Every other day, usually, I write a post for this blog. it takes me about an hour, sometimes more, sometimes less.
That's just about the only time when I really ponder The Meaning of It All. If even then, since I might be writing about a churchless subject that doesn't rise to that level of profundity.
So very little of my daily life has anything to do with matters of philosophy, religion, mysticism, spirituality, or such. Mostly I'm doing everyday nitty-gritty stuff.
For example, this morning I dealt with a turn of events in my campaign to save three large street trees in downtown Salem from being cut down for no good reason.
My mind is focused on many other things during my typical waking moments, of course. But very little of my attention is on matters of cosmic significance. Does God exist? What will happen when I die? Where did the universe come from?
Yet fairly often people will leave comments on this blog along the lines of, "Brian, you are obsessed with bashing religion. You need to get a life!"
My usual response is something like, "News flash: I do have a life. A happy, fulfilling life. Very little of my life has anything to do with bashing religion. Most of the time I don't think about religion, or the lack thereof, at all."
David and Andrea-Diem Lane talk about this sort of thing in their essay, "Consciousness Interruptus: The Temporal Context and the Self-Referential Trap."
Don't be scared away by the title; the piece is fairly easy to read and understand. Here's some excerpts:
A dog doesn't appear to meditate on how distant stars will die and transform into black holes, or how universes may appear and disappear over eons of time. Yet, as humans with enlarged brains we evolved to ponder all sorts of imponderables, and thus our Darwinian gift is also at times our Darwinian curse.
...The seemingly most important questions we tend to ask (Is there a God? Do I have a soul? Is there life after death? Etc.) only arise at certain moments in our awareness and completely subside at other moments. Indeed, within any normal 24 hour cycle, the issues we think that are so vital and so urgent only last for a set duration only to disappear when deep sleep overwhelms us and all such questions are forgotten until we awake again.
...Thus, I have long noticed that whenever we are happy—very happy—at a particular juncture in life we may also feel a certain anxiety, a certain fear that it may end. Yet, if we are deeply depressed or extremely ill, we don't worry as much (if at all) about death or non-existence.
Therefore our questions and worries are a priori predicated upon our wavering moods. Instead of getting trapped with our self-referential feedback loops, pondering conundrums that may never be resolved, it might be wise to introspect on why certain questions only emerge at certain times and not at others.
In other words, instead of a continual stream of unanswered queries, we focus on why we are asking why in the first place, such as why I fear death only when I am relatively happy but never when I am severely sick with stomach flu.
The questions we ask have less to do with some ultimate truth but more to do with our own neurological phases.
Makes sense. I never have been seriously ill. But I've had some nasty persistent colds. Bed-ridden, feverish, coughing, blowing my nose, the meaning of life doesn't matter to me at all. I just want to feel healthy again!
Sometimes I wonder why the frail elderly don't seem to fear death as much as vigorous younger people do. As the Lane's say in their essay, likely this is partly because we naturally begin to let go of our attachment to life when living becomes more painful and difficult.
This does imply that the Big Questions of Life only demand answers in certain psychological circumstances.
When I'm out and about on my current exercise obsession, an outdoor elliptical bike called the StreetStrider, I'm in a consciousness zone where nothing matters except where I am and what I''m doing in that moment. I don't worry about being content because I am content.
Give the Lane essay a read. There's more to it than what I excerpted -- including mentions of how deep sleep is considered by some to be a desirable state of consciousness.
I've never understood this.
To me, deep sleep is lack of consciousness. Yes, I've read Ramana (quoted in the essay). But deep dreamless sleep is one of the psychological states of beings with brains who are alive. I like to go to sleep because so far I've always woken up in the morning.
Deep sleep gives me the rest I need to be awake and aware the next day. Otherwise, deep sleep is just a death of sorts, in the same way anesthesia is a death of sorts. No consciousness, no awareness of being alive.
Which I'm pretty sure is what death minus the "of sorts" is.
No consciousness. No awareness of being alive. I don't get how this is a desirable state of consciousness, unless life is so unworth-living, not being alive seems preferable.