We’re delighted to officially announce that our darling Milagrito has now metamorphosed into Gabriel Prem Zaccagnini Goldsmith (no hyphens in the last name- wouldn’t want to torture the poor little one!).
Prem is a Sanskrit for love. We were playing for awhile with giving that as a first name, but decided that Gabriel would be better fit for the culture here. Gabriel is an angel in the monotheistic traditions, whose main role is to serve as a messenger between humanity and God. He delivers the Koran to Mohammad. He announces to Mary that she is pregnant with Jesus. And, perhaps most fittingly for me, he interprets Daniel’s visions. Daniel gains favor with the Babylonian kings because he can decipher their dreams (much like Joseph did with Pharaoh). But when it comes to his own terrifying visions, he is stumped, and needs Gabriel’s help (even with it, he’s still confused). So, perhaps our little one will help me to understand something that I can explain to others but still don’t understand myself. Already he has brought me back down to earth, encouraged me to remain in the present moment, and to focus on the simple tasks of life.
This week, some reflections on love and evolution. Enjoy!
I like to write about the love that underlies all created things, the love that we are, the love all around us in the world, etc. Occasionally, I’ll even use love to describe the essence of what the word “God” points to.
Given all the greed, exploitation, and violence happening in the world on a daily basis, it’s easy to label this type of writing as naïve or romantic. Perhaps you’ve even wondered if Daniel is taking some kind of mind-altering substance. Why does he talk about love so much? Can’t he see how terrible and cruel we are to each other?!
The answer is yes, I can and do see the tragedies and wars (in a sober state, no less!). But I also see another side of humanity that doesn’t garner newspaper headlines, one that is equally real, and that I think offers us a way forward as a species– if only we can recognize and accept the power we have.
It’s true what they say about how becoming a parent gives you a new appreciation for your own parents. When I see how Giulia wakes up several times in the middle of night to feed our little one, I’m reminded that my mother did the same for me, and that I owe her an immense debt of gratitude. This love and devotion a mother has is built in to our biology, since without it, we cannot survive. This is something equally true of Muslim Afghani mothers as it is of Evangelical American mothers.
The fact that there are seven billion of us shows that we have the potential to sacrifice our own personal desires and put others before ourselves.
Patience, generosity, committed effort: this is all part of being a parent, and what all spiritual teachers tell us we need to nurture. If we do so, then we live fully as humans, instead of animals in a human form. Spiritual teachers try to get us to see that an animalistic, ego centered life leads to suffering (a.k.a. samsara, hell), while cultivating the truly human qualities brings us joy and happiness (a.k.a. liberation, heaven).
Much of what we call ‘evil’ in the world comes from unchecked, animalistic reactions. Look at Syria today, and you can trace a lot of what’s going on back to the survival instinct that animals form groups to defend territory and resources from ‘outsiders.’ The fact that some of these animals have some very powerful and destructive weapons in their hands doesn’t change the basic fact that’s there’s a tribal mentality at work here.
Some may say that we’re a long way off from knocking down the boundaries that keep us from living in peace with each other. It seems utopian at this point in human evolution to expect us to realize that nations and religious sects are simply ideas in our mind that we can drop (and save a lot of suffering!). It seems naïve to think that we can indeed learn to “turn the other cheek”, and respond to someone who harms us with the same patience and understanding a mother has when her own child makes a mistake.
But remember the time scales involved in evolution: the animal part of us has tens of millions of years of inertia behind it. That part of us has been evolving far longer than the aspects that spiritual teachers have emphasized. The instructions to cultivate loving-kindness, empathy, and compassion have been around for what? 2,500 years?
No wonder we find it hard to live in peace and love: Sex and violence have had a couple million-year head start!
Evolution has given us all the tools to ensure our survival this far. But it’s also given us a mind capable of understanding the fact that we are co-creators and participants in evolution. We are capable of reprogramming ourselves. All we need to do is remember and nourish the elements within us that will lead to lasting happiness (about which there’s remarkably little disagreement!). Opportunities to do this abound, whether it’s on the meditation cushion or changing diapers.
Already grappling with existential dilemmas!