there’s a lot of advice on how we should feel and what we should think. not a lot on how to adjust the body to these changes we’re experiencing now, how to live physically. how to be in the body in this time and place. ultimately that is the only kind of living. in the body. the body may have a spirit. i don’t know. i also don’t much care because it does not affect relationship with anything else. nor does it affect much in the body except as a means of keeping the body happy and therefore healthy. and whatever comes after each body’s existence is literally immaterial. it has no affect on this life at all. i suspect this life has no affect on any other possible lives either. if those exist… which is not at all obvious… at least in the sense of continuity for this i am.
to be sure, i never thought highly of spending an eternity as this self, so i am biased against accepting what others might take as evidence of an afterlife. i don’t want that to be, so i ignore the murmurs that it might be. in any case, i do not feel eternity out there affects how i live here and now in this body — which is what i believe is important. to me, and to the rest of the beings embodied in this time and place. there may in fact be some spiritual plane. some people may in fact have found ways to interact with it. i have not. nor have i found any reason to put effort toward that project when the spiritual plane physically does absolutely nothing for this world i live within.
have you ever considered what living forever as a self would feel like? if it is living at all — and i don’t think it could be… life is change is time… it is not stasis… that’s not even death… that’s just not being. anyway, if it is living at all, it would be incredibly frustrating and intolerably boring to never grow, to never die and be recycled into something new, to never be anything else. just this paltry human-inflected non-thing existing in eternal limbo. and what part of this self is eternal? the last one before death? do i really want to spend eternity as the person i am in the last seconds of life? or, while standing at the pearly gates, do you get to choose your self? in which case, can i choose someone who is less worried and scared and angry for all time? please, mister st peter, may i be a tree? but how is that me? for that matter, how is any instance of me frozen in eternity going to be representative of the me that lived and changed and spent a lot of time asking ridiculous questions of the world? does thought even exist in eternity? because these thoughts create change… and thinking itself requires time. as does every other part of a living organism.
nope, i don’t much want to be any me forever… though i would dearly love to see my grandmother again in an afterlife. but who is she in the afterlife? would i know her? would she know me? considering that she only met me as a child in the last years of her life, it’s quite possible that whatever form of her is eternal does not include a memory of me. certainly not the me that exists as an aging adult, pondering the afterlife.
i find that all these questions lead to absurdity… that might mean that the idea itself is absurd…
still and all, whatever the resolution of all that, i am firmly convinced that there is an eternity. there is something more than time, something enveloping all things. whence all things flow and where all things return to after time. none of our science makes sense without a prior state. and yes, that is just human thought, science… but still, we’re not entirely stupid. and holes exist in the physical story that really can’t be explained except by something out there. unfortunately, out there means we really can’t interact with it. being outside of time is not being. it would be our undoing. it will be our undoing eventually. there will be no self. or any of this. it all melts into primordial chaos. an undifferentiated and changeless slurry of all that is. probably not a pleasant idea to many selves… but we yearn for it nonetheless. we want to dissolve into that whole and be complete.
what exactly that whole is is quite beyond me. and it is quite meaningless in this time and place. so i don’t think too much on it. i believe in life. in the here and now. in being. in doing.
and i am coming to believe that many of our cultural dysfunctions are rooted in our basic unrooted-ness. we are connected to neither time nor place. we do not live in the body. we live in a mind space that has no physical existence. this is expressed in things like social media and and an excessive focus on spirituality, to be sure. but it is also expressed in eating tomatoes in january, spending a weekend in the bahamas, not knowing when the sun sets and rises each day, living each day of the year in the same climate-controlled interior spaces with no reference to passing time or change or even the pleasure of being in contact with the un-mediated world.
we have no reference to tradition, neither within the local ecosystem nor within our inherited cultures. this is problematic because those traditions are how life worked in a given place and time. people living in that fashion were successful. they were happy. they bred new generations of happy, successful humans which eventually led to us. this is the wisdom of our species — and we have no access to it when we live cut off from place and time, when we preference our own thoughts over the lived experience of others.
i love books and words, but books and words are nothing at all. only a record of the thoughts of one human. at best a book is the record of an amalgamation of many peoples’ thoughts. but still just human. just in one place, mostly just in one time. there is no change. except in oral story-telling. and what is significant of nearly all oral cultures is their reluctance to fit a story into a predetermined structure of preconceived ideas. there is no making sense of much story-telling, no limits on its growth and agglomeration, no need for fixed meaning. stories are signposts and signals within the flow of being for a culture. they slide from one thing to the next with no loss of significance. poetry is best at this. because it is rich in metaphor and symbology. because its looping rhyme and rhythm sticks in the memory. because it refuses to stay settled. it will grow in the telling. it will change.
i love books and words, but i prefer music — which only means what each ear hears, what emotions are engendered and felt in that hearing. music is a conversation that is lived, embodied. it is a flow in time and place that changes with each time and place even when it is recorded in some manner. the echoes of our traditions, our wisdom, are heard most plainly in music. i hear my grandmother’s voice. i hear the whispers of the deep ancestors. i hear the birds and trees. i hear the ocean and the darkest memories of the universe and even a few echoes of that primordial whole. this is wisdom. this is what it means to be. this is being.
you might think it paradoxical that being in the physical body is best expressed by something as elaborately symbolical as music or poetry. but i think that is just how the human body works. and many bodies on this planet are the same. birds warble. whales hum. mountains and trees and rivers are constantly quavering if you know what frequencies to listen for. almost none of this has a purely biophysical function. it is all some form of expressing what the being feels in each moment, its physical state translated into symbols the being’s mind has manufactured. we earth beings of air and water and stone, we sing the world. we sing being.
a midpoint between music and the records of our culture found in books is ritual. ritual, like music, must be embodied and only means what each body experiences in that moment. but like other mediated records of being, ritual has roots in the mind, in words, in thought. it is maybe best described as the enactment of symbology. which seems paradoxical again, but then life does…
whatever it is, ritual is a present act that is grounded in the past and that usually has some intent toward the future. though there are rituals that are purely memorial, most lean toward change, toward growth, toward becoming. ritual, like life, is emergent. you pour the wine just like you mother poured the wine just like your children will pour the wine and in that repeated act is meaning created. somehow.
and maybe that’s also just human thinking. but it is human thinking and i am human and i am pretty sure anyone reading these words is human also. ergo i think thinking is relevant to being human.
today is michaelmas. it is a ritual date. in this specific time and place we enact this state of being that we name michaelmas. we take the name and the structure of the ritual from the past. we eat our michaelmas goose and leave all the remaining berries on the cane to keep from eating the devil’s spit — or however you want to describe irritating nature by taking more than your due. we close the account books and reconcile our differences. we make peace with dragons — or, again, whatever you want to call the whirling undoing underneath our lives.
this is a ritual date. it serves as a marker of time in my life and time in the life of my culture. its actions are referential, symbolical, but meaning is created in the specifically embodied enactment. if it is not done, then it does not have any meaning, it does not exist. and what is done may be what millions have done before me, but it is still specifically meaningful to me. most importantly, this is how i carry meaning forward, how this i am leans into the future that i will not see. i give a bit of myself in this act and it becomes part of the act that will live on in the doing that is not me.
i find that comforting. much more so than tales of heaven and its necessary hell. i am being and doing the wisdom that came from my ancestors and passing that wisdom on to my descendants. i think that is the most than any being can wish for. so i wish it for you as well.
merry meet and bright blessings upon you!
©Elizabeth Anker 2022