Saturday, April 1, 2017
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Where Consciousness Resides, suggesting that the part of us that thinks and feels abides somewhere in parallel to the part that moves and talks, and I often feel that's true. But shortly after writing that, I was taken down with the stomach flu and plunged into a couple of days of animal existence, one inseparable from the machinations of my body. There was nothing more to me than the act of purging. There was something cleansing about that experience, though, and not just in the literal, visceral sense, but also in the experience of being so much in the moment. It was not a time to plan or reflect or to allow my mind to dwell on anything apart from being. And that is the other side of this reality: that on the one hand, we do carry within us a spiritual essence whose dwelling is someplace other than the body, but that on the other hand, life also offers us intense physical experiences -- and we can seek them out-- moments when we are completely engaged in a consuming physical task and inseparable from our actions. It is deeply paradoxical that the human spirit- the thing in us that is life- is lent from elsewhere, but yet we never feel as fully alive as when we wed that spirit to the parts of ourselves that perish. Perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all- that life does not know itself fully until it engages fully with death.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Some have speculated that consciousness leaves the body when we die but I question whether consciousness has ever resided in a body. As someone who spends a lot of time observing, I am often on the sidelines of a social situation, contentedly and quietly taking in what others are doing. But I'm really more present when I am observing than when I'm engaging. It's the times when I engage the most that I am at the furthest remove, for it is at those times that I observe not only others, but also myself.
This past weekend I ran back to back semi long runs on the hills around my house. I hadn't run outside in several weeks, having opted for the treadmill through the cold. But I have run those hills hundreds of times before and still it seems impossible that it's actually me running those miles until I am a few miles in. In the hours before I start the run, I can't even imagine myself performing the task. At the end of mile 1, I can't imagine I will complete mile 5 or 7 or 9. So I just move. Clearly there is some forethought involved, or I wouldn't be able to pace myself- pacing requires an accurate balancing of how your boy feels in the moment and how it anticipates feeling an hour later in the run. But still my core seems absent from that activity and I feel present only as a pair of eyes that is absorbed in looking at the world that I am wading through and nothing else.
The same feels true when I am speaking publicly or leading a high level meeting, even presenting an argument in a case before the government. I certainly spend a lot of time in solitude preparing for those activities, and I make absolutely sure that my mind has fully wrapped itself around any issue on which I could be called upon to speak. I am always deeply prepared, and preparation requires in part that I imagine ahead to how I will present myself. But those imaginings are always images of the shape of my thoughts, not about this corporeal being that will deliver them in the form of words. I never see my legs carrying my brain around in its skull or my lips opening, my eyes scanning the audience. I can't see myself acting, ever. All I can see of myself is the inner machinations of my mind, my reflections, the organization of my thoughts.
I think that is why I write. I write because the part of me that feels real is the part that was shaping these words in my mind as I was walking around yesterday. All the other parts that carry me through the day, that carry out even the simplest tasks like fixing a cup of coffee have always been tinged with unreality to me. My life only takes on substance to me when I give it shape in solitude. I am amazed that others recognize my existence, that I have taken on challenging feats and that other people have noticed. It makes me constantly smirk to myself that other people pair the part of me that formulates thoughts with the part of me that carries them into being.
I don't live here. I am a squatter in my body and I try to be good to it because there are other souls under my care. I am certainly tied to the life that goes by my name, but even that - what we call life itself- is not all that there is. There is another place where consciousness resides. I don't know where it is, but it is not here.
Monday, January 2, 2017
The world in which a quiet tree can suddenly erupt with the surprise of a thousand wings taking flight and the one in which nature has conceived for the young to pass from a nest of bones into a bed of arms as they emerge into the world is the one into which we are born. It is also the one from which we will pass sooner than any one of us thinks. The world in which a leaf is always floating somewhere in a pool of water, wind always whistles through a forest, and animals are carving out their homes in the floor of the world is our world. It is our home, for now, and as I look toward another year of living in it, I seek only to remember this: that any way of living that distances me from my knowledge of my place in this world, that makes me forget, even, that this is the world where I live, is wrong.