When we contemplate the essential core of all the meanderings of our lives, motivations, and aspirations, we are often tempted in our self-importance to presume we do these things for some “exalted” or “transcendental” reason. While these romantic notions are pleasing to our egos, if we take a step back and look at the truth of our place in the vastness of the infinite Universe, we will see we are no more or less significant than a plant, a tree, an amoeba, or a bee. We are simply another aspect of the Universe, no “better” or “worse” than any other aspect, and while to our knowledge we have a higher degree of intelligence than any other being in the Universe or at least on this planet, that does not mean we are “something special” or “better” than other life forms. At the most essential level of existence, everything is the same since All is One, as we have discovered several times before on “The Mystical Voice.”
I am not saying we cannot achieve a kind of “transcendental” quality in our work – that is, a quality which does indeed “transcend” the mundane, everyday workings of our lives. The operas and concertos of Mozart, the symphonies of Beethoven, the paintings of Monet and the inventions and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci truly stand out as “transcendent” achievements of the human mind. However, when we examine Mozart’s life, we see he wrote these glorious operas and concertos for a more mundane and practical purpose – to earn a living and feed his family. Likewise, many creative artists such as Beethoven and Leonardo worked on the commission of patrons. Still, artists oftentimes will create “just because” without an outside “worldly” influence, and whether on commission or not, these artists are clearly capable of achieving truly “transcendent” works. Still, the bottom line is, while these things are among the highest expressions of our humanity and our impressions of Life itself, they are reflections of our lives as mortal, breathing human beings, and not “transcendent beings” apart from “this world.”
The ultimate problem for humanity is that we face a great cognitive dissonance no other creature has. The more intelligent creatures are aware of their mortality, and all creatures have a survival instinct as we do, but they cannot “philosophize” or contemplate what it ultimately means to them in the grand scheme of things as we can. That does not mean our theories of life and death are necessarily correct – only that we as human beings have the unique capacity to think on these things in a way other creatures do not. I once heard a preacher recently say we know the afterlife is real because God has “written” eternity on our hearts. What he meant is that our desire to live forever is testimony to the fact of our permanency. The problem is, animals and other organisms which Christian theology says do not have souls and therefore have no “eternal life” also have eternity “written” on their hearts. They too want to survive, just like us. So the idea one has a survival instinct is somehow “proof” our permanency is true is a complete logical fallacy. There are many things we wish were so that will never be so. Wishing, hoping, or believing something is true never makes it true, because what is actually true is independent of our wishes, hopes, and fears – a fact that we as narcissistic and egocentric beings have a very difficult time accepting. The world does not revolve around us and our hopes and fears. Life is what it is with no “reason” or “purpose.” It simply is.
The only essential difference between ourselves and less intelligent creatures is we have the unique capacity to invent “reason” and “purpose,” as well as clever “ways out” of death by creating afterlife theories, ideas of “God,” “other dimensions,” etc. Very few people are aware of the fact of why we do these things, assuming they are actually true – that there are “otherworldly” reasons why these ideas exist, claiming some people have “divine revelation,” “special powers of perception,” are “prophets,” “messiahs,” or some other over-exalted notion. Still, the fact is, we can never transcend oneness. We are One and will always and forever be One. We cannot ever “transcend” this because in truth, there is “nowhere” to go since all is One. We can peel off more layers of our illusions to reveal this Truth to ourselves, but we never “go” anywhere or “transcend” anything, and any ideas of such “transcendence” is just that – an idea. When I speak of “transcendence,” I am speaking of going beyond our mundane, everyday way of thinking, but in truth, I have gone nowhere. I have only discovered what is for me, a new way of perceiving.
In many ways, our thoughts and work is either our way to “answer” and “resolve” this question of cognitive dissonance between understanding our inevitable mortality and our desire to “live forever,” or it is a way of expressing our awareness of this fact. The problem I see with religion and other “transcendental,” and “afterlife” theories is they seek to escape from the fact of our impermanence, inventing the idea our impermanence is somehow not true, instead of dealing with the fact of our mortality honestly. We lie to ourselves, pretending our mortal lives on Earth are just a “bad dream,” we will one day awaken from in Heaven. It is a valid and perfectly normal reaction we would do this in the realization of an incredibly disturbing truth, but we still need to call it for what it is – denial. And denial in any form – whether it is pretending we are not alcoholics when we have a problem with drinking, pretending we are happy when we are not, or pretending we will live forever when we will not, is just being dishonest with ourselves. We may not be able to be honest with others, but if we cannot be honest with ourselves, we have no chance of living with any real authenticity. Being honest with oneself is everything. It is the foundation of all integrity, which is impossible without self-honesty.
On the other hand, being honest with others is sometimes not possible or at least not always practical. Not because we judge some things as “wrong,” but because we know others do and would rather not incur the consequences of being caught in the “crossfire” of their judgment. Sometimes we decide it is best to let “sleeping dogs lay,” and not upset the status quo so our everyday lives can be ordered and not unnecessarily disturbed and chaotic. The bottom line is, as we discovered in my last post, regardless of what we do, we need to do things with our eyes open, and not ignorant to our motivations. If we are dishonest, let us at least understand the fact we are being dishonest and why, instead of judging our actions as “right” and “wrong,” dividing our actions and intentions between a hypocritical list of “shoulds” and “should-nots.” It is in awareness, not judgment where Truth is found. We cannot see the Truth of who we are and what we are doing if we are constantly judging everything because judgment lacks awareness of what is actually True, and is not the point. Awareness is the point. This is why typical religiosity with all of its labels and judgments of “right” and “wrong” are so destructive and does not help us see Truth. We do not necessarily always know our outward motivations, or our inward intentions, but if we always strive to understand these things as best we can, without judgment, to be honest with ourselves, we can live life with more acceptance and be at ease in our decisions and actions.
When I listen to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” I hear perhaps better than in any other piece of music, this cognitive dissonance in the realization of the inevitability of our ultimate demise as egos. I can especially hear this in the most dissonant part of the music – the climax of the piece in which the strings scream at the top of their range in defiant anguish, only to immediately afterwards play these exact same pitches several octaves lower in a kind of defeated resignation. In this piece there is the endless longing for life, the sadness, defiance, and rage over the inevitability of the “dying of the light” as it were. It is no wonder Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is often said to be “the saddest music ever written,” as this piece perfectly encapsulates the five stages of dying and loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This profound and most perfect musical encapsulation of our greatest battle – the great cognitive dissonance between our will to live and the inevitability of our egotistical end, has always been what makes this music so incredibly powerful and moving to me.
What I perhaps most appreciate about Barber is his incredible honesty. Unlike religion, Barber makes no illusions about death, what it is and what it means. He does not idealize it, romanticize it, nor vilify it. He understands its finality, its permanence, and the almost inconsolable grief and loss we feel when we lose a loved one to death and when we contemplate the prospect of our own inevitable demise. Yet in the end, we hear a ray of light in the final F major chords of Barber’s “Adagio.” It is the acceptance of the inevitable. The coming to terms with what it means to live as impermanent egos as a part of the Eternity and Timelessness of Life itself. While our forms, our egos do not survive, it is in this humbling reality Life teaches us the fact it is never about us, our egos, but Life itself, which alone lives on without beginning and without end. It is in the realization we ultimately are Life itself, that we are One with life and death and never separate from it that is the key to knowing our True immortality…