Come with me to the forgotten lake
Where covered wagons and the wings of missing planes
Float between black fish underneath the velvet waves
Strange lights fly across the rocky beach
Girls in white nightgowns wander barefoot in their sleep
And the vapors of dreams winding circles 'round their feet
Float them down
Let the waters float them down
To where they'll remember everything
- The Handsome Family, Forgotten Lake
* * *
Roberto Mangabeira Unger tells me we are mummies, bound by ever tightening roles as we age, where no freedom of movement is possible because the pressures brought to bear by institutions and societal expectations freeze us in time, embalm us to our supposed character. Here, character is defined as the habits that remain after a lifetime of fulfilling the expectations of others - both individuals and the society we happen to be in.
He is not wrong.
We do this because the dominant way of thinking and acting over the past 200 years (though born 2000 years ago with Near Eastern monotheisms) is based on a religious premise that we can ascend to a more perfect life after death and that life, the one we have in our hands, points in one direction and has a specific destination. Whether you are a believer or not, this mode of thought dominates the times we live in and is expressed profanely in commerce and baths the wars we wage in religious light.
And what does this have to do with you, bubbe?
* * *
The pain we feel, as individuals, is the distance between expectation and reality. We expect to outlive our children; we expect our parents to protect and understand us; we expect the love we feel to be returned to us in kind; we expect our work to be fruitful; we expect fairness, equity, justice, but nowhere is it found. Instead we are taught the horrific lesson that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, or worse, that God does not give us anything we cannot handle. Really? Has anyone asked the thousands dead and dying from Ebola, AIDS, H1N1? The families destroyed in the Great Recession? To imagine that God doles out misery is to believe in a miserable God and is one of the ways your mummy wrappings tighten and tighten and tighten.
1 Corinthians 13: 11
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I
thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
It is time to be done with childish things. Like the fairy tale that God is a spiteful fuck. We think that because we are spiteful fucks. We seek reasons and order and justification for the suffering our jelly bag bodies are prone to and so we have created God in our image: alone and afraid. This is the heartroot deep of the McWorld we live in. Old Testament wrath colors what we can even imagine about how to live.
But like I said, enough.
There are other ways of being. And this isn't just a New Age bullshit flip to some deeper Eastern mysticism. That's as much crap as anything else. It just another system. We don't need another system, another institution, another doctrine with adherents and followers and believers and executioners. We need freedom. Spiritual freedom: the vapors of dreams winding circles 'round our feet.
Listen, you know who you are. If you're fucked it is because you've been forgetting. Who you are is simple, direct and unfathomable: you are alive. There is no further destination. You are the destination. Your circumstances are the results of hundreds of years of people before you choosing to organize their lives according to this precept that life is to be perfected on a further shore. I will argue that is wrong on its face. What if life, your life, right now, was perfected simply because you breathe? Or, to refine it a bit, your life was perfected because you chose to pay more attention to the dreams that animate you and not the demands of institutions you find yourself living in.
No individual can succeed alone. The institutions and societal impulses are a reflection of the people who participate in them. If you can remember yourself, if you can see the strange lights fly, if you can remember everything about yourself and act from that well of knowledge then you will be the revolution itself. This is a spiritual revolution and if it only reaches as far as your front door, then that will be enough. You and I will not live long enough to see our society changed, but we can see the society of our family, our friends changed by our willingness to act as we are: creatures perfected by the life we live. Doing so we are bound not by forced expectation, but by love, charity, patience and courage.
* * *
Human life is no better than any other form of life. Part of the fairy tale is that we are to have dominion over the world. But that, too, is a toxic premise. All life is equally life. William Blake tells me for everything that lives is holy. He is not wrong. Here is why: we die. We perish. We pass away. The time to live is now. The comfort that can be offered is now, the passion lived is now, the joy, the regret, the suffering, the forgiveness, the birthcry of life at its term is now.
You know this already.
You've just been forgetting.
It is time to remember everything.
* * *