magnificence

The magnificent are everywhere, especially among the unrecognised, undervalued, unregarded and discarded.

In his book of aphorisms, Nassim Taleb introduces the the idea of The Magnificent, from Aristotle’s megalopsychos, or “great-souled.”

What if magnificence is something lived from the inside out, without need of title, role, position, or possession?  Christian theologians wrote and spoke about imago Dei, the image of god found in every person, but went on to add qualifications and conditions which looked very ugly in real life.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reflects this inside-outness when he writes:

‘Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.’**

This has to do with how we see people, and if we see people wrongly or badly, as Seth Godin points out, we can change our way of seeing for a better one:

‘If the way you see the world isn’t helping you make the changes you seek to make, consider seeing the world differently.’^

Richard Rohr’s “great being” sounds magnificent or the great-souled.  Whilst coming from a developing Christian tradition, Rohr’s understanding of the person with great being emerged from learning from an Indian holy man:

‘A great being stays with what she loves; she’s patient, she forgives and she allows what she loves to develop, to grow.  She overlooks its mistakes, and in this sense she suffers for and with reality.  This is the deepest meaning of passion: patior is the Latin verb meaning to suffer or to undergo reality (as opposed to controlling it).^^

It’s the final phrase about undergoing reality that captures my attention here.  Magnificent ones are not marked by their role, position, title, or possessions – though they may have some or all of these things, they are first of all people who understand they must form a relationship with the universe because they cannot control it.

Csikszentmihalyi writes about our world and universe in terms of perspectives:

‘The earth may be our home, but it is a one full of booby traps.  It is not that the universe is random in an abstract mathematical sense.  The motion of the stars, the transformations of energy that occur in it might be predicted and explained well enough.  But natural processes do not take human desires into account.  They are deaf and blind to our needs, and this they are random contrast with the order we attempt to establish through our goals.’**

He’s saying what we see and what the universe “sees” are two different things.

What we think of as our life appears somewhere between these two seeings.

This relationship exists between the two powers of reality (the universe) and imagination (the human perspective), described by Wallace Stevens as the pressure of reality and the power of imagination.  They cannot overpower each other but what forms between is a very interesting life.

Both are the universe.  We are the product of the universe, formed of what the rest of the universe is made of.

In his fable of creation, Alan Lightman writes about how human existence transitions from impermanence to permanence, by which he means our atoms formed into our lives for seventy or eighty years are the impermanent, their permanent state being a cycling and recycling through the world.

We are the world, the world is us.  As Martin Buber expressed it, we are moving from “I-it” to “I-Thou” understanding, which brings us back to seeing.

Imagine meeting another human being, both of you for this moment being stripped of title, position, role, possessions.  Who do you meet?

Rohr suggests we are meeting an “anointed one,” which from his tradition is saying “a christ.”  We are meeting magnificence.

(*From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(**From Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: A shared and useful illusion.)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)

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