This past weekend I watched the opera “Don…

This past weekend I watched the opera “Don Giovanni” at the Cleveland Opera house, with my mother. It was a lovely opera, and it managed to evoke very vivid emotions in me, despite the language barrier (it’s in Italian, but there is a translation screen above the stage). What I found most fascinating the main character, Don Giovanni, whom Mozart (the writer of the opera) modeled on Don Juan, the famous womanizer. Throughout the acts of the opera, Don Giovanni is revealed as a vile, lustful man, whose only god in life is the pursuit of pleasure. In fact, he is so determined to get what he wants, that he even kills for it, and gives his life for it at the end. He is the epitomy of sexual desire, and human willfulness, and he is a daredevil. As evil as he is, he is also the most determined of all the characters in the opera, the other characters (his servant, the women he scorned, the women wanting revenge), all fluctuate in their desires and motivations.

Even the woman whose father he kills in the first act, is torn between feelings of desire and love for him, and her revenge. Giovanni is so bad, in fact, he is almost inhuman in the way he follows his debased desires, almost an abstract representation of human willfulness. The thing I found myself wondering was this: I could easily identify with all the characters on stage, but when it came to him I found difficulty. Not because he was so vilified and immoral, but because he was so very definite in his desires. Unlike him, his servant Leporello is torn between the desire to follow his master and share in a life of plenty, and his desire to leave this immoral affair before it gets too bad. His former mistress Elvira is torn between her desire to destroy him and reveal him as a monster for abandoning her, and her feelings of admiration and love for a man that will not yield to any woman.

Anyway, I thought hard about this after the opera: even though Don Giovanni is a monster more than a human being, and kills and seduces freely throughout the acts, is he not the character that is most honest to his desire, obeying it to the very end into his death? And is that not one of our main complaints as humans, in our daily lives, that our desires fluctuate so much that we cannot stay faithful to one for a long time and follow it to its completion? On a spiritual path, I hope that I will be more like Don Giovanni than any other of the fluctuating characters I saw onstage: willing to follow my desire for truth no matter what, even if it leads to my death. And yet at this point in my life I doubt at times its attractiveness, since there are other things attractive to me, that I follow at times more intently than a spiritual resolution. And then I go back to it again. I cannot boast the singularity of purpose in desire that Giovanni has, and that saddens me.

The other characters represent what I hate so much about my nature, and human nature in general: inconstancy. While Don Giovanni is very abstract to me in his ability to follow his desire, one thing is clear to me: if what you desire is very attractive to you, above all else, you will follow it without wavering, even into death. Because when you are so consumed with following something attractive to you, that process itself rewards you beyond the loss that death may represent for you.

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Order

It occurred to me yesterday that getting the house “in order” is not an underrated part of spiritual work. Here’s what happened: I had been driving a rickety old car that had served me well for a number of years. The thoughts of what to do about the car, whether to repair it, or sell it, or junk it, or buy a new one, how much to spend on a new one, whether or not to buy a truck or a sedan, whether to keep waiting or act now, whether to buy used from a dealer or used on the private market, whether to wait until winter or buy in the summer, all coursed my mind. Endless, endless thoughts. Triggers for these thoughts were common and included whenever I saw my car, or was driving my car or seeing cars for sale or seeing used car dealerships or seeing cops that might notice the loud exhaust or lack of an inspection sticker. In short, triggers occurred quite often and were numerous.

I pass by a used car dealership on a drive I take multiple times a week. With the car situation in mind I scanned the lot for deals or vehicles I might be interested in. For anyone who’s watched their thoughts and internal reactions many times over knows this pattern: an external percept kicks off an internal reaction which is perceived and reacted upon, and so on. It takes a certain amount of energy, and a certain number of mental cycles. If one is trying to conserve additional cycles and energy from being dissipated then a turning away of the internal head is required to avoid a cascade of, let’s say, tertiary reactions and so on. This reactive process happened each and everytime I passed by that particular used car dealership.

The car issue eventually came to a head, and through some good fortune and financial preparation it solved itself after a few stress-laden days of details. The next time I drove by the dealership I noticed a peculiar thing. My mind reacted to the lot as per its usual habit (the power of habit!) and immediately thereafter the mental reaction was, “Wait, the car problem is solved.” Since this portion of the house had been gotten “in order”, the effort to turn the head from a now far less “sticky” train of thought was very easy and required almost no effort. The mental reaction and boil-over that had been common over the past few months was absent and it all seemed uninteresting. The profound difference in energy spent was notable and I saw the incredible value of taking care of basic disorder in our houses, both physical and psychological. It saves us energy and reduces distractions. For those of us who have become energy misers, this can be a very useful tool.

A caveat: The same which holds true for all efficiency projects holds true here also; the rate of return is largest for the biggest offenders of energy expenditure. That means that if, for example, my financial situation is so bad that I worry incessantly about paying the rent, tweaking how often I do my laundry a week won’t really register in the efficiency column. Getting my financial house “in order”, however, will! Get the idea? Big stuff first!

Winning

I achieved something I really wanted recently. I would even call it a great achievement. It was one of the wildest dreams that my mind could conceive of  come true. It was a hard-won triumph. I sacrificed much, went through much pain, stress, disillusionment. I gave my all. Those grueling years was for that glorious shout of “VICTORY!” Then poof.

When a goal has been achieved, then what? I’m left with nothing. That desire was satisfied and then gone, and I remain empty.

What is this life for? A dear friend said, “keep looking for Completion, and your life will be one without regret.”

Higher Power

The AA Big Book asks a simple question in the chapter entitled “We Agnostics.”  The question is, “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?”

My typical reading of this question would trigger all sorts of notions, biases, and preconceptions in my mind.  I would read into the word “Power” that what they really mean is the Christian God (who I define according to my biases), and that they’re secretly trying to convert me to Christianity or something.  And I can’t let them manipulate me like that.

But for some reason, a recent reading of this chapter, and this question in particular, brought about a different reaction.  When I read this question, I read the word “Power” as if it was lowercase: “…am I even willing to believe, that there is a power greater than myself?”  Then it struck me as ridiculous how reluctant I was to say “yes” to this question.  To say “no” would mean that I believe I am the greatest power in existence.

And in a sense, I do tend toward believing I am in control over way more than I am.  I take responsibility for the reactions of others, and I feel a great anxiety about trying to get others to act how I want.  I feel shame and guilt about my own faults and flaws, as if I’m responsible for my own upbringing or physical makeup.  And I have in the past even felt guilty and frustrated about the state of the world at large.  I’ve used the first-person subjectivism of Douglas Harding as a rationalization for why I am indeed the center of the universe (“I’m all that is!”), and therefore extremely important.

But I can’t, of course, honestly say I control it all.  As I had to break it to my dad on the phone, I am not actually the one making the Sun rise and set each day.  He seemed happy I was so perceptive as to have noticed this.  An early spring thunderstorm was another reminder of what is greater and more powerful than myself, bringing with its lightning and strong winds the implication that my very life could easily be taken.  A walk through the cosmology department of a local university brought another reminder, where they had created a computer simulation of two galaxies colliding with each other over millions of years, playing continuously on a screen.  I’m certainly not the power doing that!  I don’t know the slightest thing about making galaxies collide.  But some power has brought about this whole thing, and is capable of smashing two galaxies together!  And not even just two, but there are millions of these things!

This song by Bjork has been in my head a lot recently: