I never thought I would find myself watching on television the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I’m not particularly a person who cares for or watches sport; winter sports even less so! Yet one weekend evening in February I switched on the television and I happened to come across the figure skaters competing at Sochi. So I thought I would watch for a few minutes before turning over to watch a film I was expecting. Those few minutes turned into a couple of hours. I was blown away by the elegance, craftsmanship, and skill in the figure skating. It was a display of finesse, dedication, focus, and beauty that I had not appreciated before. So I watched another night, and another night…and not just ice skating but freestyle skiing, ski jumping, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, speed skating, bobsleigh – the whole lot! And I’m still not a sports fan…because I realized I wasn’t watching so much the ‘sport’ – the competing, the winning, etc – but rather something else. I was watching how the human being participates, and what is capable through concentrated effort, dedication, and commitment. These winter Olympic Games were, for me, a celebration of being human; that is, what a human being can achieve when they have the right attitude. And the results can be truly amazing.
Sure, I’ve read some of the criticisms over the Sochi Olympic Games, yet these have mostly been rants against President Putin, Russian politics, or committee organization, etc. For me, that’s missing the point. The point is that hundreds of dedicated people, from all parts of the world, came together in a spirit of participation and achievement. Many of these participants would have been training for the last two years just for this specific event. It is an event, like other events and meetings that occur worldwide that are really a celebration of ourselves. Perhaps it’s about time we not only recognized this fact but also acknowledged it in a strong positive way. Why? Because our mainstream news channels are full of negative news that show the worst sides of human nature – along with other evils of the world. Yes, these things are happening, and I’m one of the first to accept that. Yet my point is: by focusing on the evils of the world are we helping ourselves to develop our understanding, our tools for progress, our positive focus, and our self-confidence? Are we nurturing the best aspects of human love? If not, why not?
We may think that everything in the world is obvious and right in front of us. This is a result of a material lifestyle that is constantly pushed in our faces so much that we are overwhelmed by its presence. The immediacy of such an obvious matter-reality (materiality) calls for our continuous attention. However, there are other elements of life that are not so easy to discern. There are times when we have to make up our minds and make decisions based on limited external evidence. Whilst our social-cultural environment is often overwhelming, our inner human realm is underwhelming. Yet it is underwhelming in a positive and subtle way, and we have an obligation to recognize and acknowledge this too. Sometimes it is difficult to work out what is the right thing to do. The philosopher Emanuel Swedenberg urged people in their daily lives to ‘do the good that we know.’ Doing the right thing and the wrong thing may look very similar. That is why we need to rely on our own tools of discernment. And these tools of discernment can be more polished or rustier depending on our attitudes to our self, and whether we celebrate our self or not. Blaise Pascal, the French inventor, writer and philosopher said it this way:
“There is just enough light for those who want to believe, and just enough shadow for those who do not want to believe”
We don’t have to worry about finding our self-justifications, that’s the easy part – they will find us! Life can be misleading at times, but that’s okay. It’s whether we dwell on it and allow it to mis-direct us by distraction and design. Let’s be honest, our social-cultural environments – i.e. modern living – do distract us by design – just look at the current state of what we call ‘democracy.’ As the social critic Herbert Marcuse wrote – “A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress.” So in order to deal and engage with this ‘unfreedom’ (please note I didn’t say fight against it), and to transform it into something that works for us, we need to begin by celebrating ourselves.
We need to be looking at the world through our inner lens, and discerning the world through our own inner states. This is the opposite of what seems to be occurring all too frequently; that the state of the world tries to enter us and impose itself as our inner state. We need to change this relationship so that rather than the distraction entering us and deciding what is, our celebration of self participates with the world as the primary source. The 3rd century philosopher Plotinus put it like this:
“I am vision-loving, and I create by the vision-seeing faculty within me…I gaze within and the figures of the material world take being as they fall from my brooding.”
By brooding, Plotinus meant deep internal consideration, or contemplation. He informs us that if we are in a dark place, then so too do the figures and events of the material world seem dark to us. No-one perceives the same image of the world; that is our individual responsibility. Yet if, like Plotinus, we are vision-loving within (celebration of self), then we can transform the ‘figures of the material world’ by how we transform ourselves.
We should not let the present distract us away from ‘vision-loving’ and ‘vision-seeing’ a better future we wish to see for ourselves and for those to come. It’s okay to celebrate the positive achievements of the human being. In fact, I would dare to say it’s our response-ability to do so!