All my life I’ve been attracted to the frontier of knowledge so I’ve drawn a lot of opposition to myself and a fair amount of ridicule. I remember vividly saying to myself as a young researcher that, if someone else had already written a book about something, then I didn’t want to write about it.
Let me have a crack at something new. Let me explore the frontiers of knowledge.
Oftentimes I was into something so new that I was told it didn’t exist. There was no such thing as “cultural history” in the 1970s so no to a dissertation in cultural history. There was no such thing as enlightenment as an empirical subject in the 1980s so no to a dissertation on enlightenment. No to contemporary conservation (1) at museums. No to opposition to automation. No to protest over shipping jobs overseas. No to 9/11, life after death, angels, flying saucers. No, no, no, no, no.
But I could have let the whole thing go and come back within the box. I could have had any number of cushy careers, but I never did. Well, except once and that was a career I couldn’t seem to shake even by initially turning it down. (2)
Perhaps minus the last instance, I’m willing to bet, the same could be said for many of you.
So we’re probably most of us used to opposition and many of us to ridicule.
I’m not saying that, in 3D, we can avoid disagreements. Something tells me that goes along with the territory.
But it’s the degree of disagreement that, as the years pass by, seems to hold the key for me. I’m more and more coming to see the importance of the center – the almost mystical significance of it.
Somehow the extent to which I can disagree while only minimally leaving the center seems to me increasingly important with every passing year. Vitally important.
I used to wonder about myself: Are you a man of the left? For some years I thought I was and then I realized, no, I’m really a man of the center – at the most, a little left of center – as little left as I had to go when disagreeing with someone on the right.
Counter to everything intuitive in me, I’m more a man of the center in relation to the divine than in anything else. I’m more likely to be a man of the left in terms of politics, economics, law, human rights. But in spirituality I’m lost, speechless, absorbed in contemplation of the center.
The worst possible thing in spirituality, it seems to me, is to be off-center, which I think of as “self-righteous.” The ego is off-center and the ego has little place in spirituality. (I originally said “no place” but that seemed off-center.) Equanimity exists in the center and isn’t spirituality about developing equanimity – at least towards anything worldly?
Egolessness is associated with the center. But a little ego to defend a righteous being who’s being attacked, I allow myself that.
I don’t understand it. I trip myself up so often by being left of center, by being off-center, at times when I’m not sure if it’s right … or should I say, dharmic?
I haven’t solved this one. And maybe I won’t until the Fourth Dimension, or Fifth.
But every year, I find myself more interested in the center, more absorbed in it. It holds my attention more than it did. It grips me. I’m staring at the mashed potatoes, like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters, muttering to myself, “This means something…. This means something….”
(1) When I joined the National Museum of Man’s History Division, I noticed that they collected old artifacts. But they could only get old objects, bent out of shape, a shoe here, a piano there. I suggested that they collect them new. I was given permission by the assistant division chief to create a “contemporary conservation” collection if I could do it without funding. I did create the collection, and it’s now the largest at the museum, but the division chief opposed it.
However the Museum Director loved it and to help me out came down to the division and enthused about it to the chief. The chief begrudgingly got behind it but got his revenge a few months later by not extending my contract. Contemporary conservation is now practiced by many national museums.
(2) I was appointed a Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada without taking an exam. But I turned it down because my employment prospects were more stable where I was. Then, when I was laid off, I applied again and this time wrote an exam with 500 other people and still got the job. When I went for my interview, I was interviewed by a person I had known since I was fourteen (speak of preordained). I even contemplated not accepting the job if it wasn’t God’s will and rolled the dice. The dice said yes. I would have turned the job down if they had said no. Now I see the value of having had that job, writing 1500 human-rights decisions in eight years, and now doing this work. Writing those exact documents, each of them overseen by the Federal Court, was excellent training. It’s clear to me that I was meant to have that job.