On Ants and Mothers

The temperature dropped down in the teens last night and might get down into the single digits tonight. That is cold, but even down in the thirties isn’t warm weather. It has been in the thirties for most of this week and is only now getting into those truly winter temperatures.

That is why I was surprised just a couple of nights ago to discover ants still going about their business. Right outside of where I work there was what looked like the creamy/cheezy inside of a cookie or cracker on the concrete. The ants were so determined to get that food into their nest before the full cold weather hit, but it was cold enough that they could barely move. They were going in slow motion, barely perceptible was their movement.

Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ants turns out to be quite accurate. I have new respect for ants. Those little guys just don’t give up, not until it becomes literally impossible for them to continue. They finally had to retreat into their nest, but before that they got some tasty stuff for the winter.

That single-mindedness is impressive. It fascinates me because I can only maintain such single-mindedness for short periods of time. My mind is always being distracted, but the only thing that is going to distract those ants from their goal is the immobilizing power of either cold or death. That single-mindedness seems archetypal in its power.

The last few days I’ve been working extra hours. Coming in early, I see some coworkers I don’t normally work with. One coworker is about my age, but she is a very different kind of person. Like the ants, she seems to be a single-minded hardworking person. She has worked this job for most and maybe all of her adult life. She is a wife and a mother, most especially a mother. She exudes the essence of mother.

I work next to the break room. This coworker came in to eat her lunch. She gets out her loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly. She makes a single PB&J. Then she pulls out a small baggy full of plain potato chips. And finally she pours milk into a small plastic cup. This is the lunch I had throughout my childhood as made by my mother. It is so simple and wholesome. Every day I’ve seen her eat lunch, this coworker has the exact same meal. It never changes. She never changes.

I was talking to her. I mentioned that a squirrel lived in the tree right outside where we worked, in a lone tree surrounded by concrete. She asked me what do squirrels do in winter. She asked if they hibernate. I said, no, they have nests and eat nuts they buried. I thought this kind of thing was common knowledge. But I get this sense that her whole life has been dedicated to being a wife and mother, any extraneous information has been made inconsequential. Her life has a single purpose and she is fully committed to it.

Even while eating her lunch, she often talks to her children on the phone. She talks with the voice of a mother and she calls her child “Sweetie”. She has a soft kindness about her, exudes a loving devotion. She isn’t a mother. She is Mother.

The ants represent the archetypal force of tireless work. My coworker represents the archetypal force of all things maternal. There can be something comforting about such things (such people and activities) in life, so perfectly embodying a principle.

God & Freewill, Theists & Atheists

God and freewill, two things that will forever perplex me.

I see them as basically on the same level, theological concepts. God is the faith of the theists. And freewill is the faith of the atheists.

I don’t mean this in a necessarily dismissive way. I actually am affirming the notion of faith. We humans aren’t as rational as we think. Whether theist or atheist, most people are always looking to rationalize. It might not be as obvious with theism, but apologetics is just an attempt (typically a very bad attempt) at rationalizing theism and apologetics is big business these days. Atheists aren’t off the hook, though. It is atheists, more than theists, who usually find it difficult to admit the irrational/nonrational components of life.

I say this as an agnostic who is hard put to take sides in most theist vs atheist debates, although I tend to go with the atheists when it comes to respecting intellect and science. Despite my sharing certain values with many atheists, I can’t follow atheists all the way down the path of rationality. The world is too strange and humans too complex.

Consider freewill. I’ve come to see the atheist’s focus on freewill as a substitute for the theistic soul.

Anyone who has studied psychological research enough knows that most things humans do aren’t rational or often even conscious. We really don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do, but through science we can observe correlations and make predictions. If you know enough about a person, they can be fairly predictable. If humans weren’t predictable, insurance companies wouldn’t be able to make profits. Still, prediction isn’t the same thing as insight and understanding.

There is no rational reason to believe in freewill and yet most people believe in it. It is our shared cultural bias. Even most theists accept freewill, albeit a human will subordinated to the Will of God and/or a human will limited to a morally weak human nature (depending on the theology in question). We believe in freewill because our entire culture is based on this belief and so confirms it and supports it. Still, it is just a belief, one that doesn’t perfectly conform to reality.

Here is where I’m coming from. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual… a statement that most atheists don’t understand, although one could be a spiritual atheist (such as a Buddhist)… a statement maybe that even most theists don’t understand. On the other hand, my not being religious doesn’t imply that I’m anti-religious. I’m simply non-religious, but informally I’m attracted to certain religious practices such as meditation and even prayer (not that I ever feel clear about what I may or may not be praying to). My faith is more Jungian than anything. So, theological ideas such as God and freewill are only meaningful to me in terms of possible underlying archetypes that hold sway deep within the human psyche, if not also in the world at large.

My experiences and observations, my understandings and intuitions have made it hard for me to find a place in any particular Western tradition. Beyond the Jungian, I suppose I could put myself in the very general category of radical skeptic (i.e., zetetic) which I’ve at times identified as agnostic gnosticism or else as Fortean. I’m defined by endless curiosity, greater than any belief or reason.

The religous and philosophical traditions that I have been most drawn to are those of the East, whether the Gnosticism born out of the Middle East or the Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism of the Far East. In this instance, I was thinking about Hinduism. I often contemplate Saraswati, the goddess of creativitiy and intellect, the ultimate artist’s muse. Do I believe in Saraswati? I don’t know. It seems like a silly question. I’m tempted to respond as Jung in saying I don’t believe, I know… but that still leaves such ‘knowing’ unexplained. There is an archetypal truth to Saraswati and I feel no need nor ability to further explain what that might be.

I was thinking about all of this in terms of vision and inspiration. In my own way, I have a visionary sense of Saraswati and this inspires me. But the name ‘Saraswati’ doesn’t matter nor does the religious accoutrements. I’m not a Hindu nor do I want to be. Saraswati is just a reference point for a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to articulate. I don’t believe in God and yet I have this intuitive sense of the divine, for lack of better words. I don’t believe in freewill and yet I have this intuitive sense of a creative ‘will’ that drives me and inspires me.

There was another aspect of Hinduism that was on my mind. The idea of willpower is symbolized and embodied by the god Ganesha. I feel no particular attraction to Ganesha, but I like the idea of willpower as a god rather than as a mere psychological attribute or mere personal expression. This seems to get closer to what willpower means on the archetypal level.

We each are diven and inspired by some vision of reality. This is our faith, typically unquestioned and often unconscious. We simply know it as our ‘reality’ and as such it forms our reality tunnel. There is a Hindu belief that a god resides in or is expressed through each person’s secret heart, the Hridaya chakra. I interpret this in Jungian terms. We each are ruled by some core truth or essence or pattern, whatever you want to call it, however you want to explain it.

We can have a vision of God or a god and we can be ruled by it. But if we explore it more deeply, we might discover a greater truth to why we are drawn to such a vision. We can have a vision of freewill and we can be ruled by it. But we can seek to make this faith conscious, thus seeing will as something greater than a personal possession, control for the sake of control (in the words of William S. Burroughs, “is control controlled by our need to control?”).

Whatever your god or vision, is what is ruling you worthy of your faith? If your faith is blind and your being ruled is unconscious, where does that leave you?