Honestly, I feel some kinship with Buridan’s ass. Somewhere between faith and cynical skepticism. Right now, as I sit here in my apartment bedroom, looking at the growing sentence on the screen in front of me, surrounded by Nabokov (the new grey Vintage printing) and dog eared copies of David Foster Wallace’s oeuvre, a bunch of Joan Didion, C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, comics by Grant Morrison and Chris Ware and Jack Kirby and little plastic bobble heads of famous movie/video game/TV characters (a personal favorite is Walt as Heisenberg holding a tiny baggy of blue meth) I feel sort of empty in creepy way, like all this doesn’t mean much, and if a fire burnt it down I wouldn’t have to worry about this shit I keep accumulating. But, before you get afraid I’m going lecture about the importance of simplification and the dangers of materialism, I actually really fully love all of these items. I’m talking completely cathected. I remember where I was when I was reading the very end of Infinite Jest (the steps of some library in a breezy and noisy and vivacious NYC waiting to visit a college friend who’d also recently finished the book). These items tell me stories and right now I don’t give a shit about them.
Honestly, it’s a tough night, just because it’s one of those nights, not for any devastating reason. So I said a prayer to myself, asking to release the burden of self so that I might be an example of His/Her power to those I might help, the usual thing, and at the end I added a bit about how even if I don’t feel faithful I’ll try to still carry it forward.
Right now I’m in a pathless land between two states and a reliance on feeling alone isn’t enough to navigate from one to the other.
Here’s something: so many discussions of religious conversion are talked about as cataclysmic or orgasmic instant turns of thought (Saul to Paul and all that) but my conversion to whatever it is I’ve found as be slow and full of moments of decision and action and moments that simply happened to me. So much needed to be in place before I could get anywhere close to something like trust in the future.
You see, my emotion wetworks just weren’t functioning in a way to make sense of experience as anything accept a kind of bare knuckles, bare teeth, cruel world of threat. Even at my most optimistic I was forcing back deep fear that I’d unknowingly practiced over the years (and had been reinforced by a lot of trauma). A friend could call me up and tell me that I meant a lot to them and they’d love to see me and I’d be left with a slight haunted feeling that I’d done something wrong, to hurt them. This feeling was so subtle it never made sense to name it, until I felt trust.
So here’s another thing, even though this pathless place can’t, as of now, be determined solely feelings, it’s only through feelings that I’ve become convinced of its importance.
I didn’t used to like to exercise around others, but I’d do it if there was no other choice. And so recently I was running on the local bike path and there were two girls, average in every visible way, slicked ponytails and matching yoga pants, walking and chatting I was quickly coming up on their heels. My initial reaction was to slow down and just shuffle my feet behind them to make it seem like I was still jogging. This was seriously my solution to the situation. The idea of running around them was not on the table. Then I asked this thing that’s bigger than me “Do I trust everything will be okay” and my mind thought about how stupid an idea that was, just totally pathetic, of course it would be, but I just didn’t want to pass them, did I ever think that? And a subtler, calmer voice that I felt in the nerves of my fingertips, and the butterfly garden in my stomach, and the cooling breath in my chest asked again, “Do I trust everything will be okay” and it responded to itself “Yes” and I ran around them.
I could still hear a sort of emotional bickering, but it not as loud as weightless quiet I was left with. This thing, this way of thinking and being, this appeal to something more made me feel free from my own imposed bonds. How can I give that up? How could anyone? It was both a freedom from (anxiety) and a freedom for (anything I thought important enough to put energy into). And the large blue lake on my left and the sun resting behind the ski trail tattooed mountains in the distance and the placid waves of breath that moved in and out and this new kind of hum felt like some kind of living.
And yet, by the time I got back to my apartment I was arguing with my head again (about the best way to be nice to myself, but the discussion was politics-at-Thanksgiving heated) and I thought back to that moment and my wide puppy eyes and oh-too-bushy beard and pasty legs and okay to shapely calves and thought to myself what a sap, what a smark, rube, dolt, boob, sucker. The cynical side, the one that wanted to keep me from getting taken in by something that was outmoded and uncool, the side that feared and hated authority and kept telling itself it would change things from the inside, in just that small amount of time it wasn’t just denying this freedom, but actively ridiculing it. And so suddenly I was trying to figure out how this self-deluded argument started, if it was my feelings or thoughts, and how the fuck did I end up like this in the first place? Within seconds it was one fat chicken and egg orgy that wanted me to decide: cynical or spiritual? Faith or folly? Make a decision.
And I did. I decided I’d only gotten hear by trying to listen to that quiet voice that might belong to us all, that forced decisions weren’t freely made decisions, that if I was to choose to follow something greater it would not be driven by whips of my old master anxiety. I would wait until things calmed. They did. And it turned out there was no decision to be had. This, all of this, is happening to me just as much as I am happening to it. I can only be open and try to be humble. Faith, right now, seems to have less to do with certainty in ideas and more to do with openness towards moments that are not evidence of faith, but the result of it. That seems like part of it.
And so now, this stuff, books, toys, junk, all of it has to do with this struggle with faith and none of it has anything to do with faith. It’s another place to project these abstract concepts. Right now my mood likes to make a case that my projections onto this material stuff really matters or that it has fuck all to do with anything. That’s going to keep happening and I’m going to keep remembering to wait, be open for those bits of grace. Also I don’t want to get rid of Walt.