Archive for category Spirituality
The world is mostly nothing. And it came from nothing. If you consider the amount of “empty” space between the stars and galaxies, well over 99.999999999% of the universe has nothing. But if you also consider the stuff of every day — like this table my computer is resting upon — about 99.999999999% of it is empty space. It feels solid to us, but the reality is that the distance between the subatomic particles is immense, and thus the reality we see as solid and real is actually mostly empty.
Of course, this could mean that our perceptions are illusions. Consider: computer programs can create the illusion of vast worlds, all located on a tiny hard drive in the computer, used by an even smaller memory unit. It still is only two (or perhaps three) dimensional on a screen, but the ‘feel’ of being in a vast world exists. It’s not too much of a stretch to expand the metaphor to think of our reality.
That’s absurd, right? Space and time exist. But space and time are the same thing – it’s space/time. And it seems to be a unified entity, meaning all space/time exists together “simultaneously.” In other words, just as you can travel about in space, theoretically one could travel about in time; indeed to travel through space one must travel through time, they are unified. Yet for some reason we don’t comprehend, we’re temporally uni-directional. And it appears that while we can “speed up” our passage through time (if we traveled at near the speed of light we’d age much, much less quickly than those left on earth), we can’t go in reverse.
This is all very odd – and I’m not even going to delve into quantum and particle physics, except to note that they indicate that matter, or “stuff,” isn’t really a particle but a ripple in a field that has no precise location until it is measured or perceived. That means that we’ll always see the world as having a real discernible form because we’re perceiving it. If we ceased to perceive it, it would lose that form.
That makes no sense, and with all due to respect to Erwin Schroedinger, cats and other animals – and perhaps any form of life, including plants – perceive in some way. Which ones magically solidify reality into one form? Well, that’s anybody’s guess.
British clergyman Bishop Berkeley – who has both a university and a Star Trek character (spelled Barclay, the actual phonetic pronunciation of the Bishop’s name) named after him – thought material reality was simply a persuasive illusion. All we have is perception and experience, but we can never truly judge the reality of those perceptions. Dim witted people responded to Berkeley with things like “if reality is an illusion, why don’t you just jump off a cliff.” Of course, the perception of and experience of pain or even death would still be real. Whatever reality is.
Berkeley thought it was in essence God’s dream – we were products of God’s mind. And if we keep the metaphor of a dream going, it’s apt. Consider our dreams, especially dreams in which one knows he or she is dreaming. Those dreams have space, color, sensation, but yet we’re silently (or perhaps not so silently) snoozing in bed, creating those worlds in our minds. Perhaps waking reality is more like the dream world, but with different rules and laws. Why would such a view make any less sense than the idea something exploded from nothing and we inhabit a world where we drift quietly with no discernible purpose? Given our utter lack of knowledge about why there is something and not nothing, both possibilities are equally plausible.
Of course, a universe coming from “nothing” can also be seen as non-sensical. Before the big bang time and space presumably did not exist. The term “nothing” is a space-time term. The beginning of the universe is a space-time concept. Before space-time existed, time did not exist. Neither did space. Can you imagine a reality that is not defined by space or time?
We cannot conceptualize the reasons for our existence because they are completely outside our frame of reference. We think in space-time terms, but space-time is a creation. I’m not saying it was created by a God — and if one believes that, it just pushes back the core question to “where did God come from.” Moreover by definition God becomes non-material, with attributes not defined by space-time. Such a God would be utterly incomprehensible to humans, suggesting that our God-myths are just that – myths. Perhaps they came about because people were trying to put into words some kind of deep intuitive spiritual knowledge but then again, perhaps not.
We cannot imagine what is not space-time, so we are constrained by the limitations of our perceptual capacities. We think everything has a beginning and an end because we are unable to conceive of reality absent time. We think everything has a location because we cannot imagine reality without space.
But that says less about reality than our ability to understand it. So it seems we inhabit a world that given our understanding of the laws of physics, should not exist – because it requires getting something from nothing. Clearly our laws of physics themselves are not universal, at least not outside our space-time universe. That means we can be reasonably sure of a few things:
1. The belief we are in a meaningless universe of mechanical practices that follow the laws of physics without regard to anything immaterial (spirit, a god-concept or something like that) is unlikely to be correct. It relies on an assumption that this is “all that is,” but that requires a contradiction: our world came from nothing, but you can’t get something from nothing.
2. The idea that life is an illusion, a “dream of God” or some other fundamentally different nature is as realistic a belief as a belief that we experience an external world “out there” that we as discrete, separate individuals come in contact with. In fact, the odds are greater that Berkeley was on to something, given how bizarre quantum physics operates.
3. Science is defined by measurable material phenomena, and generalizes laws about the physical world – our space-time world. Therefore science cannot answer questions about a deeper fundamental nature of reality, or where this world came from. Thus science is pragmatic in the sense it tries to explain how the world works – or how we experience the world working. While it can inform philosophical and spiritual speculations, it cannot give definitive answers.
4. Neither philosophy nor spiritual/religious experience yields definitive answers to these questions either; to me that means one has to be playful, non-dogmatic and open minded.
In a famous feud, Voltaire and Rousseau argued about the nature of God. Both were Deists. Deists didn’t doubt that there was a God. Following Newton, a “world in motion” had to have a first mover. Moreover, how could such an intricate and elaborate universe have come into being without a creator? Beyond that, though Deists had different views.
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) believed that God was a loving God, with nature being God’s true Bible, his message to humans. Rousseau was convinced that the worst mistake humanity ever made was to leave the state of nature and form communities, generating artificial “needs” and desires. He would no doubt be sickened by how humanity is now literally poisoning the planet and producing genetically altered plants and animals.
Voltaire (1694-1778), the pen name of François-Marie Arouet, did not share Rousseau’s optimistic view of God. On November 1, 1755 Lisbon Portugal had a massive earthquake. It was as strong as 9.0 on the Richter scale, destroyed 85% of Lisbon’s buildings and killed perhaps 50,000 of Lisbon’s 200,000 inhabitants. It inspired the philosopher Immanuel Kant to develop the concept of “the sublime.”
(At the same time the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria was in labor – on November 2, 1755 she would give birth to her daughter Marie Antoinette, who would later be married off to the future king of France).
Voltaire, who already was suffering from personal tragedies, visited Lisbon and was sickened by what he saw. Utter destruction, massive death, and survivors in misery. Horrific suffering thanks to nature. How could this be the handiwork of a loving God? Why would God allow such misery to occur?
Rousseau offered an answer. Nature is God’s message, and God is love. So the problem must be humans. God clearly doesn’t want us congregated into huge crowded cities. People living on the country side could avoid the massive suffering caused by the earth quake. It was a message: cities are unnatural, if humans create them and natural disaster hits, blame people, not God.
This infuriated Voltaire. He had seen the suffering with his eyes and could not believe that Rousseau was blaming innocent victims for their peril. But Voltaire was not sure how to respond. Could God really be a horrific brute that reigned terror on humanity? But if God was loving, how could he allow such suffering?
He pondered Gottfried Leibniz’s (1646-1716) explanation for the existence of evil, that of all the possible worlds that could exist, this one was the “best possible.” Yes, bad stuff happens, but you could not have humans with free will without the potential of negative consequences. Thinking of the scenes from Lisbon, Voltaire wondered, “is this is the best of all possible worlds?”
So Voltaire did what most writers do when stymied, he wrote. And wrote. The product of his work was a book called Candide, or Candide or the Optimist. It is long, humorous, fast paced and satirical. Candide is studying with Pangloss, a teacher who follows Leibniz and Rousseau in saying that all works out for the best. Within the book they even visit the scene of the Lisbon earthquake. Candide asks if he should save a man who is drowning and Pangloss replies that he need not bother – if God wants him saved, he’ll be saved. (Pangloss in Latin means literally “all word”).
By the end of the book Candide rejects Pangloss’s argument that all turns out as it necessarily must, for the best. Instead, Candide says, “we must cultivate our own garden.”
That still inspires artists and thinkers to this day – click below to watch a video of Rush’s song “The Garden,” which lyricist Neil Peart said was inspired by Candide:
To be sure, there’s considerable debate over what exactly Voltaire meant. I read it to suggest that while there may have been a creator, it’s not at all clear that the creator cares about or even pays attention to his work. Perhaps God is out creating other worlds. In any event, God doesn’t need our love, other humans need our love. Rather than worshiping God or looking to him for salvation or support, we should be help each other.
Voltaire’s pragmatic argument was the beginning of what is now called “secular humanism.” It is humanist because humans are the center – we are to help others, improve the world and use reason to take responsibility for the world we construct. It is not the best of all possible worlds, but a world in need of improvement. It is secular because God is irrelevant. Praising God does nothing to help feed the poor or take care of those in need. Better to put our energy towards making the world we find ourselves in a better place.
Voltaire marked a move towards truly putting reason first for creating ethics. We are to use reason to figure out how to make the world better, improving conditions for humans. Given conditions in France at the time, Voltaire could correctly blame the Church and its traditions for a good portion of human suffering going on in cities like Paris – suffering that would ultimately lead the people to revolt.
Yet perhaps there is a middle ground. This may not be the “best of all possible worlds,” but that doesn’t mean that reason alone provides meaning. Reason only leads one to work to better humanity when you take as a goal a humanist belief that the well being of humans is the ultimate value. Yet reason does not give us proof for that value; reason can be used by fascists, Nazis, racists, nationalists and communists to justify their ideology. Reason is a tool, not a means to discover principles and value. Indeed after the French revolution people who thought they shared common principles turned into bitter enemies and society broke down.
It does not have to be religious belief nor a traditional concept of God (though it can be). But the fact we are alive in a world with no clear purpose or reason — the fact there is something rather than nothing — strongly indicates that we are only glimpsing part of reality, and not the part that tells us the “answers.” Modern physics in fact says light is both a particle and a wave, and particles are actually just ripples in fields and not actually “stuff.”
Atheists often say that only things with measurable material consequences are relevant for understanding our world. Yet that materialist view ignores the fact that perhaps the parts of reality we don’t experience in material terms do come through in our emotions, intuition, and inner sense. For lack of a better word we call that “spiritual,” and it runs the gamut from magic new age crystals to Buddhist meditation and both traditional religious and non-traditional beliefs. Perhaps we can use a “God concept” to explain whatever power gives substance to the universe.
That still doesn’t settle Rousseau and Voltaire’s dispute. Rousseau believed that civilization muted our natural compassion. Voltaire believed that civilization could be guided to better the human experience. Perhaps both were right in their own way. We must cultivate our own garden, but to do so we need to look both to nature and that voice inside, a voice that may have its origin outside the material reality we can perceive. God? Spirit? Does it really matter?
One of the main problems in the world now, especially the industrialized West, is our reliance on isolated intellectualism. Our intellects are trapped in a world that appears chaotic, dangerous, and unpredictable. The world moves only from past to future, with no way to predict for certain what will come next. We can imagine horrible consequences of global warming, genetically altered food, Islamic extremism, and economic collapse. The world appears on the brink of something disastrous.
Some people grab that with relish. You know the type – they forecast ‘collapse, downfall, ‘endarkenment’ and other calamitous futures. Sometimes they imagine themselves to be like Cassandra, seeing clearly the future that others miss. More often it’s simply a kind of voyeuristic rush – it’s exciting to imagine disaster. Think of all the disaster movies that have hit the big screen since Irwin Allen’s “Poseidon Adventure” proved such a hit in 1972.
Others find ideological or religious faith – their “ism” tells them the truth of the world, and they divide the world up into those who are right (share their belief) and those who are wrong, often believing the wrong folk to be inferior humans. In other words, ideologues are like religious extremists – they need to think they have the truth, and they are psychologically driven to see others as wrong or inferior.
I think all of these taken to an extreme reflect a trapped or imbalanced mind. Isolating the mind from intuition, emotion, and spirit leads to a cold, harsh view of reality. Idealists can quickly become disillusioned cynics if they don’t temper their ideals with pragmatism, and a recognition that the intellect, logic and reason cannot explain all of human experience.
If the intellect meshes with emotion – with intuition, faith, and spirit – there can be a very satisfying balance. Consider the following propositions:
1. Our world had a beginning. Due to the nature of space-time, it is inconceivable that we could be in the present if there were an infinite past. The laws of physics, however, indicate that you cannot create something from nothing, meaning our universe could not have been created. (One caveat – in quantum mechanics its possible to ‘borrow’ energy from the universe to create something apparently from nothing. However, in quantum physics the universe is permeated with ‘probable energy.’ So it’s not really something from nothing.)
2. The laws of physics governing this particular universe were created at the time our universe was. If according to the laws of physics our world could not have been created, but if it must have had a creation point (not convinced – here’s an article from this month’s Discover on this), then the laws of physics were also created. To be sure, there is likely a larger set of “laws” of the universe that we cannot comprehend that go beyond our space/time physics. Yet clearly something about reality outside our universe (that is, outside our realm of space-time, created about 15 billion years ago) that does not have to conform to what we consider the “laws of nature.”
3. Spiritualism is not supernatural, but a different theory about the laws of nature. This is in line with especially Buddhist thought (though I am not a Buddhist). The argument here is that the usual claims by religion that something “outside the world” – a God or series of Gods – created and maintains our reality are misguided. Rather, our reality may have its origins (and perhaps is maintained) by something that does not conform the the known laws of our physical universe, but reflects a deeper reality.
I submit that this proposition is very strongly supported by quantum mechanics. While the mechanistic building block view of reality put forth in Newtonian physics has already been destroyed, the philosophical implications of this move are still under hefty debate. Yet quantum mechanics, full of paradoxes and weirdness, suggests that the true laws of nature are far more complex and strange than the Newtonian notions we entertain.
Some who want to hold on to a very clear and straightforward mechanistic view of the world insist that quantum mechanics must be wrong at some level because the paradoxes often lead to clear contradiction. They claim that the law of contradiction indicates that the claims of quantum physics can’t be true – two contradictory things cannot both be right. However, it could be that we see the claims as contradictory because we do not understand reality. The contradictions may be linguistic constructions.
4. The key to liberating ones’ intellect is not to fear the spiritual/intuitive side of life, even if the nature of reality, as we now understand it, prevents us from ever being sure if a belief is right. Freedom requires an embrace of uncertainty, and a recognition that there isn’t an answer card to tell us exactly what this life is about. That means rejecting dogmatism and accepting that there are multiple perspectives about the world, and we learn more by exploring each, rather than grabbing and holding on to one, and trying to prove the others wrong.
Ironically, by rejecting intuition, emotion, sentiment and spirituality, we cage the intellect into a cold mechanistic world devoid of meaning. That breeds cynicism and undermines empathy. By freeing the intellect we give up on the hope to have “the right answer” and replace it with gaining insight and understanding. After all, if uncertainty is unavoidable, then we can freely and with a spirit of joy make our best calls about life, recognizing its OK to be wrong!
(Note: this is part 12 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from – these next sections on suffering are fascinating).
Physical Suffering PI: Pain directly inflicted by players on other players
In the early trials of Quantum Life Sunitolp and the designers were shocked by the level of cruelty and the lack of empathy of the first players. People were doing horrific things to each other and causing considerable suffering. The trial was terminated and the future of Quantum Life was in doubt.
The working theory had been that separateness from the natural unity of existence would leave individuals lonely and vulnerable, leading players to experience emotions in the Quantum Life realm much more intensely than in the real world. It was expected people would have fear, sorrow, joy, and anger – emotions we know exists within unity of all, but which are balanced and evened out by the fact we are all connected.
What they did not expect is that these emotions could lead individuals to engage in actions that were so barbaric. Many wanted to call off the game right there – clearly separation from the unity of all is a pain so horrid that it leads to atrocious acts. Why go there?
Upon returning to the real world players described the intense pain they felt both suffering and, after the game, on realizing how they inflicted suffering. That pain was quickly relieved by immersion into the unity of all existence, but it was clear that Quantum Life had provided a troubling experience.
Just when it appeared Quantum Life would not get beyond the trial stage, Sunitolp made one last pitch. He was countering the argument that said that Quantum Life was dangerous in that it causes suffering and leads normal people to engage in atrocities that may harm them, even when they’re back in the comforting realm of the real, unified world. Experiencing separation is unnatural, sadistic and masochistic.
Sensing the collective will shifting against him, Sonitolp made an impassioned plea. “Were we not once separate, like the players in Quantum Life? While we experience unity, are we not still individuals, me with an idea, trying to convince you to allow me to move forward? We need to look inside to who we really are. Yes, our unity creates a world of contentment and joy – and that proves that our nature is more pure than evil. Yet our nature also allows fear, which leads to anger, suffering and hate.
“Allow me to make some revisions to the program, and assess it then. But don’t we owe it to ourselves to learn the deepest aspects of our nature – to learn perhaps what we were in the long lost pre-history of our world? This is a voyage of discovery, of exploration to the very nature of what kind of beings we are, both individually and collectively. It cannot help but make us grow!” Sunitolp swayed the collective.
Four major additions were made to how the program writes itself based on choices players make:
Empathy: The early trial of the game went so far in trying to create the illusion of complete separation/individualism that players saw other players as objects rather than subjects. Players were used to being part of a unified whole, and didn’t differentiate between the objects of their new world (trees, rain, dirt, etc.) and the other players. Pure separation, or even the illusion thereof, led to disintegration of a player’s sense of moral restraint. Therefore a part of the real world was made more evident, so players could feel that others are like themselves.
Synchronicity: In the early trial people suffered by chance – if one player decided to stab another, the stabbing victim was random. What Sunitolp and his engineers had to do was devise a way in which people could let their connection with the real world (sometimes called the spiritual realm, or “God”) guide their actions. The fullness of synchronicity is dealt with later in this manual, but in the case of suffering it helps assure that players who suffer/inflict pain are those who can learn something from the experience.
Karma: As noted in the section on evil, Karma is a way in which players experience consequences for their actions. Great rewards go to those who can endure suffering with grace and without themselves fall into the trap of wanting others to suffer. While suffering itself is not to be sought, karma assures that the sufferer will have experiences that mitigate the pain and provide opportunities for joy. Karma also works to create lessons for those who inflict suffering. Since all is one, punishment or revenge would be irrational – the sufferer and perpetrator are aspects of the same whole. However, learning of how to overcome being one who inflicts suffering benefits the whole.
Enveloping: When physical pain and suffering get extremely intense, the program allows more access to the real world, so that the sufferer is enveloped by a sense of the greater unity. This does not make pain and suffering go away, but keeps it bearable, as if time speeds up. The enveloping often is experienced as rage or anger, as those aspects of what we are can help overcome extreme distress. In fact, one theory is that the existence of hate and anger in our nature is because it helps overcome pain of suffering.
During the game, suffering, like evil, seems contrary to any belief in a natural unity. People are angered by injustice, which reflects imbalance. In the real world unity creates a natural balance we take for granted; lacking that the Quantum Life world is imbalanced in a multitude of ways.
Dramatic physical suffering directly inflicted by others isn’t the only form of suffering. It can also be a consequence of culture, or a chain of actions that indirectly lead to suffering, even though there is no clear perpetrator.
—– (end of today’s transcribing)
Earlier posts in the Quantum Life series:
Quantum Life - August 3, 2010
How to Play Quantum Life – August 4, 2010
Why Play Quantum Life – August 5, 2010
The Soul in Quantum Life – August 20, 2010
Getting Started with Quantum Life – October 1, 2010
Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth – November 22, 2010
Quantum Life: Childhood – July 20, 2012
Quantum Life: Obstacles – July 29, 2012
Quantum Life: Empaths and Extensions – August 8, 2012
Evil in Quantum Life - October 8, 2012
Mates in Quantum Life – May 9, 2013
(Note: this is part 11 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from).
Picking up where I left off, the next section in this ‘guidebook’ is “Mates”:
Quantum life creates the illusion of individual identity, hiding knowledge of the inherent unity of all existence. It is out of this alone-ness that players experience emotions, situations, and challenges that do not exist in the unified real world. However, as players overcome fear and start recognizing the inherent unity of all existence, they also have access to more knowledge about the real world.
A mate is different than the kind of agreement quantum life players make between rounds to meet as friends or choose parents. Mates are innately drawn to each other regardless of the context of the game. They are in tune with each other outside the game, and those harmonies penetrate into the Quantum Life reality. Most players are closed off from such connections, but advanced players can experience an enhanced level of joy in finding a true mate.
Recognizing Mates: For players caught up in the game – level one players focused on the material – mates are rarely recognized as such. Fear blinds the inner knowledge that they are connected, and at best their lives connect serendipitously at various points. At level two mates often meet to help each other see the importance of connection and spirit above material concerns. They can develop into true friends and grow closer during a given round of play, helping each other advance. Advanced players can have stunningly powerful relationships and generally have an easier time recognizing mates.
Empaths can literally feel the energy of a mate. The connection they share from past games and even in the real world is strong; they feel hit by a force beyond anything they’ve ever experienced, drawn magnetically to their mate. Most others intuitively feel a powerful attraction. Mates usually come together in three forms:
True Friends/Siblings: Mates often come together as friends who have a special bond and who can share with each other everything, helping them through Quantum Life’s challenges. True friends can be closer than most spouses, even if each has a loving relationship. There is something mystical about their friendship that both recognize. At times two siblings are also mates, and share an intensity in the family experience.
Chance encounters: Sometimes mates are not together for a long portion of their lives. Their particular game paths may have them going different directions in a given round of play. But they can manage to appear at a time when needed – to save a life, to help each other make a good decision, or to alter the course of an individual destiny in a given round of play. The encounter may be brief, but powerful.
Soul mates: Sometimes the mate is a spouse or life-partner, and the two build a life together and experience the joy of unity at a profound level. This is rare, but represents the closest experience in the Quantum Life world to the joy experienced through the unity of the real world. Soul mates tend to balance and compliment each other, teaching and learning together. However, to truly experience the bliss of unity, they have to avoid the temptation to build walls and be seduced by the culture around them. This means they may met later in life after working through a variety of challenges.
If they choose to be open and honest, sharing completely without fear, they’ll find themselves in a love profoundly deep and mystical. They will sense of taste a the true reality where all is united, and bring a bit of that into the Quantum Life world. It will reflect itself in their lives at every level – physically, intellectually, emotionally and with their families. Soul mates find their lives riddled with synchronicities they draw to themselves. Sex becomes more than a material, physical act, but a physical expression of a love transcending the Quantum Life world.
Choosing the path of total honesty and acceptance is harder than finding each other. Each has to risk bearing their soul and rejecting the protective walls and barriers that most individuals playing Quantum Life feel necessary to build. The risk is worth it; soul mates experience a level of pure joy that very few approach while in the game. It is a taste of the real world. If this path is chosen, both implicitly recognize that their true home is not the Quantum Life world.
What draws mates of any sort to each other is a deep connection at a core level; they are close to each other in the real world, just as they are in the Quantum Life world.
Honesty and Acceptance: Mates only develop a powerful bond and experience true joy if they are able to be completely open with each other. They must be honest about their own thoughts, experiences and emotions, and must accept unconditionally the validity of the others’ experiences, thoughts and emotions. They share secrets rather than keep them. They do not hide part of themselves out of fear of what the other might think. They do not judge the other, but understand.
That signifies the true meaning of Love. Love is a misunderstood term in Quantum Life, often connected with emotions of fear – jealousy, envy, pride or false desire. Mates love because they accept each other as they are, and do not hide who they are. Without such honesty true love is impossible. Mates – true friends or soul mates – can help each other awaken a powerful love inside the Quantum Life world that can ripple through the entire game, impacting every life they touch. It is the personal expression within the game of the love that defines existence in the real world.
OK, enough transcribing for today. Here are links to past entries in the quantum life series:
Quantum Life - August 3, 2010
How to Play Quantum Life – August 4, 2010
Why Play Quantum Life – August 5, 2010
The Soul in Quantum Life – August 20, 2010
Getting Started with Quantum Life – October 1, 2010
Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth – November 22, 2010
Quantum Life: Childhood – July 20, 2012
Quantum Life: Obstacles – July 29, 2012
Quantum Life: Empaths and Extensions – August 8, 2012
Evil in Quantum Life - October 8, 2012
The idea that a new year represents rebirth, renewal and change is on its face silly. Every day is a new day, the year is just a human construct, making days numbers and delineating them in an arbitrary fashion. The idea that this is a time for resolutions and transformation is irrational – it’s just a new day, like every day.
Yet perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss that ideal of a new beginning. Yes, every day is potentially a chance for rebirth and renewal, but usually we squander those opportunities, living hypnotized, following the same routines. Instead of asking what would make life truly joyful, we check off our “to do” lists and take care of the mundane tasks at hand.
And that’s OK – life is a series of moments and we need to shop, cook, clean, work, and take of things that just need to be done. Yet we can do those things thinking the mundane is life – that life is about making money, paying bills, achieving success and consuming products. Or we can work through the mundane with a higher ideal in mind – happiness, love of both nature and others, and a sense of magic. The world unfolds for us, we just have to trust it.
So my resolution for 2013 is simply to live awake.
To try every day to look out the window and see nature as magical and beautiful. Not to get used to it or take it for granted. To feel blessed to live in foothills of western Maine, a place of pure beauty. To be sure, the wide open plains of South Dakota, where I was last month visiting family, has its own magic and beauty as well. Wherever one is, one key to living awake is not to take nature for granted.
To be true to myself. We humans are our own worst enemies, we repress who we are, we say what we think others want to hear, we distrust our ability to simultaneously be true and be accepted. We conform. We decide that our dreams are silly or unobtainable. We settle for a life less than we could have.
It’s not that we humans are stupid. We settle because it’s comfortable. It’s easy to conform, to go with what others want, to push aside youthful ambitions and dreams of happiness. We replace those with stuff – or perhaps with societal approval of us as successful. Prestige replaces joy. To be normal is safe, to conform is to be comfortable.
And then we slowly stagnate.
Please read this “comic”. It is a powerful comparison of two good women who choose different paths. One was true to herself, one conformed. The price of conformity isn’t always so high – and there is nothing wrong with being like others if one is at the same time true to oneself.
But too often we drown our inner voice and make choices out of fear of not fitting in or somehow missing out. We fear lacking income, making others mad, or ending up alone. Fear can’t guide life, to be truly happy one must be true to oneself. We need to trust our conscience and inner voice, even when it goes against what most people seem to be thinking and doing. And that is my resolution for 2013. To live awake, to listen to the voice within, to live true to myself.
I want to wish everyone who stops by this site a wonderful Christmas. But what is Christmas? The easy answer is that it is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. That’s partially true. Early Christians choose this as their holiday in order to co-opt the traditional Winter Solstice holidays everyone else was celebrating. Even traditions ranging from Christmas trees to mistletoe pre-exist the holiday’s Christian identity.
So while Christians are on solid ground proclaiming Jesus is the “reason for the season” in their eyes, we non-Christians don’t have to wash our hands of the holiday, or even phrases like “Merry Christmas.” This time of the year remains a universal holiday, celebrating as days start to grow longer and humans find joy in the depths of winter.
Values of love, peace, joy, and forgiveness are universal. The magic of the season transcends theological dogma. You can believe in Jesus, Muhammad, Hussein, Buddha, the Brahman of Hinduism, or the Hebrew God, I choose a personal sense of spirituality that defies organized belief.
I’ve long believed that human religions tell more about the cultural state of a society than about God and the meaning of life. Individual beliefs about God usually reflect that person’s temperament Humans create God in their own image, a strict stern man sees a judgmental, harsh God. A loving caring man sees God as being primarily about forgiveness and inclusivity. A woman focused on the material world sees God helping those who help themselves. A woman immersed in charity work sees God as wanting us to care for the least in disregard of material success.
That doesn’t mean religion is meaningless. There are reasons why books like the Koran, the Bible, the sayings of Buddha, and the Upanishads are compelling across time. The same is true for philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, or great poets such as Petrarch and Dante. In various ways ideas that cut to the core of who and what we are as humans have staying power. They touch something inside our souls and remind us that we are part of a world far more mysterious and meaningful than our senses and minds can comprehend.
As we trudge through our daily routine who cannot help but be inspired by the parables of Jesus Christ, the wisdom of the Buddha, and the power of ideas of love, faith and joy? Anyone who has chosen to forgive rather than hold a grudge, or show friendship rather than disdain to an adversary, cannot help but attest to the power of forgiveness. One even pities a person locked in negative, mean spirited behavior. The co-worker that stabbed you in the back becomes less someone whose actions arouse anger and drive you to revenge than a poor pathetic fool whose actions cannot bring satisfaction.
So Happy Christmas! Feel the unity that connects us all, follow it and the world will become a better place, step by step.
The snow is beautiful here in rural Maine. The trees seem magical with a white icing, deer tracks visible on the ground, the dull brown colors of early winter given way to a crystal beauty.
Of course, I have to get the snow blower out and the roads are a bit slick. Cancellations alter the routine and force schedule changes. Some people complain about the snow and its inconveniences. Better to live in Florida or California, away from all this!
Life is like that. Seen from one perspective it’s magical, full of synchronicity, opportunities and beauty. We reach out and we find friends. We cry and are comforted. From another perspective life is a burden. Children are gunned down in schools, corporations run roughshod over common folk, people break hearts, lie and hurt.
I try to focus on the magical, but the mundane drags me down.
I wonder if I’ve lived my life up until now fooling myself. I see the beauty, I understand how perspective shapes our reality, I have a grasp of the underlying spiritual truth of existence. Yet I haven’t lived it. I’ve lived a bit afraid, too addicted to comfort, comfortable even with boredom.
I’ve not lived a life as full as I could because it was easy not to. The path of least resistance is enticing. It may be boring, unsatisfying on many levels, but full of distractions and easy to travel. Moreover, since so many of us enjoy that path, it’s socially acceptable. Take the path of least resistance and others nod and approve. It validates their choice of that same path, we’re all in this together.
There is another path, through the woods, unshoveled and unmarked. The soul tries to lure us to this path, it contains richness that the path of least resistance does not. It leads to a life of meaning, but it is risky. The thorny weeds are all around, the snow is deep. There is uncertainty.
We question our soul. Is this really the path to take? The other is cleared and easy. This one requires risk. The soul says in clear uncertain terms that to achieve true happiness you have to run from safety and be completely true to yourself. The path of least resistance is the path of conformity. It is living small, but living comfortably.
The snow falls, the ice piles up on my jacket. The wind hits my face, a raw wind. The wind is harsher on the path my soul wants me to take, there are shelters on the path of least resistance.
“It’s worth it,” my soul whispers. “You don’t know where it leads, or what’s beyond the next bend, but if you are true to yourself life has more value than it ever could if you simply go with the flow.”
“Come on,” friends yell from the path of least resistance. They’re heading towards a shelter, warm and comfortable. They seem bored, but there are distractions – games, contests, and comfort. Who needs meaning, who needs risk, who needs to listen to the soul? Just go with the flow, relax, unwind, watch the tube, get old and die. Meaning? Who needs it?
Yet the soul beckons. What is life if you live it just to find some comfort and then die? Why exist if it’s just to distract oneself from boredom and be part of the crowd? Death awaits in any event. What’s the point? What if I want more, what if I want to follow my soul, even if it means risk and uncertainty?
Those on the path of least resistance laugh. “There is no meaning,” they insist. “You live, you die. Avoid pain and discomfort, don’t take any risks. If you’re lucky enough to be able to glide through, you’ve won! Why take risks, that would be foolish.”
I stand and look, and realize that I am a fool. And that is good. I turn towards the risky path, wave to my friends and say, “I’ll see you around, but I’ve got to go explore.”
I have just posted a spiritual fantasy called “Dreams.” The heroine Jenny finds herself in a different reality, able among other things to enter into the dreams of others – past, present and future. Go read it if you’re into that kind of thing! I wrote it about 20 years ago and have given up on ever having it published. However, more than anything I’ve ever written it outlines my core beliefs about life, including speculation about the nature of reality. Read that and you know me, even 20 years after the fact.
The story had an odd genesis. While I was studying in Germany I had the pleasure to spend a chunk of time in a Studentenheim (dorm) in Bonn on the Endernicher Allee. When everyone left for Christmas I stayed in my room. I could have gone to visit friends elsewhere in Germany, but I wanted a little bit of time alone — I had been traveling all through November as I shifted from staying in Berlin to Bonn, and wanted some time by myself.
On December 25th I took a magical train ride through the snowy Moselle valley (I had a German rail pass I was using up), eating my Christmas dinner at the Frankfurt train station. On the 26th I took another train ride, finishing my rail pass. That evening the Letsch family – caretakers for the Studentenheim – invited me for Raclette. I drank at least two liters of beer and enjoyed a wonderful evening.
The next morning – December 27th – I awoke at about 4:00 AM. I had been listening to a CD from the former Supertramp member Roger Hodgson Eye of the Storm quite a bit that week. It has strong spiritual undertones, and the time alone had me in an introspective mood. I woke up with a story in my head. I grabbed my Zeos 280 laptop and started typing.
It was like that for the next two and a half days. All day on the 27th and 28th I was in my dorm room, typing out this story. I’d run out of ideas, take a break and lay down…and then get up as new ideas popped in my head. I finished it on the 29th, a sunny bright day. “Wow,” I said to myself, “where did that come from!?”
I then went for a run through downtown Bonn and along the Rhein river, finally getting outside after spending nearly three days consumed by this story. I thought I had something really good – I printed it out, made copies, gave it to friends, many of whom reacted positively to the ideas. A couple said it was remarkable and inspiring. I looked into publishing it a few times, but with no luck. I would share it with people I thought might enjoy it and for awhile fantasized about getting it published and maybe even becoming a full time author. But that was a pipe dream – I write too much like an academic!
This morning I started a blog post in which I mentioned how I used to keep a journal of my dreams, including lucid dreams. I had interesting encounters with vicious dogs in those dreams, and some of that had worked its way into my story. I put that post aside and decided to post my story for anyone who might be interested in a story I still feel really close to.
So I’d be honored if any of you take the time to read my story Dreams.
Boredom is the root of evil. That was the wisdom of Danish existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and he had a point.
Happiness can mean many things, but it probably requires an attitude towards life of gratitude, joy and love. Boredom works against all of that. Boredom replaces joy. We think we want something new, but once we get it the newness wears off and it becomes unimportant. A fine meal is joyful, stuffing ourselves with cheap junk food is a joyless habit. We don’t like being bored. So how do we handle it?
Think about a game of monopoly. Once you have the hotels on the dark blues and greens and know it’s a matter of time before you win the game, the game ceases to be fun. If you’re struggling against an opponent, each with a chance to win, relying on the roll of the dice, then the game is engaging and stimulating. So one response to boredom is to try to add excitement.
Therein lies the wisdom of Kierkegard’s claim. For many people in hum drum routines excitement might be an illicit affair, playing the lottery, heading to the race track, partaking of chemicals to alter one’s state, or things even more destructive.
Of course many people have too much social responsibility to choose those kind of escapes. Socially acceptable methods of relieving boredom include throwing oneself into a career, spreading oneself thin with commitments and social engagements, or becoming addicted to sports, television shows, books or in my case earlier this fall, following pre-election polls. While clearly someone who relieves boredom by constantly reading new books has a much more constructive approach than one who turns to whiskey, it’s an escape nonetheless.
This brings me to another Kierkegaard quote: “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”
Boredom seems not only to be a lack of something intriguing to do, but perhaps a disconnect from ones’ self. Boredom is an emotion, or perhaps a message from the soul to the self: “don’t lose yourself…you’re alive, vibrant and you’re wasting that – do something!”
So we do something. But in so doing we can either find/be ourselves, or lose ourselves. Engaging in a hobby, interacting with friends, building community, doing something constructive usually means connecting to ourselves in a way that combats boredom constructively.
The problem is that distractions – actions against boredom that can actually cause us to lose ourselves – are often easier to begin than constructive responses. If I feel bored and have nothing to do I could choose to watch TV, have a beer, and eat cold pizza. That’s an easily accessible way to try to counter act boredom, but it brings no joy. Sitting on the couch clicking through stations with a slight beer buzz and chewing at a cold pizza is a distraction. It’s not joyful, but distracts from boredom.
Working on a project, exercising, family activities, getting together with friends, or volunteering to help others could bring joy and connect one to their real self, but it takes more effort than trudging over to the sofa and grabbing the remote.
The irony of our convenience oriented world is that it is really a distraction-oriented world, one we can lose ourselves in more readily than if we were actually confronted directly with the question of what we need to do to survive. If we had to tend to the garden to assure we’d have food in the winter we’d not be so easily played and manipulated by marketers selling us the latest product we absolutely need and which will bring us at least 10 minutes of distraction disguised as joy.
Boredom is the curse of the modern. We have everything at our fingertips and survival is no longer a struggle. So we can choose – dive into meaningless distractions or focus on not losing ourselves. The distractions may yield dramas that cause some to seem to jump from life-crisis to life-crisis. Or they may create a laziness that leads to an anxious depression and addictive/self-destructive behaviors. To gain weight in front of the television and choose inaction in a world so full of promise seems insane – rejecting life in favor of emptiness. To fall into soap-opera like personal dramas may add excitement, but rarely contentment. Yet it is so easy to fall into those traps.
Ironic. We’ve achieved so much and yet have not mastered ourselves. In some ways the danger posed by boredom is worse than the threats to life and limb from past eras. At least then we were forced to assert ourselves, recognizing the danger. Now it lulls us in, like a quiet hypnosis. We have to work to live awake, not to lose ourselves or our joy at living!