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Life in Control


    Volker Brendel:   Thank you everyone for being willing to spend an hour together. I wish we were in one place physically. In some sense I guess we are. You might say it's a matter of perspective. The dimensions of space and time of the universe are hard to fathom. I understand that there is excitement in the astronomy community these days because they think they might be watching a supernova, an exploding star, close-by. Before you get too excited, you should note the following. "Close-by" is in astronomical dimensions. The event happens in the neighboring galaxy, but that star is still a million light years away. That means that the star's light would have to travel for a million years to get to us. So, clearly, close by is a somewhat relative term here! Moreover, the notion about getting excited now is also subject to relativism. If the event is actually happening now, then by our previous consideration we will have to wait a million years before we can observe it. On the other hand, something that we observe now from that particular spot in the universe happened a million years ago. As we consider these truly phenomenal dimensions of space and time we can appreciate our own position in that universe. We occupy really the tiniest speck of dust and a minuscule time range, and yet obviously that's the only space and time we know and thus it behooves us to do something here and now.

    Recognition of the entire universe around us in time and space is useful for infusing a sense of humility and awe, potentially urging us towards a little bit of wisdom. For example, before getting preoccupied about events that may have happened a million years ago, we might consider our more recent past, which we call history, and see whether there are any insights to be gained by such reflection. With hindsight comes perspective, and the necessary distance to evaluate different approaches in more measured ways, provided we keep an open and unbiased mind.

    One exciting period from relatively recent history that is quite relevant today occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries. Several European nations had emerged as world explorers. They built ever larger and faster sailing ships and sent them out across the seas to explore and document everything that could be learned about the world. Among these major powers was Portugal. There, King John II started his reign in the second half of the 15th century, consolidated power in his kingdom, and vigorously supported exploration and commerce. Riches were to be gained from the spice trade with the Indian subcontinent. At that time travel from Europe to India would have been very long and arduous. Successful voyages relied not only on shipbuilding talent but also on improvements in navigational skills and mapping. Nations that developed those skills had a huge advantage in securing trade, as well as subjugating other people far away, and in many cases outright stealing from them.

    The maps were inaccurate by today's standards but reflected the best knowledge of the time and thus there was both secrecy and intrigue around those maps. For example, in Portugal the King had in his palace a very large complex of buildings, Casa da India, devoted to all aspects of the trade, and adjacent to that a complex of buildings holding the maps and nautical secrets. Every time a ship came back, the captain and senior officers would make a visit to those facilities and would be eagerly interviewed by the cartographers. The maps would be updated accordingly. The Portuguese navigators had found a route to India around Cape Horn, at the southern tip of Africa, and that gave them a distinct advantage in the trade with the Far East. There are unsolved questions of history around whether Christopher Columbus may have been deliberately misled into trying to find a route to India sailing west, so that he and his employers would waste time while the Portuguese ships traded happily on their routes.

    A dominant motivation in all of this was the attempt to gain control. The King extended control over the subjects of his country, mainly the aristocracy, and consolidated power. His ships controlled the trade, and his explorers were sent out to overcome other people and colonize new countries. A period of prosperity resulted until eventually all of the naval powers went into decline and other technologies and foci of commerce and control emerged in the history of humankind.

    A common thread throughout history is that those seeking control appear to never have enough. There is always more to be gained, more riches to be taken for oneself, more power to be consolidated. If we fast-forward 400-500 years, how much has actually changed? Nations are still fighting over control of commercially important areas. In the last 50 years there were wars over the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal, for example, major shipping avenues having to do with the all-important oil trade. Similarly, oil pipelines going overland have made parts of the world that once seemed rather remote and obscure into strategic battlegrounds among world powers.

    In the last few years the battlefield has shifted again, and these days battles are fought over control of the internet. We witness those battles through the companies that are playing in this field. Although the internet emerged originally as a free and largely unregulated realm, there are many ways of controlling access to and views of the internet. Companies are building portals that people use almost exclusively to access information and commerce. You may be aware of these companies, and probably use a few of them. Yet their approaches are increasingly being recognized as bearing many dangers of manipulation, predominantly with respect to monopolizing consumer choices and habits.

    One recent example from my experience came from my efforts to purchase airline tickets online. You may have had a similar experience; you find that the flight in which you were interested would be available at this moment at a certain price, and maybe a few hours later it would not be available at all or be available only at an elevated price. Then you might try a different website and find tickets on that flight at the original priced; or you may come back a day or two later and find that the story has shifted again. Rather naïvely we could think that other people are trying to buy tickets as well and that supply and demand determine the observed fluctuations. But in reality, the changes are actually mostly tailored to you, the particular customer interested in this product. The underlying software has already recorded your habits, what you are typically willing to pay for tickets, how far in advance of travel you tend to buy tickets, what kind of preferences you might have, such as whether you fly with a companion, and so forth. Each customer has their own profile stored, and the commercial offerings (in this example, airline tickets) are tailored to maximize profits for the selling company. Unfortunately, this is just one example. The reason the internet has stayed relatively free of charge is because money can be and is being made in all kinds of other ways, through advertisement and e-commerce.

    New technologies are now being implemented that work on facial recognition of customers, so that in the near future, you might go to a (physical) store where you will be recognized by cameras and associated computer systems, and find items appear in your field of vision that the computer knows you might be interested in buying. Of course, the computer will know your bank account and will charge you on your exiting the store without your having to interact with a live person.

    Why this endless battle for control? Initially we might surmise that the battle is about money. But what is money used for? Money is perceived to empower. It is used to get things moving. Money appears to give you control over your life. And presumably the idea is that the more money you have, the more control you have, and the safer you ought to feel, the more empowered, even personally more valuable.

    Clearly, at some level, money gives some control, whatever that measure might be for an individual, and is a reasonable instrument to facilitate transactions. However, many studies show that "more" is not necessarily helpful. In fact, in many cases it increases your sense of insecurity, because now you have to worry about all this money, where to store it safely, how to prevent it from disappearing in a stock market crash, and so forth. Similarly, people over-using social media are found increasingly alienated from their real-life fellow human beings. There is a great dependency being developed on electronic means of communication. I often take informal surveys when I walk across town, and I would say between 30 and 70% of people on the sidewalk are glued to their electronic devices. Many folks have earplugs covering up their ears, and their eyes are fixed on their devices; they avoid using their senses to interact with real human beings! When a power outage hits, or your phone gets damaged, there can be great discomfort because of the perceived loss of control.

    Now if we put this whole discussion in the context of a vast and marvelous universe, then no matter where we look in the universe or the so-called natural world, there is actually plenty of evidence of control. I listened to an interview with famous author Dan Brown recently on his new book project titled "Origin," and he was asked what big topic he was going to tackle with this new book. His answer was that the theme he was struggling with was "Will God survive science?" I found that extraordinarily amusing, because God is a scientist! Science simply reveals the nature of the universe and therefore the nature of God. The idea that natural laws are somehow separate from God is ridiculous. There is just one creation. Of course, the author may have been referring not to science per se but to the practice of science (and not to God but to religious conceptions of God), which however is a totally different story. The practices in institutions of science are just as much suffused by human ego and misconception as any other approach human beings have thought of. All of these involve trying to wrestle control of life away from the control of the universe, which is already perfectly functioning and is in fact all pervasive and immutable. You may recall a statement by Jesus in one of his presentations indicating that "the very hairs on your head are numbered"—a statement to the effect that everything we see is known and enfolded by God, by Life.

    It is paramount that there be those on earth who consciously embody the control extended to our forms through our divine identity. A first step in that direction is to relax into the recognition that such control is there and can be trusted.

    We all have circumstances where we think "This is out of control. I'm not in charge. I can't do anything about it." But is that really so? Some weeks ago, I was careless and ended up falling down a small flight of stairs at home. As a result, I dislocated my left shoulder and found myself feeling, first of all, pretty silly and, secondly, in pain. Thanks to good treatment, everything is on the mend, but would that have been an incident of lack of control? You could say my conscious mind was asleep, what was in fact probably literally so, but other than that, everything happened exactly the way it should happen according to the laws of the universe. Stairs going down will have you tumble down by the force of gravity unless you counteract it in a conscious way. Running your shoulder into a hard wall or floor is likely to cause damage. And, the current healing process works in magical (scientific!) ways, and after all the bruising and so forth had subsided, all that was needed was stretching and strengthening exercises.

    So, can we trust the Lord, the universe, even in the face of calamity? I think there are many examples of people who have shown that faith and trust in far more trying circumstances than I have experienced in my life. And at any rate, what else is there to do? Life expresses life and will have its way.

    There are exciting frontiers left to be explored in our own experience and conduct, representing living examples of those who are controlled by Life. Men have a particular responsibility in this context. It is probably not an accident that sexual harassment is being widely discussed these days. We can point to perpetrators; we can be appalled at such behavior; we can be astonished that some of the events being reported these days have been kept in the dark for so long; but in the end, much of this behavior (and mostly although not entirely, perpetrated by men) is another feeble attempt of human beings to try to exert control of their own making. Inevitably at the root of sexual predatory behavior there is a sense of insecurity in the perpetrator, a sense of worthlessness, and an attempt to try to make up for it by putting other people down and imposing their will on them.

    As I said this type of behavior is shockingly prevalent, and it would be a mistake to just look at the most egregious cases and point fingers there. In smaller ways, different ways, and sometimes subconscious ways—what have we done? Every man on earth should take stock and see to what extent their attitudes and behaviors need adjustment. But more than that, the core of the matter lies in the question of finding your true identity. As a human ego trying to make a mark in the human-ego driven man-made world, you rightly will feel insecure and in need of mechanisms to cope and wrestle control from others so that you may feel more secure in yourself. Any of these mechanisms are bound to fail and are ultimately unsuccessful because Life will have its way. The only true security is to be identified with Life. Life created us, this particular life form that I inhabit. Life created everything around me that I rely on in my expression of this one animating force. Clearly the admonition is "Be one with that," and as we take steps towards the full realization of our identity, our divine identity, we gain a sense of peace and belonging, and the sense of being able to make a worthwhile contribution in the minuscule realm of our current incarnation. Although there have been individuals who have had that experience, expressed these qualities, and have mentored others throughout the ages, the current frontier still remains—to have a common experience of this identity, with the ego human nature part relegated to the sidelines.

    Incidentally, a revolution in computing took place some 30 years ago with the advent of cluster computing. Some of the first cluster computers were built from off-the-shelf individual small computers but shown to have power of supercomputers by clever communication among the different parts. Three elements in the engineering had to be taken care of: first, the connection between the individual units with fast cables; second, the communication between the different units; and, third, the master control node functioning to coordinate everything. With that, tremendous computer power could be applied to particular problems.

    I see a similar frontier in our interactions through dialogue, joint thinking, and joint action. Any given task will require a control node, one individual functioning to coordinate the various thoughts and activities. Then, after communication and willing participation, everything works together to accomplish a large task. What a different experience that is compared to the human nature approach of carving out one's own niche, bolstering one's ego, making sure that everybody knows that you are smart and contributing and should get a fair share of recognition. No, as we all recognize our individual identity in Life, we also recognize our collective identity as cells of an organism, perfectly put together to accomplish great deeds.

    I'm tremendously grateful for everyone with us in this endeavor, those who participate in these considerations and many others whom we meet in other circumstances. As we engage in this way with one another, we have a great sense of individual fulfillment, knowing that we play our part, and we have the great pleasure of seeing the powers of Life move through us as a collective. This is a wonderful life.

Perspectives

    Bill Isaacs:  The endeavor to control the human state has taken various forms over the ages; physical form at one point, mental form in more recent days. It remains the futile task that it always has been. The frontier of realization that I am already an integral component in the living operating system, the cosmic whole, is available to every cell throughout the body of humanity, and the power that has been off-line comes online as this realization emerges. I feel very appreciative of your articulation of this challenge and living reality today. It has been present throughout human history and it is coming to focus for us to realize and experience now.

    Shirley Malin:  From the female perspective, I am grateful to hear from a man with integrity and vision acknowledge the part he has played in the inappropriate approaches to the female. But, from the standpoint of females, I like to acknowledge that she indeed is also responsible for the initial fall, and she is as responsible to lead us out of this path of destruction. So, when she wakes up to this point, she stops complaining and begins the forgiveness, the repentance, and the expression of the glory of who she rightly is. And in doing so, what a relief there is for the male; no more excuses, she will not give space for that; but she will not blame either. I think we come to a point where these things are exposed, and there is an opportunity to let the clarification occur within each one of us through our own responsible actions.

    Tessa Maskell:   am aware in my own world and where I serve, that more and more people, be it men or women, are speaking up and are able to speak up where before they never could; in my world, I see it all over the place. Women who have hardly said a word before are now speaking up; not to be outrageous, but just to be heard. Fear not! There is a collective energy that tells me that there is a lot emerging, but in unexpected ways.

November 12, 2017

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