There's quite a bit to unpack in the title of this blog post, but I'll try to keep it fairly simple.
"Aspire" obviously means that a radical embrace of reality is something that I'd like to be able to do, but often this is more of a hope than an actuality for me.
"Radical" refers to the fact that I, along with just about everybody else in the world, chooses to not embrace reality much of the time. Too disturbing. Too painful. Too whatever. So we cling to a form of unreality instead. If we always turned toward reality, that would be really radical, being so unusual.
"Embrace" is another word for acceptance. I prefer embrace, because it conjures up an image of actively reaching out to reality, rather than grudgingly accepting it.
"Reality" is, not surprisingly, what's real. Of course, a lie also is real, as is a fantasy, or dream, or hope, or imagination. But those things, being subjective, aren't real in the sense that a mountain is, or a cancer diagnosis, or a missile striking an apartment building.
(The Ukraine war is on my mind.)
I was planning to illustrate this saying, "I aspire to a radical embrace of reality," by sharing some anecdotes from my life that I've written about in other blog posts.
However, some Googling of my blogs via the search box in the right sidebar led me to a 2oo5 Church of the Churchless post, Why bad tsunamis happen to good people. I was both pleased and, in a way, dismayed, by the fact that over seventeen years ago, I was aspiring to the same embrace of reality.
I liked what I said then. Not being able to improve much on it now, I'll share a portion of the 2005 post that most closely relates to the theme of embracing reality.
A believer in karma will consider that those affected by the tsunami are reaping the effects of actions committed in previous incarnations. So even though the ocean may seem to have meted out life and death arbitrarily, on a deeper level destiny was in control of who lived and who died, who needed rescuing and who became a rescuer.
Still, I don’t know if karma is true. In the past my belief in karma has helped me get through some difficult times, such as a car accident on the Santiam Pass where I walked away unscratched and a woman in the other car was killed. The accident wasn’t my fault, but I was one of the drivers. Why her and not me? Further, the accident wouldn’t have happened at all but for some amazingly precise timing and positioning of the two vehicles. Was this accident truly accidental, or were the five of us involved in it brought together by some unseen hand of providence?
I have no idea. I used to think that I did. But now I’m willing to admit my ignorance about the answer to the hidden “why?” that may or may not underly the obvious “why?” (ice on the road’s shoulder; rear-wheel drive; loss of traction by one tire that led to my car lunging into the other lane).
I understand the desire of religious believers to make things that happen in their lives—especially the dramatically “good” and “bad” things—part of a greater spiritual design. I’ve done this myself, a lot. I’ve found comfort in believing either that a benevolent higher power was guiding the course of my life, or (less comfortably) that whatever I’m getting I deserve, because I’ve penned destiny’s invitation in my own hand.
More and more, though, I’m inclined to just take events at their face value. The tsunami occurred because of an earthquake. People died because they lived near the ocean. Why make life more complicated or mysterious than it already is? At the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld: what we know we know, and what we don’t know we don’t know; if we think we know what we don’t know, we know less than we would if we simply don’t know.
(Actually, Socrates expressed ideas like that way before Rumsfeld, and I prefer to associate my not-knowing with a true philosopher rather than a Defense Department poseur.)
If we want comfort, I believe there is much comfort in simply accepting reality as it is. Not as we imagine it to be, or as we wish it would be, but just as it is. If what happens comes from God—great. We have accepted God’s will. If what happens comes from some other source, such as the mechanical workings of nature or man’s free will, then this also is great. We have accepted what is, regardless of how it came to be.
Whether we live just this life or many lives, life is too precious to be denied. To deny any part of life that is real is to rob ourselves of something that will never come our way again. This includes the good as well as the bad.
Eyes wide open is how I aspire to live. Seeing what is real, not seeing what isn’t. Pretty simple to say. Very hard to do.
To expand on that last thought, saying or thinking "I wish this wasn't happening to me" (or to someone else) is a statement in line with reality if that is how you really feel. But that wish presupposes a clear-eyed view of what is actually happening.
Today I was talking with a friend about how I follow Ukraine war news closely. She said, "I can't do that, because it is so disturbing."
I understand her reluctance, and I don't spend as much time reading about the atrocities being committed by Russian forces as I do reading positive stories about the bravery and skill of the Ukrainian military.
But I'm a news junkie in part because I consider it my duty to stay informed about what is happening in the world, even when the news is dismal, bleak, depressing. Job #1 is to know what's going on. Job #2 is to handle that knowledge as productively as possible.
Same applies to the news of our own life.