The best things

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 17, 2016 – 12:00am

My favorite author, Joseph Campbell, wrote, “My friend Heinrich Zimmer years ago used to say, ‘The best things can’t be told’ because they transcend thought. ‘The second best are misunderstood’ because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, and one gets stuck in the thoughts. ‘The third best are what we talk about.’”

This should be reason enough to stop being a writer if one wants to discuss the really important stuff. Words are insufficient in the first realm of best things. They do get in the way. In reality, no discussion is even possible.

Silence is the only thing that will suffice here. Spirit talks without words. One must awaken and be present to hear its truths. This is why in Zen practice, there is no talking allowed in the zendo except when the sensei gives teisho, which is similar to a homily, or if one is consulting with the sensei.

So now, I am attempting to write about the second and third best things and I have no doubt that I will be at least partly misunderstood. But still, I am called to do it. Should I just give up on the second and just jump to the third best things? Should I just stop writing? Or should I continue to attempt to come close to explaining the unexplainable?

At worst, I could fail. But that’s okay. I can live with that.

Sometimes, I worry that the gift of silence is fast disappearing in modern life. The world is becoming an increasingly noisy place. We continue to mindlessly indulge in a world of titillation and sensory stimulation that makes us, unknowingly, lose our own center. In the process, we lose contact with our own selves.

The world’s noise and dust are distracting us from our true selves and making us believe that we are incomplete and lacking. We are led to believe that we need the things of the world to “complete” us. The world is out to own us.

Am I the only one who sometimes feels the world is trying to kill my soul? As a human being, I feel it is out to numb me from feeling any compassion for other people. On social media, I often hear people shouting to give them Barabbas. Vox populi, vox crazy! The pressure to conform to the will of the crowd, to be cool as defined by worldly templates, the need to always appear to be a winner — these are extremely tempting.

Under such circumstances, we can feel lost and confused. We lose touch with the greatness and sacredness we were each born into. We are forced into narratives of living not of our own choosing. We are controlled, boxed, and find no meaning in our own lives. We are cogs in someone’s big machine, players in other people’s dreams. We stop dreaming our own dreams.

With many other people I know, I find myself sighing at how crazy the world is becoming. Often, I actually tear up when I think of the insanity that is being inflicted on humanity. I am aghast at how world leaders can’t see how important it is to save the planet. Do they have another place to go? I am shocked at how people can kill and inflict evil on others in the name of God and religion.

I am saddened by the cruelty that is inflicted on the poor, the special children, the helpless. It seems that modernity has given us more tools and outlets to express racism and hatred. It has created more toxic divisions than healthy, loving connections among people.

If sometimes it feels like the problems of mankind are intractable, I go back and remind myself of the first best things. Maybe we need to meditate on transcendence itself and awaken to Oneness and connection with everything and everyone. We may not find there a list of concrete things to do but we can experience the solution, even if we come out of it without words. That’s okay. At least we will know who we are without the craziness imposed on us.

I don’t know if it will solve the problems of the world immediately or in some measurable way, but it can at the very least make us get in touch with what is good inside us and stop contributing to the noise and dust.

We spend so much time talking about the “third best things.” These are our daily conversations about money, fashion, current events, politics, relationships, social media, showbiz, the problems of the world, and other concerns that crop up in our daily lives. It could do us a lot of good to just stop talking and retreat into the silence. We will be better off not talking too much but having a deeper understanding of the best things we should be spending our time on.

And maybe — just maybe — the world will somehow be a kinder place.

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