Essays2008 Essays2009 Essays2010












..:: Alternatives ::..


Alan Schneider


              What is an alternative? Put as simply as possible, an alternative is an option for choice in life, one wherein we can select from a range of available options, although that range may, on occasion, certainly be quite small.  There are many alternatives evident in existence – lifestyle alternatives, social alternatives, career alternatives, moral alternatives, educational alternatives, and so on. In fact, it is quite difficult to conceive of a condition where no apparent alternatives exist – even the comatose individual still lives, and is confronted with the “alternative” of death, however unknowingly. We are surrounded by a great evolving web of literal and implicit choices as we make our way through life in the incarnate form here on the Physical Plane!  

            But our options are not unlimited, and this is very fortunate. If we were ever to be confronted with a completely unencumbered mental condition, our feeble human minds would collapse under the strain! We need the framework of the body, the sensory network of the nervous system, and the lifework of the ego to create and sustain a reality that we can manage to perceive and deliberate upon.  We are integrated biological organisms that must be what they are in order to be at all. These are the essential limitations of the human condition that everyone works with as well as they are able.  

            Within this essential biological matrix of human affairs, a number of major circumstantial contingencies exist. I call these factors Karma, although several other equivalent terms are in common use, including fate, destiny, predestiny, divine providence, quantum variance, genetic predisposition, and random accident, to name a few. I prefer the expression Karma because it allows for the existence of an intelligent source of higher consciousness that intervenes in human affairs by structuring lives and life events to achieve certain kinds of choice-related behavior as the outcome. Otherwise, we live in an arbitrary universe governed only by essential natural laws floating amid a mass of primordial chaos. My belief in the doctrine of Karma is the result of a lifetime of my own suffering, and deep observation of the consequences of that suffering in my life, and in many, many other’s lives and sufferings as well. The system of Karmic checks and balances involved, both overt and subtle, is so intricate and so sublime that it simply must be the result of an intelligent design – no chaotic condition could have generated such a profound moral mechanism. And the suffering that directs our attention to sincere enquiry into the meaning of existence is not wasted – on the contrary, this is among the most productive of human learning experiences, another indication of an implicitly intelligent guiding form present in the background of this life.  

            Karma determines the basic shape of an individual’s life and life experiences. I have heard this referred to as the quantum envelope of existence, the phenomenon that defines the total sequence of possibilities, of choices, present for a given person at a given time. As we make decisions great and small, this envelope changes and evolves according to our essential motivation, and layers of motivations, in making those decisions, coupled with their resultant moral consequences. Are we fundamentally well or ill intended as human beings? Do we love more or hate more? Do we desire more or fear more? How much? Why? Do we seek enlightenment or gratification? What do we seek, and what do we avoid? These are some of the valences of Karma. 

            Initial karma is associated with birth conditions. Was I well born, or severely impoverished, or somewhere in between? What was my birth order? Was I afflicted with any birth defects, and, if so, how many and with what degree of impairment?  In a physical world defined by scarcity of resources, my condition at birth is of the most crucial importance. Why? Because this condition will tend to determine my subconscious sense of the overall positivity or negativity of existence, and that determination, in turn, will have a decisive effect on all of my life chances and subsequent decisions to follow.  This is the great advantage of the affluent – they literally develop as consciousness in a well-resourced condition predisposed to a positive assessment of life. Frequently, what we believe is possible determines possibility through the conditioning of efforts at attainment. On the other end of the social scale, the impoverished have been raised in the conditioned belief that very little positive transition is possible – therefore they frequently do not recognize choices for success when they are right in front of them. Contrast this with the upbeat attitude of the winners of the world who see every setback as a potential advantage that simply needs to be reframed for a successful outcome! Nothing succeeds like success, and long-term, multigenerational families of wealth and power in the world have defined this condition forever through their persistence in seeking successful outcomes to life’s challenges.  Affluent birth is one of the most decisive of all Karmas, and this is inexorably linked to generations of determined problem solvers who did not give up when confronted with adversity. As overworked as this slogan may be, there is nonetheless much validity in the observation that a winner never quits, and a quitter never wins. Persistence is the primary underlying factor behind affluence when viewed from the historical perspective on life, and is subsequently acculturated by the affluent as a trait in their offspring in the closed loop of ongoing achievement in life. 

            Also acting within the quantum envelope are several other Karmic factors. Probably the next most important determinant of success is the genetic predisposition for an attractive appearance. The beautiful man or woman is very frequently perceived by others as being gifted in many additional areas as well – more intelligent, trustworthy, stronger, kinder, and even wealthier than they may really be. We tend to see the attractive among us as natural expressions of the Jungian Hero archetype, and defer to them with gifts and discretionary behavior accordingly.  Unattractive people, on the other hand, experience the converse reaction of devalued estimates, and have to work significantly harder in life to attain the benefits that are simply given to the comely. Nobody ever said that life is fundamentally fair, and believe me, it isn’t.  

            Arguably following appearance, the next most decisive character that is Karmically determined is native intelligence. How effective am I as a problem solver? How naturally do I learn and internalize new information and concepts? How resourceful am I? If anything, this capacity may rival beauty as a factor in personal destiny, particularly in today’s ultrahightech, ultracompetitive social environment. Very few things are as crippling to individuals today as intellectual impairment. Like physical beauty, intellectual prowess can carry one away from the most severely disadvantaged birth circumstances, with the caveat that persistence is still the necessary additional ingredient needed for success in either case.  Without a sustained, determined approach to overcoming adversity, even the bright and beautiful will tend to languish indefinitely in torpor, depression, and self pity.  

            Linked to the concept of native intelligence is native creativity, our next Karmic factor. This pertains to the question asked above “How resourceful am I?” Creativity implies the combination of existing resources into new and more effective solution paradigms.  Creativity ranks with beauty and intellect as a decisive factor in success, and, like these other two, can singly extract one from cultural adversity through its power. Nothing is more correct than the ancient adage “The world will beat a path to the door of one who can build a better mouse trap!” Of course, this must again be accompanied by persistence and determination in the formula of success – there are many pitfalls and setbacks to be overcome, even in the design of rodent control measures! The affluent are the affluent ultimately because they didn’t give up the quest for achievement. Creativity is the ultimate measure of a society’s success in history – as it waxes, so does the culture supporting it, and as it wanes, cultures and social systems follow suit.  

            As much as this disturbs me, I must also observe that simple luck, or the lack of it, is a factor in overall Karmic manifestation. Even a wildly affluent person who is dogged through all of life by misfortune will be hard-pressed to succeed. Now, many things could be seen as simply unlucky – the now understood to be genetically inherited predisposition toward substance abuse, the propensity to experience accidents (at least in some cases), the tendency to be a psychologically ungrounded and unresponsive nonentity, and simply the tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, are all linked to an inherent Karmic background of misfortune. Persons afflicted with this insidious form of negative Karma, will frequently find themselves confronted with the persistence paradox, where this normally key factor in success actually produces failure as the consequence of its application! Any effort applied in a fundamentally negative envelope will tend to produce a fundamentally negative outcome, just as effort applied in a fundamentally positive envelope will tend to produce a fundamentally positive outcome. As a consequence of the Dao of Light and Darkness that serves as the balance of existence, there must be consistent amounts of success, mediocrity, and failure in life. Anything deducted from one condition must be compensated for elsewhere to maintain the overall balance in the expression of the normal curve of life as we know it. As the statistician knows so well, everything normalizes eventually. Those burdened by lifelong misfortune learn to act cautiously in any attempt to change their circumstances, lest they provoke a paradoxical result. Yes, dumb luck is also a factor in success!  

            Once the quantum birth envelope has been set by Karma, the extended matrix of interaction during maturation becomes manifest. What will we do with the hand we have been dealt? Although this is certainly affected by the factors already enumerated here, there is a series of developmental milestones during the maturational process that comes into play as key decisions are made. At each developmental stage, a global opportunity exists to change the envelope in some definitive way, either for good or ill. Maslow, Erickson, and Fromm have defined these gradients very well, and I will not attempt to reiterate their work here. Suffice it to say that decisive changes can be made in the envelope at the critical points represented by these stages through the input of relational factors. Here we have the emergence of the single most decisive influence during maturation, and in life thereafter, communication with others. It is the quality of our communication processes that determines all else of nurture that follows the Karma of inherited nature. And this communication process is also governed by Karma in the form of the individuals who become present in our lives as we mature. The key initial players in this rite of passage are (of course) mother, father, and siblings, expanding to the kinship group and clan as development continues, but the interjection of random outside influences is more often than not decisive. It is the novel occurrence that tends to capture our attention in youth and adulthood. This is how we all impact each other – we participate in the great chain of human interaction that communicates all things on all levels – our culture. As the human carriers of culture enter and leave the life of the individual in the form of friends, enemies, companions, and functionaries, the personal quantum envelope is changed accordingly.  

            The individual who has been sufficiently fortunate will find the evolving personal self surrounded by meaningful, positive alternatives that foster ongoing growth, as the quantum envelope continues to expand, carrying consciousness with it. Even those who have been dogged by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fate” and still been even slightly graced by the good fortune of insight will identify and seek to entertain the positives in their lives, developing an enhanced selection of alternatives thereby. The development of insight is the core process of enlightenment, and enlightenment is the gateway to the ultimate extent of freedom attainable for our flesh-bound, appetite distracted species.  

            The choice to seek Enlightenment is perhaps the ultimate alternative of existence. In a condition that is so inherently unfree in so many aspects, we still have the option of pursuing the Truth of Consciousness and, thus, liberation from worldly suffering. Humorously, this might be called the Unalternative, because it entails rejecting all the other lesser, object oriented choices in favor of the supreme choice of no longer being fettered to the petty worldly decisions that obstruct our awareness of higher conscious states of Being, culminating in the awareness of the Logos at the apex of the Supreme Absolute Truth of Consciousness. It is paradoxical that wealth is so often perceived as being the key to happiness, when the real key is the wisdom so often born of austerity and suffering. Who looks without, slumbers. Who looks within, awakens! Namaste!

                                          - With Love, Alan -

                                  (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


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