Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Three Questions

Coming to understand something has a metaphor found in nature. As we realize comprehension of something we say it is dawning on us, in the same way the sun coming up sheds light for us to be able to see. These are two totally unrelated things, human and cosmic, and yet somehow the analogy makes sense. The external world mirrors our internal world quite naturally. It is amazing, when you stop to notice it, how many ways the universe is our mirror.

It's interesting too the way we can get things totally wrong but they still become deeply embedded in our minds and without giving them a thought we never notice they don't make sense. Take for example the idea of the sun coming up. The sun doesn't come up. The sun doesn't do anything except sit there doing what it does. It does not flit about the solar system. It does not circle the earth. What happens is the exact opposite, the solar system circles the sun. Earth spins in circles as it circles the sun, facing each section of the planet toward the sun and then away from it again, giving us the sensation of the sun coming up and going down. We're living inside a moving circle inside a moving circle, providing us with two of the most basic elements of time, a year and a day.

I wouldn't bet that many of us sit around and think much about the fact that these great external forces of the universe directly affect and infuse our lives and how much we depend on them in order to sustain life and health and even a healthy frame of mind. This they do, and in no small way. Day and night is our most basic cycle. In a detached sense, the idea of a planet spinning in a 360 degree circle doesn't mean anything in particular but to us it means a day has gone by. A day. A unit of time that begins in absolute darkness, changes to absolute light, and then back to absolute darkness. This rhythm of life is so essential to us that if it ever stopped we would die. Our crops would fail and the systems of weather and atmosphere would be profoundly changed. It would be very strange and everything about life as we know it would be different.

How many people ever stop long enough to even notice how tied into the universe we are or seem to care much about how its workings directly affect and command our lives? Watching the great out there is about much more than awe and beauty. It's about the fact that because that's out there, we are here. Without it there would be no us.

There comes a time when we each experience our own internal sunrise for the first time, we suddenly exist when we did not before. Like becoming aware in a dark cave, we cannot see anything, but we are conscious and then suddenly we realize we exist. "I am conscious". I am here. It's a mind blower, such a seemingly small thing. But no sooner do we realize that we are here, that we are conscious, do we have three questions. "Who am I?" "How did I get here?" and "Why am I here?" The essential three primordial questions are with us to this day. They have been pondered, expounded upon and argued over for millennia. Still no one has "the" absolute answers to any of them.

These are the unbearable questions, the ones that plague us and eat at us because if we don't know who we are or how we got here or why we are here, how can we know what to do? The answers feel critical to locate, but they don't seem to be out there to be found.

When we arrive, we all have those questions but the answers are not provided, at least not in any sense as tangible and observable as the sun coming up. Answers are offered, and seem to have been offered for as long as there has been mankind on this planet. But all of the answers are theories, regardless of how deeply they are believed and accepted as answers. In the midst of so many answers to choose from, the questions still exist, lingering on as they always have. This would seem to make it clear that nobody has the answers because everyone is still asking the questions. Such a basic truth, and yet the cause of so much unwillingness and inability to get along.

It's enough to kill over. That's how insecure mankind is, and why we so strongly cleave to our illusions. They comfort us. Without that comfort we would be forced to look directly at the questions and take them very seriously. We would have to come to grips with the fact that we have no answers and here we are anyway. We would have to figure out by ourselves who we are and where we are and why we are here. We would have to supply the meanings and find the truths and make the observations and do the tests ourselves. We would have to define ourselves and not be defined by outside sources. We would have to communicate and share ideas, come to agreement, shake hands and choose to either be in this together or to value other lives differently than our own. We could either be sane or insane. We could make sense or we could make no sense at all. We could make it up as we go because we're too afraid to be still long enough to experience the agony of not knowing, until the insecurity dissolved and changed to feeling okay. We are here regardless of the questions, regardless of whether we have the answers or not, and we are fine.

There are more questions than answers no matter how much we think we know. And considering how little pure, unbiased thought we give any of it, its only honest to say we don't really know much at all, beyond handfuls of glimpses and tidbits. Answers or not, the need to know is outweighed by the reality that we must eat and have shelter to stay alive. We must busy ourselves with this thing called life, carried out in repeating cycles of day and night. We live repetitive cycles of activities which become our norm. Too much variance from the norm is unsettling, we desire the normalcy of both the greater cycles and our own personal ones. It is the repetition of cycles, of circles inside circles inside circles that makes us feel secure. The quality of those cycles seems less important than the cycles themselves. The same old unsatisfying routine is preferable to time being filled up creatively without set routines. We need the security of expected outcomes too much to push the envelope for something better. We don't like change. The trouble is that when we become habituated to destructive lifestyles we stay stuck in them, and it takes gargantuan effort, a miracle, or a complete disaster to upset the routine and allow a new one to take its place. While we know all of this at some subconscious level, we pay it little mind. Even though it's possibly the most important truth we need to face, it is as irrelevant to us as the sun coming up each day. Our deep connection to the world we live in and the universe around us is forgotten in the rush of living out our routine lives.

I wonder what it was like for the earliest humans, who did not have any awareness of the simple reasons that night changed to day, to experience the sunrise. It would have been a mysterious daily event, an inexplicable occurrence that they after a while would come to think of as the most reliable thing in their world.

What would it have been like to be among the first people to see a sun rise?

Imagine being awakened from your sleep. There is nothing but blackness. You stare into the darkness until your eyes adjust, until you are able to make out the rough shapes and outlines of your surroundings. Your senses are fully engaged and you now perceive something curious, or perhaps you sense it more than see it. You are coaxed out of the rocky cold darkness of your sleeping place at the notice of some compelling, irresistible, small but detectable change in the color of the darkness around you.

Stepping out into the chilly black of night, all is dark. The black above is the same as the black below, except for the stunning vision of millions of brilliant stars spread out across the sky. They are like some illuminated web hanging there, twinkling, shooting streaks of light silently above you and the whole of it is slowly traversing the horizon as if it were going somewhere.

What is happening? You are certain the color of the darkness is different. It is changing. You stand in utter silence, nearly holding your breath, calling upon all of your senses to discern the truth. Is it changing? It is. Incrementally, indistinguishably, soundlessly, the darkness is changing. It is dissolving, or lifting, or something. All you know is that you are beginning to make out many shapes around you, things that you'll soon see as trees and mountains and plants. The darkness is changing to colors and the genesis of the change seems to be coming from over there, a spot on the horizon that stands out as brightness and light, and it begins to paint the world in colors. What is causing it? Why is it happening?

It seems to happen so slowly and yet it is happening very fast. It is almost too much to take in all at once. First there is the illuminated spot on the horizon growing brighter and larger, the sky is changing from black to red to purple to blue, and there is also an entire world coming into view, in distinct crisp detail, in colors, and sounds, with dew forming on green leaves, and amazing clouds of tiny white swirls exuding forth from your own nostrils and mouth every time you exhale. It is magic! Taking all of this in on so many levels, fully engaging the mind and the senses, allowing the emotions you feel to come on unobstructed, the curiosity, the fear, the awe and the mystery fill up the entirety of your being, as you silently stand there watching it all happen.

All at once the bright spot on the horizon lifts into the sky. The darkness you stood in only moments ago is completely gone! Everything is bathed in glorious light and color. And the spot on the horizon is a thing. It is an orb of light so powerful it lights the whole of your world! It is glowing and warm and bringing the world to life. You cannot look directly at it for too long, it is simply too bright, but you are filled with reverence for it. It is utterly amazing and instinctively you know that this bright orb, heading steadily upward and remaining above you all the day, is the reason you are alive. It is the giver of life to the world.

You wonder if it has consciousness like you do. If it is some kind of being, aware and alive. You wonder if it can see you like you can see it. It is benign and gentle and warming. It is non threatening. It brings color and light to everything. You feel you've found a friend, your friend, it belongs to you, it knows you, it is there for you. The following morning when it comes back again, you greet it with joy. Soon you are greeting it with all of your friends.

My guess is that the people back then, if this were somehow a true scenario, would develop an all out love affair with the sun. They would spend entire days together doing nothing but watching the way the sun walked across the sky and the way it eventually disappeared, letting the darkness come rushing back in like some mysterious ocean of dark and light, the sun as the land and the dark as the water. This daily cycle became one filled with meaning and mystery. More so as they paid attention in the course of passing years, making note of the seasons changing, along with the patterns of the lights in the sky at night. They saw how in the spring the baby bunnies and birds appeared and the foliage burst into blossom. They were ready to take advantage of the summers abundance, the varieties of fruits and edibles that came forth in great plenty. For them it was the best time of the year. They had enough to eat and resources to build their living places and to make their tools and dishes and clothes. With the long hours of daylight and bellies full and nothing threatening them, they had time to be creative and to think.

They would celebrate the spring and the summer, feeling compelled to do so out of gratitude, out of knowing these things were dependable and fleeting, a temporary but absolute necessity to stay alive. They would perform small gestures of giving back, leaving some food out for the sun to eat, knowing it would not be eaten but it was the thought that counted. They believed their friend in the sky would see their gratitude, their gesture of returning a favor in kind, and they hoped it would feel thanked and appreciated. Over time those gestures became rituals and those rituals were performed regularly. The children born into their world would have taken these rituals as a given, and would have joined in their performance, no doubt with full understanding of their meaning. These were not things done mindlessly.

In the grateful celebration of the end of cold hungry winters, no doubt people wanted to dance. No doubt they discovered the magic of rhythm, of beating the drums, of blowing into a hollowed out reed flute, of singing and chanting around the fire at night. This too became a ritual, albeit a more casual one. It would be fascinating to know the cumulative number of hours mankind has spent sitting around the warmth of an evening fire, cooking food and telling stories. Stories that turned into myths, scary ones, traditional ones that explained the three questions in suitable ways that matched their reality, favorite ones oft repeated, passed down to new generations. We're still doing it today, though in very small numbers and only occasionally at that; we still cook over those fires, still tell our favorite stories, still ponder the lights in the midnight sky, still sleep close to the warmth and the protection the fire gives us from the night and the animals surrounding us. Out there a meal and a night's sleep mean something, unlike today's 7 minute microwaved TV dinner in front of the 6 o'clock news, and another restless night sleep we are jarred out of in the morning in order to report to our work stations. This modern ritual is completely meaningless and totally forgettable.

Back then, they knew better than we do, that we are food as much as the next creature. Wrong place wrong time was serious business. No doubt they got very good at ensuring their safety, they figured it all out, just by knowing and observing the nature they lived in and with and on, like all other living things. They perceived themselves as a part of nature, not as something above it with nature as an afterthought or as something external that existed only for them to plunder. It's a shame that ever changed, mostly because it has changed for the absolute worst.

We are disconnected from the world that gives us life, not even comprehending what our food is or where it comes from. We would be hard pressed to live off the abundance of the land with no modern conveniences, even with the sophisticated knowledge that is available to us to learn, if we only cared to learn it. But we don't think it important enough to bother with. Nor do we think it important enough to ponder our connection to the planet we live on, that we depend on for every single thing we need to sustain us.

We have cut ourselves off from nature and treat it with contempt and disrespect. We waste it, and kill its inhabitants with an attitude of entitlement. We exist to enrich ourselves with material things. It is no longer good enough to live in balance with nature. We must accumulate more than we could ever need or want. Things that have no meaning or true value beyond being technological trinkets and symbols that rank us amongst each other. Unlike in nature where everyone is equally entitled to take what they need and want, in this society, people suffer for lack of life's necessities because these things have all been commodified.

Nature is critically essential but it is not profitable. Unnatural is profitable. Unnatural is what matters most. Unnatural is what consumes us and it is what we consume. We don't need profits and unnatural things to sustain our lives, we need the natural world, but we reject and destroy nature and believe commodities and profits are more important and more real. Very little time is given to think about any of it or what it means or where it is all headed. We no longer seek answers to the three basic questions ourselves, preferring to simply shop for a pre-made package of off the shelf answers that may or may not serve our shriveled spiritual selves. Once we make our choices we are certain we know better than the rest, regardless of what we've decided those answers are. We're no longer even capable of respecting the reality that all anyone can have is a theory. No one stops to notice how geographical location determines one's dominant belief system. We're just sure that no matter where we lived we'd still have our chosen answer system because ours is the true one. We're defying nature there too. Our attitudes are ignorant and arrogant, and we have replaced gratitude and celebration with selfish entitlement and brutality. We are at war with each other, with nature, and with the very nature of life itself. We have elevated ourselves above the sun, believing it is we who bring life to the world instead of the other way around.

Perhaps we're not that smart. Perhaps we're simply stuck in a cycle of believing we know everything, just as they did 500 years ago, and 5,000 years ago, just as we still do today, always certain we know it all. No humility. No time to waste. No time to ponder and wonder and observe. No time to be human on earth.

No one greets the sun anymore, in fact doing so would be frowned upon. To revel in nature, to be in harmony with nature, to appreciate nature is deviant behavior and probably evil. Nature must be conquered and subjugated not respected, not left alone. Nor is there much sitting around open fires at night, talking and singing songs and telling stories. That's kid stuff today, considered childish and of little value or relevance to respectable thinking adults. It's for the little ones who, in this modern version of human existence, are given irrelevancies and illusions to occupy their minds, and toxic artificial substances to eat as they grow up. Somehow we think we love them as we fill their minds with nonsense and their bodies with poison. We think TV sets replace parents well enough and that consuming products makes us real men and women. We're sicker than ever before in both body and mind, working harder and paying more for ever less. We believe that whoever dies with the most stuff wins. We're kind of retarded.

The questions in the depths of our souls are still with us. The answers we've accepted and believe have changed and evolved over time. They live along side of us, around us, mirroring back to us who we think we are at the time, where we think we are at the time and why we think we are here, according to beliefs of the time. The answers are, and have always been a mirror of how well we're doing, not a secret to be withheld from all but a chosen few. It is our own beliefs and the actions we take as a result of those beliefs that directly reflect back to us who we really are and where we are and perhaps if we really paid attention they would also make clear why we're here. Perhaps the answers are for us to decide and can be evaluated based on how we're living and where we're taking the world, ourselves and each other. But, it is easier to not have to take responsibility for ourselves, or our beliefs or our world and instead, leave such personal responsibility to someone else so that we can settle into the comfortable security of the status quo routines of the day. We may think that any answer is good enough because it provides a framework to exist in, and we may believe because there is belief consensus that our beliefs elevate us to higher and better realms, but it is crystal clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps living a life of routines is a luxury we cannot afford. It has not yet been earned.

Maybe because we no longer greet the sun when it rises, or dance around the fire on the night of the full moon, or make gestures of gratitude for our abundance, because we no longer understand our connection to nature and don't even relate to it anymore, we can't see the answers we are creating with our actions and theories and demands to be perceived as "right" by might. Perhaps we're having an orgy of idiocy, blind gluttony, obsessed with the sensations of transient personal pleasure in absolute contradiction to nature and common sense and with total disregard to everything and anything real around us. We've made ourselves the center of the universe and our personal pleasure fulfillment the reason we are here.

I don't think we've gotten it right just yet. I only hope that this current batch of morally inept pleasure seeking, material obsessed psychopaths leading us down their preferred paths of modern illusion and delusion, don't end the party for us all, making the entire exercise of humanity a wasted, pointless one. Going up in a blaze of glory is highly overrated. At least it is as I see it. I'd like to think we'll be around long enough to eventually get our answers, because we'll finally have earned them. Not contrived them, not forced them on each other with knives and bullets even while they're wrong, not by consensus or by vote, but by living them and knowing them to be true for all. We are inevitably bound to get answers, right or wrong, we can see them all around us every day in how we live our lives. What we see are things going very wrong. Doesn't it seem obvious that we will only get the right answers if we're asking the right questions?

Because of our disconnection from nature combined with our pleasure seeking arrogance and ignorance, for the first time in known history, we are running out of time. The time to ask the most important questions in the world is now. If we don't do that, or if we wait too long to begin this process, we will get the answers anyway. They just won't be the ones we've been hoping for.


  1. Anonymous12:35 PM

    A very insightful and thought provoking post, Angie.
    I’ve always gazed in wonder at a campfire in the evening with the knowledge that at one time the possession of this magical thing would have put you among the richest people on Earth at that moment. It would have seemed like you owned a piece of the sun. Wealth must have indeed been measured by the degree with which one could harmonize with and utilize the elements.
    I’m sure we would enjoy our mutual speculations regarding the three questions as opposed to those of society at large in this time of coerced “reality”.

  2. Anonymous7:39 PM

    I have long yearned for answers to all my questions. Lately I have learned that the answers change entirely too often for them to be accepted as truth. The only truths are the ones you discover for yourself.

    I've had allot more fun asking questions since then.

  3. KnowNothing-
    I think of "truth" as more like a multi-story building. Truth on the first floor is good, but truth on the second floor is also good, but different. A slight change in perspective changes what you see. The same questions I asked yesterday aren't really the same questions I'm asking today. I don't know that the answers change, our own answers, as much as the questions just get better. I'm with you though, the answers are inside, not out there.

  4. Jerry,

    Thank you for your wonderful comment. I think it would be gratifying to hunker down around the campfire with folks that come by here. Maybe that's an idea for a new kind of website.