The Bright Side of Life

I’ve been thinking about the satirical Monty Python tune ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’. The song comes to mind because I’m finding myself in quite the opposite situation lately: entertaining a dark humor. Being aware of the need to lighten up before I descend too far into the abyss, Eric Idle and the gang, always quick with dark humor of their own temper my daily diet of the news, the knowledge of world events that are consistently quite the opposite of enlightening.

Putting things into perspective, not wanting to totally abandon reality, the boys continue; ‘always look on the bright side of death’, informing us ‘we come from nothing, return to nothing, what’s lost’. And if humor doesn’t lighten one up whistling might help.

Impending Mortality

I had my last colonoscopy today: no polyps, colon nice and clean, good to go. I was beyond pleased at the announcement. Preparation for the procedure I find to be particularly unpleasant. Never having to ever again drink half a gallon of laxative in order to thoroughly cleanse my bowels and then suffering through a day of fasting is so relieving, particularly in view of the fact food is usually at the top of my daily thoughts.

So, I’ll never need the procedure again, my colon will stay healthy. Forever? The procedure being my last one ever along with an earlier assessment of my general health that led to the comment that, I would probably ‘have another twenty years’ before me sounds pretty good but the underlying implication is pretty hard to miss.

Anyway, right now I feel great and can easily live with the predicament of mortality.

A Symbol of Serenity

I purchased a Buddha the other day; a concrete yard sculpture, a fairly generic cast form, the sort of thing one finds at garden stores next to the gnomes and angels. Being concrete the buddha was pretty heavy to move, it required two workers to lift it into my van and a couple of hours sweat on my part to move it to the location near the pond in my backyard where I’d chosen to place it.

Now, as I stand back and view this sculpture situated as it is amid the verdancy of the surrounding ferns, hostas, Maple canopy and water surface it seems to emanate a significance greater than its generic origin would suggest; maybe it’s massive weight contributes psychologically to the concrete Buddha’s inflated worth, but, even so, it conveys a sense of the serene that I’m thinking will be helpful as I contemplate the big questions from the comfort of a lounge chair on my back deck.

Realizing the Sublime

The diminutive tribal people indigenous to the primal forests of equatorial Africa represent an autonomous culture able to thrive in a most prohibitive environment. Survival means understanding the flora and fauna, what’s edible and what has medicinal applications since the extremely dense jungle in which they live is rife with tropical diseases and man-eating predators. To thrive, tribal identity requires a philosophy of sanctity of group rather than individuality. To exist in such a place means finding the sublime in the terrible. They must become one with their sacred world.

Lessons to be learned here, I think, about how to nurture and support a life-providing environment.

Immortality

I’ve been reading that death, to die, wasn’t always in the evolutionary cards. Science speculates that the earliest life forms (single cell Amoeba, I’m guessing) didn’t die, that death emerged during evolution because it was advantageous to survival of the species. Over population being the problem, I suppose; a lesson to be learned considering the pressure humankind is putting on the earth’s resources these days.

Now we have big money interests pursuing the science involved in rehabilitating human cells in order to reverse the aging process with the hope of extending life indefinitely. It’s human nature, I guess, to want to postpone, even imagine the elimination of death. It all has me wondering though, how happy we’d be if we lost the uncertainty we experience as we fall into the small death of sleep, the elation of discovering in the morning we live another day.

The Limitations of Language and Memory

I’ve been thinking lately that language is a limiting and essentially inadequate means of describing experience. (As I think about this it occurs to me I’ve probably thought this very thing before; in fact, I doubt I’ve had a truly original thought anytime recently).

Anyway, language may be the only way of describing experience, but the descriptions rendered no matter the mastery one may have of the written word will fall well short of sufficiently describing the color and complexities of sensual experience.

Roland Barthes, the late French literary theorist, said that man cannot know, understand prior to developing at least a rudimentary language. I’m inclined to disagree with such an idea. It seems to me my colorful and complex sensual experiences can occur to my conscious self without interpretation; that it is unnecessary for language to supervene upon my experiences for them to actually exist. 

But, then, maybe my memory is going, I am aging after all; brain cells are being lost. Still, the visual imagery is there and doesn’t seem to require captions. I’m thinking language is over-rated. It simply is unable to account for the ineffable.

 

Transcending Reality

I guess the idea of transcending one’s reality has always been imagined by the contemplative mind. For many who seek such adventure religious engagement may provide the pathway to that other world imagined to be beyond painful relationships, workplace power struggles or battles involved in securing a bit of personal dignity, in realizing a certain respect from others.

In the past those truly committed to rise above mundane reality had been known to tax their physical health to the extreme, nearing death in order to weaken their natural self-serving propensities in favor, hopefully, of achieving enlightenment, sensing a divine Ground of Being where original virtue is realized, a state of existence where ego is lost, replaced by an inner serenity.

I do like the idea of rising above mundane reality on occasion, to find serenity, but the means to such an end would be more attractive if it didn’t involve masochism.

I Recently Discovered that My Brain is Shrinking

The science section of the Sunday paper often has an unsettling item or two, usually involving reports by researchers who have determined the dangers of various common behaviors that will likely shorten one’s life. The article that caught my attention most recently warned that alcohol consumption will shrink the brain. Researchers apparently measured brain sizes of some several hundred people and determined that as little as one drink a day will cause one’s brain not only to stop growing but to actually reduce in size.

As I think about this and being aware, as I am, of my forgetfulness as well as the consistency of my inability to come up with the word I want in a conversation, I’m led to believe the researchers may be on to something. The fact that I’ve been consuming alcohol for probably fifty years has me wondering whether dementia may be just around the corner. After all this time it probably wouldn’t make any difference if I quit my daily glass of wine or not; how much smaller could my brain get?

I guess I’ll just have to add alcohol consumption to my other life-shortening behaviors: too much coffee will give me cancer and I can expect diabetes from the sweetened sodas I drink. Such thoughts dim the brightness of the generally healthy lifestyle I see myself living. I guess the realization of life’s fragility will keep me reading such reports even though I won’t be thinking about them too long: shrinking brain, you know.

The World Without Us

There’s a lot of discussion these days about whether or not humankind is putting excessive pressure on our earth’s finite resources. Population growth, new technologies for extracting fossil fuels, depletion of forest lands, loss of clean fresh water sources, garbage in the oceans, over fishing, the list goes on and on.

I was reading an interesting commentary on what would happen to our world if humankind was suddenly to disappear, how quickly it would rebound, become healthy again. Such a scenario, human extinction that is, is not all that unthinkable in view of international tensions these days.

Such thinking made the book, The World Without us, by Alan Weisman, compelling reading. Mr. Weisman suggests that, in his believable future world, infrastructures would begin to fail, the New York subway tunnels would flood almost immediately and within a few hundred years our most solidly built brick, mortar and concrete structures would crumble. Native vegetation would push up through asphalt roadways hastening nature’s reclamation of the earth. Coral reefs and sea life would rebound as the resilient oceans healed themselves.

Even 500 years later the earth, it seems to me, would be a much more attractive place to be; except, of course, I wouldn’t be here; unless I could somehow live in the future. But, I guess that’s a whole other issue.

An Alternative Civilization

I’ve been reading about an ancient culture of copper smelters that lived in what is now Southern Israel some 3000 years ago. Archaeologists excavating the site of an ancient copper mine have determined these people developed sophisticated smelting techniques, had domesticated animals and traded for food items that originated hundreds of miles away. But other than the information deciphered from the mine site the archaeologists know nothing of these people: no village sites or even single building structures have been found in the vicinity leading to the conclusion these people must have been nomadic.

Such information has me wondering how many other ancient cultures might have existed but are undiscovered; people who might have acquired knowledge, possibly had learned truths about planet Earth that hasn’t come down to us. Maybe these unknown people learned how to live in harmony with their environment, how to nurture and be nurtured. Maybe material acquisition wasn’t important to these ancient, enlightened people who worked together to forge healthy, satisfying autonomous existences, being of the land rather than seeing the earth as a resource to be exploited. This idea has me thinking the values and beliefs we associate with an ‘innate human nature’ may be other than the linear progression of civilization which is our heritage has led us to believe them to be.

It all makes me wonder if we might have become a kinder, gentler people had we followed a different evolutionary path.