A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


It struck me today how much of life is Reaction and Counter-Reaction.

Reformation then Counter-Reformation. Classicism then Romanticism. Aufklärung then Sturm und Drang. Monarchy then Republicanism. Socialism then Conservatism. Culture then Anarchy. Despotism then Democracy. War then Peace. Rebellion then Acceptance. Indulgence then Denial. Boom then Bust. You get the picture.

I don't want to go too deeply into this. Sometimes the Counter-Reaction is preferable — and sometimes it's not. Sometimes there's Thesis, Antithesis, then Synthesis — and sometimes there's not. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes — and sometimes we don't. Sometimes the process seems like a pendulum swinging perpetually and uselessly from one extreme to another.

But more and more I believe in a balance between the extremes, a syncretism which takes the best from all worlds. (I hope this isn't being indecisive and chickening out of some exclusive, evangelical, firebrand faith. I hope I won't be called a wooly-minded liberal.)

It's just that I tend to be interested in many things, to hover between this and that. One day's enthusiasm gives way to the next day's enthusiasm. The Age of Enlightenment  — yes! The triumph of reason, the rejection of the superstitions and prejudices of the past, the advancement of science. But didn't that go too far? The ensuing Romantic Age reasserted a belief in the individual, the personal and emotional life, the inner man and woman.

I want to take clues and threads and jewels from everything, and form my own balanced, if idiosyncratic, self and world view.  That's my own process, my own experience — my own life path.

Read about the 'not too loose or too tight' Middle Way of Buddhism here.


George said...

The older I become, the more convinced I am that one's life experience can never be fully described by words, labels, classifications, categories — anything that tends to pin us to a wall like a dead butterfly. By definition, life is about constant change, movement from this to that, dancing on the winds. As Whitman properly observed, we often contradict ourselves because we contain multitudes — and thankfully so. Buddha was right, of course, about the wisdom of the middle way, but I suspect that most of us are constantly swerving back and forth across the middle line, hoping that, in the end, we will have achieved something that resembles "the balance" of which you speak.

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm in absolute sympathy and agreement with every word you say, George.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I think that middle line idea is brilliant - I hover one side or the other depending upon circumstances, mood, happenings both at home and in the wide world.
Lovely to see you both at the weekend.

Dominic Rivron said...

The metaphorical pendulum might seem aimless from one swing to the next. However, the big picture is clearer, I think. I'm an optimist. Those of us who live in the affluent parts of the world are the luckiest humans who ever lived and I think -although there will be ups and downs- there will people in the future who will be even luckier.

Susan Scheid said...

This may or may not be point, but the greatest discovery I've made for myself in recent years is to let go of linear thinking in favor of an associational approach. John Ashbery has been a guiding light in that. The sense of freedom is phenomenal. Wherever I go at any given moment is where I'm meant to be.

The Solitary Walker said...

Nice to see you, too, Pat.

Dominic — I agree that some live in the more affluent parts of the world, and those people are lucky: access to technology, education, health services, all the rest. Though I may be a little more cynical than you about linear progress. The trade-off can be war caused by inequality, unhappiness caused by greed, global destruction caused by rampant technology, 'virtual' isolation caused by divorce from nature.

My intention in this post was to reflect on how one set of 'ideas' (e.g. 17th-18th cent. Enlightenment values) are inevitably opposed by another set (e.g. 18th-19th cent. Romantic values). You could say this swing of the pendulum redresses the balance (a pendulum swings from a fulcrum), and eventually we may obtain a synthesis between the two cultures, both of which have value. This is why I hate people being being labelled Classicists or Romantics, Believers or Atheists, Radicals or Conservatives etc.

Sure, some people never change, and are died-in-the-wool until they die. But many of us see good in this and good in that (rather like what you were talking about at the weekend re. different education systems) — picking like magpies through all the beliefs and theories. Wordsworth championed the French Revolution, but later completely changed his views. I like people who are open to change, based on their own ever-evolving thoughts and experiences.

The Solitary Walker said...

'The sense of freedom is phenomenal. Wherever I go at any given moment is where I'm meant to be.'

I loved your comment, Susan, and take a great deal away from it. That 'associational approach' is similar to what I was talking about in a comment I made recently about Miles Davis: the circular jazz theme in contrast with linear classical forms. I'm so grateful to you for introducing me to John Ashbery some time ago.

Bonnie said...

Beautifully expressed, Robert. As I journey down the road, I want to be able to use the whole road. I don't want to hold to a rut, albeit a comfortable one. While I embrace the middle way, I want to be able to explore side roads, hill and dale, dark forests, etc., knowing I can always find my way back to the balance of the middle way. What a curse to be caught in an "either/or" perspective!

The Solitary Walker said...

Well, I couldn't agree with you more, Bonnie! You summarise beautifully everything I wanted to express. Thank you.

Ruth Mowry said...

I appreciate your thoughts and those of your commenters very much.

Like you (perhaps), I've learned that whatever happens one day, whatever I feel, for instance, will likely be followed by a different sort of day or feeling. It goes for ideas, labels, and institutions, too. What you believe in one day can change the next.

There must be something in human nature that likes feeling comfortable in a way of thinking that is the same day in, day out. Maybe this is buried in instinct. But I also have an instinct for change, and although I get regimented in brain synapses like anyone, I am excited by learning a new way of looking at a thing, and if necessary, re-carving synapses toward new destinations.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for commenting, Ruth, and I appreciate your thoughts too.

It's funny, that vagaries of human nature. We like the 'safety' of tradition and familiarity. Yet another part of us has to question, to change, to overturn.

There's a comfort in repetition, in family life, in 'normality'. Yet, if we're honest with ourselves. we know it's all going to change sooner or later.

Opinions blow in the wind. Yet we like to feel we've got some bedrock of belief, of morality, whatever.

Cris M said...

I was talking with a colleague who practices homeopathy about these feelings of "balance" and the "pendulum" and how they seem so contradictory... He replied very wisely saying that the balance is also an active status, that depends on the pendulum to be achieved. Without the pendulum, the balance won´t never be reached, as it is always in the middle of other 2 things that seems contradictory.(seems like a tongue twister, right?!).
I like this idea, I also find myself with frequency navigating around a middle point, sometimes on one side, some others on the other, but still, I guess, I feel confident that I know to where I aspire to be... and this is different from moment to moment.

Many hugs, love your posts, are always inspiring!
Cris M

Nick said...

I'm not sure that it's 'balance'; rather the slow discovery of an anchor rooted in reality rather than dreams of a supposed 'ideal'. Thus neither compromise nor syncretism, but realisation of what (for the moment) is.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much for this, Cris M. Your comment about how the pendulum needs equally both the swing and the balance, the extremity and the centre, is really important, I think. Out of seeming contradiction harmony can come!

I've added your blog to the list on my sidebar — can't think why I haven't this before.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think that's another way of expressing it, Nick, and a valid one. All these metaphors we use are, well, just metaphors — helping us (perhaps), falteringly, to approach the unsayable.