On Liberating Ourselves from Useless Things

The dawn air is crisp and bracing on this cold February morning, frost clings to the branches of the trees and to the railing as I make my way down the steps into the front yard. The sun has not yet risen, and to the east the horizon is shining blue, with stars tranquilly scattered among the gnarled branches of the old crab apple tree.  It is a new day, a new breath.

Those of us who have been contemplating the magnitude of our present climatic and environmental predicament often find ourselves reconsidering our lives, activities, possessions, and relationships; asking deep questions in a more focused and serious way, and with more urgency and feeling; asking what is most important, what is most vital, and what is the good. Many of us ask how we might synchronize our lives more fully with the deep order of nature. And this questioning, this doubt, this precious uncertainty, may be the silver lining on a horizon that very often seems bleak and unforgiving, like a high and impenetrable wall.

It is important to understand that this questioning, this doubt, yes, and even this anxiety and sense of foreboding, may lead us to a wider perspective and a deeper understanding of who we are. Indeed, it may lead us to observe the order of nature, and the order of our own minds with a more sensitive perception. And if we see more clearly what is essential, we may also see the adipose tissue that has grown in us and around us, and we may begin to slough it off; to live more deliberately, simply, consciously, closer to the earth and to our own hearts. For, it is true that disturbing circumstances often point us not only to what is essential, but also to what is trivial, inconsequential, even useless.

In this, I am reminded of Benedict Spinoza when he said, “the more [the mind] understands the order of nature, the more easily it will be able to liberate itself from useless things. . . . the greatest good is the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature.”

As we make our way through these difficult times, may we free ourselves from ‘useless things,’ and rest in the ‘union which the mind has with the whole of nature.’