The past few days haven't been real cheerful for me, save-the-world (or 137 acres, at least) wise. My wife and I have been leading a fight against a proposed subdivision on groundwater limited farmland adjacent to our neighborhood.
Wednesday we got screwed by a purely political decision by our county Board of Commissioners. They ignored an independent hydrogeologic assessment and their own Planning Commission. That night I had trouble getting to sleep, as travesty of justice visions kept running through my brain.
Thursday I got to vent to a television news reporter. That made me feel a bit better, even though just a few seconds of my sage observations got on the air.
So what do you do when you're confused, discouraged, and out of sorts? I was bummed out by a material world disappointment. But I've had the same feelings when my spiritual aspirations were dashed by cold, hard, unfeeling reality.
For about a day and a half I struggled to regain some sort of balance. I alternated between Screw social activism because it all comes down to bullshit politics and Those ignoramus county commissioners have to be stopped before they kill (the environment) again.
It was interesting to observe how I reacted to my own thoughts and intentions. Whenever I envisioned continuing to fight the subdivision to the bitter end, no matter what it took, I'd feel a burst of positive energy. Giving up, or engaging in a half-hearted attempt to stop the development, left me listless.
There's a few things I like about "The Secret." Just a few. One is that your emotions are signposts pointing to the Way for you. When you're doing what you should, it feels good. Not necessarily pleasant (climbing a steep mountain, for example), but right.
Hard to put into words – "right" isn't quite right as a descriptor – but you know it when you feel it.
Which I did sometime Friday afternoon. I stopped conducting mental cost-benefit analyses, the odds of winning an appeal vs. how much we and our neighbors would have to raise to pay the attorney fees. I realized that what mattered to me wasn't what might happen in the end; it was what I felt driven to do now.
And that was to battle on. If the rolling hills I drive by every day eventually are covered by homes, it'll bother me a lot less if I feel like I left everything on the field rather than throwing in the towel (sports metaphors come easily after watching the College World Series a little while ago. Go Beavers!).
I'm reading a book about Spinoza, an appealingly heretical seventeenth-century philosopher. Here's what I came across this morning:
Happiness is freedom, says Spinoza. It follows when we act in accordance with our own deepest nature – when we "realize ourselves," as it were. Unfortunately, we humans rarely have the privilege of acting according to our deepest nature, for in our ignorance of ourselves and of the world we submit ourselves to the guidance of forces beyond our control.
…Most people most of the time, concludes Spinoza, are passive. But the point of life is to be active.
…The conatus is a drive or desire – in essence, the desire to persist in one's own being. Every person – and indeed every rock, tree, and thing in the world – has a conatus to act, live, preserve itself, and realize itself by pursuing its own interest (or "advantage").
"Pleasure" is the state that results from anything that contributes to the project of this conatus, that is, anything that increases a thing's power or level of "perfection": and "pain" is the state that results from anything that does the opposite, that diminishes the power of a thing.
Well, I didn't need a philosopher to tell me this. It was nice to read an explanation of what I'd been going through the past few days, though. I could tell when I was in, or close to, my conatus' energetic groove. Also, when I was out of it.
Relating this to being churched or churchless, faithful or faithless, devoted or doubtful, something in each of us yells Oh, yeah, this is SO right! to ourselves when we're really grooving to the beat of our inner drummer.
Our dance might not be visible to other people (or, it might). But (shifting metaphors) we know when our conatus is firing on all twelve-cylinders and smoke is pouring from our racing slicks as we shoot down our Way fueled by high-octane confidence.
Confidence that we're doing what we should, even if we're the only ones on that road, because there's nothing else we can do. The engine's warmed up, the gas tank's full, the windshield is clean, and we've got some traveling to do.
Life is good, even when it isn't, so long as we keep moving. Staying still isn't an option unless we're dead. As I remember Davy Crockett saying in a Disney movie from my childhood, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead."
Spinoza would agree.