Holding On, and Letting Go

February 28, 2014
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As Nate Kleinman says in this month’s issue: “Settledness is relative.” I’ll go one step further and say, settledness is an illusion, a pure manifestation of our belief that we’ve found something static, and unchanging to hold on to. Ultimately, there is little we can call our own and can be secure in. Look at the housing crash of a few years ago, consider the peoples that lost their entire, secure, retirement funds and it’s easy to see that a mental perception of settledness or actually having something that will not change, is a fiction, one primarily based in fear.

Beliefs are the same. One of the greatest issues facing our world is that people practice ideologies, behaviors, and follow through with decisions based on incomplete information that perhaps now have no basis in reality and pragmatism. “That is how it’s always been,” they may say; and this is an excuse. It is cause to bow the head and not change, because it would require learning, and effort, and challenge to shift to something better and beyond. Much of world religion is mired in this trap. Holy documents of the Abrahamic traditions, the Torah, the New Testament, the Qur’an are so powerful, have survived where other documents have failed, much because of their inherent flexibility of application to contemporary needs; yet, in practice, many adherents stick to interpretations and applications of these beautiful sources that are impractical and, pardon the clearly opinionated use of the word, archaic.

Change is, ironically, the only settled constant in our universe. This holds in the spiritual realm as well, as God can be seen as the pure agent of that constant, the medium and the driver of all change. What then is the practical application of this awareness? It is that when we find a moment of repose in our lives, when we can stand by our hard work and see the fruits, they may be ever more beautiful to our eyes because their state is so temporary. All will eventually be dust, some of that work and effort maybe after we, in our own ephemeral forms, have returned to ash. As Shelley writes: “Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare.”

Then what to do with this knowledge if there is nothing to hold on to, nothing immovable? As Nate writes in his article this month: “I have my health. I am free. I have a voice. What more could I possibly need?” Besides perhaps the love and loyalty one gives and receives, there is not much one can have; our values are a bit misplaced. What is it then we should be working for? What is it we can and must value in this world filled with strife and anguish? As a young man, organizing and working for social justice, Nate indeed is short of a few of the responsibilities and challenges many today face: hunger, ill health, and children to care for, but the core of the message, that holding firmly to what is important and pure in our human experience as a “relatively” settled way to be, is a view that I can agree with.

One can lose a job, a home, and even freedoms, many which we take for granted (as, pardon another opinionated view, the US Patriot Act has shown), but if we spend more of our time on inner growth, physical health, and sharing our skills as an offering of love and commitment to fellow humans, then we would have something that no amount of Obamacare, food stamps, and open shelters can replace; we would have community, self-confidence, and an awareness of the opportunities constantly ripe around us. This is a wealth that cannot be weighed, measured, and taxed. In some sense, a settled constant, because these cannot be taken away so easily, these are flexible and can respond to change. These are the gifts given to humanity as a species, and perhaps our ability to believe and have faith in something greater than ourselves, that we are part of a greater whole, and watched over by a loving and all encompassing power.

Never though, are we physically settled, never is our work and effort done until we pass from this world. If there is any lesson from this, it’s don’t rush, there is nowhere to go, and you’ll never be able to stop. A goal perhaps is to find a pace that allows us to thrive, one in harmony with the season, one in which we can always grow. When the going is tough, pick it up a bit, and when blessed with chance arrival on a mountain top to catch the final light of a setting sun, in those moments, enjoy full peace, and then keep moving, the way kept by a lantern of joy glowing in your heart.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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