I do believe that all these wonderful things we have created to save us time have, in some indecipherable way, actually robbed us of the time we thought we were going to gain by availing ourselves of their services. For example, when my grandmother was growing up, they swept the carpets or put them on a clothesline and beat them with a paddle. That did take some time. When the vacuum cleaner was invented, the housewife was then predicted to have leisure time resulting from being freed from the task of cleaning the carpets by hand. However, most housewives found themselves busier than ever. The time supposedly freed by the new device, which everyone now had, was taken up by other work that suddenly needed doing. The same situation repeated itself with other new appliances, such as the electric washer and the electric clothes dryer. Newer and faster automobiles seem to produce more places that need to be rushed to.
It is not that these developments are bad; they are certainly awesome in their own right. However, for each of these developments, something is lost, and we do not seem to be aware of what is lost until it is too late to recover it. For example, now that we have highly convenient clothes dryers, we no longer have the scent of the wind and fresh cut grass that used to adorn the clothes we hung on the clothesline. Now that we have the wonderful GPS to tell us to turn right or left without our thinking much, the skill of map reading is vanishing; in fact, it is difficult to even find any updated maps to read. The use of calculators in schools to do simple math computations has resulted in fewer students who know their number facts, and cashiers who are unable to make change unless a computer tells them what to do. Did we want to lose those skills??? We didn’t ask those questions as we were moving forward.
I think we need to ask those questions and figure out how to include in the relentless march forward the values of what we have lost. It is wonderful to have, for example, an excellent cook to serve us meals. However, if we have lost the skill of knowing our way around a kitchen, we are vulnerable, at the mercy of the cook, or at least of having a cook. As we go forward, who will be the masters – the marvelous devices, or ourselves?
The American Heritage Dictionary, new College edition, defines “excellent” as “being of the highest or finest quality, exceptionally good, superb”. It defines “perfect” as “complete of its nature or kind; without defect”. The Unabridged edition of the Random House Dictionary is not much different, defining “excellent” as “remarkably good’ extraordinary”, and “perfect” as “beyond practical or theoretical improvement; without flaws or shortcomings; correct in every detail”.
What stands out is that perfection is a completed process. It is a destination, a final state, beyond which growth does not occur. It is static. Excellence, on the other hand, is exceptional and extraordinary, but it is not a completed process. It is ongoing and dynamic. It is growth.
I submit that, dictionaries aside, there is no real definition of perfection. If asked for details of perfection, a hundred different people will have a hundred varied answers. Perfection is subjective, an assumption in the minds of individuals. Humanity cannot agree on perfection. Perfection is static, having ceased to grow, hence, to live. Perfection, in fact, does not exist. It is an illusion to which people subscribe.
Excellence, on the other hand, is a continual engagement in learning, growing, becoming at a greater level than the one at which one currently exists. It is alive and enlivening. It fuels our lives, our progress and our success, to the extent to which we realize and embrace excellence. Excellence does, in fact, exist.
The old man sat quietly alert on the rock outcropping near the top of the hill. The dry air, warmed by the late morning sunshine, stirred lazily around him, ruffling his white hair, and caressing his closed eyes. Behind him, at the foot of the hill, the tribe patiently continued daily tasks as if nothing were going on. They were awaiting the old man's return. Before him spread the expanse of grassland. In the distance, a herd of bison nibbled on the sere grass, vainly searching for a few green blades. None of this caught the attention of the old man. His focus was inward, away from the arid, heat-permeated landscape surrounding him. The old man was sensing rain. Within his trance, he could see the dark clouds approach, feel the damp breeze on his skin, notice the slight drop in temperature, smell the droplets of a deluge, hear distant rumbling thunder. The rains were coming. He KNEW that, knowing in a way that belied the logic of drought surrounding him, of grass waiting like tinder to catch the first spark. The old man had been there since dawn, going ever deeper into his trance, sensing ever more strongly the coming of rain.
Towards sunset, the grazing bison looked up. The breeze had stilled for the moment; dark clouds began to form on the horizon. The bison stopped grazing. They began to circle, calves in the middle for shelter. The old man paid no attention. The dark clouds grew, and the wind began to pick up. Lightning split the sky, and thunder rumbled over the bison. Clouds obscured the setting sun as the storm increased its force, soaking the dried grass and the parched earth. The bison lifted their heads in welcome to the rain. Now the wind blew strong over the old man, who was still sitting quietly. A clap of thunder woke him from his trance. A deluge from the sky washed over him as he stood up and began the walk to the encampment. Dancing children approached him, frolicking in the rain. The old man entered among the people. "It rained,” he said.
The old man had been dreaming rain. He was the tribal shaman, trained from adolescence in the ability to enter the invisible realms the aborigines call "dreamtime". From those spaces he would heal, divine, and call to the tribe what was needed. Rain was needed at the moment. He was an expert in these skills.
These skills are not, however, potentially limited to shamans. Each of us possesses the possibility of using our focus, our imaginations, our understanding and creative inner gifts to do, individually or collectively, what the shaman had done. We can create ceremony, sing what we wish to create, draw it, sculpt it, write it, or sit in focused meditation. We can even simply speak the truth we wish to see. We do not need to be trained shamans operating alone. Collectively, our smaller individual acts coalesce into a larger effect.
There are certainly many intertwined issues that face us in this moment. An election is over, but we cannot all sit back and relax and assume that the "old normal" will now return. The "old normal" is gone; what will ensue from the current chaos will be the result of what we collectively dream.
Part of carrying on through the dark is holding the highest vision we can of an outcome that nurtures the planet and its denizens and our fellow humans. It is not a matter of having our own way only, of power over others. It is not a vision simply of relief from suffering or the weight of our burdens. It is creative, drawn from the love of life we all intrinsically possess, if we are willing to see it. The particulars of individual highest visions may vary, but their ultimate goal is the same, the benefit of all concerned. It is a vision born of love. Such individual visions, combined, cannot but help to bring the highest good to all. It is not always easy to hold the highest vision, but it is the way to what we seek.