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A Winter Solstice Story

After a week of hard work it is friday late evening. Or, actually, midnight. Tomorrow will be the shortest day of the winter - the sun will be up for about 5 hours. I feel somewhat tired, but instead of going to sleep I'd like to write a special Winter Solstice Story. It begins with some memories;

In the 1980's I was a school boy, and I thought that there will be no future for the mankind. It was still the times of Cold War, and I thought that sooner or later USA and USSR are going to start a nuclear war, effectively destroying the whole civilization. I was angry at the previous generations for building such an insane world, and I was frustrated as it seemed like my parents and the teachers thought that there is nothing wrong with the world as it is. I always felt that as a mankind we are on an express train to hell, and someone better pull the emergency brake before it's too late.

Well, my pessimism sure reflected my personal experiences of our family life. My parents were fighting a lot, and we kids did that too, all the time. Our parents had clear rules for us kids, and there were punishments for breaking the rules. But all of that never solved the problem, as all of us just kept on figthing, and to me it felt that things just got worse and worse. So I felt that rules and control alone can't make people to live happily together. It might be that we need rules and control, but we also need something else. It was just that I didn't know what that "something else" would be. But I wanted to go look for it.

I was a teenager when suddenly the Cold War was over, The Berlin Wall was torn down, and pretty soon the whole Soviet Union collapsed. For a moment the fear of Mutual Assured Destruction was wiped away. There was a new sense of hope and liberty. Only that I never thought that our western system is perfect; our industry is polluting waters, clearcutting rainforests and rushing towards a global ecocatastrophe of some sort. Oh well. It was one mid-winter day, I felt about as pessimistic as I could. I was walking outdoors, watching birch trees covered in frost and snow. They looked like they were devoid of all life. "Well, if I look at these trees now, it could be easy to think that if things go on like this they will never be green again. But still I know that one day the snow will be gone, the life will return to these trees and soon all the branches will be rich of green leaves. So, even when it seems that there is no hope, it might still be that hidden under a frozen surface there is Life which is strong enough to survive the hard winter."

And why in the first place was there a threat of global annihilation in a full-scale nuclear war? Was it because of stupidity? Due to lack of laws and control? No, I began to suspect it was because of lack of Love and Empathy. If we don't love each other we might be ready to start wars, to oppress and to abuse other nations, to rape and to destroy nature in the process of making huge private profits. But if we have Love, we aim for global harmony and benevolence. And, to me it seems that this simple message has been already delivered to the humankind, some two thousand years ago, by different wise people in different cultures. So what's the problem? Why are we still rushing towards a global catastrophe just because of some moneymaking or because of a childish struggle for world dominance?

Is it because there is something wrong with a message of Love? Maybe Love is not the answer after all, maybe it is just an illusion, and the only rational thing to do is just to try to run faster that the others in this global rat race? Or, maybe "The Love" is something broader than just a mysterious motivational force? Not only a strong emotion, but also a more general principle? At the age or 39, afer more than 20 years of pondering, I'd like to tell a small story:

Once there was a small family living in an isolated, deserted area. The land was barren and sunburnt, the food was scarce. But the family had a small garden, and they were able to grow some vegetables to eat. They did their best to learn more about gardening; how to help their garden to survive different weather conditions, how to help the vegatbles to grow. Observing the weather they had already found out that water is essential - when it has been a long period with no rain, some of the plants die away. To obtain water they dug a well - they had to dig deep, but eventually they hit groundwater.
The well had a dramatic effect on their garden. No more were they left on the mercy of the changing weathers, but they could provide constant watering for their plants. But after a while they discovered that some plants were growing abundantly, while others were barely alive. At first they assumed that maybe they had just forgot to give same amount of water to all of the plants. They developed a routine for that, but things got only worse. So they discovered that actually that was the problem - intead of giving exactly the same amount of water for every plant they should learn spesific need of different plants. By giving a same amount of water they were giving too much water for some, too little for some, and a good amount for the rest. So, with some experimenting they made a customized irrigation plan for all the different species in their garden.
They did so good that they could make their garden bigger. After couple of years their garden was so big that it easily provided all the food the family needed. But now it was tedious to haul water for the plants. So they installed a water pump and consructed a network of irrigation pipelines.
It seemed all good - but soon they found that even when they could provide a steady irrigation it still was that some plants grew better and others were having troubles. Once again the problem was that the pipeline was distributing a same amount of water for every plant. They had to adjust it accoring to what they had learned about specific needs of each plant. Over the years the family kept on learning and improving their garnden, and finally they were producing so much vegetables that they could trade it for fish with neighbouring families.

Basically, Love is like the groundwater. Even when the surface of the soil seems barren and dry, somewhere deeper there is water. And it is possible to find it. Well, I hope that in real life many people are born and grown with unproblematical sense of love. For them it feels natural to be benevolent. But for people like me, who have been bit more troubled and unsure, it might be a strong spiritual or mystical experience to discover a source of unconditional Love. Some call it God, some call it Jahve, or Allah. Some talk about Brahman, others practice meditation seeking Nirvana or Satori. You name it. But I feel that the idea is the same. A sense of Love which is greater than our selfish needs and egoistic fears. Such a Love which is present everywhere, and makes the stars shine with pure beauty. No matter if you are an atheist, an agnostic, a rationalist or a believer - if you feel that it is OK to be nice to the others, then you have found your groundwater.

But, to love doesn't mean that you can just pump water into an irrigation pipeline, pouring water indifferently on all the plants. To express your love you have to stop to listen to your plants - to do your best to learn individual nees of each plant, and then giving them water when they need it. And I think it is this irrigation part of the story where mankind has been failing. Seeing some plants prosper while others wither it might be easy to conclude that this whole irrigation stuff is wrong and it doesn't work. Similarly, I've heard people saying that promoting Love isn't that important as it won't solve the real problems - to stop deforestation or halt the climate change, to banish hunger, poverty and opression we need NGO campaining and legislation and diplomacy and all that. Well, yes. That is the irrigation pipeline in the metaphor. We have built a big system, a global network of world politics. Now we need to learn to adjust the system so that it will help us to solve our problems. To love means to seek for spesific, individual solutions for different circumstances.

Another example; for past decades the food industry has been aiming to produce food as quick as possible, with as low costs as possible (and making as much profit as possible). This has lead to large scale procution units where animals are packed in small boxes with no possibility to live according to their natural instincts. Deprived of their basic needs some animals develop ill behavior; pigs bite each other, a tiger in a zoo walks a nervous cirlce inside his small cage. Same goes for the horses, all too often they are not allowed to fullfill their natural needs and they begin to bite walls or they develop dangerous and aggressive behaviour. In such cases the traditional solution has been a simple one: applying even more strict control on the horse, and punishing him on his bad behavior so that he learns to be just a robot with no soul. Now, to me it seems that we humans have been doing just the same for us humans. Building such a system which doesn't understand all the natural basic needs of a human being. And when problems occur, the typical answer is to ask for more control and for stricter punishments - instead of pausing to ask what we can change in our culture, in our behaviour, in our society to make it so that people could learn and grow to be more balanced, benevolent and loving.

So, Love is a strong emotion, but is not only that. It is also a more broader princible; to be willing to learn about human nature, to listen to ones own inner self, to be honest, to listen to the others, to try to understand them, to respect oneself and the others as equal. To seek such solutions which are just and fair. Stopping to ask and to listen to the needs and feelings of the others, instead of just blindly trying to follow a set of given rules. And I feel that this is what we need, in family life, or in the national and global politics. (Not to mention the economy). In this area there are no ready-made solutions; it is more about emotional and social skills. Learning to be more sensitive to the others, learning to better understand ones own emotions, motivations and reactions, learning to find smoother ways of dealing with the world and the others - even when there are conflicts between individual needs of different persons. A brute solution to a conflict is to fight, so that the winner gets to fulfill his/her personal needs and the loser just loses it all. But, provided that both sides are willing to find a harmonious solution, I'm sure they can do it. To negotiate a deal. So, as I understand The Love it is both the motivation to negotiate and also the skill needed in the negotiation. The water, the well and the irrigation pipeline.

Oh, it is already three o'clock in the morning. Winter solstice is here; the turning point. From today on there will be less darkness and more light, day by day. And this blog entry is my small contribution to the global "Revolution of Love" - as I believe in something like that. The revolution which takes place in our hearts and minds, as we all take part in creating the future of the mankind. Do we want to create more and more of egoism and hatred, or could we learn more about ways of harmony, love, acceptance, beauty and Love? Do we get frustrated if everything doesn't happen at once, or do we have patience to keep on learning and growing step by step, day by day?

writing this story in the middle of the night
writing this story in the middle of the night
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Comments

I relate a lot to this. I wonder how many of us who are of this generation (I'm 37) feel the same way? They do say the revolution won't be televised :)

Yup. Tearing down the Berlin Wall was a strong symbol and made a good media show. But the real revolution takes places in peoples minds and hearts, and that happens silently and slowly, all over the world, every here and there. And I do hope that slowly it leads also to visible changes in our economical and political structures too.

I remember seeing a TV clip of mr. Gorbachev visiting a big factory, discussing with the workers about the changes and improvements needed. One of the workers said: "The most important is to have change in our minds", and Gorbachev replied: "Yes!". Oh, this makes me slip back to theoretical thinking. As, if I got my history of philosophy about right, Marx and Lenin believed that once we change the economical structures of the society, peoples mental structures would change too. But, somehow, I suspect that things aren't that simple...

This process of internal change doesn't get that much media visibility, although, as that wise Soviet worker said, it's the most important reform we need.

In 2004 I had what I still call my quarter life crisis. I walked out of my job (just didn't show up for work one day), ran off to Europe with a backpack and a Eurorail pass. The only things I wanted was to get away from everyone and to sort my life out, on my own. There's a lot of stories that go along with this, but one of the more interesting ones involved my first hostel stay.

Being American, I have a bit of a problem. I really love my country, and I think we do some really, really stupid things as a group of people. In 2004, I was pretty down on being an American. Even considered wearing a shirt "I didn't vote for Bush" while in Europe. Two Italian gentlemen were sharing my room with me at the hostel. I joked about not voting for Bush. They said (paraphrased a bit), "Don't feel bad. Sure, your president is an idiot, but we don't think all Americans are like that. We still remember what you did for us in World War II."

It wasn't the content of what they said, as I'd like to someday move away from always being associated with a warlike nation, but how they were about it. They seemed to mean what they said, and were very welcoming to me as a person. It was one of the first moments where I think I got to be more than an "American" and realized there was potential for all of us to respect each other as individuals despite background.

Thanks for sharing this fine story!

Life is great, as that kind of small and ordinary things (like couple of honest, friendly words from two Italian gentlemen) can have a lot of inspirational and empowering effect. This is how I believe in a grass-root silent reform; the more we ordinary people learn to respect others as individuals, the more there will be love and empathy in this world.

For me one such experience was when I was a young father, and I spent most of my time at home taking care of our son. We lived in a city, and living in our block there were a handful of other families where wifes stayed at home with their kids. They were about ten years older than I was, they had a working class background, and I was a long haired hippie man studying at the University. But the mothers never treated me as 'different' - since I was a responsible parent I was welcome to the group, and we helped each other a lot. Like, any of the mothers could just call me saying "I'd need to visit a bank to sort out some paper stuff - could you please take care of my kids for a while?" - for me this was the first time in my life when I really felt that I'm accepted and respected just the way I am.

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