What is Life?
"The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience."
-Frank Herbert, Dune
“I fell in love, not with anything or anybody in particular but with everything.”
So, what is all of this?
What is it that we're doing here?
That's really the question, that's what you're here and I'm here to find out, to talk about. I've been rolling the question of life around in my head a lot lately, one might even say that my life has been geared towards it all along. I've been listening to George Harrison a lot again lately, and I picked up a new hardcover edition of Frank Herbert's Dune to read--the Penguin Galaxy Edition with an intro by Neil Gaiman. Which I'm very excited for, as I haven't cracked it since college, the whole year I spent there, and it is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. Some might call it dated, but I think the time period that a piece of science fiction or fantasy is written in, and the way that it ages, is all apart of the appeal. Don't fool yourself, science fiction is fantasy. I know George R.R. Martin has said as much, that science fiction and fantasy are both two sides of the same coin. I would assume that's because science fiction is at best, even the hard kind, written to pain-staking detail by an Asimov or a Clarke with backgrounds in science, a guess, a projection which could never prove one-hundred percent true when the seemingly far-flung future space of its setting finally arrives.
Though, as far as they go, Dune is probably one of the more credible ones, because it takes place so far in the future that it's totally unverifiable, and verification is moreover irrelevant. It is itself a complete product of the 60's in which it was written, which is probably why I like it so much--as Gaiman notes at length in his introduction, all science-fiction is ultimately about the time in which it is conceived. It was one of the first major works of science fiction to examine ecology and environmentalism in a serious way, and to blend traditional themes of the genre with mysticism. It was originally published in 1965, right as The Beatles were about to shift into their psychedelic phase, just a year later they would board The Yellow Submarine in Revolver, and The Doors were experiencing their beginnings in the Los Angeles nightclub scene. A band whose front-man acknowledged the inspirations of visionary and mystic poets such as Blake and Rimbaud, whose band was named after, perhaps the most famous, non-fiction work of Aldous Huxley--who was deeply influenced by esoteric and eastern thought. At a time when the youth were reexamining the society in which they lived and the values which their fathers and father's fathers had held true for so long. When eastern philosophy and religions began to seed themselves in the western imagination, and there was a mass call for civil rights and human spiritual liberation. You can tell because the original entries in the series had those cool, pulpy psychedelic 60's covers--my favorite!
And, as I've said, you can see a lot of these themes and philosophies appear in the work itself, which is unsurprising given that Frank Herbert was a lapsed Catholic who developed an interest in Zen Buddhism. And interestingly enough the first film adaptation would be directed by David Lynch, who is a very serious proponent of Transcendental Meditation--See: David Lynch Foundation. This is to say nothing of the failed adaptation of Alejandro Jodorowsky, who is an outright spiritual guru to many people--all of his films, very blatantly in many cases, attempting to expand consciousness with the usage of dream-like psychedelic imagery and occult archetypes and themes.
And, if it hasn't already been obvious in any number of my previous blog posts, my life philosophy is very much inspired by eastern religion. I suppose if I had to sum it up, I'd be a kind of Gnostic Zen Hindu Taoist or maybe some sort of abstract Pantheistic Buddhist. I tend towards a sort of transcendentalism which emphasizes love and the dissolution of the ego (the I Me Mine of ourselves, as George Harrison might have put it) in order to experience a fuller reality. Though I tend to avoid a lot of the New Age type stuff, particularly the aspects of it that feel like a self-help cult. I suppose what I strive for is a presence of mind and awareness that leaves Blake's "Doors of Perception" cleansed (the namesake for Huxley's book, making the band name a reference to a reference) and can see everything as, in his eyes, it truly is, infinite. To quote his "Auguries of Innocence":
"To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."
I think Blake touched on something very important there, and in fact in his overall philosophy. Which is the same thing that Zen Buddhism teaches in essence, that Hinduism teaches, that Taoism, in effect, tries to impart in the lines of Lao Tzu's verse, that there is only this moment. Which is true, as far as we are concerned, as three-dimensional flesh and blood organisms, there is only the present, no future, no past. Sure, the present creates the future, and the circumstances of the present are in many ways made up of the events of the past. But ultimately we have full control to perceive this eternal moment which we all exist in, right now, as anything, however positively or negatively we chose to do so. The present is not only eternal, but infinite. It is the potential of an impossible number of moments in time existing across boundless space. It is within you to do anything with this moment, and you are only limited by your state of mind. You can perceive anything in it, even heaven in a wild flower or a world in a grain of sand, and you are free to do anything with that.
This is the prime utility of art in my eyes, whether it be painting, writing, music, or photography, and that is transcendence. The ability to express a higher truth, one which can move unrestrained by the strictures of the material world, and give us some insight into the realms of the spiritual--beyond ego, beyond flesh. Which, in my mind, would be why art, or entertainment, as its known perhaps in a somewhat degraded form, has such a profound influence on us. Why it is capable of literally generating culture and serving as the basis for our most deeply held values and cherished ideals. Because it--myth, archetype, narrative--arises from stuff which is spiritual in essence, that which informs the very foundations of our being. As Joseph Campbell points out, the language of mythology and religion and storytelling, arises very much from the language of our dreams. As if our world, our civilization, our laws, our knowledge, our basic routines, were condensations of notions and states of energy from a more rarefied place beyond us, a spiritual one. And it is from this very unconscious and immaterial domain that this matter and flesh and blood comes to align itself, to be created, to be moved. Blake himself once said, "What is now proved was once only imagined."
I find meditation is a really good way to clear the slate, balance the mind and patiently await a pathway which will connect you to this truth. Truth not so much being something that you find or discover through thinking, but more an experience of a spiritual reality beyond thought itself. Some people like silence or white noise for it, usually I'll focus my efforts on a particular Hindu deity, who represents the sort of element or energy I'm reaching for, and listen to a looped recording of their mantra. I've had particularly good luck with Lord Ganesha and Krishna for instance. Ganesha being a god of communication and a remover of obstacles, and very much a patron of artists. Krishna, on the other hand, being one of the human incarnations of Vishnu and the representation of the pure spiritual light, or Atman, at the root of all existence--very much belonging to the same archetype as Christ. I don't necessarily believe in them literally, they're just useful symbols or archetypes which represent real energies, within and without us, that are accessible at any time and become very powerful when focused--such as the divine light of cosmic awareness in Christ-consciousness, or the elephant-headed god of communication who dissolves blocks in creativity or the barriers between people.
The point is, with this moment you can do absolutely anything. You can find some band-mates and put together The Doors or write Dune, you can learn to play the guitar just like George Harrison--okay, maybe not just like George Harrison, but with time and effort maybe you can be almost like George Harrison. These are just examples of course, you need to respond to your own goals and desires, trying to live someone else's life, or a life compared to another, will only lead to diminished returns in your own. There's a quote that goes something like, a flower doesn't think of competing with its neighbor, it simply blooms. So the answer to the question of one's life can only ever be relative to the eye of the beholder. So what's the answer to yours? The great equalizer of your spirit? Before even attempting to answer, I think it would be important to note that we can probably only begin with questions, and it's best if they're left open-ended and perhaps not hinged on a purely logical response. It's important to note that maybe the answer to the question of the meaning of life lays beyond questions themselves. That is to say that the only way to arrive at an answer is to diffuse the logic of questioning, of interrogative thinking itself, that respects life as an equation--the thinking that stipulates that X is true therefore Y is not or vice versa, whereas quantum physics would tell us that X and Y can both be true simultaneously. And perhaps this could be accomplished by an integration with a more spiritual, and decidedly eastern, mode of thought and understanding of the world around us.
I don't presume to have the answers, I don't presume to be even close--that would kill half the fun wouldn't it? I'm only 23 after all. But as far as what I have found to be true, in my decidedly brief experience, is that the avenues of opportunity open to those who are honest with themselves. Who find their deepest, most treasured dream, or the truth of their soul if you will, and allow it melt the ice of their illusions and let their being flow like water to the rhythm of their life. Now, I accept the possibility that what I just said sounds like a lot of fluffy Zen bullshit, but take a step back and really look at your life. How honest have you been with yourself? How many times has fear stopped you from realizing what you are? And see? Questions only lead to more questions. So take one, use it to kick off from and swim, you won't be the first and you won't be the last.
And I mean, really, if you look at life, in stark clarity, and realize that one day you were born, one day you will die, that you are host to a whole array of strange and sudden emotions and impulses, that you will love, dream, think, and move this strange machinery of flesh and bone with nothing but thoughts, you really have no other choice. This experience is just too mesmerizing, too strange and distinct. If you look at it for what it really is, even if you can't draw any answers which seem rational or logical, you cannot allow yourself to waste it.