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What Would Neil Young Do? Walk No Hidden Paths

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My spiritual search began in earnest when I was in college, the same time I started listening to that charismatic musician, Neil Young. Most people who undergo transformations were once blind and now see. I was once deaf; after listening to Young my earwax cleared, my head and heart aligned.

His concern for native Americans, simple country life and ordinary people moved me deeply. His objection to war (except, as I later learned, in the Reagan years) inspired me. Like many of his fans, his sensitive songs combined with his free spirit and rock-on mentality dug into me deeply. He seemed more "innarested," as he likes to say, in Truth, than any artist I dug at the time.

While he is certainly no saint (his perfectionism, attachments and personality foibles are well-documented), he is a visionary -- some more fawning fans might even say a musical god. He sees peace as a clear, unhidden possibility and sings as much on a well-intentioned yet ultimately unclear departure for him, Chrome Dreams II. Recently Rolling Stone reported his fans tepidly received songs from this album during the taping of Jonathan Demme's newest Young rock-doc. That's unfortunate. The world needs to deeply hear secular, non-dogmatic, non-superstitious inspiration from an artist like Young. Art, sans artifice, can change the world because good art motivates us to see differently and create new things. Problems on this planet are serious. It requires real work, not just the equivalent of a tune-up catalytic converter job on a LincVolt. Yet art can get us to the point of doing that work.

Following Young's advice to keep following what interests you, I minored in religion in college. I found that most religious worship drives us toward dogmatic perfectionism instead of the greater good. It makes us idolize the dead and pore over their words instead of seeing the inherent worth in our living peers and realistically helping the hated, the sick, the poor, the nexuses we live in. It makes us look for the next thing, which is always locked away. In reality, perfection does not exist and there are few secrets. People, animals, plants, things, ideas and souls breathe and move. Nothing stays still. The warm world is not frozen, and this gives us freedom, for which we must sacrifice perfection. Such a loss does not leave us at the end of our ropes, though. It brings us together under less confining architecture. Instead of pursuing enlightenment, we can lighten each other's loads. In place of salvation, we can apply salves. Self-realization can transform disengaged individuals into groups of sincere people really working together. If we were looking for the light, we would have found it by now. The problem is we are searching for something (perfection) that isn't there. If we seek resourcefulness in togetherness, we will find it everywhere.

The great spirit is no joke. Yet to open up a discussion on the force of intelligence and compassion, light jest is helpful. Knowing deep inside that reality is good yet misunderstood by man is like an incredibly stiff drink. You feel it in your stomach. It may be shaken or stirred by doubts and what our own and others' surface judgments tout as truth. When it is downed too quickly, it comes back up.

Overall-confidence in reality is as intoxicating when allowed to surface or consciously pushed up. It begins to change social living as well as personal thinking and feeling. We can see reality as imperfect and good. We can see how our identities fluctuate with time. Sometimes we act in a certain compassionate way that fosters a sense of community and in other moments we may be less caring. Yet we can understand that there come times of weakness. We can rest assured that reality also gently understands our intentions. And we can even embrace the trifling peccadilloes of living head- and heart-on. Thus, everyday can be a freely ungraded adventure.

We can see how pressure has brought humanity advances in technology, medicine and a whole host of other innovations. Perfectionism, on the other hand, hasn't gotten the soul very far. It's damaged our environment ("the homeland we've never seen") and our quality of life. It's made us negative. Our cultural view of intelligence is going to have to plateau instead of constantly almost-peaking. We need a view that puts clarity above cleverness. We need a view that combines the heart of gold and the head. We need a view that sees imagination as real as fact -- and as unprivileged and easy to access.

We are all already inherently equal souls in this universe with varying capacities and talents. The world is wide and wild with beauty. Give anyone the opportunity to do something (the right circumstances, a supportive community, and kind encouragement) and we could all grow up to be as skillful an artist as Young. (Young's career is a stroke of luck, in some ways. His chance meeting with Steven Stills in L.A. founded Buffalo Springfield.) Unfortunately, influences near and far often hew at us if we are not perfect. For example, if we are not exceptional in at least some area (face, body, intelligence, beliefs, talents, ahem, voice), we are considered worthless. I disagree. Reality is harmlessly imperfect and there's nothing wrong with it. In my understanding, most of what we value at the surface level contains one common denominator: symmetry, which is quite arbitrary.

We have a surface nature, to be sure. At times we can be defensive, reactionary, confused, and self-abusive and assume the exterior this type of state leads to. We can harm others from our own pain. We have a deep nature, a second nature, as well. We can seek it out. This zone is a broad and flowing field of purposeful, harmless and energetic play and work. We can enjoy a good (not perfect) way to relate with ourselves and others, allowing mistakes. We will see with fresh eyes that our faults are accidental misunderstandings of each other and ourselves at the surface level. The eyes are meant to be seen through and seen through as conveyors of only superficial information. There is a deeper Mr. Soul level, whose desire is to love and be loved beneath even our petty visions. (Our desire for mathematical symmetry probably comes from a deeper desire for a related, less formulaic concept: equality.)

Denial of our societal problems, unfortunately, also runs deep. Accumulated accidents in perception have resulted in societies that influence their members to pursue perfection, making it less easy for us to go after good. We are left with a world that seems naturally hard, if not impossible, to bear. It takes work, but not as much as we are expending. Humans seemingly are half animals, half angels. We have an urge to screw, eat and strut while we also enjoy love, nourishment and peace. I don't quibble with the first two of our animal instincts, but the idea that some humans are better than their fellows is not right. It is a waste of energy and time.

We can vow not to go crazy trying to stop such crazy misreadings, doing so relaxingly and having fun. We can work with reality and give up to "God" our misunderstandings. We can remember that humans are naturally good and can employ resourceful intelligence and kindness to understand "evil" as a misunderstanding that doesn't even understand itself. We can be wise when addressing problems by adopting this perceptual shift in our practical efforts toward social justice and mutual empowerment. I think we need to respect ourselves and our influential experiences. All of our lives, the dense network of variables, the people and plans, ideas and feelings, have led us to where we are: the point of inspiration.

Abandoning the dogma of formal religion, economics, philosophy and other belief systems will prove helpful. Superstition has distracted us from creative intelligence's understanding nature. Supply and demand may work for putting food on the table and other essentials, but it cannot measure human worth. Abstruse philosophy spins us in circles instead of specifically informing us.

This comforting message is not a new way. Even Young would acknowledge that. It's a simple way of life and a basic truth lost in translation as greed and self-interest bully things. It is a basic principle of religious and secular thinking that the deep perspective is true, the surface false. However, most needlessly still maintain an eternal battle between good and evil instead of between good and delusion. Most still believe "God" is judgmental instead of understanding.

Now is the hour to act on our principles, "to rock and not to roll" as different music legends sang in a tune about spirituality. We can radically accept the good without having to beat "evil," which is only the result of misunderstanding. Instead, we can devote considerable effort to understanding it and acting to uproot its drawbacks and integrate its energy. Thus, we do more than simply contribute to the seemingly endless and violent war of words. We can convert violence into passion and passion into "compassionate co-passion." We can seek a tie.

Instead of living with the horrors of things like war, injustice and corruption, we can push, if imperfectly, for actual change through art. Instead of splitting hairs over the identity of this force, whether it be God, the ancestors, or something else not even imagined yet, we can harness so much practical, creative energy that it will feel like we are splitting the atom. The cost of such accosting is enormous. The price is our fear, the prize our freedom. Right now inaction is charging us too much with unhelpful energy.

Earth's delicate beauty and valuable everyday people can avoid considerable suffering when people let go of perfectionism in spirituality and embrace the potential of creative intelligence. We do not have to be fearless to address today's problems; all we have to do is fear less by opening up to different points of view. This way, we all win and tie together. It becomes like tying one on with a bud at a bar. It requires some work, but it is easy work, more so purposeful play. It is second nature to us. We may get a little resistance from ourselves and others to get there but we will also create a more moving art out of reality.