I don't get sick very often.
So the past five days -- during which I've been suffering through a feverish flu/cold gifted to me by my three year old granddaughter, who, as you can see below, doesn't look capable of such a dastardly deed -- have cast me into an unfamiliar state of consciousness.
What I've found most interesting about being sick is this: in many respects the blah feeling that comes with illness is akin to what many religions view as an elevated spiritual state.
Minus the bliss. (But not all monks, yogis, mystics, and such appear to be blissed-out, either. Many people who are heavy into meditation strike me as being depressed and listless, which is how I feel when I'm sick.)
I mean, my needs and wants have become simple. I eat less and do less. If I can accomplish a few basic "chop wood and carry water" necessities, like emptying the dishwasher, I feel a sense of accomplishment for the day.
I'm much more detached from the world. Coming across political news in my sick state that ordinarily would make me outraged elicits only a "so what?" from my psyche. I'm focused on what is right before me (notably my congested nose) rather than distant world affairs.
I feel like existence is still objectively the same, yet minus many of the personal valuations that used to color events with vibrant shades of meaning. Now things seem much more neutral -- not right or wrong, good or bad, just there.
And all of this change in consciousness has been produced utterly effortlessly, by, I assume, some viruses that invaded my body. Is this all that different from the effects of intensive meditation, rigorous austerities, lengthy rituals, or other supposedly "spiritual" practices?
Here's another insight. Last night I shared it with some friends, prefacing my remarks with:
Frequently I get insights into the nature of the universe and myself that strike me as having an equal possibility of being (1) a marvelously brilliant, wise observation, or (2) the stupidest, most useless thing you've ever heard. Here's an example. You can decide which applies.
Yesterday I was getting ready to venture out to the Salem World Beat Festival, an event that I didn't want to miss even though I wasn't feeling like my usual self. (Photographic blog report here.)
Preparing my scooter for a ride into town, a thought popped into my mind: I hope I'll feel OK when I get there.
Which was followed almost instantaneously by a response from the other side of my head: You are your feeling, not someone else -- and that's what is OK.
Intuitively, this made a lot of sense to me at the time. And it still does, which is why I tried to explain it to our monthly Salon discussion group. Nobody commented on my insight though, which leads me to believe that it got a (2) rather than a (1) from the attendees.
Well, I'll explain some more.
When I thought, I hope I'll feel OK, I posited an "I" who was somebody different from the me who would be walking around the World Beat Festival. But who the heck are these two entities?
It sure seems like there's only one me. And Buddhism, along with other spiritual traditions, says that even this singular feeling of I-ness is an illusion, that there's no one permanently at home inside our head -- just an ever-shifting series of experiences.
So, I told the group, as humans we excel in setting up idealized images of ourselves, other people, and the world, which we consider to be as real as what is actually present here and now.
When there is a discrepancy between my ideal (no cough, no runny nose, no fever) and the real (all of those symptoms present), I feel like something is wrong, not OK. And in one sense that is true.
I want my body to be healthy like it was before, and it isn't. That discrepancy between my goal and actuality causes a sensation of wrongness. However, this is different from the much less justifiable conclusion that there is an "I" which may not be feeling OK at the World Beat Festival.
A memory of myself when I was healthy isn't me. It's a recollection of me. Who I am is who I am. Heck, I learned that from Popeye a long time ago when I was a kid. (More accurately, I yam what I yam.)
Religiosity essentially is founded on a belief that there is an enduring self, soul, atman, or whatever you want to call it, which is our real nature -- just as I had assumed that there was an "I" separate and distinct from what I was experiencing at the moment.
All I can say is that when I realized that however I was going to feel at the World Beat Festival was how I was going to feel, I stopped worrying about how I was going to feel.
Again, this is either a brilliant insight into the nature of the cosmos, or another idiotic emanation from my Brian'ish brain. Whatever, whichever, who cares? It is what it is.