Most people like to be insulated from reality. After all, it hurts sometimes. So everybody puts on physical and mental coverings of one sort or another. Clothes, shoes, gloves, beliefs, hopes, imaginings.
I used to do this much more than I do now. My inward churchlessness has been matched by an outward "get real" approach to how I dress and get around. For example, I enjoy a healthy dose of minimalism in my footwear.
Currently these are my favorite shoes, Teva's Zilch and Nilch. I Zilch in warm weather; I Nilch in cold weather (with wool blend socks). They're wonderfully light: 7 and 7.5 ounces per shoe, respectively. By comparison, a pair of Columbia shoes I'd been wearing weigh 14 ounces per shoe.
So I've reduced by half the weight of what I carry around on my feet most days. Likewise, I've ditched most of the metaphysical, supernatural, mystical, and spiritual notions that I used to cart around in my psyche.
Minimalism feels good to me, whether physical or psychological.
Along with lightness, I love how these shoes connect me with the earth in ways firmer, bigger, bulkier shoes can't. Walking across some rocks, like those in the photo, I really feel them through the soles. Both the Zilch and Nilch are flexible, like my churchless state of mind.
Here's some Teva ad copy that contains some more-than-shoe wisdom.
Minimalist protection is the name of the game with the Nilch. Blending all of the benefits of minimalist construction with full foot coverage, the Nilch gives you the feeling of complete freedom without sacrificing the all around security of a shoe. Freedom and security at the same time… maybe the airlines should take notes.
Sometimes the thinner you go, the better it feels. Hey get your head out of the gutter… we're talking about shoes here. The Zilch is the thinnest, most minimalistic sport sandal we've ever made. Minimalist construction means that the Zilch will bend and flex naturally with your foot, giving you an amazing feel and connection to the earth, but also giving you traction and protection that a bare foot doesn't. ...With the Zilch, you can use your feet like Mother Nature intended.
Now, like I said, some people don't want to get close to Mother Nature.
They want to distance themselves from nasty, dirty, impure, imperfect physical stuff. These people embrace religions, mystical practices, and spiritual paths which proclaim that really real reality is in some other realm.
So they clothe themselves in nature-separating beliefs.
These, of course, necessarily are anti-scientific, because science is the study of the world in which we live, not of worlds that exist only in imagination (yes, I realize physicists are enamored of the multiverse; but they realize that such remains only a hypothesis without substantial confirming evidence).
"Get real" thus is an adage that doesn't appeal to religious true believers.
They seek the unreality of fantasized heavens beyond the physical. There, worldly pain is absent. Yet so is the pleasure of feeling intimately connected to reality through here-and-now perceptions, emotions, feelings, and other experiences.
In his book "Becoming Animal: an Earthly Cosmology," David Abram eloquently speaks of this common (most people are religious) urge to transcend everyday existence, and how self-defeating it is.
Corporeal life is indeed difficult. To identify with the sheer physicality of one's flesh may well seem lunatic. The body is an imperfect and breakable entity vulnerable to a thousand and one insults -- to scars and the scorn of others, to disease, decay, and death. And the material world that our body inhabits is hardly a gentle place.
The shuddering beauty of this biosphere is bristling with thorns: generosity and abundance often seem scant ingredients compared with the prevalence of predation, sudden pain, and racking loss. Carnally embedded in the depths of this cacophonous profusion of forms, we commonly can't even predict just what's lurking behind the near boulder, let alone get enough distance to fathom and figure out all the workings of this world.
We simply can't get it under our control. We've lost hearing in one ear; the other rings like a fallen spoon. Our spouse falls in love with someone else, while our young child comes down with a bone-rattling fever that no doctor seems able to diagnose. There are things out and about that can eat us and ultimately will.
Small wonder, then, that we prefer to abstract ourselves whenever we can, imagining ourselves into theoretical spaces less fraught with insecurity, conjuring dimensions more amenable to calculation and control. We slip blissfully into machine-mediated scapes, offering ourselves up to any technology that promises to enhance the humdrum capacities of our given flesh. And sure, now and then we'll engage this earthen world as well, as long as we know that it's not ultimate, as long we're convinced that we're not stuck here.
...Thus do we shelter ourselves from the harrowing vulnerability of bodied existence. But by the same gesture we also insulate ourselves from the deepest wellsprings of joy... We seal ourselves off from the erotic warmth of a cello's voice, or from the tilting dance of construction cranes against a downtown sky overbursting with blue. From the errant hummingbird pulsing into our cupped hands as we ferry it back out the door, and the crimson flash as it zooms from our fingers.
This Nature-embracing life Abrams describes is scientific, yet not in a dry, detached, laboratory sense. He urges the science of wide-eyed, open-minded observation, of being as aware as possible of what isn't possible, but real.
We're so used to pushing reality away, the feeling of it can be like entering a frigid river fed by snowmelt from the high mountains -- something I did often in my youth, having grown up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.
Now, at my ripe Social Security age, I relive that frigid feeling whenever I ride my beloved Burgman 650 scooter in cold weather.
The great thing (also, the worst thing) about a scooter or motorcycle is that if it is cold outside, you'll feel it; if it's warm outside, you'll feel it. Whatever the weather is, you experience it, because you're out in it. By contrast, in a car -- like inside a belief system -- you're insulated from reality.
Last Sunday I rode my scooter 30 minutes at thirty-nine degrees to have coffee with some friends. When I arrived at Starbucks they asked, "How was your ride?" "It was real," I said. My hands were cold. So was the air. Nice match between reality and me.
Abrams writes about how easily we assume that what's real is to be found in some distant realm, rather than through our immediate bodily sensations. By reducing the barriers between us and the physical world, what we're seeking in life may turn out to be much closer than we ever expected.
Here, as before, the sensuous world -- the creaturely world directly encountered by our animal senses -- is commonly assumed to be a secondary, derivative reality understood only by reference to more primary domains that exist elsewhere, behind the scenes.
I do not deny the importance of those other scales or dimensions, nor the value of the various truths that may be found there. I deny only that this shadowed, earthly world of deer tracks and moss is somehow less worthy, less REAL, than those abstract dimensions.
It is more palpable to my skin, more substantial to my flaring nostrils, more precious -- infinitely more precious -- to the heart drumming within my chest.