Balancing Spiritual and Moral Imperatives — “The Good Life”

By Kevin

Grandma called it “The Good Life” – praying and meditating and singing hymns (she used to whistle to “save her voice for the choir”) while working her tail off, whether that meant ironing and house cleaning, or making quilts, or visiting people who were ill or depressed, or stepping into the pulpit to preach the sermon the very Sunday after my beloved grandfather died. It was Valentine’s Day and Grandpa had given Grandma a golden heart locket at breakfast, before they both went out to perform a funeral service as part of their pastoral duties. They always considered it to be a two-person ministry. At the graveside, he threw a handful of dirt into the void, lifted his eyes to Heaven, and said, “Earth to earth and dust to dust… Father into Thy hands we commend this spirit.” And he dropped dead to the ground with a massive heart attack. Until she died at 103, when Grandma spoke of the death of her “Beloved,” she said, “I was sitting right there, just a few feet away when he fell. I rushed to his side and said into his ear, ‘Don’t worry, Honey, everything is going to be all right…’ and it has been…” They both lived profoundly good lives, full of love and wisdom and daily prayer and meditation, balanced by very hard work and acts of selfless kindness and goodness despite their own heavy sorrows – the gold standard for “The Good Life.”

So I understood from a very early age that as much as I might long to devote my life to utter hedonism on one hand, or spiritual and mystical contemplation on Ultimate Love, Wisdom, Peace, Bliss, Beauty, Integrity and Union, on the other hand, inhabiting a physical body comes with very real responsibilities to act and “do good works” in the world. Sometimes those can be as simple as sweeping the floor and doing the dishes. Sometimes they involve profoundly complex social and political interaction. Thank God they can be as fun as dressing up like a clown and playing a slide whistle, or as fulfilling as brushing paint onto a canvas. But I continue to believe that it is equally important to balance action and “good works” with praying, meditating, singing, chanting and dancing for miracles of growth, in our own consciousness and the world’s. And, of course, a healthy dose of hedonism is only natural and right, if one is to enjoy this life. But the older I get the more crystal clear it becomes that balancing spiritual and moral imperatives is the key to living “The Good Life.”

While meditation upon Spirit has become an entirely private matter for me and many others, quite apart from “organized religion,” which I now consider to be an oxymoron, the moral imperative to act in the world has become so profound that it forces many of us out of our comfort zones and toward visible activism. Thank goodness the peace of meditation in the woods balances out the stress of acting in the world, because the stakes could not be higher. Today’s moral imperative to act is nothing less than a life and death matter for all of us. Consider this quote from James Hansen, the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in his May 10, 2012 New York Times Op Ed, “Game Over for the Climate:”

“Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.”

Hansen laments that President Obama was quoted in a recent “Rolling Stones” interview as having said that Canada will exploit the oil in its vast oil sands reserves “regardless of what we do,” and he ends his Op Ed article with a vision of moral judgment against us by future generations, if we do not act to arrest and reverse Global Climate Change immediately:

“Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.”

The 71-year-old internationally known climatologist and activist for the fight against Global Climate Change is both revered and hated in today’s utterly polarized world, in which so many people choose to ignore the urgent warnings of 98% of the world’s scientists and 100% of the national academies of science, in favor of sticking their heads in the tar sands. It is clear that those of us who believe in science must accept the moral imperative of taking action to support James Hansen and all of the activists who are raising the alarm about the dire impending consequences of Global Climate Change. This is a THE moral and ethical issue our time for people of conscience who believe in responsible stewardship of the Earth and who wish to save as many species as possible from extinction, including our own. A more profound challenge than this fundamental immediate threat to our survival has never confronted the human race before. We must persuade President Obama to use his power and authority to stop the Keystone Pipeline and the Canadian oil sands development. We must make the case loudly and clearly through political and social involvement and all kinds of action that it is time to break our addiction to fossil fuels and develop clean alternative energy sources now. Go to http://350.org and click on “End Fossil Fuel Subsidies” to support the Bernie Sanders/ Keith Ellison bill to do just that. This falls into the category of “good works” and it just happens to be a matter of life and death. So DO it!

Beyond taking whatever actions we can think of to save the planet as a habitat that will support life, if you happen to believe in the unseen world of Spirit and know how to pray, meditate, chant, dance, sing or whistle your way to communion with the Infinite, now would be a good time to humbly and sincerely ask for a miracle of growth in our own individual consciousness and that of the entire world. We must work as hard as we can and then pray and meditate for enlightenment and miracles, so that our efforts to act in service to the moral imperatives in this world might be guided by the Love and Wisdom and Peace of Spirit. If we can do this, then we will be living “The Good Life” regardless of the outcomes, and “…it will be all right.” Now… let’s spend some hedonistic time outside, enjoying this incredibly beautiful Earth and expressing gratitude for its existence, while we still can.

2 thoughts on “Balancing Spiritual and Moral Imperatives — “The Good Life”

  1. Dear Kevin, I thought of you while reading Chris Hedges’ column this evening. He writes about the need to rediscover the ways of native cultures and reconnect with our humanity through the arts. These steps are essential if we are to survive.

    Here is an excerpt: ” All that concerns itself with beauty and truth, with those forces that have the power to transform us, is being steadily extinguished by our corporate state. Art. Education. Literature. Music. Theater. Dance. Poetry. Philosophy. Religion. Journalism. None of these disciplines are worthy in the corporate state of support or compensation. These are pursuits that, even in our universities, are condemned as impractical. But it is only through the impractical, through that which can empower our imagination, that we will be rescued as a species. The prosaic world of news events, the collection of scientific and factual data, stock market statistics and the sterile recording of deeds as history do not permit us to understand the elemental speech of imagination. We will never penetrate the mystery of creation, or the meaning of existence, if we do not recover this older language. Poetry shows a man his soul, Goddard wrote, “as a looking glass does his face.” And it is our souls that the culture of imperialism, business and technology seeks to crush.”

    You can find the entire piece on Truthdig. Your art brings forth new life and hope.

    In peace, Susan

    • Dear Susan,

      Thank you so much for sharing Chris Hedge’s column. It reminds me of a story I heard on NPR yesterday about Winston Churchill. During WWII, one of Churchill’s top economic advisors told him that England would have to cut its funding for the arts due to hard economic times. Churchill is reported to have responded, “Then, what are we fighting this war for?” Churchill was a damn good painter and loved the arts. If this story is true, it sounds like he might also have completely agreed with Chris Hedge that the arts, religion and philosophy have the power to inflame our imaginations, transform us, and save us from our own baser natures. There’s a reason why they call all of those disciplines “The Humanities.” Those are the pursuits that make us human and help us dream of becoming superhuman.

      For 22 years I have been making my living as a business consultant to large corporations. As you can imagine, this has been something of a juggling act to say the least, and I have had to deal with an enormous amount of cognative dissonance as an artist roaming the halls of corporate power. I’ve struggled with no small amount of guilt. The only way I could continue was to think of myself as a subversive plant in these corporate work groups — a double agent, if you will, leaving art and creative thinking in their offices, which inevitably challenge the authoritarian ways of greed, power and opportunism. But there comes a time when even the best double agent must get back to his own people and purge his mind and heart of the pollution from the other side. I’m ready.

      Thank you for your friendship and support of our creative efforts. I could not agree more that salvation is found in “The Humanities.” -k

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