The Economy of Life

Revised, February, 2001


Contents List:


The Temple as Model


Challenge:

Response
Satisfaction

Return to:

Temple Guide
Ardue Front Page

See also:

Site Policy
Practical Application


The Temple as Model

For several years now, I have taken a particular interest in building computer models for business applications. Computer models are essentially impersonal analogies which assist in finding appropriate solutions to practical problems. Some time ago, my own experience of life and living suggested a model which might constitute a suitable framework for a coherent, multidisciplinary, multicultural, non-sectarian approach to education in the broadest sense, and thus help more people to live happier and more satisfying lives. I call this model The Economy of Life.

Economy derives from the old Greek word for household management. Very simply, it means thrift or the avoidance of waste. So the economy of life means avoidance of waste of this wonderful gift of life that each of us has been given. Avoidance of waste implies finding an appropriate way to live. As no two people ever have identical capabilities or experience identical circumstances, each of us has the potential to develop personal systems of values and to live accordingly.

Challenge

Life, therefore, presents each of us with the problem: what is a worthy purpose for me?

We must assume at the outset that the problem is soluble. And, indeed, a little reflection should reassure us about that because there are some things we are quite sure of, things that we ‘just know’, things that are ‘true’ — at least for us. We could hardly do anything if this were not the case, if we had no confidence that certain actions on our part would lead to expected results. There would be no technical appliances unless we felt sure that certain scientific laws are valid for all time and will go on working tomorrow as they work today and worked yesterday. We have a deep-seated and well-justified confidence that everything that exists ‘hangs together’ in some rational way. Even if we don’t at present ‘understand’ how it all works, we are certain that, with some effort, we can learn more about it. If it were not so, the science we in the West prize so highly would be no better than a cruel illusion.

The main function of the teacher is to encourage students to test the operation of the world for themselves, form their own conclusions about it, and act in the light of these conclusions. This Web site is essentially just my personal attempt to fashion an educational vehicle capable of making an elementary contribution to holistic education on a global scale, remembering that to ‘educate’ means to ‘lead out’.

Human beings down the ages have wrestled with the problem of life and some of the wisest have identified certain relationships which can help us find our own solutions. The following simple diagram in the form of an equilateral triangle with one point upwards symbolises what many wise people have found. It suggests an outline of the territory we should be exploring in search of our personal solution.

Life

Unlike Descartes (who, I suspect, was really only pretending) I have never doubted my own existence. I know I am alive. What is not so obvious to me is why. What is the purpose of my life? And what should I be doing about it?

We are born into this world with no handbook or 'directions for use'. Our parents or guardians take enormous trouble to take care of us: so we must be important in some way. But what are we born for?

To define is to set limits beyond which whatever we are trying to define is no longer what we are thinking of and we have crossed a boundary at which it has become something else. But 'life' is so all-inclusive that no definition can be completely satisfactory, and setting arbitrary mental limits can inhibit us from fully exploring this wonderful gift of life we have been given.

So I'm going to suggest one meaning for human life that sets no such limits and thus gives each of us the greatest possible freedom in exploring our individual envelopes of possibility and our relationships with other individuals and the environment in which we find ourselves.

To be alive in a physical human body means to be capable of doing something to change one's self or one's environment, i.e. to be able to work. To work means to do something that brings change about, i.e. to make a difference. This immediately raises the question of what changes we should seek to bring about in ourselves and in our environment.

I suggest furthermore that our actions are, in the main, determined by our emotions: emotions are what impel us to move or deter us from moving. And I further suggest that there are two fundamental sources of emotion from which all others spring: they are the motive force of love and the counter-force of fear.

Love

Love is the four-letter word that has given me most trouble in the course of my life up to now. It’s a word that, to quote C. S. Lewis, ‘has so many meanings that finally it has none’. Yet it’s obviously an important word because it is used so frequently and universally in connection with anything to do with motives for action. So part of our quest will be to consider our experience of love in the hope of understanding it better, even if we can’t define it. It may be worth repeating that to define anything is to set limits to it, and we should perhaps entertain the possibility that there may be no limits to love.

Although we may be unable to find a satisfactory definition of life, all of us have direct experience of living and we are able to distinguish between life and death. Thus each of us understands what it means to be alive in terms of our direct experience of life.

But when we turn our attention to 'Love', its meaning is much more elusive. We say we love something when we are strongly attracted to it; we say we hate something that we are afraid of or find repulsive in some way; but there is no objective test that we can apply to distinguish between love and hate as clearly as we can distinguish between life and death. And in our Western culture, the word love has sexual connotations which tend to over-ride its more subtle meanings.

It is often said that 'God is Love'. But who or what is God? Different ideas about God are put about by different religions and philosophies, and our personal ideas about God are influenced by the complex of ideas which are, or have been, current in the culture in which we have grown and developed. And many of these ideas are mutually contradictory to such an extent that religious differences are among the most frequent causes of war and destruction.

However, I think most people will agree that there is some Eternal Principle underlying the Universe; something that remains 'the same, yesterday, today and for ever'; something that gives a consistent, unifying meaning to the world and all our experience: if it were not so, all religion and all science would be futile.

So let us assume (unless and until we know better) that love is whatever gives the Universe its consistency and that, because we ourselves are conscious manifestations of the Universe, each of us has an innate ability to distinguish between what accords with its fundamental nature and what does not — especially in matters concerning our own actions. In other words, each of us can learn to distinguish between actions which are kind and loving in any given set of circumstances and actions which are not. This applies in all matters, including those involving sex.

On that assumption, loving actions must always be appropriate.

Fear

Fear is an instinct for self-preservation which enables us to recognise threats to our physical well-being and learn to avoid them. Its essential contribution is to keep soul and body together and keep the body serviceable. It helps us to keep alert and careful when crossing a busy road or driving in traffic or climbing a cliff. But though fear can restrain us from using our bodies inappropriately, it can also inhibit us from using our bodies in appropriate ways and thus set limits to what we may do and how far we should go in response to the prompting of love. It seems to me that there are two kinds of fear that can have this paralysing effect.

The first of these is often referred to as fear of the unknown: but I think this is a mistake. If it were true, I should be totally demoralised whenever I think of how ignorant I am and how much I know I don't know. Instead, I am aware of a very effective stimulant in the form of the curiosity which is characteristic of human beings: it makes the unknown in some way attractive and many of us enjoy the adventure of seeking more knowledge.

So when we say we fear the unknown, I think we really fear our own 'horrible imaginings' about what the unknown may be like. Some of us appear to be pre-disposed to fearing the worst, despite repeated lessons that things are seldom as bad in experience as they might have been imagined in prospect. Some people are literally crippled by their phobias, irrational fears which have no meaningful reference to the actual world. It may be rational to fear a hungry grizzly bear but not to live in terror of the house mouse.

The second kind of fear is a sort of insidious anxiety that tends to inhibit our benevolent actions. It seems to be a fear of losing something that we already know and value, something to which we have become 'attached'. Despite our general acceptance of the fact that change is inevitable, we tend to cling sub-consciously to anything that gives us some illusion of 'security' or seems to provide some 'insurance' in the face of an uncertain future. So we tend to accumulate more 'possessions' and cling more closely to the people we 'love' or depend upon. The more we have, the more we have to lose; and by entertaining this kind of fear, we embark on a vicious spiral which may do more damage to our spiritual enjoyment of life than any irrational fear of spiders.

I sometimes wonder if I fully realise the extent to which I allow myself to become a prisoner of my own mind. I occasionally catch myself behaving in some subtle ways like the person who keeps an expensive motor car highly polished in the garage but never actually uses it for its designed purpose for fear it might get scratched. I think this may account for much of what people call 'shyness'. So I think it important to be aware at least of the fact that fear can inhibit me from seeking out and acting upon opportunities of expressing love. I can then examine my fears and make rational choices between altruistic and self-serving courses of action.

Before leaving this topic, a word of caution is in order. There is another kind of feeling that may easily be confused with fear — but isn't. It is the feeling of vague discomfort that we feel when we are contemplating doing something which is not in harmony with natural law and may therefore cause actual harm to some other person or creature — or to our Selves. It may be called 'the whispering of conscience'. In former times, it was known as 'the fear of God' which is 'the beginning of wisdom'. It is a sort of 'governor' that is lovingly provided to deter us from impulsively saying, writing, or doing things we might later regret. It is a faculty that should be fostered and developed.

Response to the Challenge

Now let’s put that triangle away for a moment and construct another one, this time with the point down.

This second triangle represents our potential to respond to the challenge of Life.

Clearly, each of us experiences life differently. Each of us is unique, and the possible variety of experience is infinite. So each of us must confront the challenge in his or her own way. I may try to ignore it, but that itself is a response. In practice, because I am endowed with consciousness and feel pain and pleasure, I cannot refrain from trying to respond in a way that I think will reduce my pain or enhance my pleasure. And I can’t imagine anyone else successfully ignoring the challenge either. Life demands some sort of response from us.

Responsibility

Each of us has will — the power to choose from one moment to the next what thought we shall dwell upon, what we shall say, or what we shall do. But having decided and said and done, we are clearly not free to avoid the natural consequences.

It may at first glance seem natural for us to adopt a hedonistic approach to life and seek to maximise our immediate personal pleasure and minimise our immediate personal pain, regardless of our environment and the other people in it. But we must eventually graduate to a realisation that, as individuals, our freedom to act in the world is constrained by natural laws and societal pressures. If we leap over a cliff, we shall be subject to a force that will accelerate us downwards at about 32 feet per second per second. If we do things that other people find objectionable, they will resist us. Furthermore, a moment’s reflection will show that we are ultimately dependent in one way or another on other people and creatures for all our satisfactions. And to the extent that we depend on others for our enjoyment, is it not in our long-term interest to play our full part in sustaining the enjoyment of the other people and creatures with whom we share the planet?

From moment to moment, each of us is confronted with choice, and it is always a choice between one thing and another because we cannot do two things at once. So I am always subconsciously asking myself, 'What should I do now? Should I do this, or that, or the other?' Once I decide to adopt one course of action, the alternatives are no longer immediately available to me.

But not all such decisions are equally important from the point of view of the extent to which one decision, once made, reduces possibilities for subsequent action. So I suggest that the most important decision we can make in our lives is whether we are to conduct ourselves in accordance with the expansive promptings of love or the inhibiting dictates of fear, i.e., whether we are to be optimists or pessimists. I suggest that it is in our power to make this choice consciously and deliberately; and I suggest that our happiness as individuals depends primarily upon which of the two competing emotional forces we decide to favour.

So how do you wish to live the rest of your life? Do you want to live as a free, confident, benevolent, creative human being or as a clinging, fearful, selfish, unproductive slave to your fears and anxieties? Any decision you make now will influence all your future actions. And the decision is yours to make.

Activity

In this context, I intend 'activity' to include everything that may be called 'thought, word, or deed'.

Whether thoughts are deliberately constructed or arise spontaneously may be a matter for debate. I myself favour the latter position. But we are all free to decide for ourselves what thoughts we accept or reject, which we shall consider, elaborate, develop as a matter of deliberate policy, and use as a basis for what we say, write, or do. Until we have given them verbal or actual expression, the thoughts we adopt are our most private possessions, and our freedom to think is of all our freedoms the least subject to coercion. Generally speaking, our thoughts can harm no-one but ourselves unless we project them outwards in some way.

As soon as we speak or commit our thoughts to writing, they become readily accessible to other people who may be inspired, helped, offended, or actually harmed by them. Because they are interpreted by the mind and have their effect upon the spirit, words are endowed with the power to disturb the peace of society on a large scale — which is why laws of libel and slander have been devised to discourage careless or deliberately offensive use of language and make provision for punishing the offender.

‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Because overt actions are perceived by the physical senses and affect the material environment, it is not so much what we say as what we do in practice that other people find most helpful or most objectionable. While we may dissemble by using words to convey a false impression, our physical actions cannot easily be disguised and are therefore the most reliable indicators of the thoughts and values we harbour and which determine our principal behavioural characteristics.

As always, Nature provides its own safeguards against harmful physical actions by limiting the individual's scope to the immediate space-time vicinity. However, by exploiting natural laws and enlisting the co-operation of other individuals, we collectively have the power to produce drastic modifications of our natural environment. If we just blindly follow the line of least resistance and unwittingly lend our co-operation to large-scale activities which are not in harmony with Nature, we are not free to escape the natural consequences. Therefore, each of us should be vigilant in the exercise of our freedom to choose. That is what it means to be 'responsible'.

Just as good household management requires the members of a household to get along together and make a contribution towards the viability and harmony of the home, so the economy of life requires all earthly creatures to get along well together if joy is to prevail over sorrow. As the most conscious, and therefore the most responsible, of creatures, is it not appropriate for us humans to take the lead in caring for each other and our common environment?

It therefore seems to me appropriate to refrain from actions which we suspect may be harmful and to perform only activities which we believe to be helpful to ourselves, to other people, and to the environment in which we all live. That is why I have substituted 'service' for 'activity' in the next diagram.

Balance

People whose work involves the use of ladders have a saying: ‘One hand for the work and the other for yourself’. If you don’t keep your balance, you may fall off the ladder and become incapable of rendering service to anyone. As a brief moment of inattention may cause me to slip, keeping my balance requires me to try to be alert and aware at all times if I wish to exercise some control over deep-seated emotions which are much more rapid in their effect on my metabolism than the relatively sluggish intellect. Experience suggests that such awareness can be cultivated by training the mind, and that this is most easily accomplished by setting aside a daily period for quiet reflection, self-examination, and preparation for the next encounter with the everyday world.

It seems to be common experience that anything of which we are conscious exhibits some kind of duality, a scale of more or less against which we can ‘measure’ it, whether subjectively or objectively. At the extremes of the scale, we are aware of ‘too much’ or ‘too little’. For example, too much light damages our eyes; too little and we can’t see: so there is always a range of intensity of light that is appropriate to our circumstances and purposes.

There are innumerable parameters which manifest such scales of duality. Perhaps the most important scale which may be used for gauging the appropriateness or otherwise of our actions, regardless of circumstances, is that which may be discerned between extreme selfishness and extreme altruism.

As in all aspects of economy, we must recognise concepts of justice, of fair exchange, of avoiding excess, of serving others while maintaining personal fitness, of being generous without being wasteful.

Satisfaction

Let us now superimpose our second triangle on the first. This gives us a figure which consists of six small equilateral triangles surrounding a regular hexagon. Each of the triangles is already labelled. The central hexagon contains the one word: ‘Satisfaction’.

Please stop reading for a moment, and think of something which you have done or said or written that you deeply regret, something of which you are ashamed, something that makes you cringe every time you think about it. Try to dwell on this for a minute or two, and realise that you are paying attention to your feelings about what you did, not to any intellectual justification you may use as an excuse.

Now think of something that you have done or said or written that makes you feel glad, something that needs no excuse, something that makes you feel good inside.

In the context of the Ardue Temple, satisfaction means 'satisfying action', things you do that make you feel good inside.

The area of overlap of our two triangles represents the subjective feelings that arise within us when we reflect on our actions and the extent to which they represent an appropriate response to life's challenges.

We say we feel satisfied or dissatisfied. Satisfaction is essentially a matter of feeling. That is surely a hint that we must pay close attention to our feelings if we are to learn what is satisfying and what is not.

When we bring the intellect to bear on the problem, we begin to realise that life is intrinsically dual and paradoxical. We experience as individuals. Our individuality is an essential attribute of personal consciousness. And do we not find, from a purely personal point of view, that over-indulgence in short-term pleasure of a mainly physical/emotional nature often results in later feelings of regret? Does this not suggest that satisfaction ultimately derives from the long-term joys of the spirit rather than the ephemeral pleasures of the flesh?

To serve is to give satisfaction to others. But should we ourselves not also get a feeling of satisfaction in rendering service? If we don't, it may be an indication that our activity is misdirected.

In all our thoughts, words, and deeds we should, I think, be able to strike a mutually beneficial balance of enjoyment without compulsion and without regret. These are the criteria by which we may judge satisfaction. And I suggest they are the criteria by which we can tell whether or not we are living economical lives.

It may take a long time: but I suggest that every human being is innately capable of developing this evaluative sense. The process can be accelerated by regularly setting time aside for reflection, paying particular attention to our feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. My fond hope is that the Ardue Temple can make a positive contribution to that end.