bullshit

‘On “Spirituality” and “Metaphysics”’ (Video Transcript & Expansion)

LOGOS II (SoundCloud / YouTube)


“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

—Aristotle

~

Here is my second video transcript and expansion (VT&E), this time on the use of the phrases “spirituality” and “metaphysics,” and regarding phraseology in talking about the “inner life” more generally. (THIS is the video, part two of the LOGOS series of videos that I am slowly (but surely) putting online.)

crowley

Aleister Crowley. (Source unknown.)

So, “once more unto the breech…”:

“So, today I kind of wanted to talk about… spirituality. You know: what does that mean? You know, what annoys me is that… I dunno… I guess I think of myself as [something of a] spiritual person. No—I definitely think of myself as a spiritual person, but, I don’t feel the need to define  what that means, exactly… because I feel like “spirituality” is kind of, in and of itself, a bit of a nebulous phrase. Kind of like the word “art,” for instance, you know? Like, if you talk about art to somebody they’re gonna know, like, what you’re talking about. [I mean] it’s art. They’d know what art is. But, when you really ask them to get into the nitty gritty and define it, it becomes… it becomes kind of vague, doesn’t it? And, so, I think spirituality, like art,  is similar in this way. I think because especially it’s something that’s kind of, not necessarily fundamental… but… well, perhaps fundamental to human experience—it’s hard to define. What annoys me is that you have people… [Well] you know, when you hear the word “spirituality” nowadays you might think of, you know, what a lot of people are touting as spirituality, which is kind of a—a “spirituality”—which is kind of a New Agey agglomeration of ideas… I guess that kind of were imported from eastern philosophies [maybe] mixed with paganism and whatever else someone’s focused on. It’s… usually “woo-woo.” You know that phrase? Michael Shermer uses it a lot: “woo-woo.” It’s bullshit… And I’m not necessarily saying that all of it’s bullshit. I don’t think we completely understand the nature of these things. But, a lot of people who say that they’re “spiritual” kind of dive head in—or, you know, head first—into a lot of BS, without really taking the time to really (sic) think about what that means, or what the word “spirituality” means, and what they’re really practicing and thinking about. Like… I’m not saying that I completely deny the possibility that maybe, you know, there’s such a thing or there’s something in the body that’s analogous to [say] chakras, but when you say you’re a spiritual person and therefore you believe in chakras or crystal healing or whatever… it’s (sic) not really [representative of] what spirituality is. I mean, if I were (sic) an artist, or if I said that I was an artist—rather—and I just said, “Well, I like Dalí, I like Picasso, I like Rembrandt—so that makes me an artist!” … that sounds… that doesn’t [really] make you an artist. That’s really doesn’t (sic)… really isn’t what it means to be an artist… if you like a particular thing, or you pursue a particular thing, even. Art, again, is kind of one of those nebulous phrases. And, in any case, I think that the word “spirituality” has just been co-opted by, I guess, the New Age community to mean something that it really doesn’t. And I think that’s problematic, because spirituality is such a beautiful thing. I mean, to me—I don’t really like to define it—but, it’s something, like I said, that, in a way, is fundamental to the human experience. It’s an experience of something greater. And you don’t really… need to go much beyond that, you know, [or] really say what that “greater” thing is. Sometimes there is an experience—I would almost say like a transcendental experience—of the wholeness of the world and one’s place in it, and I would say that that’s spiritual in some sense. But, of course, you have all these phrases that, you know, you get mixed in there: You say, “OK, that’s a mystical experience… it’s [a] transcendental experience, an ecstatic experience, a religious experience…” But, then again, ecstasy and religion and mysticism are not necessarily spirituality… Now, another phrase that gets co-opted like this is “metaphysics.” You know, you have people who say, you know, they’re into “metaphysics”—so [of course] that means they subscribe to Spirit Science, or whatever that page is. But, I mean, “metaphysics” is a much broader term that kind of refers to a discipline in philosophy. And, when I think of metaphysics—at least—I think of, you know, the work of various philosophers: You know, I think of Spinoza’s metaphysics, or Hegel’s metaphysics, or something of that nature. I don’t think of levitation from yogis and shit like that. Even though the word “metaphysics” literally means “beyond physics,” it’s not the same as—again, here’s another phrase—”supernatural,” [or] what’s supernatural. “Supernatural” is not necessarily “metaphysical.” There’s overlap among these phrases: “mysticism,” “religion,” “philosophy,” “metaphysics,” “spirituality,” “transcendental experience.” These words and phrases—there’s overlap—but, we should be careful not to say they mean something that they don’t, or, rather, that they mean something specific when they’re really meant to be more broad than the way we talk about them in normal discourse… Because, I was actually having, I guess, a kind of debate here on YouTube, on a video—I can’t remember what it was—but I was talking to, you know, one of these hardcore atheist types, who’s like, you know, “fuck religion,” and all that. But, you know, I was saying, you know, “even if you’re not religious, spirituality can be important to you.” And, certainly, I’ve met a lot of people who would say that: [that] they’re spiritual but not necessarily religious. But, this guy just kind of wanted to, you know, bust my balls over this and insist that spirituality doesn’t exist.  In the same way that he thought [that] religion was a lie, [that] religion was bullshit, he’s like, “spirituality is bullshit.” That’s like saying art is bullshit. I mean, what is there to be bullshit about it? It can’t be bullshit, because it’s just not… it’s not something that’s trying to be true or untrue, it’s just experiential, and in some ways it’s intuitive… isn’t it? I dunno. But, I think we should be careful when we conflate these phrases or say that,”this is this,” or, “this is that.” There is overlap. That doesn’t mean that one is the same thing as the other…”

~

SOME CLARIFICATIONS AND CORRECTIONS:

  • Spirit Science is the clickbait Facebook handle of The Spirit Science, a website to which no subscription is required in order to access its content.
  • My contention with chakras does not so much boil down to whether they exist or not (I think that, like many things of this nature, they work better as psychological tools, and really I doubt that there will ever be any real, tangible evidence for the existence of something very analogous to them within the body), but rather how they represent the credulity of those who delve into popular/trendy “spirituality.” (i.e. New Age eclecticism, gullibility, and ill-defined/wishy-washy/feel-good superstition loaded with “deep” buzzwords.) In short, I’m using them as an example here.
  • The analogy I made with art and artists is admittedly a bad one. I think that my point still stands, however.
  • Michael Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine, Skeptic. While I think that his use of the term “woo” (or “woo-woo”) is often sensible—and, for the purposes of the video/transcript, useful—he is a bit hard-line for my liking, standing in line with the more uncompromising “scientific/hard-evidence-based-everything” philosophy types. (I’m hesitant to throw this phrase around—as New Age folks themselves often abuse it—but “scientism” comes to mind.)

This video was done impromptu, so if I’m lacking good articulation in either the video or this transcription, I ask you to be forgiving.

~

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

I think of myself as a philosophically eclectic person. By that I mean that there are fundamental ideas that come from, say, existentialism, that I hold as sensible, while—at the same time—I also subscribe (to another degree) to something like (or parts of) pragmatism, and/or evidentialism, and/or Hegelianism, and/or Nietzschean affirmation, and so forth. There are concepts put forward by Schopenhauer, Kant, Hume, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Zeno of Citium, Epicurus, Sartre, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Camus, Kierkegaard, Diogenes, Lyotard, etc., etc., that I agree with. And I don’t find conflict between these numerous ideas—they are not mutually exclusive, and the philosophers in question are never completely (on all points possible) opposed—and neither do I find conflict in the ideas (those that I accept) that come from, say, religious philosophy, in particular. To name some sources: Aleister Crowley (Thelema, Western esotericism), Laozi (Taoism), Jesus (Christianity), Confucius (Confucianism, Chinese philosophy), Buddha (Buddhism), Nagarjuna (Mahayana Buddhism), Augustine (Christianity), Adi Shankara (Vedantic Hinduism), Dogen (Zen Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism), Tilopa (Vajrayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism), Hermes Trismegistus (Hermeticism, Western esotericism), yada yada.

I make a point of distinguishing those ideas which I accept, so as to show that someone can entertain an idea without taking it as an irrevocable fact. I take this dichotomy from Aristotle, particularly his saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” All day long I juggle with ideas: I test them out, try them on for size, and if they don’t “work” I leave them as they are. I may pick them up later. I may not. But the point here is that ideas are, generally speaking, provisional. That’s not to say there’s no “truth” to an idea one accepts, but that implicit in accepting an idea there is a usefulness to that acceptance. The idea becomes a tool. Thus, philosophies, religions, paradigms, worldviews—whatever—become tools for personal use; most readily, it often seems, to organize the contents of consciousness or patterns observed in the world or, in the case of spiritually-, existentially-, or mystically-directed paradigms, to foster the acquisition of a proposed “Absolute,” or “Ultimate,” etc.

So, in the realm of ideas, some may have more veracity than others, but, in any case, there is a usefulness there. People tend to get lost in ideas. I am no exception. But there’s also got to be the ability to “pull back from the brink,” as they say, and say to oneself, “wait a minute, does that really make sense? Is there any way in which that could be sensible? If so, how?” In the pursuit of that which is mysterious, skepticism is not only helpful, but essential. I should mention that, along these lines, I admire the motto of Aleister Crowley’s magickal order, the A∴A∴ (a Thelemic organization): “The method of science, the aim of religion.”

What a beautiful and challenging aim it is! And what an excellent method! (Though some have questioned the Thelemic tradition’s commitment to empirical scientific fact, as a religion (or magickal/occult system, or religious philosophy, etc. (Thelema is, in this way, like Buddhism, hard to pin down) its adherents often retain a kind of robust skepticism and pragmatic sensibility that I haven’t encountered among other groups. But this may merely be a personal, and superficial, impression, anyway, as people differ in their beliefs so much on an individual level.)

Anyway, I’m going off topic.

My point is ultimately this: “Spirituality” is a word both as meaningful and beautiful, and yet undefinable, as “art.” By using the phrase to signify something superficial, we devalue it. We are taking that broad, amorphous realm which embodies the sense of awe, reverence, beauty, wonder, and sacredness that human beings have for all the grandeur and minutia of the world, and bringing it down to the level of a commodity. When we begin to have “spiritual supply stores” selling candles and doo-dads, or when we deem talismans, crystals, and bottles of “fairy dust” to be spiritual, we damn something that is at the very core of the human experience.

Similarly, “metaphysics” represents perhaps the most wondrous and penetrative branch of human thought. Metaphysics is at the very core of philosophy (some would say epistemology, but that’s beside the point), and is the attempt by conscious beings to tap into the untold center of themselves and their world. It is a noble goal, and one that is bastardized by thoughtless associations with illogical balderdash. So, I propose we separate the words “spirituality” and “metaphysics” from “superstition,” “supernatural,” “paranormal,” and so forth. I say that serious “seekers” ought to understand both the overlap and the differences, the divide between genuine philosophy and the commercialization of watered down religious traditions, imported from far-away lands or semi-secretive orders at the behest of materialistic Westerners looking for some zest in life beyond the confines Netflix, Starbucks, iPhones, and People magazine. But this has all been said before, in one way or another, hasn’t it? And many times! In the end, bickering and bitching, saying and proclaiming get us nowhere.

Despite my love of writing, I will be the first to say that words will always ill-represent their ultimate, underlying reality, and direct experience—that mysterious conduit of all spirituality—remains in the silence. As that long dead mystic said, “Of all the Magical and Mystical Virtues, of all the Graces of the Soul, of all the Attainments of the Spirit, none has been so misunderstood, even when at all apprehended, as Silence.” It is astride our experiences that we build our knowledge, and we best do so with as much honesty and evidence as possible. One needn’t abandon reason in order to attain the heights of spiritual fulfillment, or be credulous to do the work of the mystics. Well, what is that work? I myself don’t really rightly know, but, in any case, why not approach our truest happiness and greatest potentials with an eye for the truth and a mind that entertains, without accepting?


» Check out the LOGOS! podcast on Soundcloud and the video series version on YouTube.

logos

Advertisements

My Fucking Town

gazebo

I did some finagling with a photo found on Trulia. This is the iconic gazebo in the heart of downtown bumfuck, CT.

NOTE: This post is intended to be somewhat satirical. (“Quasi-satirical?”) However, some genuine frustration is expressed here, and, while my choice of words may be a bit abrasive to those whom the subject is a personal matter (i.e. Nutmeggers), please try to understand that this isn’t intended to offend or come off as “whiny,” so much as provide some perspective on being broke in a small town. As the post concludes (at the conclusion, naturally), New Milford isn’t an outright hell-hole, although for the sake of emphasis it may be treated that way. Yes, life could be much, much worse, and I’m not promoting ingratitude here.

(March 1, 2016)

I live in porcelain white Limbo. I’m shacked up with my folks, broke—no car, no nothin’. Connecticut. The cost of living is through the roof, the liquor stores close at 9 and diners stop serving liquor after 10. The bars sell up-charged, watered-down bunk. What am I saying? I don’t even got to bars. I can’t afford that. A Steely is my pride and joy… or a splash of shitty vodka, if I’m lucky. No. I barely ever make it to the package store.

I’m 23. I say to myself, “you should’ve been in grad school, or half way around the world by now. You should have a car, and an apartment. You should be dating, and doing shit. You should…” yada yada. So I sit at home and sleep and then I write about it.

It’s not all bad though. Really. And precisely because this is porcelain white quasi-suburban bullshit-land. I mean, those basic amenities are our blessings, right? I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a laptop from which I can communicate to you everything from Paganini to the heat death of the universe. I live in the country with the most disposable income of any developed nation, with the highest GDP per capita. I live in a nation that enjoys all these fruits in a way that it totally unsustainable, and which will eventually crash and burn under the weight of its pollution, over-consumption, and unsustainability, should dramatic actions not be taken. But we have to enjoy the moment, as they say. I’m sort of a curmudgeon, but I try to, anyway.

Let me complain a little:

I live in New Milford. I’ve lived here since 2001, when I moved from Austin, Texas. This town is basically a series of Dunkin’ Donuts and strip malls that opened up along U.S. routes 7 and 202, snaking along the Housatonic. There are auto bodies and a few car dealerships, industrial parks and convenience stores, condo complexes and old white churches with weather vanes or crosses on top.

Roger Sherman once lived here. I’m sure he thought it sucked, too. Anyway, his house is now town hall. There were a few movies filmed here, including that old Adam Sandler bit, Mr. Deeds. Indigenous Weantinock used to live here. I’m sure they enjoyed fishing in the Housatonic long before it became the river Styx. I’m sure they enjoyed the deciduous woodlands long before they were all chopped to shit and replaced with Walmart, Kohl’s, Verizon, and every other boring big box mart.

The demographic makeup of this town seems to mostly consist of pasty white soccer moms. They like to barrel down Rt. 7 in their minivans. Their kids have iPads and think they’re either living in Compton or an underground vampire lair. As you make your way toward Gaylordsville, a little “borough” of the town, you will notice a sharp increase in the number of rednecks, as well as old Methodists. (Throw in a few Catholics, Baptists, and one or two Jews for good measure.) A lot of these people wear plaid button-downs, tucked into their plain jeans. They peruse antique shops and thrift stores and the million fast food places that line the pot-holed streets.

There are no sidewalks to speak of. (Unless you’re downtown, of course.) If, like me, you don’t have a car, this is a living nightmare. I have to play Frogger—crossing four lanes of death—every time I want to buy cigarettes or a soda. If I walk along the back roads I have to make sure to balance myself along a two inch dividing line, a thin margin separating me from sixteen-wheeled hell freighters and farting Chevies.

Did I mention the rednecks? Despite being this far north of Dixie, you see a lot of pickup trucks, some of which are even audaciously adorned with the Confederate flag. The people who command these vehicles are known for tossing empty tins of Copenhagen and cans of Busch Light out their windows. This is part of the reason why we have a thick layer of trash built up along the roads. (I also see—in my many aimless walking excursions—empty bottles of Crown Royal and Sutter Home and little nippers. The other day I found a socket wrench, a saw, and a pair of pants. But I’m meandering, anyway.) They also seem to be the ones most likely to blurt out “faggot!” or some other obscenity, or blare their car horns, as they pass you down the highway when, say, you’re walking home from one of a thousand diners.

The diners, though… I always end up at diners. Not sure how. I just find myself in places like Three Brothers, Windmill, Johana’s, Theo’s—all these fuckin’ diners. And if it’s not in this town it’s in every one of its satellite settlements. Especially Danbury, which is a separate beast altogether.

Don’t get me wrong… I love diners. (Especially when they serve endless coffee for $1.25.) I just get bad déjà vu. Veggie burgers, home fries, spanikopita, challah, little metal pitchers filled with milk, the waitresses that call you “sweetie…” I dunno.

We have five (FIVE!) Dunkin’ Donuts in this town. If that doesn’t portend the apocalypse, I don’t know what does.

We’ve got a million copies of the same bank, always seemingly within spitting distance of each other. There are tattoo parlors and fast food places and stores that sell upholstery and furniture and clothes and a bunch of other boring stuff. It’s really just too much, the monotony of running up and down the same bullshit stretch of road, seeing the same pizzerias, the same bridges, the same empty and overgrown lots, the same nasty creeks… sprinkled with trash.

Downtown—the green and its surrounding “historic village”—is the main attraction, and draws in the majority of the tourists. (Though why you’d want to explore Limbo rather than, say, New York City (maybe an hour-ish away) or New Haven, is beyond me.) We have a stupid green and white gazebo that acts as a kind of symbol for the town. (It’s on our town flag—equally as pitiful.) I remember sitting in there a number of times, once looking over a graffito which read something like “I FUCKED HER HERE!”

Bank Street—so named for the large bank building on its corner—is prime real estate here. Every several months a business seems to close down on Bank Street, presumably unable to keep up with the cost. Some have staid for years: Archway News and Tobacco, the Bank Street Coffee House, a novelty/gag shop, the iconic Bank Street Theater ($5 for movies on Tuesdays) and a health food/organic grocer. But these are the minority. Most businesses on or around Bank Street close up as soon as they open. We’ve had a comic book shop (the owner was flaky?), a music shop, bars (too expensive, and the drunks were loud), furniture stores, clothing boutiques, and a Tex-Mex restaurant (wasn’t that great, anyway) go south.

I used to work at one of the Dunkin’ Donuts around here. It was one of those you see built into the corner of a gas station. Working with four other people on shift, confined to a hundred square foot space, is basically a nightmare. Especially for minimum wage.

Despite shitty customers (and let’s be honest—customer service is basically always taxing), there was some comic relief. Among the throngs of homeless nut jobs who wander the town green, one guy, who calls himself Ed (though he used to say his name was Matt…) would come in and talk to me about the most absurd shit, all while I pumped crappy coffee full of caramel syrup. He didn’t care. He’d lean his big arm on the sticky counter and just start yapping. One time he brought in a plastic bag full of maple seeds. He showed them to me and said, “hey, you see these apple seeds?” I told him they were maple seeds, a statement which he just outright denied, and then he told me something along the lines of, “man, I’m Johnny Appleseed. I’m going to plant these things all over the country.”

“Fair enough,” I told him.

He also once expressed to me that he owned a gold mine, one which so happened to be behind the very Dunkin’ Donuts that I worked at. Or so he said, at least. Funny. I never saw a gold mine. Just a parking lot, a creek, and some crumpled newspapers.

There are a few other nutty homeless people who travel to and fro, from Danbury to New Milford and vice versa. The HART bus (local public transit) is their drunk tank, as it is mine. (Sans drunk… for now, at least.) You see ’em hobbling around the streets, smoking, and just talking. Thankfully they don’t really beg much around here. They just file in and out of the tobacco shop.

When I volunteered at the local soup kitchen I’d encounter some of these characters. One was named Paul. A decent guy. Rumor was that he was a Harvard graduate. Used to ride a bike and smoke a little cherry wood pipe. He died of a heart condition not long ago.

Another was Dougie, or “Banjo Man,” who used to walk around drunk in the middle of the night, singing wildly and strumming his banjo. Once, he came into the soup kitchen asking for extra bagged lunches. (We gave out bagged lunches for later consumption, but the policy was to limit them to one per person per day.) He demanded more lunches in order to feed his “three-headed dogs,” which he supposedly lived with behind the local supermarket. There are, in fact, some bums who camp out there (or who at least used to), but I have my doubts about mutant canines.

Teenagers have nothing much to do here, seeing as this town is basically an open-air coffin anyway. Well, they have a skate park. And a baseball field. And a rowing team and parking lots to stand around it. And we’ve got the Maxx—the name itself makes me cringe—the “teen center” which miserably fails in its job of keeping kids out of trouble. If there were any drug deals going on while I was still in high school, it was always in the parking lot of the Maxx. Strangely enough, there always seemed to be a security guard walking around, though I guess he just didn’t give a shit, or didn’t notice.

There are these obnoxious bikers that fart their way up and down the road, often stopping at one of the trillion Dunkin’ Donuts to hang out in the parking lot for hours on end. Seems that’s what a lot of people do here: stand in parking lots. Unless you’re rich, in which case you probably have a house on Candlewood Lake, and your own pontoon boat, and can take lavish excursions to who-the-fuck-knows. Maybe Tahiti or Barbados or London or Mongolia…

We’ve got gas stations. And a few tattoo parlors. And a frozen yogurt bar. And a library. And golf courses/country clubs. We’ve got little hiking trails and ponds and the lake and some streams. We’ve got people kicking the dirt and picking at their food, drinking coffee and playing pool. We’ve got a few farms for pumpkin-picking and corn mazes, during the fall, of course. They’ve got cows. And the cows have got sheep. And the sheep have chickens. And the chickens have the earth.

Rolling hills. It’s all the rolling hills of Litchfield fuckin’ County. The “green wave” of the local high school. The mascot of which looks like a cracked-out version of Gumby… And we’ve got our fair share of parks and trails: Clatter Valley, Lover’s Leap, Dyke’s Point, the Still River Trail, and so forth. We’ve also got a tiny cave, called Tory’s Cave, which I’ve passed by, but have never been inside of. I hear that a British soldier once hid out there, during the Revolution. I also hear it’s a tight squeeze.

Beneath and along the bridges are graffiti etched out of the rust and painted over the steel. Beneath the big, red bridge on Lover’s Leap are some curious symbols suggesting the sigil of Lucifer, or the inverted pentagram, or just edgy-as-fuck teenagers getting stoned in the woods.

We’ve got mowed lawns and divided highways, back roads and abandoned lots (did I already mention that?), a psychic and a bunch of old, Victorian (-ish?) buildings converted into law offices and insurance agencies. We have a basketball court, a tennis court, gyms, a few marinas for the lake-side yuppies, and a factory or so… I don’t know whether they ever shut down the old Nestlé plant. All I know is that one day it just stopped smelling. I mean, for some reason, when it rained, the whole town would start stinking like urine and beef bouillon. I recall it less than fondly—having to stand there in the foggy morning, waiting on the school bus, wanting to puke.

We have little bits of swampland, criss-crossed with roads and bridges. Some of those bridges and passes are dilapidated, some drenched in spray paint, some overgrown with Japanese knotweed or goldenrod or wild mustard.

All in all, I guess it’s not such a bad town. If you’re rich enough, you can leave whenever you want. For myself, travelling three towns away is a serious ordeal. But that is also a product of my own laziness, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Ah well. C’est la vie.

We Are Not Alone

fuck

(Source unknown.)

Ryan doesn’t seem a terribly common name, even if it is unisex. So few people know Ryans—at least around Podunkville, Connecticut—that when I tell them my name they have to do a double-, triple-, or even quadruple-take, attempting to correct themselves.

“Brian?” They’ll ask.

“No, Ryan.”

“B-b-BRIAN? You said Brian?”

RY-an. RRRRy-an. Ryan.”

“With a “B”?”

… Anyway, that’s sort of how introductions tend to go for me. It doesn’t peeve me anymore, really. Now it’s just funny. I fully expect to be, and indeed I am, known as Brian to at least a few people. Primarily a co-worker from Peru.

Have you ever been tempted to go online and look up your name? It’s a strange feeling. Next time you do decide to Google yourself, put your name in quotes (of course). I would then highly recommend clicking the “Images” tab—what pops up can be anything from stiflingly boring, absolutely hilarious, mortifying, depressing, or outright shocking.

The fact is that we aren’t alone with our names. Names, those things that encapsulate us as individual beings… you’d think there would be some inherent sacredness about them. No. Sorry. They’re nearly omnipresent, at least for the majority of us.

Imagine my surprise when I found out just how close to “Jon Doe” “Ryan Stewart” is:

Apparently I’m mostly a sports person, which seems odd, since in this particular incarnation sports are the furthest thing from my mind. But there it is—I’m a footballer, a footballer (“soccer”—doing my best to be culturally sensitive), I’m in the NHL, and I’m at least several tall black dudes who shoot hoops for the Detroit Lions and the Long Beach City College Vikings (what a mouthful), among other ball-handling associations.

I also have the pleasure of being a tech-savvy manager for some fancy Adobe software, as well as a Canadian songwriter. Yes, I’m Canadian. (Two of them, at least.) I’m also from Trinidad, interestingly enough. (I’m admittedly a little envious of this other Ryan Stewart. Trinidad sounds pretty damn good, especially with the ass-kicking (I mean that in a bad, bad way) winters we get here.)

So maybe I’m one of a few million people with Gaelic to their name. So what?

Considering this, I began crediting myself as “Ryan V. Stewart” in my blogs and such. There’s no way that anyone else could possibly be a “Ryan V. Stewart”, right?

Wrong again. But only by a hair: There are two—two—Ryan V. Stewarts other than myself. (Well, that’s what Google can detect with its wizardry, in any case.) Apparently one of them lives in Illinois, and the other one was arrested in Philadelphia for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

As intimidating as heroin dealers might be, I have to admit that, after finding this out, I had a little bit of a romanticized, albeit sort of morbid, wish to meet this guy. He’s what? Two, maybe three hours from me? Pennsylvania isn’t so far from yuppie-nutmeg-country. It would have been pretty jaw-dropping to meet another Ryan V. Stewart, much less a Ryan Stewart at all.

It was my intention, as an aspiring writer—of sorts—to quite literally make a name for myself, one that would stand out amid the crowd, the sea of John Does, John Smiths, Sarahs and Ashleys and Chads and Joes. What will I do now? I can’t really use my full name. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue too well. “Ryan Vincent Stewart” doesn’t have the same ring as “John Stuart Mill” or “John Lee Hooker”.

And you know what? It wouldn’t matter anyway. Because, apparently, there’s a Ryan Vincent Stewart in West Unity, Ohio.

Now what lightens the mood a bit is Vincent Stewart Ryan, son of Anthony Ryan, apparently a serviceman in the U.S. Army during WWII. After all this debasing of identity, I got a bit of a kick out of that.

It just goes to show that if you do enough snooping ’round digital space you’ll find all sorts of useless facts about people you’ll never meet, or who’ve been dead and buried for god knows how long now. Maybe that makes me a proverbial “creeper”, or just an asshole, or whatever.

All of this is ultimately the consequence of living in a  world of 7 or 8 billion and counting. What? You expected to be unique? You are one helluva ubiquitous snowflake, my friend.

Maybe, after all, we shouldn’t condemn celebrities for giving their kids such fanciful names as Pilot Inspektor (son of Jason Lee) and Jermajesty Jackson (son of Jermaine Jackson). Then they’ll go down in history without parentheses after their name on the pertinent Wikipedia page; they will be known for something more than the fact that they are the offspring of people who regularly bathe in liquid gold.

Maybe, after all, we ought to start naming everyone John Doe, or John Smith, or…

Out of the Blue and Into the Bullshit

“While All is in THE ALL, it is equally true that THE ALL is in ALL.”

Kybalion/”Three Initiates”

tribar

Tribar. (From Roz.at.)

I write things. Or so I strive. This is just another little happenstance that floats by, something else to tack on to the inexhaustible list of events and qualities that always have and will peel off of the pure and tepid fabric of existence, the baseline entirety. I’m not a determinist, per se, but I am fairly dramatic: I see the dots connecting and the hand being dealt on a level beyond brass tacks.

To be clear, I don’t think this should be taken as a pretentious view: it doesn’t make me ideal or idyllic or more metaphysically inclined than anyone else. In fact, I find it really levels the playing field. When you think the universe is just sitting there, waiting, in a single grain of sand, it’s really fairly humbling, in part because it doesn’t matter anyway. And thus anyone is capable of anything of equal importance. The empty glass can be filled and spilled over with any color you prefer.

What I can tell you, then, is that at some point, somewhere, everything fucking exploded.

I can tell you that I have perceived, and I have imagined, strange, perhaps unfalsifiable tangents, heart strings that tie together a lamp shade and George Bush, a mussel shell on the Outer Banks and a class B star in the Orion Nebula, gumballs and Saving Private Ryan, Hegelian ontology and R. Kelley, tantric Buddhism and puréed onions, briar pipes and two hours of jogging, the laws of thermodynamics and the air twenty centimeters to my left, all times and places and spaces colliding and combining, etc., etc., and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, ad absurdum, yada yada, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, blah blah blah…

You could say this forms a major component of my point of departure, phenomenologically. Everything is not only contingent upon, but in some sense exists as everything else. (Cf. pratītyasamutpāda, Indra’s net, apophenia, et cetera.) And this is not limited to concrete objects: any universal foundation, I would assume, must also apply to abstractions and conceptualizations, or the world of ideas. (Sure, the thoughts you have sitting on the toilet at four in the morning aren’t real in the same sense as the shower curtain or the frozen pad Thai you had for dinner, earlier in the day—whence the toilet—but both are real in a more inclusive manner. The perceived and the conceived both exist, albeit in their own sorts of ways…) Between the lines there is not only interconnectivity and interdependence, but interpenetration as well. There is always present an element of “beyondness”, the tangibility of infinity and eternity, the sheer fact that nothing ends in and of itself: In a carrot, for instance, you can see the end of the universe. In Wahhabism you can glean its birth and burgeoning. In my conception of psychiatry and my thoughts regarding it yesterday, I, in some sense, experienced hypostatic union with a toasted bagel. The end, the telos (τέλος) is long dead, or never was.

I can make these claims, regardless of whether or not they are true. I can yet still make them, and put them here, whether they are apprehended or understood. It is clear, and I don’t deny, that in accordance with today’s consensus reality these statements have no rhyme or reason to impart. Maybe I come across as a connoisseur of tin-foil hats or a a farcical fuckup who decides, somehow, that disparate suchnesses can be strung together willy-nilly. It all sounds a little fuckin’ crazy, right? No, I don’t deny that.

But, at least as it has struck me, the world, on a very deep level, contains an unremitting, everlasting substratea paradox if ever there was onewhich binds all and all-within-all. This is not only a non-duality (as many Eastern traditions, as well as Western Neoplatonism and Hermeticism emphasize), but a non-differentiation. I won’t venture so far as to say I’m a pantheist or monist (as, in reality, this binding infinity would be infinitely transcendent of all [other] concepts, including itself)I don’t kiss ass for dead Spinoza or Plato or Plotinusbut perhaps there is a similarity in those lines of thought. (Cf. TaoThe Cloud of Unknowing, etc.)

Well, the Buddhists contend this is emptiness (śūnyatā), this [non?-]essence, this basis of possibility, this openness of [not-]being that I speak of, and a comparable opinion exists in Taoist philosophy, too.

…  But I’m digressing, anyway. And though digression is easily one of my favorite activities, and a possibility that exists only within a universe of unending potential and contingency, I will leave the ass-clench topic of nothingness for another long day.

Now take a u-turn: On the underbelly of everything, on the flip-side it’s all uncertainty. You go beyond the beyond and on and on and again, but at the spearpoint of maximalism everything inverts: You’re in the Cocytus of unknowability, a cold and blank epistemic darkness.

The fact of the matter is that nothing I say or have said is necessarily true. (De omnibus dubitandum est!) Nothing I publish here can be known with a one-hundred percent, full-proof, bona fide guarantee-or-your-money-back. There is no empirical salvation that comes to the fore like life-time warranties on new mattresses. I don’t care whether you suck up to science or philosophy, mysticism or religiosity or any other thing.

What we call “knowledge” is at most a close approximation, and at least an illusion. Anything and everything can be denied, and not only on the grounds that the senses are fallible, but that objects and experiences themselves may be equated with those phenomena which are normally not considered their contingents or co-existents. You can say that gravity exists, and for all intents and purposes this is true, practically speaking—we see the evidence for it everywhere we turn… or every time we fall—but on another level, a level in which things can be known beyond the shadow of a doubt, the shadow wins out. It blankets everything. If I can tell you that gravity is really the White House, a smartphone, a big dick or the postal service, why am I wrong? Because it doesn’t stand up to reason? What if all that straightforward, cerebral precision is but a false faculty that merely allots you some navigation amid an ultimate wrack and chaos? What if your reason, your clear-eye rationale… what if it all just amounts to good guesswork, utilitarian at very best? The noumenon extends infinitely beyond perception. Isn’t that what would really make for an ultimatum? Only without the observer can the observed begin to be; and yet without the observer there is nothing, it seems, to see. (Heh.) I guess this comes across as an uncompromising idealism, but I should mention, before you start accusing me of ass-kissing for -isms—and god forbid -ologies—that I don’t go the full length and breadth of any philosophy and come ashore to the so-called “truth”. I juggle with these ideas, and otherwise I get along more or less OK.

Now, on that note, the noumenon itself is also, however, possibility, inasmuch as a purely phenomenal world is. Both objective truth and unknowability stand on a wavering, unsettled spectrum of infinite uncertainty, the idea that, no matter how right you are, there is always some chance—even if infinitesimal—that you’re actually wrong: Let me clarify… there’s the chance that I’m wrong. There’s also the chance that you or I or that guy over there, sipping coffee with a concerned countenance—that we’re all wrong, or that one of us is right, even—imagine that!—or that we’re all right, and so on. (Cf. Anekantavada.) The issue, then, is not who is correct or otherwise, a straight empiricist or outright bullshitter of the highest order, but the chance itself, the moment of “truth” yielding to eternity.

You know, the Greek philosopher Arcesilaus seems to have put it well: “Nothing is certain, not even this.” … I really want to avoid any tendentious inclinations here, but I’ve got a soft that quote in particular. (Cf. Pyrrhonism, philosophical skepticism, etc.) Not to mention spanikopita…

Now there are more seasoned (note: real) philosophers that would counter this contention. But all of their notions rely on previously established truths in order to function. (Cf.  Sartre and Being and Nothingness.) If nothing can be known, perhaps it is only because of and implies the fact that all can and is known, at once, immediately. If we suggest that everything is everything else, then the only thing to do is put on the top hat and cook bacon butt naked. Perhaps. Perhaps these mystics are right on the ball with non-duality, or dichotomy, or polarity. Ouroboros chows down on his own tail; things are recurssive—and yet endlessly discursive—and the world submits itself before the gleaming white throne of a laughable absurdity, before the collision of worlds that ends in a diabolical circus of neutered clowns.

But again I am digressing. I won’t regale you with my pet philosophies any longer. And is it really worth wording direct experience, anyway? That would be the key, to go out and live it and see… The Zen masters have long understood that all knowledge and pondering eventually dissolve in something deeper, something unwordable and beyond intellection. That is, direct experience. But again I am digressing…

So that easy-to-do impermanence, that blasé indifference just won’t do justice to this blog. I do want to maintain a certain amount of professionality here, although the sheer immensity of existence makes it difficult to donn a suit and tie and ironed arghile socks on every little fucking occasion.

Perhaps I should really begin by admitting that I am in no way a philosopher, not any more than I am a plumber or prostitute or meteorologist or gynecologist. I’m working at my petty pace for a measly degree in writing, and I’m hapilly minoring in philosophy, although I don’t have much authority beyond what I’ve read. Then again that’s the pleasure of having a blog, right? It’s mine. I can say whatever I goddamn well please. But I’ll try to be civil when I can; no overstepped boundaries or cutthroat critiques.

The question should be, then, what to talk about. A concerned acquaintance advises me to pick a particular topic to focus on, so I’ll gather a following and network with future Pulitzers or even get published, Christ almighty! published. Can you conceive of it? I must have particularity in order to draw the masses. What to say? Environmentalism is good? I get my coffee at this or that place?  Tips on Brazilian butt lifts?

Realistically, I just don’t see this happening. I’m being real frank with you. Each day I have a new interest to pursue, a new book to peruse or a bauble to swat at. I wish and I wash. I am capricious and undeniably indecisive. I ought to have a new religion and hair color each and every hour.

And so it goes. What can I say? My mind makes the clearance and takes the freeway way down through the deep, dank valley of tangentiality and otherwise bullshit, glowing with all its lights and signs and awash with the sounds of erupting stars dashing through the chasm, over the golden cobblestone. On the basis that everything is interconnected, or maybe just because I’m a flake, I will heretofore dedicate this blog to talking about anything and everything. I’ll explode within the womb of the world; I’ll ride out that tangent to my deathbed.

So wish me luck, and all the best to yourself. That’s a tip of the hat or a nod of the head to a life lived out on every path. In the vast blue openness of the sky, of our universe in all its wild splendor, in all its emptiness and stewing rank, amid the possibility of all and anything, things can get pretty scary real quick. Just keep your pants on.

… Well, here’s to some glimmer of hope and hilarity in the end.

~

“One thing, all things, move among and intermingle, without distinction…”

— Sengcan, Xinxin Ming (信心銘 Faith in Mind)