Saturday, August 28, 2010

OMENS: NOT JUST FOR THE GREEKS



Readers posted a couple of enlightening comments in response to this blog’s “OMENS” entry a few days ago.

Omens inhabit a dimension outside our usual consciousness, but nevertheless seem constantly to beg notice. Anxious to remain undisturbed by these existential tickles, we tend to admit them reluctantly or not at all. Yet they can be obstinate. When they need to, they knock with 2x4 force.

I’ve been socked with enough 2x4s, thank you. After some recent ones, I’ve asked myself if things might possibly go more gently, if my next awakening could occur earlier, say, with the brush of a feather. That would mean getting more sensitive to the signs that continually surround me. 

When we think about omens, we commonly recall the Greek epics, The Odyssey, perhaps, or The Iliad. The ancients’ world was far different from ours. Their gods were quite real—not only omnipotent but omnipresent. Where we consider much of our universe random, theirs was composed entirely of meaning.

What if they were right? We don’t need to worship Zeus. We can do it our style by considering that maybe we’re not just single souls confined to our own skin, but minuscule entities in and of the universe. A teacher made this point for me once by holding up her hand. 

“What do you see?” she asked.

“A hand.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, okay, an arm.”

“And…?”

Her point was that we were seeing her hand by seeing what was around it, meaning everything, period. In fact, one can’t see the hand separate from the environment that delineates it. She was trying to express the idea that we’re in lifelong dialog with the rest of the universe. Big thought, but nothing that genuine homo sapiens can’t handle. Intelligent navigation, then, means considering the fluctuations outside us along with our personal desires. In psychology that’s called “reality testing,” and it’s a necessary aspect of mental health.

In various postings here, I’ve tried to explain my notion that we don’t promote our health just by dosing ourselves with mammograms, colonoscopies and vitamin C, but by living well. Do we really need the growing body of research, the scientific confirmation, that proves the health benefits of friendship, exercise, purpose, decent diet, and avoidance of toxins, or was that self-evident all along? 

We in this culture can be so intent on busyness for its own sake that it separates from purpose. A friend from India told me, “You Westerners have a good deal of know-how but very little know-why.” One of the curious silver linings of a life-threatening diagnosis is that in certifying our now undeniable mortality, it offers us the opportunity to question how much of our behavior doesn’t express whom we truly are.

I’m fascinated by the people recently diagnosed with cancer, for example, who light up to the meaning they suddenly see all around them, all the time. One reason I do the work I do is for that skill to rub off on me.

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