Seeking Higher Ground

I attempt to welcome each new year with more hope than trepidation. Admittedly, I have failed in the last few years. The abandonment of civility in our nation and world, and the unprecedented rejection of rational discourse founded in truth to find agreement about basic realities in order to solve fundamental challenges has proven—to say the least—disorienting. What we have collectively witnessed and endured has tested the fortitude of our character to unnatural levels.

And yet, I don’t think I have learned more about life and how to live it than during these extraordinarily disturbing times. The lessons of my bucolic Boomer childhood notwithstanding, I enter 2024 with great gratitude for these more recent learnings born from the necessity of sanity. Dark times force one to dig much deeper into their knowledge, beliefs, and fundamental consciousness that—if we commit ourselves to a practice of mindfulness—reveals magnitudes of higher-order thinking. The American country singer-songwriter, Lyle Lovett, sang, “I live in my own mind, ain’t nothin’ but a good time.” That worked for me too until my mind wasn’t such a good time. Then, I had to either reconfigure and recalibrate my mental modalities, or accept a descent into the depths of depression. Fortunately, my Celtic heritage allowed no room for despair. I do come from stubborn and sturdy stock.

Recently, I have been digging through my archive of notes, mostly taken from books I have read. Thirty years ago, I read the book A World Waiting to be Born by M. Scott Peck (1993). After several moves, it remains in my library today so it must be a good one. In it he describes a world of rebirth and renewed civility in that early post-Cold War era (two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union) that we now know was, sadly, stillborn. The period that followed—that included our transformation from ages-long scarcity to newly realized abundance—illustrated that while humans are good, we are also weak. The period of high idealism that began in the early 1980s crashed (as periods of high idealism always do) into a period of crisis from which we are now—hopefully and finally—emerging.

Shortly after Peck’s book was published, Microsoft launched the Windows operating system (1995). Since then, I kept a file simply called “Ideas” that has since evolved into many more files that provide a reservoir of knowledge and inspirations that now—three decades later—prove that new ideas may or may not exist, but the great ones come and go and come again. In this file was a quote from Peck’s book that made enough sense to be jotted down at the time, but makes even more sense to me today—after these last few years of tumult and terror.

Peck wrote,

… the point is to plunge ahead as pilgrims, through thorns and sharp stones of the desert into deeper and ever-deeper levels of consciousness, becoming ever more able to distinguish between those varieties of self-consciousness that are ultimately destructive and those that are life-enhancing, even godly.

Today, Peck’s advice leaves me both dumbstruck and awestruck. Dumbstruck because I feel stupid having written it down and then largely ignored it for thirty years, and awestruck because it absolutely nails the value of the rigorous interrogation of my consciousness that has proven so beneficial in eluding despair’s tendril-grip grasp thus enabling my liberation—even if only for a moment here and there. This is what some mindfulness teachers call glimpses of enlightenment: when the spiritual-self—the soul—overcomes the ego-self.

Socrates taught his students the importance of “to know thyself” as a prerequisite to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Indeed, having an honest and humble sense of self is an essential element of maturity. However, as I have learned from those rooted in Eastern philosophy, there is another step. Knowing thyself then enables one to create space between the self and negative thoughts and emotions through the practice of mindfulness. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle recommends, do not say “I am angry,” simply recognize that “anger is in you.” That space created through recognition of anger’s existence, rather than it being an integral part of you, is the space necessary to isolate toxic effects before they penetrate your psyche to cause harm. It enables what Peck is suggesting where he writes about building the capacity to distinguish between things that are destructive and those that are life-enhancing. It is a subtle yet powerful practice. The ultimate benefit of this approach is the manifestation of a balanced and centered life that supports peace and tranquility; what the Greek stoics called eudaimonia.

May I suggest that in 2024 we take Peck’s advice and “plunge ahead as pilgrims” to seek a “life-enhancing, even godly” new year. May we do this from the core of moral goodness that resides in each and every one of us. May we together establish a new road paved by integrity with courage on the accelerator and humility on the brakes.

As we leave 2023 behind, I offer you some lines of verse titled, “Revelation,” that describes the arc of life from its terrifying beginning to its transcendent finale.


We arrive alone

Terrified, crying

Strangers smiling

Happy in our terror

We’ll call them family


We craft a self

That makes us special

We strive and fail

And craft some more

Climbing, falling, climbing


Styles like lovers

come and go

Unmet expectations

Deceive and disturb

Carrots and sticks


Surfing rainbows

Beauty without bliss

Until we stop, sit

The stillness of shade

Hearts finally open


Light in the darkness

Shedding our armor

Liberation beckons

Solemn calm

Sudden transcendence

In the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth, he makes the case for the necessity of a life denominated in love while also recognizing the value of faith and hope. While love envelops both, hope is our greatest natural source of strength. It is the spine of our character. Further, it is available to each of us and can only be taken away by a loss of faith—principally in ourselves. It is, therefore, our duty to nurture hope and to protect it from those who wish to strip us of our humanity; from those whose own selfish depravity knows no limits. It is time, once again, to reach for hope and show each other and the world that the future belongs to those who honor its strength.

Cheers and Happy New Year.