Ego Integrity in the Search for Wisdom
This particular oxymoron is one of the trickier ones
I have a kind of meditation, I do most every day, often multiple times that involves The Serenity Prayer, Erik Erikson’s definition of wisdom and elemental Buddhist “beliefs” (Beliefs in quotes because the word is too often misused as a launching point for spouting utter nonsense and bullshit, and Buddhism the way I see it and understand it, has none of that in it.)
Each part of this mediation could easily be expanded into hour’s long focus on the language, concepts and minutiae of each aspect, but one of the most difficult things for me to grasp, comes when Erikson states that wisdom is attained by pursuing “ego integrity” and that wisdom is the primary goal of the 8th and final stage of life (aged 65 and over).
Erikson defines Wisdom as “An informed and detached concern for life itself; in the face of death itself.” If you don’t listen to or watch or read any “news,” how can you be “informed”? If you do pay attention, even acknowledging the left or right of your sources, how do you attain detachment from your concerns, especially given the obvious truth that “news” is now almost exclusively infotainment, geared towards telling its audience what we want to hear?
The blend of stoicism, perspective and psychological-mindedness required to process information with detachment while finding the proper level of concern is a constant battle.
Perhaps the struggle itself, the path itself, is the ego integrity one must achieve to attain wisdom?
I sure hope so, because that’s about all I can claim so far — not the mastery of the challenge but an ongoing growth in my understanding of it.
Open Letter to Billy Collins
But most of them, the guys 70 and older who still go by “Jimmy” and “Bobby,” aren’t poets either. And I’m here to tell you all, after reading his amazing book Aimless Love and realizing that this Poet Laureate of ‘Merica and other places, writes like a killer-angel and is either better than me, or as good as me or better than me (yeah, I know, you heard me the first time), I wish to crown him, my Billy, my beloved Billy my admired motherfuckin’ Billy, without hesitation and with as much admiration as one poet is capable of giving to another. So, I just did. Nice to meet you, sorta, Billy. Signed, fan boy, “Terry”
I have two favorite wonderfully apocryphal and memorable titles.
The first of these is: “There is no God...and he is always with you.” and the second, from a lot of great ones from Bukowski, but my fav. “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” If you get and love these titles, yer more than halfway home. If you don’t, well, minimally, yer Not.
What’re You Saying?
If you have to ask this, I’m not sure I can answer. If I have to answer, I’ll need to know why you ask.
White and Black
At 19, I married for the first time. My h.s. girlfriend, with whom I’d already had a child “out of wedlock,” a child we’d given up for adoption, told me she was pregnant AGAIN so I bit the bullet and stupidly felt I’d be doing her a big favor to marry her this time.
2 days before the wedding her period started.
But too late to change the ship’s course as it steamed towards an iceberg.
All the above is simply background to the mores, culture, class and world in which we were living back then and a set-up to how I made and lost my first black friend.
This was 1967 Northern Seattle suburbs and black people weren’t seen in my neighborhood.
The h.s. I had attended numbered zero black students.
I’d started a Jr. college where I met Terry Banks, a black fellow “law enforcement” student, commuting from the Central District (CD) where most POC lived in Seattle to the college we attended, not far from my north-end suburban home.
I recall that Terry invited me to his home, a nice inner-city style place, as different from the ranch style suburban house and neighborhood where I’d grown-up, as the shades of our skin tones; white and black, black and white.
I invited Terry and his gf, also black, to the wedding. And they had come, both to the church and to the reception at my parents home afterwards.
They were the only black people, the only non-white attendees with us that day.
Years later I realized how difficult and scary stepping into my white world might have been for them.
And to my shame and embarrassment I quickly lost track of Terry Banks, not through any dramatic falling-out or memorable estrangement, but in the same way I’ve lost 95% of everyone I’ve lost over the last 55 years or so, by simple neglect and letting go.
When I flunked out of the future cops program, I flunked out of my friendship with Terry as well.
Everything that has to do with race in America has changed since then; and nothing has changed at all. black and white and white and black and all our shades of grey in between.
The biggest difference for me is that I can see the world more clearly now, in terms of friendships, racial realities and marriage — this fourth and final one working out much better than my marriages when I was too young to grasp much of anything.
And my friendships with POC being valued and treated as precious and special as they truly are.
Christ, Buddha, Hemingway, Bukowski and a few others...
...which is that your truth may be different than someone else’s truth —
Yet your heart and spirit are linked to them invisibly and indivisibly soul to soul, footstep to footstep, struggle and struggle to failure and triumph.
In the end, we may feel useless and alone and at times defeated, just as they once did, just as all must because it is through these heartbreaks and rising from them that we are inviolably stitched together, forever.
The size of our footprints, left briefly behind before being washed away by rain kissed away by wind burnt away by fire, is irrelevant — it is the presence of those traces we each leave behind, and the fact of our having left them, that makes us indefatigable. Ask Hem. Ask Buk. Ask yourself and let a long, slow silence be your answer — In that silence, if you let yourself listen they whisper to you I whisper to you just as you whisper back and this becomes, if you let it, our glorious affirmation.