The Exhilaration of a Near Death Experience

While doing fall chores the other day the ladder I was on gave way. Apparently, my weight was above the fulcrum which was the roof edge causing the foot of the ladder to begin sliding backward. I found myself on an accelerating descent. The ladder slid off the edge of the deck propelling me backwards into a reverse summer sault, my body eventually coming to rest on the ground. As I lay there on my back, I was taken with a feeling I can only describe as euphoria. Other than a few minor aches and pains, a few bruises, I found myself in a better place mentally, more upbeat, than at any time in recent memory. Given that I did not intentionally seek this sense of exaggerated well-being, I nevertheless got to thinking that the experience must be something akin to the adventures sought by adrenalin junkies, those who regularly defy fate, put themselves in situations of potentially serious danger.

The exhilaration was great to experience though it faded fairly quickly, was gone in a couple of hours, but I have no intention of re-creating the emotional high through intentional risky behavior. I’m too much of a realist and kind of old (brittle bones, you know). But If it should happen I make a bad decision while at the mercy of gravity in the future I’ll hope for a similarly favorable outcome.

Beauty in Death

I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.

Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.

What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.

Either/Or

In his masterpiece Either/Or Soren Kierkegaard contrasts the moral relativity of the aesthete ‘A’ with the clearly defined moral values of the ethicist Judge Wilhelm. ‘A’ revels in seduction, he pursues women, is attracted to the young, innocent and beautiful girl, whose total commitment he gains through devious manipulation. Then, though, once the quarry is won, interest is lost. The ethicist judge castigates ‘A’ for so shallow a behavior informing him he doesn’t understand the significance of a deep personal relationship, that love and duty to a first love produces a deep bond and a constantly renewing true aesthetic relationship.

It seems pretty clear that K. sees himself in both characters: the break-up with his once betrothed Regine on the one hand and his obsession with the moral rigidity of the pietist religion he was brought up to revere. There’s little doubt he experienced serious psychological conflict that eventually resulted in a ‘leap into the absurd’, a total embrace of Christianity.

I must admit I can’t relate to K’s situation but he does do a really good job of getting me to focus attention on my own personal existential self.

An Existential Dilemma

I’ve been reading that some people never grow up. I guess many of us live life one distraction after another, placating ourselves with momentary satisfactions while never achieving a meaningful grasp of what it means to be part of a whole pluralistic social structure. But then, coming to grips with existence is an ongoing dilemma for most of us I guess., egged on as we are into confronting the play-ground bully that is reality.

I’m thinking one explanation for our arrested development, at least in part, is a coddled existence: we take for granted not only basic needs but creature comforts that give us a sense of affluence and well-being to the extent that we question how it can be people are homeless and food insecure even though we are informed on a daily basis of human suffering throughout the world.

Well, it’s something to think about for those of us who have tended toward a little Peter Panishness on occasion. Reflection is never a bad thing.

Fact or Fiction?

I found myself, the other day, unavoidably engaged, once again, in a conversation with a close acquaintance whose conspiratorial perspectives have expanded beyond a ‘deep state’ cabal controlling the mainstream media to revisionist history (deep sigh).

I granted him that a narrative account of historical events is vulnerable to the biases of the narrator and that specifics of time and place (within limits) and the underlying motives of the actors might be considered. After all, I went on, nothing is written in stone; new knowledge arises and accounts change, but the scholarship and peer reviews of generations of researchers has a legitimacy that defies any idea of ‘deep state’ agenda. I allowed that when it comes to narrative accounts hard facts and pure fictions will be reasonably seen as not so hard and not so pure. The sources of one’s information, though, must be determined to be free of deliberate distortion. Intuitively imagining the truth of unsupported premises really must be seen for what it is.

There’s a difference, after all, between questioning the accuracy of generally accepted accounts and undermining those accounts based on intuition, dubious sources and unsupported premises.

 

 

Alternative Realities

After following the political conventions these past days (recaps being the extent of my capacity to stomach the partisan drivel) it has occurred to me, once again, that our deep philosophical divisiveness has morphed into alternate realities. The spin has turned into, at least in some cases, ‘alternative facts’. The information we receive has become not simply differing versions or interpretations of events but actual counter-facts, egregious distortions that the fact checkers, who I tend to trust, have, I suspect, been working overtime to decipher truth from fiction.  There are no excuses for those who deliberately misinform to suit their own agendas but I suspect many of us simply experience differently, which has me thinking about what exactly Truth is.

Even life versus death will have nuanced meaning for some I suppose (at least those of a spiritual bent), and like the half empty/ half full glass of water interpretation must be accounted for. As I sit here writing this, I can’t know the truth, when I finish, of where exactly I will be physically, the world turning as it is. I peer out the window at a beautiful blue sky and realize there are those whose truth upon viewing same will be something other.

So, I guess it’s only fair to assume that what I know to be truly the case will not necessarily be truth for others. I guess we’ll all just have to learn to co-exist in our alternative realities..

Unfamiliar Territory

The unsettling events of recent months that have brought us to what we are led to believe is a ‘new normal’ have provided me glimpses into unfamiliar territory. It’s not, of course, that the basic lay of the land or its population of warm-blooded inhabitants are any different than they were last year, but I find myself drifting into uncharted psychological waters.

The restrictions that we have necessarily imposed upon ourselves, cautions about travel and social gatherings, seem to have spawned new realizations, subtle perspectives: not exactly epiphanies, I suppose, but unfamiliar mental states I find to be quite interesting and pleasant. These brief insights have led me to the thought that I have lived most of my life in a limited world, a fairly tightly bounded universe.

Well, while I find it unlikely I will have any great experiential happenings in my foreseeable future I do find these occasional brief glimpses into the unknown refreshing.

Natural De-Selection

A few years ago, I made a hike into the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. The site contains fossils of pre-Cambrian life forms, many of which barely saw the light of day before fading into extinction. The most unusual of these early animals were asymmetrical, having three and sometimes five appendages, which, I suppose, might explain why these animals didn’t make it to the Cambrian era and beyond. It seems unlikely they’d have been able to compete well in a gravitational environment and it appears they were naturally de-selected in favor of the mobile superiority of bi- and quadrupedal life. I guess it will always be the case that some life forms will be naturally de-selected for an inability to adapt in a hostile and competitive world.

Given our difficulties dealing with our current dilemmas (i.e. dreaded virus, nuclear arms proliferation, political alienation, et. al.) I’m just wondering how close humanity may be getting to the top of the de-selection list.

The Unhappiest One

I seem to be drawn, these days, to readings of a distinctly foreboding nature, philosophical outlooks despairing of the human condition, views that someone of a stoic nature might see as realistic, I suppose, but for those of us who rabidly consume the news a dark psychic presence persists as a familiar companion. This even though the scientific community races to relieve us of the potential devastation of the dreaded virus, developing, as they are, a viable vaccination.

Nevertheless, here I am, reading more Kierkegaard. ‘The Unhappiest One’ is written as an address to ‘The Fellowship of Buried Lives’, a rumination on who most aptly deserves the title. The first test is whether the contestant fears death, an immediate disqualification since the unhappiest one must certainly be without hope or sense of life’s values. To further cull the dour participants the title holder must to be found unhappy in her personal memories of the past and deceived in her hope for the future by the shadow of memory (K’s words here); hers is an unhappy consciousness.

Well, I’m certainly not in the running for such a title and I suppose there is something cathartic about grasping the idea of true, deep sorrow. Still, I really need to find something to read that’s a bit more uplifting.

The Psychology of Isolation

Experiencing, as I am, the self-imposed (if not state mandated) isolation brought about by the invasion of the insidious virus, I think a lot about traveling. The desire to seek unfamiliar environs is something I’ve always known but now the desire is stronger than ever. And it appears I’m not alone in wanting to be some where else these days. I understand recreational equipment is flying off the shelves and out the doors and I know campground reservation are hard to come by. It seems there’s a strong psychological need to escape what feels a bit like viral entrapment.

I suppose a lot of our motivation to get away has to do with finding alternatives to our engrained daily routines. So much of what we’re used to doing has been interrupted: social interactions, museum visits, shopping excursions, sporting events are either no longer possibilities or complicated by the need to social distance and wear masks. Now we face a prolonged societal shut-down due to the politicization of the issue, one faction convinced on the advice of self-interested parties the danger is overblown, the other side heeding the medical communities advice to mask-up, curtail the spread.

Being free to follow one’s political intuitions does have it’s downside sometimes, I guess.