December 1, 2013

More Long and Confusing Philosophies About Reality

Note to self: increase attractiveness of post title.

There are so many things I could say, but most of them have already been said. I could ramble about all the problems I have with the modern world - problems that are all modern variations of ancient problems, already addressed by countless writers and philosophers and speakers and teachers, addressed in words more wise and elegant than those which I write here. But enough talking about what I’m not talking about. I’m here to talk about something even more ancient but less frequently discussed. I’m here to synthesize my thoughts about it into something verbal and mildly tangible and possibly – if not probably – coherent. I want to talk about the framework of reality and life and everything.

Everything: my feelings about it are confusing to myself, but perhaps I’ll understand them better when they’re staring up at me from a page. This may begin with similarities to my last post, but I want to take things in a different direction.

The things we see and touch are the same as the things everyone else sees and touches. Obviously. (Well, if we can assume reality is reality. For now, let’s do that.) No one’s perception of the things are the same though: I see a tree and think of climbing it, you see a tree and think of cutting it. Deeper than that: I see a tree and think of some hardly-remembered feeling from my childhood, you see the same tree and think of some completely different hardly-remembered feeling from your completely different childhood. Still obvious, right? Why a certain object triggers a certain memory or a certain sensation is sometimes clear and sometimes impossible to decipher.

This is where I stop speaking for everyone and start speaking for myself. Maybe this is how it is for everybody, but I haven’t found out yet. So. Same object, different perceptions. But not only is the perception different between people – it’s different for each person each time they see the object. One minute I see the tree and think of a high school football game on a cold Friday evening, with floodlights and cheering and frosty air and crowds bundled up in warm clothing. The next minute I see the tree and think of a lake in the summer, with sunlight shimmering on its ripples and boats speeding through its waters. I find that my perception completely changes the atmosphere. It’s like for each mental image that the tree causes, I’m seeing an entirely different tree. Each new perception is linked with a potent emotion. Usually those emotions are bittersweet; only occasionally do they trigger joy, and sometimes they can throw me into depression. Anyway. These shifting perceptions give my life a persistent unreality, because when reality itself is always changing forms, what do you have to define it with?

I’ll get back to that later. For now, enter stories. Part of the reason I adore stories is that – for me, at least – they force a certain atmosphere. As I re-read stories, I understand and experience them in fresh ways, but the basic atmosphere stays the same. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe feels the same now as it did when I was five. This principle applies for books, but not for movies. Movies are images and thus subject to the same laws as the things we see. But books access the imagination.

Now, before I continue, let me say that what follows is full of theorizing and uncertainty. Feel free to disagree with me; if you do, I may agree with you. What follows is a series of hypotheses and conjectures and that sort of thing.

Anyway, the point of the argument thus far: the imagination is consistent when it is imagining a certain thing. Reality is inconsistent when it is subject to perception. When is it subject to perception? Always. And what creates perception? The imagination.

Then a conflict happens. Your perception, your mentality, your imagination, does not exist outside your own head. Thus, your perception of reality – a.k.a., everything you know or ever have known – isn't real in the sense of the physical reality that we call real. For the sake of this post, I’m going to call that physical reality “real” (quotation marks included). I propose that your perception, your imagination, is more real than “reality.” Does this make reality less “real”? No, not in the sense of “reality.” “Realness” is defined by “reality,” so it’s rather circular. But real realness exists on a different plane than reality. Your soul is more real than your body.

Enter God. God is not on the same level as “reality.” He is not subject to it. An argument can say He isn't “real,” but such an argument is unconvincing, because He isn't “real” in the sense that the argument uses. He is above “real.” He is more real than “real.” God doesn't even exist on the level of our souls. He exists on an even higher level, a level so real that it doesn't deserve to be called anything near “reality.” A level that can’t be questioned, a level limited by no puny law we can throw at it from this meager plane of “reality.”

We love people more than “reality” because their souls are more real than it. When you have a conversation with someone, you aren't just conversing, you’re transcending “reality” with them, which is much more fun than transcending “reality” by yourself. Instead of being alone on a lonely plane, more real than “reality,” you are with someone else who is just as real as you are. And then you love that person, because love is more real than anything else and love is how you connect to God and God is love. We can love God more than people because He is more real than us, more real than anything, and the epitome of love.

But belief in God is unfortunately limited by our perception. We can only perceive this “reality,” and so our perception of God is part of that perception. We can’t understand anything more real than our perception of “reality,” just as a dog couldn't understand being human.

But dogs love us anyway. Dogs can’t understand the level of reality we are on, a level higher than their own, but they can be fiercely loyal, even forgetting the survivalist laws of nature. They don’t need to know the whys and hows, they just stick by your side.

Perception has caused me a lot of doubt and depression and despair, so damn perception. I want to put my faith in something more real. There has to be something realer than me, or I wouldn't want it so badly.

The levels of reality:
God > People > The Universe > Hell

All right, back to imagination and defining reality. Your imagination is a part of you, and since you are more real than “reality,” so is it. Thus, “reality” can seem pretty unreal, and you don’t have anything outside of it to define it with. I mean, really, this whole post, all this conjecture, is being formulated with the laws of “reality.” We don’t have any way to know there is something higher than us. No matter how deep you go, “reality” is still the foundation of your assumptions. It’s amazingly frustrating. You have to use “reality” as the standard to define anything more real than it.

For now, this is as far as the argument goes. It’s rough and incomplete and scattered – at least until I come across another night where I’m lying in bed mentally proving or disproving the framework of reality because I can’t get to sleep (or rather, until I can’t get to sleep). Sometimes that’s every night. Right now, my head hurts.

October 1, 2013

Glimpses

I have a constant, horrifying gut instinct rooted very deep inside of me. It is a fear – rather, a knowledge – that something is fundamentally wrong with everything. It’s much like the sensation you feel in a dream, when you can’t put your finger on what’s not right. There’s never a second when I lose this nagging confusion about the state of all things, about everything I know or have known. Part of it may be that I have depression and anxiety. But the most frustrating thing is that I can’t even explain it to myself. I've thought about reality so much that the potential for its non-reality has become completely ingrained in me.

Images floating through my mind, always shading each memory and imagination a different color, always bringing some intense longing or sadness or bittersweet joy to me. Half-remembered dreams that never happened. That feeling when you wake up in the morning, when the mood of your nightmare seeps into your life. That feeling always. Always changing.

I think the reason this world feels like a dream to me is that, in a way, it is. It’s a fragmented, screwed up, utterly perplexing, thoroughly beautiful dream. There is something fundamentally wrong with it. It is only “real” as far as our definition of “real” goes. It may be “real,” but it is also perceived, and perception is not reality.

The answer might be faith. “Faith” is a word that gets overused by Christians. People describe their whole religion as “faith.” But faith is something more specific than that. Sometimes Christians talk about how sure they are of God’s existence. For them, it’s not faith, it’s knowledge. I can’t understand that. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just can’t understand it. To me the point of faith is that you aren't sure of the outcome. Knowledge doesn't take faith – if you’re certain something is real, you don’t need faith to believe in it.

It seems most people take the reality of reality for granted. That's my problem, if it's a problem. I don't take it for granted at all. In this reality, maybe it makes sense to believe in God. In this reality, maybe you could say that you know that He exists - after all, He has visited before. But if you step back and stop taking the existence of reality for granted, faith becomes something different entirely. It's not saying "I believe this world is real and God is real." It's saying "I believe that God is real regardless of whether or not this world is real." I hate when it seems that belief in God has to be based off perception. *

That belief is the belief in a true and transcendent reality. Sometimes we catch glimpses of it, in trees or mountains or sunsets or smiles. This is a dream where we happen to be able to choose what we wake up to. Faith is about saying “When I wake up, I believe You’ll be there.”

Or maybe you choose wrong. Then you’ll have to wake up and say “Well, I’ll be damned.” **

Anyway. In that reality, perception will not exist. Those glimpses will become fiercely real. You’ll realize joy was just a glimpse. It will make sense, it will last, it will transcend. I think it will be as freeing as waking up from a bad dream.

I don’t think that that gut instinct is going to go away. I don’t think my depression is going to be leaving soon. But there are still glimpses. There are still people to exist with. And right now, there is cold October air. Maybe I should stop thinking so much and just enjoy that. 


*Apologies if my rambling about reality is confusing. I don’t think I’m very skilled at explaining it. It also might help if I fully understood it myself. 

**Further apologies. Apparently my sense of humor is going through a somewhat grim phase…

September 20, 2013

The Wanderer Must Wander On

A song. Currently a music-less song, but a song nonetheless.

                                                                                                    

His footprints can be found in a thousand different places
His eyes have gazed upon a million different faces
His name is in each guest book, but he’s never a guest for long
He leaves the place with a leisurely pace, and the band starts another song

He blows about the earth like a leaf in autumn breeze
Small and without purpose, but absolutely free
He’s not much conversation, although he has much to say
A bed for the night in the soft city light and he goes his separate way

There are aisles to be walked, there is rice to be thrown
There is cake to be eaten, there are candles to be blown
There are memories to ponder, but the mountains still stand yonder, so the wanderer must wander on

The things that he has seen are hidden deep within his gaze
His expression is the memory of countless long past days
He never collects on the debts that he is owed
Just another mile with that peaceful smile, and he’s back on the lonely road

He knows that life is fleeting, and he knows it is not fair
But he’s been walking long enough that he does not really care
He knows that he must leave soon, but he’s happy to be there
Away from the night, into the light, and into the open air

There are words to be written, there are speeches to be made
There are pictures to be taken, there is music to be played
There are memories to ponder, but the mountains still stand yonder, so the wanderer must wander on

The wanderer must wander on

August 7, 2013

The Last Brave Cry

There are a lot of tragic war ballads about heroic sacrifices. This is another one. But something about the way I was thinking about said heroic sacrifice necessitated it becoming a poem.

                                                                                                    

Outnumbered they stood and surrounded they fell
As the blades mixed with screams in an onslaught from hell
The grass painted red with the color of death
The gentle breeze carrying each dying breath

He thinks of the wife that he left back at home
And the feel of her body embraced by his own
And the lilt of her voice and the depth of her eyes
And with this he looks up to the sorrowful skies

His cry echoes brave in the valley around
To the dying who lie on the death-ridden ground
Though fading, they smile at the strength of his will
And if you listen close his cry echoes there still

“This… this is where I stand
This… this is where I die
But this, this is not your land
So look me in the eyes
When the last blade falls broken
When the last arrow flies
Then you can take it from us
But until that day arrives
Damn your bloody killing
And damn your bloody lies!”

He rushes the ranks with a sword in each hand
The blades cut their path through the men that still stand
Their flesh splits from flesh and their bone splits from bone
As the last brave man living does battle alone

His charge cannot take every foe that remains
But many are wounded and many are slain
At last an opponent strikes fierce from the back
The strike is enough to cut off his attack

The knife plunges deep and life runs from his veins
His eyes see beyond the bright mountains and plains
Then he wishes his wife could just look on him now
He has grit in his smile and blood on his brow

His cold lips still form a soft, peaceful young smile
For as he was dying he thought back a while
To when he and his brothers wished they would die well
And though he’s alone, he hears them ring his knell

His blood, which once burned for the true and the free
Runs cold in the grass that’s been cooled by the breeze
The last breath he breathes the wind blows tow’rd the north
And he’s sung to his sleep by the riv’r rushing forth
In the distance

The foes are too few when the fighting is done
Though the good men lie slaughtered, the battle is won
Those men living yet are not worthy to stand
On that blood-bought and blood-soaked and beautiful land

August 4, 2013

Constellations of Faces

My friends and I used to lie on the grass in the middle of the night and name the stars after people. We’re teenage boys, so most of the stars ended up being girls, but that’s beside the point. It’s been a while since those nights, but recently the idea of naming the stars came back to me. It came back to me in the midst of graduation parties and conversations about colleges and the realization that many of my friends are moving on. Almost all of them are older than me, so I’m kind of left behind with two more years of high school to finish.

Anyway, back to the stars. I like the idea of all those stars being named after people I know. Because no matter where you are, no matter how lonely you are, the same stars will be shining down on you, like memories burning an infinity away. You’ll meet new people and it’s likely you’ll forget about others, but either way you’ll all be jumbled together in those constellations of faces, living and smiling and crying in some kind of galactic dance.

Think of a sailor out on the open sea. The night is reflected on the waters; he’s sailing on stars. But this sailor is lost. He doesn't know how to get home. He can see all the faces waiting for him there. Maybe they can even guide him back. But either way, they are there. That’s the only thing that matters. They are there. He can always look up to the sky and see a swirl of forgotten days shining down on him.

Imagine that your life is just one night, one night with all those stars. The morning will come sooner than you think. The sun will rise, the sky will turn light, and everything in that twinkling canopy of night will fade away. This might be your only chance.

Your only chance to do what? I don’t know. But I hope you will know it when you come across it. And when you do, jump out and take hold of it and don’t let go. It might seem awkward, it might seem impossible, but it will be worth it in the end. When the sun comes up, you’ll be glad you jumped.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to get at, and I didn't write this post with the intention of presenting some kind of motivational, blatantly allegorical “live-your-life-to-the-fullest” mantra, but I think it’s something like this: pretend like all you've got is that one night. This is your only chance to name new stars. This is your only chance to remember old ones. Just stop messing around and go for it. No matter what happens, the sun will still arrive on time.