Wednesday, April 4, 2012

John Steinback's Thou Mayest

In John Steinback’s East of Eden, a powerful story of choice, lust, love and redemption, he has one of the characters, I think it was a Japanese man, long-time friend of the family, say, by way of explanation for, and resolution of all the conflict, “Thou mayest.”

Thou mayest. In a family dominated by a strict, fundamentalist father who believes in the literal interpretation of the bible, natural desires and needs take on the extra weight of heavenly censure. Everything – love, sex, passion, hope, is temptation and must be resisted. Guilt accompanies almost every thought and action. Loving and innocent motives become twisted and conflicting. Not, Thou mayest, but Thou shalt not.

The characters struggle with one another, find some peace after great suffering and pain, and achieve a vague awareness that their conflicts, especially their inner conflicts, what they’ve been struggling against, aren’t necessarily temptation. They can be, but fundamentally their needs and emotions are neutral, not either good or evil, but with the power to be either good or evil depending on the heart and intentions of the individual.

In fact, perhaps not neutral at all, but actually good. All the natural human emotions - love, sex, passion, hope, aren’t temptations at all, but actually good because they’re ‘natural’ and therefore God given. Good because if God is love and original sin is a mythic metaphor created by the ego to explain its birth, then all of God’s creation is meant to be good, when seen without the ego, when we choose to see it with spirit instead of the ego. Thou mayest, not Thou shalt not.

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