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Weekly Commentary - OCTOBEr 19, 2020

Sometimes, we need to go back and recover what we mistakenly left in the past

An old myth says that when the Greeks went to Troy to fight the famous war, one of them, Philoctetes, was abandoned by his companions on a desert island because, after being bitten by a snake, his screams and his stench became intolerable for the other soldiers. But that's not the end of the story.

According to mythology, the Greeks would only win the war only if, in battles, they used the bow that Hercules himself had once used. But there was a problem: the one who had that bow and the only one who knew how to use it was Philoctetes, who had been abandoned and left for dead, but now needed more than ever. So, they went to the island to get him. 

Anyone who wants to find out all the tricks that Odysseus and other characters had to use to win back Philoctetes' trust and get the eminent archer to join the war can read the tragedy that Sophocles wrote on the subject. 

Like all myths, this one also has an undeniable psychological level that, although covered with unusual names for us and within the framework of a legend (although the Trojan War was real), is still valid in our time and for us. After all, many times we discard something in our life and later we understand that it was a mistake.

Sometimes, as in the case of Philoctetes, we dismiss the people we meet just because there is something we dislike of them, or because it is inconvenient to be with them or, even worse, simply because we do not we want to share their suffering. But when we suddenly need those people, there we go to look for them.

Sometimes, there are ideas or teachings that we have learned and that, at a certain point, we believe they no longer serve us and we abandon them with the same ease that we get rid of those clothes that became too small or that became old-fashioned. But then something happens, and it turns out that those teachings take on a new value and we go back to them.

And sometimes we get rid of things which we consider useless not because there is nothing wrong with them, but because the market floods us with newer objects. But "new" does not mean "better", and then when the new thing fails, we resort to what we considered obsolete to solve the problem.

As my grandmother used to say: "He who keeps, always has."

But, beyond what we discard, wisdom consists in accepting, when the time comes, that it was a mistake to discard it and that we must recover it, even if that means returning to the place or moment when we discarded it and looking for a reunion that allows correcting the mistake and continue together into the future.

Knowing what to take with us into the future is as important as knowing what to leave in the past and what to receive from the future.


Our universe is not the first one, the only one, or the last one

Recently, the scientist Roger Penrose, winner of a Nobel Prize, indicated that our universe arose from a previous universe and that some of the "ruins" of that other universe still exist in ours. In other words, our universe is neither the first nor the only one, nor will it be the last.

Almost immediately all sorts criticism emerged against Penrose, telling him how wrong he was since, according to other scientists, there is no evidence for a universe before ours, nor would there be evidence that a new universe will emerge after the universe ends in the that we now live in, nor are there parallel universes.

Obviously, I do not have even the most minimal knowledge related to cosmology to begin to understand who is right, if Penrose, who maintains that our universe is only one in a circle, or his opponents, who maintain that our universe is the only one that exists.

But I can say the following: all novel scientific ideas (and the same could be said for philosophical, artistic, and spiritual ideas) were initially rejected by the "experts" of the time when those ideas were presented. Also, we humans have always liked being the only ones and being at the center of the universe.

When several centuries before the beginning of our era Aristarchus proposed that the earth revolved around the sun and at about the same time Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the Earth, neither the heliocentric theory nor the roundness of the Earth were accepted. In fact, it took two millennia before heliocentrism was accepted.

And then for centuries and centuries the Milky Way (our galaxy) was considered to be the entire universe. In fact, it was only in the 20th century that Andromeda was determined to be another galaxy. Still, it was said that there were no planets in other stars, until exoplanets began to be discovered. They said the Earth was the best planet for life, which is no longer the case.

Time and again humans look for excuses to place ourselves "in the center" or to be "unique", perhaps to satisfy our irrational need to believe ourselves special or to believe that we have a special place in the cosmos. And now we believe that our universe is the only one, when it possibly is not.

But, just as the idea of cyclical universes is now rejected (a widely accepted idea in ancient times), at the time the idea that germs caused disease, or that washing hands helped prevent contagion, or something else was denied. heavy that the air could fly, or the idea of continental drift. 

In other words, we live addicted to what we know, and we cling with all our strength to a fictional place of humanity in the cosmos. But the more we know, the more aware we become of our own littleness.

We are so small that it seems the only thing we can leave to the next universe is the ruins of the current one.

Do “coincidences” reveal new knowledge if properly understood?

Recently, through social networks, I received a video sent by someone I do not know, indicating that the topic would be of interest to me. Basically, it was a recording made 15 years ago in Peru in which a "prophetess" explained that at this time a "great disease" would begin in the world's water.

I must confess that, out of curiosity, I watched a few minutes of the video before interrupting it (neither the quality of the images nor the content were good), but that time was enough to understand that the woman in question had had a dream in which she was told him that the world's water would be polluted and that the problem would originate in the United States.

I stopped watching and placed the video on the same bag with so many other videos and posts that run on social media requiring a high level of credulity to give them the slightest bit of attention. So, I went to the post office to get my mail and, among the letters, there was one from the city where I live saying that the reservoir used for the city's water was contaminated.

The letter from the local municipality did not give details of the reasons for the contamination, although it explained that it was serious enough for all human activities to be prohibited in that place, including swimming, fishing, boating, and even walking around the area. The notice did not say anything about when the contaminated water reservoir would reopen.

The situation bothered me: minutes after I saw a video recorded in Peru a decade and a half ago about contaminated water in the United States, I receive an official notification from the city where I reside informing me of contaminated water. Mere coincidence? Message from the universe? I do not know. But it did really happen.

And the following also happened. A few days ago, driving home from work at the office, I heard on the radio that commercial airplanes will begin flying in formation, as do birds and military aircrafts, as a way to reduce the cost of those. air travel.

For about 25 years I have lived close to an international airport and I often see several planes landing almost simultaneously. But I never saw them flying in formation. After hearing the news, I was left thinking that one day I would like to see in real life a formation of eight to ten commercial airplanes, as they were described on the radio.

A few minutes later, that's exactly what I saw: eight planes from different airlines (because of their colors) flying close enough to each other to see them all at once, and obviously far enough to avoid any danger. Another simple coincidence? Another message from the universe?

These experiences are difficult for me to accept because, among other reasons, the transformation from what is news or story one moment to a personal experience the next moment oscillates between the interesting and the terrifying.

Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

At two months of birth, babies can only see up to 10 inches in front of their eyes and still cannot focus on objects or distinguish colors. They instinctively recognize their mother's face and not much else. But that doesn’t mean that there is no world beyond what babies can see.

By six months, babies can see up 18 and can focus on objects and recognize colors. They have made only 8 inches of progress in their experience of the world around them. Their perception of space has grown, but it will take many years before they begin to understand time.

Children have a hard time understanding the concept of the “past” and are surprised to discover that their parents were once children too. The idea of a distant past already gone and a future yet to come is beyond them. In fact, they won't fully understand it until they become adults (if they ever do).

But that doesn’t mean that there was no past that preceded them or that (most likely) there will be a future without them.

If we move from individual babies to humanity as a whole, we must recognize that there was a similar time in human history, when the city in which one lived was considered the center of the universe and the horizon of what one could see marked the limits of reality.

It is said that the ancient Greeks believed that the distance between the surface of the earth and the limit of the universe was only 20 miles. And a similar belief, that the earth is a few thousand years old, is well known. In both cases, the attitude is the same: what we cannot see (whether in time or space) doesn’t exist. But that belief paid no attention to the babies’ experiences.

Just because something is not part of our spatio-temporal perception, it does not mean that this "something" doesn’t exist. It only means we simply don’t perceive it. Without the help of suitable instruments, we cannot see infrared or ultraviolet light. But that doesn't mean those lights don't exist.

At the cosmic level, our instruments allow us to see up to 14 billion light years away, close to the Big Bang that gave rise to the universe. Everything that is beyond that space-time distance is outside our perception, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

In a sense, although it is difficult for us to recognize it, we are still just cosmic babies, with such a small consciousness that we only see what we see and, even worse, we believe that this is the whole of reality. 

In the current planetary context of a techno-scientific globalization narrated by the social networks of capitalism, our consciousness is even smaller because it is limited to what “they” let us see.

Therefore, many people cannot see the future. But that doesn't mean that the future doesn't exist. It means we have not developed yet a new organ of perception to see it. 

Please, stop telling me you don’t know how to do it!

Artificial brains, quantum computers, and commercial space travel are already a reality. But it is a reality that many people are unaware of and they do not connect with it because, while the studies of parallel and multidimensional universes are increasingly deep and successful, many do not know how to solve the minimum challenges.

It is true that we live in a time when presidents no longer know how to govern, teachers no longer know how to teach, and doctors no longer know how to heal. A time in which all values have been transmuted, but not to free us, but to enslave us even more, thus becoming monstrosities without consciousness or memories of what we were or could have been.

And everything gets worst when, for example, someone does not know how to fill out a basic form for their son or daughter to receive free or reduced-price meals at school. And instead of admitting that she can't answer a few simple questions because she never wanted to learn how to do it, that person accuses everyone around her of not wanting to help her.

“Ma'am,” I said, “you can fill out the form online. It is in your language”. The response was immediate. "But I don't understand anything about Internet",

“There is another option. Call this number and they help you fill out the form over the phone,” I said. Another immediate response: "Yes, but you can only call during the hours I am at work and when I call, they do not answer me."

“Then maybe I can send an email to…” Immediate reply: “I don't have email. Well, I do, but since I never use it, I can't remember the password. My daughter put it on the phone, but I don't know how to read it”.

"It's okay. Since we are on the phone at the moment, what is your phone number? Surprise answer: “I don't have a phone. I am using my friend’s phone. Mine was lost. I don't know when I will have a phone again”.

The conversation lasted a few more minutes, enough to learn that this person had been in the country for almost 30 years, but she still lacked the basic elements and skills to connect with the available resources to improve her present and, therefore, she could not build a better future for herself and her daughters.

Her last question before ending the conversation was "But how do I do it?" I must confess, I am tired of hearing that question. We live in an age where we can almost immediately access the information we need, and therefore saying that one does not know how to solve a simple issue is inadmissible. (Incidentally, they were able to help the lady).

Many people seem to have lost their ability to solve their problems, overcome their challenges, assume their responsibilities, and take charge of their lives. Sadly, the new future has already arrived, and it certainly won't wait for us to prepare.

What excuses are you using to avoid facing the new future?

I recently had a short conversation with a well-known person in the community with excellent professional training. The theme was the new future created not only by the pandemic, but also by the collapse of the Eurocentric project of modernity. This person told me, however, that she had no time for the future.

"I have no time for the future," were his exact words. Not having time for one of the dimensions of time is, without a doubt, a paradoxical and self-contradictory expression. But it is also an expression of anguish, existential confinement, and despair.

“Not having time for time”, when said by a temporary being such as human beings, is a way of saying that we are no longer interested in our own being, that we have already stopped being human and have reified ourselves. We treat ourselves as timeless and try, in vain, to remove our temporality.

Before I was able to say anything (and I was not planning to do it), this person added: "I don't have time for the future because I have to renovate my office." At first, I thought I understood the explanation: the pandemic has forced us to redesign our workplaces, to maximize the effectiveness of working there.

In today's context, having an ergonomic and ecologically friendly office is a great advantage. And if new technologies are added to that, that office ceases to be a workplace to become a meeting point with the world, a space of opening to others and to new ideas, to be highly creative. 

But that's not what the person I was talking to was trying to say. I felt her saying something like "I have to take refuge in my office", in the double sense of "My work is my world" and "My office is a place where I am in charge and can control". 

In a way, this person seeks to transform his office into a "cave" in which she can hibernate as long as necessary until the pandemic passes, something similar to what bears do every time winter arrives. And that confinement, both physical and existential, prevents this person from connecting with the new future.

"Remodeling the office" can be understood as the desire to repeat the past and perpetuate the present, to forget that the future has already changed and to roll back time to a more satisfactory situation than facing profound, inevitable, and irreversible changes.

In other words, “remodeling the office” is a confession of having become addicted to ourselves, that is, of not wanting to stop being who we are at this moment, even if we somehow understand that that way of being is already obsolete. There is no use building a thick-walled castle if the attackers arrive with cannons and gunpowder. 

The question then is: what "office" or what "cave" or what "castle" are each of us building so as not to face the new future? And what price will we pay for doing it? The emerging future will reveal it. 

Even with a map in your hand, you may be following the wrong way

I recently came to a park south of the city where I live, and shortly after starting to walk on the trail that begins at the park gate, I came across a young couple walking in the opposite direction. Just when we crossed, the man, map in hand, said to his companion: "We walked so much that we must be close to reaching the dam."

They went their way and I mine, without any opportunity for me to tell them anything. But if I had had that opportunity, then I would have told them that the dam they were looking for was not near the park gate but precisely at the other end of the park, several miles away.

The young couple had probably been walking for a long time and mistook the length of their walk for the approach to the destination they wanted to reach. But, contrary to what they assumed and expected, every step took them away from their destiny. Every step made things worse, even with the map in hand. 

I'm sure the couple eventually made it to the park gate and at that point they must have asked someone at the reception office where the dam, only to find that they had walked in the wrong direction. Perhaps they took it as an adventure and perhaps even shared it laughingly among their acquaintances.

But on the path of life walking the wrong path is not an adventure, but a misfortune. And it is not a comedy, but a tragedy. In fact, in an old compilation of proverbs it is read that "There is a way that appears to people as a right (convenient), but it is a way that leads to death (self-destruction)." That teaching is seldom taught today. 

Finding the right path means having the ability to mistrust the map that one has in hand, whatever that map may be (book, dogma, teaching, idea, belief, guru or whatever). The map and the territory are not the same. If I have a map of Paris in my hand that doesn’t mean that I know Paris. Also, the map may be incorrect, or you may not know how to interpret it. 

Among the Greek philosophers, finding and following the right path ("path" in Greek is "hodós") was to find a "method". Furthermore, the first followers of the teacher from Nazareth (who simply said, "I am the way") called themselves "Those of the way." And, as we know, in the East "way" has a name that is still used today: Tao.

Finding and following the right path was so important that Heraclitus taught that "The way up and down is the same," a teaching that today our minds and hearts can’t comprehend. There is no doubt that we have lost our way, even with the map in our hands. Therefore, we wander through life without direction, direction, or meaning.

As Spanish poet Antonio Machado once wrote: "Wayfarer, there is no way. The way is made by walking".

It is all our fault for not listening to the wise people or to history

In the context of the pandemic, health professionals repeatedly expressed their advice about how to avoid new infections and stay healthy both mentally and physically in the middle of a quarantine and an uncertainty future that affects us all, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Among those professionals is an Italian doctor who proposed a "broad and comprehensive" approach to face the pandemic, not only because of its impact as a disease, but also because of its impact on society and the economy. And, in that context, this doctor said, we should look for a cure until we find it.

Some of the tips this Italian doctor shared include eating clean and healthy food, cleaning your hands and things you touch, and spending as much time outdoors as possible.

In addition, the doctor said, it’s necessary to recognize that the pandemic fills our minds with emotions and tensions. And that stress is "where diseases are housed." In other words, it is not just a matter of combating the pandemic itself, although that must be done, but also “the social ills” that aggravate the pandemic must also be fought.

The example provided by this Italian doctor is simple and direct: in order not to get infected, you have to keep yourself clean, but if someone lacks the necessary resources (access to medical care, money to meet the basic needs of life), then contagion cannot be avoided.

The doctor in question, and it is time to say it, is Marsilio Ficino, who lived in the 15th century (1433-1499) and who provided that advice, still valid, more than 500 years ago after plagues and epidemics affected Italy four times during his life. Some of those plagues killed millions and lasted years. 

Let's be clear: half a millennium ago an Italian doctor offered advice against the pandemic that we still use today. However, later it is heard in the media and said by the authorities that "no one could anticipate the pandemic" and that "it took us by surprise, and we did not know what to do."

That is simply a big lie.

It would be better to say that "We have decided to ignore history, recent and remote, and, therefore, we believe that we are the first to live what we now live." Even better, it would be a great moment of honesty to acknowledge that "We prefer to be ignorant and keep others ignorant so we can control them."

Why do we remain ignorant? Because we thought it would never happen to us. We hide behind science and technology and we proclaim ourselves "smart" or, even worse, "smarter" than our ancestors. But then a virus arrives and puts the planet in danger.

Ultimately, we do not listen to the wise or to history because we think we know everything. And that is the greatest sin and the worst miscalculation in which humanity today has fallen: hubris, that excess of which the Greeks already spoke, warning about the destructive narcissism on which it is based.


Many prepare for life, but then they never take the first step

In recent walks through a park near my house that offers trails between forests and streams, on several occasions I saw families and groups of people perfectly prepared for the walk, but then, for different reasons, they did not even take the first step. Many people live life that way.

In one case, a group of young people came to the parking lot in a van and within seconds all the young people got out of the vehicle and frantically began to prepare for the walk. For example, they put bottles of water and snacks in their backpacks, applied sunscreen and bug spray, and grabbed their climbing sticks.

Then when everyone was ready, one of them opened a map and suggested going down a certain trail. Another young man, standing next to a large map of the park painted on a sign, indicated that there was a better trail. Still another participant in the group, using the map on his smartphone, opined that he had chosen the best trail for everyone.

What followed was a seemingly an endless discussion (it probably lasted about ten minutes) between them to decide who was right, which trail they should choose, and which map was wrong. After the heated debate, the debated ended and they all came to the same conclusion: they got back into the truck and drove off, not having taken a single step on any of the trails.

Many people do that: they care more about being right than about traveling the path of life. They are so addicted to their beliefs that they deter others from going out and walking through life before accepting that, in this life, there is more than one path and there are paths for everyone.

In the other incident, an entire family (grandparents, parents, and children) arrived at the trailhead with shiny new gear. The mother proceeded to teach the children how to use the climbing pole, including the correct angle of the elbow and neck for the pole to be efficient. And then she taught them how to read a map and how to use a compass.

Next, the father of the family led the entire family in warm-up exercises, first without the pole and then using the pole to do leg and arm stretches. After the warm-up, everyone shared a little snack, and when it looked like they were ready to start walking, new instructions arrived.

The mother reminded the children that they should wear their masks and maintain social distancing, that they should not touch or take anything, that they should not talk to strangers, and that they should not walk away from their parents.

Then, they returned to their vehicle, got in and left. Although everything they had done was fine and all indications were true and correct, they did not walk a single step on a path. Many live like this: always preparing and never acting.

Life is not a rehearsal: either we live it, or we are already dead.

What we do not see or know may be what is deeply important

We know what The Little Prince taught: The essential is invisible to the eyes. But from knowing that truth to living and practicing it there is a great distance that, due to its size, leads us to accept as “essential” things that are not and does not allow us to see the fundamental and truly essential sources. In other words: we judge without basis or knowledge.

That thought recently came to my mind when, while walking through a park south of the city where I live, I came across a crooked tree or, rather, leaning like the Tower of Pisa. It was the only tree in that condition among numerous other trees that had grown without deviating from a strictly vertical growth.

The crooked tree situation reminded me of the saying that people, like trees, are difficult to straighten if they are born and grow crooked. Perhaps they live long and productive lives, perhaps literally or metaphorically they reach impressive heights. But they will always be crooked and, therefore, they will be easily detected and attacked.

As I continued walking and I approached the crooked tree, I noticed something that was not seen from afar: it had grown on a large rock. While all the other trees were on solid ground, the crooked tree was on a rock, and worse still, the rock was on the edge of a small cliff. One wrong step, so to speak, and the tree would fall.

Due to the place where the crooked tree had grown, its roots were not buried, but were left above ground, literally clinging to the rock. And that was the key: the crooked tree had been born and raised in a place where it needed to use all its energies to cling to life, no matter how crooked or not the tree was and regardless of what other could say.

The essential element of that tree, its roots clinging to a rock, remained invisible to my eyes not only until I got close enough to the tree to see its roots, but also until I put aside my prejudices and my judgments about "crooked trees", be it plants or people. 

To use another metaphor, if we only see the visible part of the iceberg and we believe that this is the whole reality, our thoughts and our understanding will be distorted and limited. Many times, the reality, the essential, is submerged within two great seas: history and the subconscious (to use that particular word).

Everything we believe today and what we assume we know has a historical origin. And much of what we believe and say we believe we do not believe or say it consciously, but it arises from the non-conscious level of our mind.

For this reason, we cannot see what the iceberg hides under the water, nor the historical origins of our ideas and situations, nor what is really hidden inside our mind. The hidden sources of reality can only be seen with appropriately trained eyes. 

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