Though the minds of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley had far greater impact on my spiritual thinking over the long term, Lord Byron (1788-1824) was one of my favorite poets, for pure reading. His spirit may have influenced my social activism, as well. Here in Greece, from time to time one comes across a commemorative plaque or a street name commemorating the efforts of Byron in the Greek war of independence. (He died in Greece while supporting the rebellion against Ottoman rule.)
So, in a sense, the notoriously womanizing Byron had real-world impact for a people, if even just through his passionate “romanticization” of a country’s efforts to free itself from the oppression of outside powers. Is there a connection that, in the years that I was reading him, I was most engaged in social protest on campus (anti-apartheid, and against the US wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua), leading to several arrests and being mentioned in an FBI file recording their surveillance of meetings of CISPES, in which I was a sometime-activist?
In any event, it was remarkably during one of the most chaotic anti-apartheid protests – – literally, right in the middle of the protest – – that I realized the futility of going too much deeper into politics as a solution to human suffering — the public anger realm of forcing “good“ ideas on others through political activism — and turned to begin the journey that has led to meditation. “Think globally, but act locally.” And there is nothing so “local” as looking right straight into the matter of the nature of Self.
Somewhere in there, the turn to a life of meditation was super-dedicating myself to a connection with the solitude that Byron speaks of.
And here, it brings me to Greece. Hopefully, the work of liberation this time manifests the struggle not against political potentates, but by dissolving the prison at its true root — the chains of the mind, As that other liberator of our time, Bob Marley, sang in “Redemption Song”:
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.