The trajectory of my once-spiritual life has been heading away from other worldliness for quite a few years now. If there's one thing I've come to know about religiosity, it's that there's almost certainly nothing to know.
I don't believe in a Cosmic Jokester.
But I'm a lot more inclined to worship this non-existent being than an imaginary God. After all, think how much power the Cosmic Jokester has (assuming she exists, which she almost certainly doesn't).
This prankster is able to make billions of people believe there is more to life than what is apparent here and now on Earth. She entices them to anticipate the joys of an afterlife, thereby preventing these faithful from heartily enjoying a presentlife.
The joke, of course, doesn't have an obvious punchline -- since nobody is going to know that there's no life after death when they're dead and not alive.
But right now we can smile at the absurdity of ignoring the reality of what is immediately in front of us by always looking around the corner for something different.
I'm reading a book by Rodney Smith called "Stepping Out of Self-Deception." In his introduction, he talks about going to an Indian sage, Nisargadatta, during Smith's days as a Buddhist monk.
Nisargadatta tells him:
"You are like a man holding a flashlight, trying to run beyond its beam. The view you are holding within the methods you are using is undermining your intent."
We already know. We really do. We just do a really good job of hiding reality from ourselves. Mostly by putting ourselves at the center of the cosmos -- another way the Cosmic Trickster fools us.
I'm not a big fan of poetry. But I love these four lines by David Ignatow, which I've used before in a couple of blog posts: "Life is just what it is" and "Hope is the present moment."
I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.
Mountains don't give a shit about us. They just are what they are. So are we. We're stupider than mountains, though, because we think we're supposed to be different from what we are.
Saved. Enlightened. Spiritually blissed out. Satori'ized. Self-realized. Godly.
Whatever piece of nonsensical religious, spiritual, or mystical crap we've swallowed in the hopes that our ever-so-human lives will somehow morph into a divine state of ... something or other.
When my wife and I visited Banff (Canada), we saw a bunch of beautiful mountains. They didn't speak to me, thankfully. Meaning, I didn't get any grand insights about the meaning of life from them.
I simply went Wow.
What else is there to do at each and every moment which, when it passes, will never come again?
When Laurel and I stopped at a viewpoint to admire Mount Rundle near sunset, few thoughts passed through my mind. There the mountain was. Here I am. Pretty damn simple.
Ditto with a neighboring mountain whose name I don't know. Sure, I could have gotten all philosophical about reality being reflected in the mirror of a still mind, blah, blah, blah. But being there, camera in hand, was plenty enough for me.
When we went to Lake Louise, Laurel had the bright idea of renting a canoe for half an hour. Time well spent. Looking at the craggy, glacier-filled slopes at the end of the lake did stimulate some thoughts in me.
(Hey, Ignatow only said that he should be able to look at a mountain for what it is, and not a comment on his life; so I'm assuming lakes are OK as commenters.)
Every moment we're paddling somewhere or other, even if we're standing still. Time always is doing its own paddling for us. The older we get, we more we may feel life's moments narrowing down to an eventual stop at the cliff face of death.
So long as we're aware of floating on the water of life, we are. And when we aren't, we won't be. Again, pretty damn simple.
Be aware. Be aware. Be aware.
Of whatever is. Of whatever is. Of whatever is.
Repeat as long as possible. There's nothing else to do.
I like the analogy Blogger Brian gave awile ago about the picture where sometimes you see the face of an old lady and sometimes you see a vase. You don't really force seeing one or the other. It just happens. So, I agree that there is "nothing else to do" but just "be aware". But this does not mean that there is not the possibility of a flip-flop of perception where one suddenly wakes up.
Probably some kind of practice where one is immersed more in calm awareness, rather than in our daily habit of the mind running all over the place, is more conducive to setting up the right conditions for seeing reality, the vase rather the old lady. (or if you like the old lady can symbolize rreality...whatever.)
Another analogy is the spinning dance figure where most people see it spinning clockwise while a few others see it spinning counter-clockwise. A few others are able to switch back and forth at will. They can be speechless in the zone one minute and then swith over to dealing with relativity the next.
But in any of these cases there is not a step by step mechanism that allows one to perceive differently. It just sort of happens.
Take Chapter One of Douglas Harding's book "On Having No Head" where he describes a spontaneous experience of the dissappearance of time, space and self and the "revelation of the perfectly obvious".
(I think this chapter is available online via Amazon's listing for this book)
Posted by: tucson | August 11, 2010 at 11:28 AM
Ah hah! You have uttered the most insanely glorious, liberating news there could be. And free of both spiritual and scientific jargon.
We humans can do anything we are capable of doing. And we certainly do, don't we?
Posted by: Willie R. | August 11, 2010 at 04:46 PM
Be aware. Be aware. Be aware.
Of whatever is. Of whatever is. Of whatever is.
Repeat as long as possible. There's nothing else [to do].
Presentism is the view that only present objects exist. More precisely, it is the view that, necessarily, it is always true that only present objects exist. (At least, that is how the name ‘Presentism’ will be used here. Some writers have used the name differently. Note that, unless otherwise indicated, what is meant here by ‘present’ is temporally present, as opposed to spatially present.) According to Presentism, if we were to make an accurate list of all the things that exist — i.e., a list of all the things that our most unrestricted quantifiers range over — there would be not a single non-present object on the list. Thus, you and the Taj Mahal would be on the list, but neither Socrates nor any future Martian outposts would be included. (Assuming, that is, both (i) that each person is identical to his or her body, and (ii) that Socrates's body ceased to be present — thereby going out of existence, according to Presentism — shortly after he died. Those who reject the first of these assumptions should simply replace the examples in this article involving allegedly non-present people with appropriate examples involving the non-present bodies of those people.) And it's not just Socrates and future Martian outposts, either — the same goes for any other putative object that lacks the property of being present. All such objects are unreal, according to Presentism
Posted by: john | August 12, 2010 at 10:07 AM
So, I agree that there is "nothing else to do" but just "be aware". But this does not mean that there is not the possibility of a flip-flop of perception where one suddenly wakes up.
With the statement, "I am," we generally take the "I" as the subject but perhaps, "amness," is the substantive aspect of our being and the "I" is simply non-substantive form. For example, when I say, "Jane exists," what I'm implying is that it is Jane (the form) that's doing the existing. It sounds weird to say, "existence is Jane," but maybe that is reality or at least a facet of reality we can experience from time to time.
Posted by: john | August 12, 2010 at 10:56 AM
"Mountains don't give a shit about us. They just are what they are. So are we. We're stupider than mountains, though, because we think we're supposed to be different from what we are."
So really, what are mountains? What are you? Maybe you'd surprise me, but I'd hazard a guess that your answer wouldn't be very imaginative. Imagination doesn't really seem to be your strong suit.
Posted by: Brian from Colorado | August 12, 2010 at 08:32 PM
Brian from Colorado, you're right. When I think about "what I am," my increasingly churchless self comes up with pretty obvious and vague notions.
Like, a conscious something or other typing a comment on a computer, wondering what to say next, realizing that there isn't much to say about what I am other than what I experience myself as being now.
A good Buddhist, which I'm not, would say that things -- including you and me -- have no independent existence. That's as good an answer as any.
But it means that the "who I am" query can't be answered in any sort of definitive way. I'm everything and I'm nothing.
Sounds good to me.
Posted by: Brian Hines | August 12, 2010 at 08:45 PM
It strikes me that you think of "being" as more of a noun than a verb, Churchless. But of course, our being entails many active elements: will, desire, emotion, and dare I say, imagination all come into play. Being is extended and complex, and purpose and meaning are ALWAYS present, regardless of whether we choose to attend to them with awareness and thoughtful care or not. What is the wellspring for these things? Is it really all just based on the accidental evolutionary programming inherent in the automaton meat machines?
Your existentialism strikes me as shallow and dry; the stuff of depressed French men. It's an abdication, a punt, an evasion. Is your "wow" upon beholding the mountain really that much different from the "wow" of a child upon beholding Disneyland? Lead me to Mickey and the cotton candy! Does our purpose here really just boil down to clutching at transient gratification before we plunge into the looming abyss of non-being?
Another fine atheist, Marquis de Sade, once said that without purpose, "nothing is prohibited." Not much of a basis for a civilization there, my friend.
Posted by: Brian from Colorado | August 13, 2010 at 03:29 AM