Older than we are, new as today. Stories and storytelling are as old as humanity. Paleolithic art dates back at least 45,000 years, maybe much further. That makes it much older than humanity as we know it. Art tells a story; that's what it's for. If art tells its story with beauty, grace, elegance we call it good art. Stories aren't limited to what's true but the ring of truth makes a story compelling like nothing else can. Something deep in a story resonates with something deep in me. Human culture is all stories. Culture has always been held and passed on by stories: from the oral tradition to the written word to everything that came after, right on up to the Internet and its social media. Good storytelling and bad.
Three levels. A story is an interpretation of the world. Even far fetched fantasy is just the world reinterpreted to suit the storyteller. The stories that intentionally minimize interpretation, hewing as closely as possible to direct observation are science. Scientists are aware of the strong human tendency to interpret and distort, so they invite all other scientists to review their stories to make sure they haven't distorted the world. In science, the quality of a story is judged by its lack of interpretation. Interpretation can only happen via the ponderously slow process of the development of scientific consensus. In art, stories are judged by the quality of the story itself as entertainment. A ripping yarn is a good story, no matter how it relates to the world. Great storytellers go beyond entertainment by wrestling with truth. Their stories show us something deep about the world and what it means to live in it. It's helpful to keep these three levels in mind: reporting as objectively as possible, spinning a good tale, and wrestling with fundamental truths about the world and our place in it.
Stories as food. I learn about the world two ways: my own direct experience of it and stories about it. I rely on stories to expand and deepen my understanding of the world. All of human culture and learning comes to me via stories. So without stories my learning would be severely limited. I'd be starting the human adventure all over again rather than taking my place in it. Stories are like food. There is a vast array of stories to choose from. It's critical I choose the right stories, stories that will nourish me, keep me healthy, and support my spiritual quest.
Magical thinking usually means the delusion that I can magically change the world. That I can have a bountiful harvest if I make sacrifices to the gods, or become prosperous via prosperity affirmations. I haven't been guilty of that kind of delusion, but I have told myself the wrong stories at times. The stories I tell myself affect me deeply, for good or ill. All my life I've told myself stories that aren't based in reality. They're interpretations, sometimes dubious, that do not stick with a scientific view. Instead they take a religious or spiritual view of the world. Nature wasn't just forests and streams. It was a place of magic, crackling with invisible life and energy. It made me feel more alive to be out in it. Leela with all her qualities of love, wisdom, meaning, truth, the spiritual quest, the ability to see through time are my kind of magical thinking. It's all outside the realm of science. Science is lousy as a tool for finding meaning in life because there is no meaning. I have to create it. That's all well and good. The danger in magical thinking is in overthinking it, getting carried away, getting too mental about it all. That's why I had to be homeless for a couple of nights. I had to get over some magical thinking gone wrong.
The truth about me. Taken together, the stories in Human nobility tell the story of my spiritual quest up to the present moment. Everything in my life has been part of that quest, though I usually didn't know it at the time. These stories tell the truth about me because Leela is in charge. As I struggle to write these stories I write plenty of things that aren't true. Leela helps me do that. She helps me get the lies I'm telling myself out in the open so I can see them for what they are and let go of them. Wrestling with the lies I tell myself until I triumph over them is a crucial task in making progress with love. I can only tell a true story up to my own level, where I'm at in my spiritual quest, even with Leela's help. There are fundamental things about me I'm still completely ignorant of or wrong about. I don't know what they are but I can feel them in there.
Plot. The story of my life has a relatively simple plot, a story arc that all these separate stories fit under. I was born in 1951. My life was going well till it got derailed by drugs: alcohol and pot. That happened in Kenya, in the mid 1960s, when I was an adolescent. My life then took a sad detour. It went underground for more than 50 years until I stopped drinking in 2016, then got all the way clean of drugs at the end of 2019. The story of my life up to then is the story of my escape from alcohol and then addiction. For me alcohol and other drugs are incompatible with making progress. I'm different.
Comeback. The life that went underground in the mid 1960s resurfaced in 2020 just as the pandemic was beginning. What's interesting about my life is how all the tales from my underground years are about making my way back above ground, back to love, back to Leela. These stories are about how with her help I still made progress with love all through those underground years. Making progress with love is the only thing worth writing about. It's the only thing that gives life meaning. Love affairs don't, much as I like to think that when I'm feeling sad and lonely.
Help from the pandemic. Leela made sure I was awake and free of drugs just in time for the pandemic. The pandemic has been immensely helpful, forcing me to do things I don't see how I could possibly have done otherwise. The pandemic forced me to get in shape and at the same time get over my ridiculous fixation on minimalist shoes, with Leela's abundant help. It gave me a double dose of being alone: I had just broken up with my sweetheart when it hit. We'd been together almost ten years. Our love affair began to crumble, at first imperceptibly, when I quit drinking in 2016. By 2019 we were struggling. The pandemic forced me to be alone and stay alone. It took a flirtation with homelessness to boot that to living alone. I had to discover a fundamental truth: feeling sad and lonely is an internal matter. Plenty of people in relationships feel sad and lonely. I'm mostly in control of my internal world, with Leela's help, thanks to my stubborn persistence with the spiritual quest. I have persisted in meditation, at first spontaneously, all my life. Despite what seemed like little or no progress once I kiboshed spontaneous meditation by polluting myself with booze and pot. The pandemic deprived me of partner dancing then forced me to embrace solo dancing now that I'm in a space where that works. Solo dancing is a treasure. I dig into musicality and work on developing a new dimension of dance technique. I won't be giving it up just because partner dancing is now slowly returning to my life.
Pay attention. Leela wants me to tell my stories to call attention to attention. Nothing is more important than attention. My story is a story of paying attention. I can't make progress without paying attention, without being silently present. Attention is the greatest secret, and the one I'm least capable of writing about.