I’ve been revisiting the ideas of the dream/reality conundrum as depicted in the Matrix scifi stories. The dream state the films present is so intensely real, there are no give aways, no non-contextual interludes as often happens in actual dreams. The dreamer is unaware that he is physically inactive and sedated, kept alive by chemical means, he’s living a dream.
Anyway, I’ve been finding myself lately mentally wandering off, envisioning imaginary places and situations I’m pretty sure never existed or occurred. But, upon further consideration perhaps these memories are in fact reality and what I’m presently experiencing with pencil in hand is a dream.
I’m really not too concerned, though, because in either case, real or imagined, my experiences are fairly pleasant.
Fall season celebrations remind me of the deeply ingrained inclinations of people to hold onto ideas of the supernatural. I’ve been wondering if, beyond the dogmas of organized religions, do all reasonably sensitive human beings sense the existence of a presence beyond yet within the physical universe, a presence within all beings that accounts for spirit and vitality? A life-force simply unattributable to biological composition alone, an Other, without singularity, ethereal, ineffable, beyond definition?
Such an awareness, I think, might provide a useful perspective when one is experiencing the travails of daily life.
I’ve been reading about kenosis, the idea that, in order to fully embrace the natural world in all its beauty and complexity it is necessary to suppress the ego. Seems reasonable I guess: if one’s sense of self is excessive the inclination will be to subordinate, view the world as a vast department store where everything is available for the personal satisfaction of the consumer: forests, water, mineral resources, human labor is there to enrich the individual who covets it.
A strong ego may fail to recognize the presence of the Other: the aethereal essence permeating all things responsible for the beauty and complexity of the natural world. As the natural world comes increasingly under threat, in order to temper its decline an effort will be required that may exceed one’s comfortable complacence, demand actions and behaviors of uncommon strength and sacrifice. It’s not like these ideas are new: most all spiritual beliefs have embraced the sacredness of the natural world, honored the food animal sought benevolence from the Other to ensure food production.
Time to disavow our sense of anthropomorphic superiority, work to become one with the natural world.
I’ve been reading a book on Buddhist thought, lately, and have been thinking about the counter-intuitive idea that one is two. On the surface, the idea is explainable (at least to my mind) in terms of a single defined object that takes on additional meaning when juxtaposed with other things within its visual field: that an object doesn’t exist in isolation, assumes aspects, is affected by, becomes part of a chaotic whole. And the more deeply an object is studied the greater its complexity is realized, melds into the complexities around it. The idea, I guess, is to realize, get a sense of the Whole, the profound inter-relatedness of all matter.
I assume this is what meditation is about. As I sit before my concrete Buddha (the buddha near the pond in my backyard) I allow daily concerns to pass beyond my conscious awareness and instead find and embrace the Whole. Seems simple enough I guess; requires attention though.
In these divisive times of disparate beliefs and alternate realities it seems reasonable to weigh with care one’s personal offerings on subjects of controversy. Strong opinions will arise inevitably in all of us paying attention to the political narrative these days, our chosen news feeds providing us with sound bites of ‘logical’ support for our irrefutable truths. Voicing opinion may best be tempered in the interests of momentary calm, but such a stance seems rarely practiced.
I’ve been reading about the concept of Mumbo Jumbo, an adaptable personage in the traditional cultures of Central Africa. When conflicts emerge, often within the polygamous harems, Mumbo Jumbo may appear with masked face, top hat and staff to gather the community and then single out the most egregious disruptor for punishment.
I’m wondering if a similar sort of magical thought may be creeping into our thinking these days.
I’ve been reading about the reality lived by people of late-medieval Europe who were inclined to interpret the phenomena of daily existence as a struggle between the forces of good and evil. Caught, as they were, between the beginnings of a science-based understanding of the physical world and the ancient beliefs they held about the potency of the supernatural, these folks tended to lean most heavily on the latter, which unfortunately led to ill-conceived practices detrimental to their existence: bloodletting and exorcism to name just two.
Not so easy, though, to dismiss the magical thinking of those earlier times: many of us still conjure images of evil entities responsible when bad things happen. As much as we might like to think ourselves intellectually superior to our medieval forebearers it would appear their ancient beliefs still inhabit our psyches.
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.
I’ve been reading that entertainment in late medieval France involved, for many of the unlettered inhabitants’ activities and performances we today might find a bit disturbing.
The Church was always on the lookout for those among the population whose behaviors might suggest possession by the devil (or devils, I guess). Exorcisms were a popular occurrence attended by the citizenry who looked with rapt attention as devils were extricated from the possessed by various means sometimes involving holy water enemas.
Women who were known to employ magic were considered in league with the devil and so declared witches subject to burning at the stake or drowning unless she floated in which case she would be burned. Such events were another well attended attraction no doubt.
These uneducated medieval folks saw most everything in terms of the supernatural. Fear of the Devil was a significant aspect of their reality. Satanic power begets respect leading many to participate in Black Sabbaths where the Evil One was worshipped, moral abandonment the rule, promiscuity encouraged, and great fun was had by all.
I guess for the average medieval townsfolk all was not pain and hardship, entertainments were there to be had if one could avoid becoming the focus of attention.
As things began spiraling out of control she wondered if belief in God was a viable option.
Well, maybe belief was the wrong word. It seemed to her unlikely one can suddenly ‘believe’ something not believed or at least had taken to be credible at some earlier time in life. Something, some idea, introduced to her, possibly in childhood that kind of drifted along in the sub-conscious for years until some sort of existential shock brought it (the belief) to the surface and seemed suddenly to be just the things the extraordinary times required.
So maybe it was more like expedient, practical to seek and find a supernatural entity to appeal to in these dire times when her resources were strained and uncertainties about her very survival constantly pressed. She had settled, after all, as she had thought about it over the years, on an enlightened agnosticism not a hard atheism. God as a concept was elusive but not easily dismissed in totality and now seemed the time to, if not make re-acquaintance, at least allow the embedded idea to come a bit closer to the surface. There is something comforting about the idea of a benevolent overlord, protector, benefactor in these uncertain times.
I’ve been thinking lately about escape. The psychological desire to retreat to unfamiliar environs even for a couple of days is truly compelling. Months long wait lists for camper purchases and campground reservations unavailable into late fall informs me I’m not alone. The uncertainty of contracting the dreaded virus variant even after being vaccinated has led the more responsible among us to seek outdoor activities away from urban crowds.
I long for such escape realizing at the same time that the whole notion is illusory: leaving home, traveling, is at best a distraction, a means of removing oneself from one’s daily realities, a short-term reprieve at best.
Knowing this truth changes nothing. If anyone hears of a lightweight camper for sale, please let me know.