering that things could get worse does help. Not expecting so much and being better than a worse scenario has the resulting happiness, at least in a sense of the word.  And perhaps that is enough, but perhaps not.

Then again,I am reminded of a song lyric (Queens of the Stone Age) that also alludes to happiness:

“Ignorance is bliss, until someone takes your bliss away.”

If you read, you might be reminded of an ancient philosophical idea (originated by Socratic philosophers) that says the same thing.  As J.S Mill wrote alluding to that idea:

“It is better to be miserable as Socrates than happy as a pig.”

So can a pig lower it’s expectations, and in doing so is it reminded, as it is shuffled off to slaughter, that things could be worse?

 

Spring into the Past

dirt

Sometimes we long after times that are gone, things that will not come to pass, and futures that are certain.  But we all know that these things are illusions.  Time passes and we all have different ways of noticing this.  Some of us stare at clocks on the wall or time displays in the corners of our screens.  Some of us count the nights and days, the weeks and perhaps the months.  I used to count time by the summer breaks I had.  It all works.

But time passes no matter what we do and we can only do with time what we decide to do with time; time will pass.  In the past I’ve watched time start with new seedlings and time continue with new plants in the garden.  I’ve watched time pass with the coming cold in the air and with the smell of beer brewing; kale boiling and the smell of canning the summer’s crop.

Those times are past and are yet to come.  Those times cycle through even if we do not notice them.  Sometimes our time is spent in the past, looking out over the horizon that darkens with every waking day.  That does not help.  It does help to think of the possibilities that the future holds.  Perhaps that we people garden.

With a small container and some soil we seed the future; the past seems not to matter.  With water we nourish our hopes; regrets seem forgone.  With soil we reminded that the past is nothing more that possible futures.  It is, after all, where we come from and where we eventually will come to.

Mistakes…Dreams will Be Made

dreams

Dreams are interesting endeavors.  They are experiments more than anything.  But, can pursuing a dream be a mistake?  As mentioned in a previous post, it is hard to remember your goal when you are in the middle of it all.  To answer that rhetorical question: I’m not sure that pursuing a dream can be a mistake.

Think about it: a dream is an experiment; the goal is (at best) unknown and even perhaps undefined.  Pursuing a dream, therefore, can never be a mistake.  Pursuing that dream is always worth it, but it must be remembered that dreams may not be what you think they are.

Sometimes dreams will enlighten, and most of the time they will be frustrating.  Sometimes dreams clarify even if they are never achieved in full.  All of these possibilities are in a way necessities because having a dream itself is a necessity.  Imagine what life would be without dreams.

You must give up things to pursue dreams, but those things are often vague and easily given up, at least in the beginning.  In dreams, mistakes will be made, but it is never a mistake to pursue your dreams.

Want What You Need

need

This time of year is sometimes difficult; it is time for warmth but it is still cold.  The sun is shining, but the wind is blustery and bitter.  Sitting inside by the fire the day looks beautiful but out in the forest nature soon reminds us that it is unforgiving.  And so we sit wanting something that we know we cannot have.  We do this and all the time know that it is a waste of that most precious commodity: time itself.

Days spent pining over the past or looking toward the future are days wasted.  The thought is a bit Buddhistic, but goes beyond the confines of any religion because the act is human.  Perhaps we are hardwired to desire what we do not have.  This desire comes, often enough, in the form of “keeping up with the Jones”.  It rears its ubiquitous head in many ways though.  I would argue that the mess that is our government today is a consequence of wanting what you don’t need rather than needing what you want.

Think of it another way.  We need food, we need shelter…that’s it.  But we want so much more.  These desires will always come at a cost, however.  The more we want, the more we need to understand that nothing is free.  If we want to be moral we must need to be moral. If we want truth, we must need truth.  Of course, we need both, but so many times we do not want either.

Looking out the window and wanting the warmth of Spring will not bring Spring any closer.  Knowing the right thing to do and not actually doing the right thing will not make us moral.  These philosophical ponderings will do no good unless we act upon them.  We must want to act and act in order to know what we need.  This is, perhaps, the secret.  By all means think, but if we want to know what we need we must also act.