The Transience of our Permanence

Aside


They say when you get a lover
You begin to lose a friend.
That the end of the beginning is the beginning of the end.
They say the moment that you’re born is when you start to die.
And the first time that we said hello began our last goodbye.

                                            Roger Whittaker in The First Hello The Last Goodbye, 1976.

Have you wondered why most fairy tales end with the lines, “…..and then they lived happily ever after.”

Somewhere these words leave a warm feeling inside of permanence and stability. As we go through life, we like to moor ourselves to our family, our home and our possessions. We see permanence and derive comfort from the known just as we feel discomfort in transience and avoid the unknown.

But we are born and live through a world always in transience. And buffeted by the changes, we also keep changing. I remember the lines made famous by Bob Dylan in the sixties.

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Yes, we better start swimming and we do swim. But we do this because we are somehow conditioned to maintain the permanence of our situation and not because we are conscious of   “times they are a – changin’.” So while our rational mind does notice the kaleidoscopy of transience happening all round us including our own self, our emotional core tries to hold onto the solidity of our perceived permanence.

I wonder about this as I ask myself, “Why do we long for this permanence when we know we are in transience?” Does the answer lie in religion? For religion does seem to offer sedateness amidst the noise and striving surrounding us. Religion tells us that permanence lies in loving God and loving one another. But love is a feeling. So does religion signify permanence of our feelings as it speaks of the transience of our physical selves?

                     “That nothing walks with aimless feet;

                      That not one life shall be destroy’d,

                      Or cast as rubbish to the void

                     When God hath made the pile complete”

                                           Lord Alfred Tennyson in “In Memoriam A.H.H.

Throughout history, our quest for a stable mooring has created philosophies which have debated about human consciousness and its permanence. At the individual level, this has been termed as our “soul” and that oft asked question, “Does our soul persist when our bodies fall?” has remained unanswered. I believe the reason we hold onto this philosophy is because it helps us reconcile the dread of the ‘physical death’ transience of our bodies by hooking onto this faith in the permanence of our conscious ‘souls’.

Was it this obsession with permanence which made the Egyptian pharaohs build pyramids five millennia back? Is it the same mindset that makes us store photos, videos and momentoes even today? Almost as if we need to keep our memories hostage in the inanimate world to reassure us of our permanence. This attitude of permanence has led us to develop a ‘content storage’ mindset. When asked, we quip back, “I am in a hurry…… things are moving fast….. I would always come back to savour these memories later.”

So how do we reframe our perspective from this mere ‘content storage’ to a higher ‘content experience’ mindset? I believe we can do this as we focus on pure experiencing with less and less obsession with storing. We then move into a state of heightened mindfulness. Where we let go of permanence and immerse in the flows of transience.

I think again of this transience- permanence polarity and I start noticing symmetry.

As I get up in the morning and look out, I derive this intense comfort from the permanence of the palm trees surrounding the pool and the curved pathway moving away on both sides. This has remained changeless since many years. But looking out of the window, I also see a pair of pigeons nesting and laying eggs and delight at the transience of this.

A memory I have held dear and which offers a soothing balm during stressful times, is of me sitting on the banks of a clear running stream, my legs resting on an immersed stone. While the running water may be seen in transience around the permanence of the stone, for me it is the timeless rushing (permanence?) of the stream as it erodes the stone (transience?) into smoothness, that leads to a deep inner peace.

As I reflect, I realise that these symmetries of transience and permanence are the moments when I gain the expanded consciousness of my here and now.

Coming of the Second Wave


So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end,
and the dreams that have escaped you and the hope that you’ve forgotten,
and you tell me that you need me now and you want to be my friend,
and you wonder where we’re going, where’s the rhyme and where’s the reason?

                                                                   John Denver, Rhymes and Reasons, 1969.

  

Is it not ironic that at times when we stand close to a momentous event, seeing it unfolding in all its HD brilliance, we tend to miss the wood for the trees in terms of its future impact? So it was when the Berlin wall came down; most folks saw it as the factual German reunification rather than the tectonic ideological change about Communism it portended. So it is with the Occupy Wall Street protests, mostly being seen as anger against job losses and lack of economic opportunities rather than something more structural.

As I look around, I see a march of seemingly unrelated trends and events.

  • Declining social and political trust arising out of a growing global inequality and a deepening fiscal crisis. This has lead to a crisis for pension, healthcare schemes etc. dependent on debt burdened states.
  • A heightened perceived insecurity in the developed world. For the first time in generations, people no longer believe their children will grow up to have a better standard of living.
  • More criminality. Be it cyber crimes, drug trafficking or acts of urban terrorism. Symptoms of rising youth unemployment and disenchantment.

During this year’s Davos meet of the World Economic forum, failures of the globalised market economy and an ‘uncertain future’ of Capitalism became the main issues. Ironic when you consider that over the years, Davos has become a byword for Globalisation.

I notice that Capitalism and Globalisation, those two economic pillars of the last few decades, appear to be losing flavour. So, is the world at some kind of an inflexion point?

I believe we have begun grappling with a massive socio-economic change. A change ushered in by programmable machines, networks and the World Wide Web. I had spoken of this in some detail in an earlier post. I say again that technology implementation is resulting in massive shifts at the work place as also how the very concept of work itself needs to be viewed. For the first time in history, technology, without human intervention, is adding economic value and wealth. So those getting in ahead of the game in terms of controlling technology are the new millionaires, displacing the aristocrats and industrialists of the last century. And these millions are being created thick and fast with hardly the need for additional employment generation. Not only is this fuelling a widening wealth gap and disparity, it is leaving more and more of the population behind, unemployed and dispossessed.

Small wonder therefore that a recently published global Wealth Report indicates that most of world’s richest people became richer through the recent economic downturn and into 2011. When in fact the average middle class family actually saw its income fall in real terms. According to Economist Paul Krugman. the current disparity gap in the USis the biggest since the 1920s. Clearly we have entered a landmark period of inequality where the gap is widening to unprecedented levels.

But do you know where the core irony of this whole situation lies? Well it happens to be our much vaunted economic models that not only failed to predict but also to come up with solutions to handle the inequality problem. Worse, if we were to go by economic theory, it is possible to show overall economic growth while significant part of the population is facing a recession or mired in poverty!

So if the predictive reliability of modern economics cannot be relied on, what do we as a society fall back upon? I sense fear as political leaderships all over brace themselves against increased social and political backlash of a growing global inequality. In the Occupy Wall Street protests. In the Arab Spring uprisings. In the resurgence of Marxism in the Indian tribal belts. In the eschewing of the rugged Thatcherism by the British Conservative party as it swing towards leftist policies.

There remain vestiges in our societal psyche of what happened a century back. The chasm between rich and poor opened up by the industrial revolution had been one of the main factors that led to the massive unrest in the first half of the twentieth century. Reaction to this had culminated in adoption of the Communism model in large parts of the world.

I believe we have once again reached that inflexion point where conditions are ripe for the coming of Socialism’s ‘Second Wave.’ I see this as a reaction to the perceived failure of the Capitalistic model and the kind of Globalisation and growth it has spawned. This Second Wave would need to show us ways of re-distributing the wealth created by that part of technology working without human intervention.

Would this be the way Inequality would give us our rhyme and our reason for the future?

In Learning…………..                                                                                        Shakti Ghosal