Sturm und Drang


“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” – Socrates

I find it incredibly fitting that the first known use of the German phrase Sturm und Drang (roughly translated as storm and stress or storm and urge) was as the title of a play written in 1776 against the backdrop of the American Revolution. The term came to describe a movement marked by strong, violent emotion and uncompromising individualism. Had she been born a century or two earlier, I’m sure Ayn Rand would have coined a similar phrase considering her overriding philosophy that selfishness is a virtue. And if the amorphous land mass arbitrarily branded The United States of America could be said to have its own philosophy, Sturm und Drang would hit very close to the mark. I wonder if it’s any coincidence that some of our military brass described the volley of brutal surprise attacks against the people of Iraq as a strategy of “shock and awe”. Not only are the phrases sonically similar, but considering the fact that the people of Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks against which we were allegedly retaliating, the desire of our “elected” officials to access that country’s vast oil reserves as well as occupy it indefinitely for its strategic importance in the region was a crystalline example of selfish individualism and an utter lack of concern for the welfare of others (especially brown-skinned others with an affinity for Islam).

I’m not exactly saying that I feel individualism, as such, is a negative trait. A certain amount of it is what keeps life interesting and fosters the creative drive within us. Regardless, when too much emphasis is placed on this idea, we are left with a populace largely inspired by greed, anger and distrust. Of far more importance than yours or my or anyone’s individual personality or ego is the reality of indivisible unity. Alan Watts playfully used the phrase “goeswith” to describe the findings of modern physics that all things, whether conscious or unconscious, inert or active, are inextricably linked in a single unitive field. Although in our relative realm of experience in which we are confined to the information gleaned from the sense organs, there seem to be countless disconnected entities separated by “empty” expanses we call space, the fact that the entire Universe is a single energy field reveals the illusory nature of our narrow and self-serving view. Every “thing” effects every other “thing”, just as every event is a cause of every event to come. Since this scientific truth is so anathema to our peculiarly Western notion of “individual liberty”, materialism is encouraged and even admired. But when the whole point of life is to understand one’s inseparability from “The All”, how can one truly derive happiness or contentment from the acquisition of money, power and possessions? All of these things are not only temporary and perishable, but the habitual pursuit of them reinforces the ego illusion that we’re “all in it for ourselves”. There is only one Self, and you are it, and I am it, and all is it…so what, in truth, does “ownership” really mean? Religious conflicts and political differences are common justifications for the battles we wage on this planet, but really, all our warlike tendencies really mean is “I want your stuff.” And sometimes we get that stuff. And it’s never enough. Because it was never what we really wanted in the first place.

The problem seems to be that we don’t even know what we want, and this too springs from ignorance of divine unity. Divine in that sense need not be defined theologically. I simply mean that if the only real thing that exists is an ever evolving and conscious energy field that manifests itself through us and sundry chemical compounds, and we are part of that grand manifestation, what is there to own? Who is there to conquer? Violence and hatred towards others is literally violence and hatred toward yourself. Ditto for stealing and pillaging from others. Violence, hatred, stealing and pillaging are the essential activities for creating the boundaries on the map that we call borders, separating one “nation” and its people from all others. We may consider the effects of our nation building activities triumphant, but over whom have we triumphed other than our very selves?

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was Germany’s most beloved composer during the period of the Third Reich. This has much to do with the fact that his symphonies were marked by violent, syncopated marches intended to inspire courage in the listener to do battle. “Flight of the Valkyries” may just be the ultimate example of musical Sturm und Drang. However, the desire for racial purity, riches, and “lebensraum” was so monomaniacal among a good portion of the populace of 1930s and 1940s Germany that it caused their ultimate undoing; something from which the German people are still recovering.

The United States, if in fact there will still be such a thing other than nominally after Inauguration Day 2017, has learned nothing from history. Many of us seem intent on marching ever forward in our quest to conquer the globe (not to mention those pesky members of our populace who would rather avoid unnecessary conflict). The term “American Exceptionalism” is even bandied about as if it were some noble ideal to be attained (or retained, as it were). This, too, reinforces the fallacious notion that life is a game of us against them. But there really is only one battle worth fighting, and that is the internal battle within every one of us between wisdom and our baser instincts. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche envisioned a perfectly enlightened, peaceful and cooperative society he called “Shambhala”. It’s a lovely idea. But unless our universal consciousness does a 180 degree course change, such a Shangri-La will never be possible. Each of us has to contribute to this mental and spiritual evolution by turning inward and seeing our true natures without egotistical rationalization. If we truly realized that there is no boundary between you and me, us and them, this and that, the energy of which we are all a part would flow so smoothly that we would never again desire to conquer, kill, possess or cower in fear. We would simply love. This energy field we call the Universe IS love. But we’ve so blinded ourselves to that fact, I fear a period of decay and ultimate extinction is imminent. Fortunately, the Sturm und Drang that will bring us to such an apocalyptic end needs us and our fabricated egos in order to function. So maybe such a cataclysm wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The energy, after all, is eternal. Maybe it will reconfigure itself into new species of conscious beings who, knowing nothing of greed and self-interest, will live in a state of perpetual love and contentment. Or perhaps not. But if this dream of mine is naive, then please indulge me if only for the sake of this blog having something positive to say. I appreciate it.

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