In the beginning, we are given an impulse towards life, sent off like spinning tops with an initial velocity and rotation. Like tops, the paths that we carve out through space and time are largely determined by the initial force which sets us in motion. We move along in gyroscopic equilibrium, wobbling here and there, riding out the cyclical disturbances which arise in our life due to imbalances in that first impulse, until our rotational momentum is no longer enough to keep us upright against the forces of friction and decay in the universe and we finally backspin and sputter out, meeting our end.
Our lives are dominated and characterized by motion; we are just along for the ride. Time goes on and our bodies keep respirating. We breathe and digest even if we don’t think about it. By and large, we go on living whether we want to or not. We are shackled to existence, yoked to it like an ox and plow.
Every now and then, this fact becomes overbearing. When the pain of existence seems too great to bear, we strive to shut it out. We seek oblivion.
There is nothing so sweet as the deepest sleep: no dreams, no worries, no disturbances. . . . You just shut your eyes and everything goes away, at least for a little bit. You are just conscious enough to savor your unconsciousness. This is as close as we come to experiencing death in our daily lives. When you crave the void as a respite from the pain of life, when you push out the world at large tingling and buzzing around you, you are seeking erasure. You crave annihilation. Nothingness. Oblivion.
But eventually you wake up again. Shit. Well, if blotting yourself out doesn’t work, you might turn towards certain substances which make time go by a little faster than normal, or otherwise distort your experience. If you can’t erase the world around you, at least you can forget about it for awhile. Have a beer, take a load off. Have another; get blackout drunk if you want to. If you can’t remember last night, then—in a sense—you have succeeded. The only problem is that, unless you die, you will eventually come back to reality. The world starts to slowly bleed back in. And it always will, for you are alive.
You are alive, and you will continue to be alive whether you like it or not. Death is the only alternative, and death is out of the question, since we can’t perceive it. Our life, our existence, is made up of our perceptions and our awareness. Death is the state where there is no awareness, nothing to perceive. Although we crave oblivion, we are in fact chasing a fantasy, for it is diametrically opposed to us. Death is unattainable, the lifestyle leading towards death untenable. How can you experience death, be alive in death? The notion is contradictory.
You are aware, alive, full of light and understanding, and you will continue to be until the very end. You have been imbued with the undeniable spark of life, a top set off spinning in some direction by the hand of God. Like it or not, that’s the way things are. It’s foolish to try to deny the effects that reality and motion have on you, for they are intrinsic to our existence, part and parcel. Any efforts in this vein are temporary at best. You’re only deceiving yourself!
The call to life cannot be denied. It is constant. It comes knocking at your eyelids each morning, the most insistent postman ever. It even sings to you while you sleep: a cool breeze blows through your window, and its faint sensory melody weaves itself into your dreams.
These are my three dichotomies: death and life, oblivion and awareness, ignorance and understanding. They run parallel to each other. The first is a purely physical state: a human being is either alive or dead. Existence on this level is an “atoms-in-the-void” type deal. The lightswitch is either on or off. Oblivion and awareness come into play when we infuse the physical state of life (or death) with a human awareness. This is a human’s subjective perception of reality, which exists inside of the physical state. We want oblivion, the opposite of awareness, but we can’t have it, since to have something we must be aware of it.
The third level couples the state of awareness with a human intent. These are the action items. Confronted with the fact that life is inescapable, one has two choices: ignorance or understanding. The difference lies in consent. Are you willing to accept your place in the world? We may either attempt to understand this role or try to ignore it. When we move toward oblivion (which is a fallacy), ignorance is the resultant state of being. We ignore the verity of ourselves existing in the world, the palpable electricity and excitement continuously pulling on our souls.
Our existence is damning in this way. However, if we embrace the realization that life goes on happening whether we are present or not, then we enter into the realm of the understanding. Opportunities for love appear where there seemed to be none before. Awareness moves outside of the reluctant self, the child who is immersed in a swimming pool but won’t admit that he is wet. And as the awareness encounters new things to chew on and integrate, it grows.
Learning yields an insight that lifts an individual towards godliness. Cherish this process! It is the human understanding in action. This is the answer: to dedicate ourselves towards a life of understanding.
I realized this under the influence of mushrooms earlier in the year. I had no idea what to do with myself as soon as the drugs kicked in. I was tired from working in the morning, and it was like two beasts were fighting a battle for control inside of me. I wanted to lay down and sleep, but I also wanted to shout out and exalt the trees which danced with my soul. I lagged behind the rest of the group as we weaved our way through the forest, then sprinted ahead in a tunnel of warp-speed color and exhilaration.
We came to a clearing and I laid down on my back, closing my eyes for a second. I tried to shut it all out, yet within my breast beat the insistent urge to live, to make sense, and it would not be denied. I struggled with the dirty feeling that my entire life had simply been a product of misdirected energy. I sat up and my eyes opened once again.
I voiced to my friends: “What do you think the purpose of existence is? We’re out here. We’re living this, we’re doing it.” All of my soul-wrenching questions about “the point of it all” coalesced into something more substantial, a ghost shimmering on the edge of tangibility.
It’s hovering around me, I thought. It’s close. I looked at the sun falling lower in the sky, tracing its way down to the ocean. I felt the prickles from the wild grass and weeds I was sitting on. I felt around my body again: tired eyes, quickly beating heart, sore muscles, a stomach which had ridden a roller coaster for the last three hours.
My gaze came to rest on a wildflower, a weed of some kind. I examined it from arm’s length, then plucked it to bring it closer. I noted its structure, the thorns on the stalk, the individual petals and stamens, and I visualized how all the parts would fit together, how it would reproduce and fall apart again. I understood it. That was the key I sought to the charge that I couldn’t deny: fiery, passionate application of the understanding towards all things.
The search for existential meaning is constant. Man looks for some substance to quantify his existence and set it along a linear path, hoping to make it easier. This is inevitable. And this is where our understanding comes in—for if we are to conduct this search for meaning in any seriousness, or handle the damning sentence of existence we’ve been given, we cannot limit our understanding, the process of contemplating and digesting our place in the world. Love lies in the understanding, in the attempt to comprehend—love is the acceptance of this process, the eternal movement away from ignorance and oblivion into the realms of cosmic understanding.