Friday, March 14, 2008

Worlds within worlds

We experience and engage the world so much on the basis of appearances. Surfaces appear to be solid; and the moments that make up experience seem to flow sequentially and present a seamless reality.

This was always confusing to me, because I sense a gap between each moment where you can fall into a whole other world. It's like those stories where someone drops into another dimension of experience and is there for years--has an entire lifetime there--and yet when they return to their original reality only a moment or two has passed.

I've been fascinated for a long time by how 'reality' can appear to be so solid, and yet is not.

Growing up in typical white ecumenical protestant communities (my father was in the military, but white suburbia was pretty uniform wherever we moved--sort of mirrors the McDonald's concept) church and Sunday school were obligatory rituals. I saw and heard expressions of reverence around me, bowed heads, a certain 'prayer language' (full of Thees and Thous and "O Lord we worship Thee"s), but it didn't match what I was experiencing underneath. What I experienced was a sort of revulsion to this spectacle of people saying they 'loved' God, when the feeling underneath was so dry. There was no vocabulary to articulate my experience to older people, to ask why what people were saying felt so very different from their words. There were no words to articulate the shades of feelings that shimmered like colors inside--and the contrast with the absolute lack of color in church. (For any of you with children, you've probably seen Ratatouille. There's a wonderful scene in the movie where Remy is attempting to acquaint his brother with an appreciation of the experience of good food. Colors are used as a metaphor to describe the subtle delights.) (It's a great movie, even if you don't have children, by the way.)

Since there was no vocabulary to discuss the discrepancy, and no environment that was conducive to creating such a vocabulary, I was forced to conclude that religious life was a joyless chore that people did because they should. And they 'loved' it because they should. And the extent to which one could conform and stay loyal was the extent by which his/her worth as a person was measured. Love was a matter of will power. Obedience to authority was proof. When I was about 11, I had to admit to myself that I did not love God. Admission of that made me feel horrible, and too ashamed to tell anyone.

I have a sensitivity to unseen suffering. There is something about the act of minimizing someone else's suffering because it is inconvenient that seems outrageously wrong. The term "Collateral Damage" comes to mind. An objective gained, and anyone or anything that is in between is 'a regrettable but necessary loss.' Maya Angelou put it devastatingly when she said, the needle gives way "because the camel can't; the child gives, because the body can, and the mind of the violator cannot." ( in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) Someone has decided that their own priorities take precedence, and has deemed that the price that is exacted from the other person is of no consequence.

I suppose in any situation of overpowering, however slight or however egregious, someone has decided that their own priorities take precedence over those of others. And, conveniently, the cost can be dismissed too, as is the realization that it is Others who are paying the price anyway. It's pretty easy to be casual about a price someone else pays.

I'm not quite sure where this post came from...

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