A few months later, on a Saturday morning, when John just finished his morning meditation routine, the phone rang. He picked up his phone and heard the voice of Jack from the other end of the phone.
“Hi John, are you free this morning?”
“I don’t have any particular plan for today so far. “
“That’s great. I like to chat with you a bit,” said Jack.
“Sure. Do you want to meet or just talk over the phone?”
“Why don’t we meet at the Dunkin Donuts around the corner of the Main Street?” proposed Jack.
“Sure. See you there.”
Half an hour later John and Jack met at the largest Dunkin Donuts store at town. After they bought the donuts and coffee, they sat around a table at the corner of the store.
“What’s up?” asked John.
“I feel very low, very sad.”
“Sad for what?” asked John.
“I feel sad for everything. The kind of low you might have when you realize that life is not that nice as you expected sometime,” answered Jack.
“I just want to speak to someone about this and I think if anyone could help me on this, it must be you since you are a philosophy professor and you are really good at reasoning things out.” Jack explained while looking into John’s eyes.
“You could go to church,” said John.
“Maybe I should. But I haven’t been to church for many years. I am afraid that I even don’t know which church to go,” answered Jack.
“Last time when you were at my house, you looked alright. Did anything special happen during the past few months?” asked John.
“Everything was as usual. If anything has changed, then it was me. I mean, I tried to change myself after I heard of your theory or enlightenment about the busy thoughts that evening at your house.” Jack looked at John and continued, “I felt like waking up from some kind of dream after I heard what you said. As far as I could remember, I have been living with the day dreaming problem since I was a kid and never realized that it was a common issue among many people or maybe even an issue for everyone. “
“Is that a good thing or bad thing?” asked John.
“It is good and bad. Before I knew it was a common issue, I thought that was something special for myself and I was kind ashamed to talk about it. Now the fact that it is a common thing makes me feel better, but it also creates a new problem to me.”
“What is it?” asked John.
“I never seriously thought about fixing this problem before, but after I listened to your talk the other day, I decided to do what you suggested to get my mind more disciplined.”
“Then I should say congratulation to you.” John laughed.
“Don’t be so fast.”
“Why?” John was a bit puzzled.
“Because that is exactly what caused my sadness right now,” answered Jack.
John looked at Jack and waited him to tell what happened.
“After I left your house the other day, I started trying to be very alert to the day dreaming symptom, and I even started practicing meditation as you did.“ Jack told John, “A couple weeks later I did feel some changes in terms of my focus and my awareness to the happenings in life.”
“That sounds very positive,” commented John.
“It is supposed very positive for my soul and body, but somehow it makes me feel very sad about my current social status.” Jack sighed, “As you know, after working as a system person for more than 10 years, I am still making a salary as low as the same for a lot of new graduates, and I am still single at my age and could never have a stable relationship yet.”
A moment of silence followed. Jack was still in his sorrow mode while John was thinking about a serious philosophical issue. About three minutes silence, none of them said anything and both finished their donuts.
“What you just described indeed touches a very profound philosophical topic. I have been thinking about that topic for quite a few years.“ Finally John broke the silence and started to talk, “I was even trying to write a thesis on this topic with a title called ‘The good of the bad’.”
“The good of the bad?” Jack repeated what John said in a questioning tone.
“Yes.” John explained, “traditionally people in every nation like simple concepts of good and bad. They always tend to assume that there is a sharp cut off between what is good and what is bad while it has never been like that anywhere in this world.”
“Interesting,” said Jack.
“For example, we all know that emission from gas fueled vehicles is the main source of air pollution for today, which is bad. But driving those vehicles indeed also brings some good to this world, and we will still count on that good in our life until we might find some substitutes someday in the future.”
“I agree,” said Jack.
“We all know that one of today’s biggest social problems around the world is the abuse of power and corruption.“ John paused a second and then asked Jack, “Do you believe there may be a government in any country that is completely free of power abuse and corruption?”
“It would be very hard to believe,” answered Jack.
“I would say the same. Then can we completely eliminate government from this earth simply because they are all more or less corrupted and abusing their power?” asked John.
“I bet a lot people might like to say so.”
“But do you think it is going to work?”
“Definitely not,” answered Jack.
“Another example, several thousand years ago, an Egyptian Pharaoh said something like that only one quarter of what we eat daily is for our survival and the rest is for the prosperity of doctors. I don’t think he had any clear scientific proof to say that but he did make a point that what we eat daily indeed could have some bad effect on our health. It becomes even worse today considering all kinds of chemicals people are adding into the food even when they are still seeds in the fields.“ Then John asked Jack, “But we still cannot quit eating simply for the possible bad effects the food might bring to us, right?”
“I definitely can’t miss that part of life,” laughed Jack.
“We might find similar issues all through human history. If we carefully examine every single great human work of historical pride in any nation, we could see human ego behind, we could see selfish motivation behind, and we could see various ugly things behind the name of good.” John said.
“You mean people were driven to achieve the so called greatness of human beings by a lot reasons that were not very great,” said Jack.
John finished his coffee and went up to the counter to buy another one. After he came back to the table he asked Jack, “Do you believe pure love between men and women?”
“I cannot say much about that. At least I have never got one.” answered Jack.
“I am single too. But I don’t believe that all couples of men and women in this world are hanging or living together because of so called pure love,” said John calmly. “At least for those couples that I know, I don’t think they are bound together by the pure love even though they do love each other.”
“I guess you are probably right,” said Jack.
“If you look into what are binding men and women into couples, then you would find that love is only one of the factors, and even might not always be the main factor. Some other important factors include sexual lust, financial attraction, emotional weakness, wrong judgment or mistakes, vain hearts, misfortune, and so on. The very reasons that create most of couples are not the so called pure love, but all kinds of reasons including those people might openly denounce as disgraceful.” John paused for a second and continued, “But if we demand pure love as the precondition for combining every couple of man and woman on this earth, then we would have had global population crisis long time ago. Neither you nor me might sit here to drink this Dunkin Donuts coffee.”
“You are absolutely right on that.”
“The coffee is another good example.” John raised his cup of coffee and said, “We have heard a lot scientific research reports claiming that regularly drinking coffee is not good for your health. But a lot people like you and me still keep drinking coffee every day. Why?”
Jack did not answer but looked at John. John continued, “The reason is simple. It is because coffee could help us to feel relaxed. In other words, it could help to release our stress and stress is also viewed as another major killer for today by some other scientists.”
“I heard that stress could cause heart diseases, cancer, obesity, insomnia, and a lot other problems,” added Jack.
“That is true. Stress release is also one main reason for those who could not give up smoking,” said John.
“But smoking is kind different because it could hurt the second-hand smokers, right?”
“You are right. That’s another issue we might talk about later.”
“I never thought the relationship between good and bad in the way you just described. I have always followed the traditional way to think that good and bad are completely separate just like fire and water, and I have been very happy with that kind of thinking.” Jack said, “I know what you just said is correct, but somehow it makes me feel even sadder about life.”
“A moment ago, you told me that you felt sad recently simply because you saw life clearer than before. Now you feel sadder after you realized something more that you agree to be true. Don’t you see the same pattern here?”
“You are darn right. Seeing the truth is painful.” Jack replied sadly.
“Seeing the truth could be painful. But that is not the main point I am trying to make here. I would even not say that is the main issue behind what you are currently facing to,” said John.
“What is the main issue then?” asked Jack.
“Good question.“ John smiled and gave him an answer that he did not expect Jack would fully understand, “In fact, with all the examples I am trying to say is that life is a complicated multi-dimensional system. The good of one area of the system might be achieved at the cost of the good of some other areas of system and thus, sometimes, it might bring down the quality of the whole system. As a result, the improvement of any particular area might count on the overall improvement across the system”.
“John, you know I am not a philosophy professor as you are and you might not want to treat me like one,” complained Jack.
“Sorry for confused you.” John laughed and said, “Basically I am saying that because some bad might be coherently related to some good, we might need to be very careful when we are trying to eliminate the bad.”
“Are you saying that we should leave all the bad there as long as it could be of some a bit of good?” Jack raised a serious question.
“Of course not!” John answered without any hesitation, “The principle of doing the good and not the bad is clear and I am not challenging that principle. I am just pointing out that a tricky part of practicing that principle in real life is we might hurt the good when we attempt to get rid of the bad.”
John paused a second and then continued to say, “There are so many people in this world who would do anything for their own interests at the cost of others.”
“That is sadly true,” said Jack.
“As a result, the replacements of bad things by good things were usually accomplished through all kinds of fighting in human history since we cannot always count on the good will of people for good things to happen.”
“I agree,” said Jack.
“But one sad fact is that people usually fight for their own local interests instead of global interests based on some thorough considerations of all factors, and thus what we have today is the result of the dynamic balance through fighting and compromising by people of various interests.”
“That is true,” said Jack.
“When we say the word ‘interest’, we might need to be very careful. Because of the locally focused pattern I just mentioned, very often people were indeed hurt their own interests while they thought they were fighting for their own interests since they were not seeing the ultimately globally connected interests in a global way.”
“That is bad,” said Jack.
“Unfortunately that is how human civilization gets progressed so far. It actually works to certain extent, but with great waste of efforts and waste of resources. Very often it hurts the good when trying to get rid of the bad,” said John.
“Like throwing out the bathing baby when pouring out the dirty water in the bathing tug,” said Jack.
“That is the extreme case.” John said, “Occasionally when people do act with wisdom, they do avoid some waste by balancing what might be good in the bad.”
“John I really appreciate your philosophical insight on this ‘the good of the bad’ issue even though I don’t really get all your insights. Now would you give me some personal suggestion on what I should do now?” requested Jack.
“Your issue indeed is a very good example of the theory I just presented you.”
“Why am I so lucky?” teased Jack.
“The sadness you are experiencing now is not just because you see the truth about life more clearly than before, but also because you are abandoning a mechanism which you have used to protect yourself emotionally,” said John.
“What is it?”
“The day dreaming,” said John.
“I thought you told me the other day that it is not a good thing to have.”
“You are right. Day dreaming is a very negative mental activity which could consume a lot of your useful energy and cause you unable to focus on what you need to do.” John explained, “But it can also benumb you mentally so that you won’t pay much attention to the sad part of the real life.”
“I guess you are quite right on this. You just made me to know that I have been benumbing myself with day dreaming so that I wouldn’t see the sad part of life, which indeed just makes me feel worse about myself right now.” Jack said.
“You don’t need to feel too much bad about that. It is indeed a very common or even a universal thing among human beings. People all around the world tend to culturally choose what make them feel good about selves and ignore what make them feel sad about life. When they do that they are not necessarily aware of the benumbing effect of what they do.” John replied.
“Is that good or bad?” asked Jack.
“Well, on one hand, it could help them to live better instead of worse under the giving conditions which they might not be able to change. But on the other hand, sometimes it could also lead them to lose any courage or even interest to make some necessary changes of life.” John then added, “Many public figures like to play with this kind of social reality to win the support of the people by charismatically making the people feel good about selves and about the promises they would offer to the public as well.”
“You make me feel a bit better now. But if the day dreaming could have that good part of lowering down my sadness, should I go back to the old days?” asked Jack.
“Of course you should not,” replied John.
“Then what about the good of this bad day-dreaming you just mentioned?”
“What I told you about the good of that bad is to let you know what good you might be missing when you try to get rid of that bad day dreaming.“ John said to Jack, “But that good part of the bad is not something that is absolutely not replaceable at this moment.”
“Do you know how to deal with my sadness after quitting day dreaming?” asked Jack.
“Yes. Theoretically, it would involve two major factors to solve that problem, one is objective and the other is subjective,” answered John.
“What is the objective part?” asked Jack.
“The objective part is the change of life situation itself. Say, tomorrow you get a big promotion and have a lovely girl friend. Then your life perspective would completely change and your sadness would be gone,” said John.
“I definitely wish that might happen, but it sounds more like another dream instead of being real. Tell me about the subjective part,” requested Jack.
“The subjective part is to adjust yourself step by step. You might still dream during the day, but you should dream like many people do by telling yourself hopes, such as ‘tomorrow will be better’, or ‘if I have the chance’, and so on.” John said to Jack, “strictly speaking, telling oneself a wish or a hope like that is just another kind of dreaming because for most of the cases those wishes or hopes might never become true.“
“Should we call that as cheating oneself with illusions?” asked Jack.
“For most of the cases it is kind cheating with illusions tactically. But some hopes might be real because they might become true, and some hope might even be a faith. Be honest with you, it is very hard in general to distinguish a true hope and an illusionary dream. But no matter it is a true hope or an illusionary dream, it can be used to soothe emotional pain or desperateness about life at uneasy times.”
“Keeping a hope in faith could be a power. That is true as we all know. But if I don’t have the faith in a wish that I am telling myself, then what is the difference between this kind of wish telling and the old day dreaming I was having?” asked Jack.
“They are still different. The main difference is that you have more control at will during this kind of wishful thinking than in your old day dreaming. As I mentioned the other day when you were at my house that the whole issue here is how to get your mind more disciplined so that you won’t be dragged by automatic random thoughts too much.”
“That sounds good.” Jack then asked John, “Besides this wish telling, do you have any other tricks that might help me out of this sadness?”
“That wish telling is just a small trick which could be a substitute to your old day dreaming, but you cannot keep telling yourself wishes all the time. The main solution is to keep a positive mind, be joyful, and be optimistic.”
“I guess everyone knows the benefit of having a positive mind, but it is hard to do so especially when life gets tough,” said Jack.
“I agree. But still there are some ways to help to keep a positive mind. For example, doing regular physical exercises could help a bit, making more good friends could help a bit, being alert to negative thoughts and trying to avoid them could help a bit, and living a simple life which would not create much extra needs might help a lot,” said John.
“Living a simple life could help?”
“Maybe that’s why ancient monks usually all lived very simple lives,” commented Jack.
“That’s right. The needs arisen from life issues are the most important source for anxiety, sadness, and even fear. Especially when the need for survival is threatened, it could create tremendous and constant fear deep within the soul of any human being.” John said.
“The need for survival is very much objective instead of subjective, right?” asked Jack.
“Yes. In this material world, the effectiveness of any subjective adjustment is quite limited unless we could have faith in the spiritual world which is beyond this material world,” said John.
“Well, are you telling me that those people who go to church don’t have anxiety or fear when things are going wrong?”
“I am not saying so.” John replied, “It all depends on the individual cases and no one can make a general conclusion even for spiritually faithful people. Different objective conditions could make huge differences in different people’s feeling when facing to the same happenings, which is the same for all human beings. As for spiritually faithful people, how much faithful a person is could also make some difference.”
John was about to continue to say something when Jack’s mobile phone rang.
Jack answered the phone and then said to John, “I am sorry I have to go because there is a production issue and I am still on call for support for today.”
“Go for it, and why don’t we meet here next Saturday at the same time?”
“That will be great. So see you next Saturday.”